I have chosen to share a few of my thoughts after speaking to the editors who encouraged me to write this article. In God’s providence I have had the privilege of serving on Christian school boards, as an elder for two terms and at present I am the president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. I have been a member of the Christian Reformed Church all my life.
As a servant of the Lord, I would like to share some observations I have made while in the public arena, on where we are going as a Christian Reformed denomination. I will focus on two key areas, the authority of Scripture and living a Christian lifestyle.
OPINION vs. AUTHORITY OF THE WORD OF GOD
Many in the Christian Reformed church have, perhaps unintentionally, shifted from the authoritative Word of God to their personal opinion of the Word of God. Why do I say this? When I discuss kingdom vision and direction with those who believe in the authoritative Word of God, there is a common ground. Even though we may not agree initially, we eventually develop a consensus through the mutual study of Scripture since the authority of Scripture is foundational. Agreement may be reached even if we do not fully comprehend the Word of God.
As a personal observation, I have noticed that a living relationship with God is generally very closely connected to an acknowledgement of the Word of God as authoritative. The most discouraging and difficult discussions are with those that have a personal opinion of the Word of God. One never comes to a consensus on a given issue because there is no common ground on the authority of Scripture. One can spend many hours discussing and debating, but one cannot persuade others to change their position because they do not believe in the authoritative Word of God as it is written. In other words, God’s Word is black and white even if we do not understand it; but some make it gray so they can have their way. We must not pursue our ways, but rather God’s ways.
ABSENCE OF CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE
Another major problem in the Christian Reformed church is that many of its members have a very strong intellectual understanding of doctrine and Biblical interpretation, but fail to incorporate their intellect into their walk with God and interactions with society. Why do I say this?
A few examples of this problem in our Christian community may bring to light what is happening. One example is a Christian school play which I attended. The theme of the play was that all religions lead to salvation.
Another example concerns what I saw at a banquet where I picked up my son. The banquet looked more like Hollywood than a Christian school banquet. task: What has happened to the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 109? We have the knowledge but we lack the personal integrity to practice what kingdom living is all about. This is not first of all a problem of the board or the teachers, but it is rather a direct reflection of the parents and how they think and live. What is the message an evangelical, born-again Christian receives when he or she, thinking that Christian doctrine and lifestyle are one, walks into theabove settings? My guess is that in these scenarios, we have canceled out all the promotional efforts, money and manpower we have put into Christian education because these people see no evidence of a committed lifestyle.
Another example is that of sabbath observance. Sabbath observance and salvation go hand in hand. We can all read the Ten Commandments and most of us hear them regularly. Why do so many people allow homework and dining out on Sunday? It is becoming accepted practice among many to work in local fast food restaurants since our children need tuition money. Is not obedience more important?
I have discovered that the greatest evangelism occurs through foundational lifestyle preaching from our pulpits, guided by the Holy Spirit, whereby members are compelled by the preaching of the Word to perform their everyday activities in such a way that others around them realize that they are subjects of the one true King and are accountable to Him. All of the church’s evangelism budgets and programs will accomplish precious little if the above does not occur. In other words, if the world does not see the difference Christ makes in us, the church’s outreach program is hindered a great deal. As Christians we must be torchbearers for the King.
The following examples illustrate the difference that a recognizable Christian lifestyle makes on our world (and I only cite them because the editors asked me to do so).
The first example occurred when I was at a meeting in Winnipeg. I stated our Christian Farmers’ position on an issue. Upon leaving that day’s meeting, even though no one knew me, six people were standing by the door ready to greet me. Their first question was, “Are you a Christian?” The next question was, “Are you born again?” to which I answered, “Yes.” I then asked them a question: “How did you sense I was a Christian since I did not mention Jesus Christ or God?” They answered, “Your statements gave you away!” We experienced rich fellowship the next few days.
The second example occurred in New Brunswick at another conference. I spoke about our positions as a Christian Farmers organization. An individual approached me afterwards and asked if I would pray with him; I took him to my room, wondering why he had asked me. His response was that he was relatively new to the faith and he sensed from my statements that I was one of those who were “from the faith.” As it turned out, he was going through a divorce while at the same time becoming a child of God. That contact turned into a four-hour visit where we spent the time going through the Scriptures and we finished by praying together. It was just like family visitation in a very powerful way, outside the established church.
The third example occurred a short time later. I was in Ottawa at another conference. I sensed that things were not right. I spent some time in prayer, struggling and wondering about what to do. The next day a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “What is Christian Farmers all about?” I told her that we wear our faith commitment on our shirt sleeves, and by God’s grace we try to develop agricultural policy based on Christian principle. The next question, as always in evangelical movements, was, “Are you born again?” which to her was a qualifier. Again I had no problem answering in the affirmative. She then said that we as an organization must be careful not to get drawn into some of the methods of lobbying government that were presently being used by other farm leaders. I must admit that I agreed with her but had not been able to put my finger on the real issue. My curiosity surfaced and I asked, “Sheila, why did you tell me this?” She responded, “John, the kingdom of God is at stake and we have to protect one another.” This was the Holy Spirit providing an answer to prayer through her. Subsequently she opened many doors for us whereby we have been able to present our policies from a Christian perspective.
I came to understand that many church people have no concept of protecting one another from the evils of this world because the kingdom of God may be at stake. Most often their reply to confrontation is, “Do not judge!” or “That’s just your opinion!” I have experienced this many times while serving as an elder. Too many people overlook the concept of the kingdom and kingdom responsibility for personal gain.
All of the examples cited above illustrate that walking the Christian lifestyle is an incredible witness to those around us. We as a Christian Reformed community must go beyond intellectual knowledge to a lifestyle that radiates Christ and His kingdom. I had not grasped this before in my life, even when I was an officebearer of the church, but now I realize that this is the very core of the Christian outreach.
The real issue and problem for the Christian Reformed Church is that opinion of the Word of God and lack of Christian lifestyle have robbed us of personal relationship with each other and the Lord. Since this is happening, I believe God will take our lampstand away as indicated in Revelation 2.
For a long time I believed very strongly that believers in the authority of Scripture could have major influence in the direction of the Christian Reformed Church. Painfully I have come to realize that the church cannot mix authority and opinion and expect to receive God’s blessing and direction in moving the kingdom ahead.
In closing, I believe that we have come to a point in the Christian Reformed Church where we must be willing to stand up and form a federation alongside the denomination, if this is possible; or it may be time to entertain serious reservations about staying in the denomination for these reasons: first, if we do not act, our torch will be taken away; second, we will rob ourselves of the blessing of obedience; third, salvation and redemption will be at stake. We must have as a foundation of our church, the authority of the Scripture; and the Christian lifestyle must be an open book to society around us for all to read.