Have We Written Each Other Off?

Throughout the world mankind experiences tension and trouble in these times. Daily this seems aggravated by the undeniably rapid and revolutionary changes operative in a society characterized by suspicion, misunderstanding and avowed hostility.

In this situation the church of our Lord Jesus Christ does not walk unscathed. It is constituted of sinners who profess to be saved by God’s grace while at the same time experiencing still something of the fearful power of sin within their lives. It comes, then, as no surprise that today we read of sharp cleavages among those who confess that they are one in Christ. Even a common confessional commitment—formerly such a compelling rally-point among Reformed believers in their endeavors to grow together in truth and love and unity -offers no immunity. Many such churches (denominations) throughout the world are rent asunder by divisiveness and division, and that in consequence of differences which are by no means peripheral or incidental to the gospel of our Lord and Savior. Most of our readers are so well acquainted with these tragic facts, that detailing them by way of specific example is unnecessary.

Something like this seems to be occurring also within the Christian Reformed Church.

Indeed it has not affected all sectors of this church community equally. Nor are all its members acquainted with what is going on. Undoubtedly some who read these lines will deem it ill-advised and even deliberately provocative to make mention of this situation in which, despite all disinclination thereto. one is compelled to speak of “sides” or parties to the growing disagreement. They, like the proverbial ostrich, would rather hide their heads in the sand. Yet the situation, unless radically changed and that without undue delay, can only produce increased estrangement from each other and in time (perhaps sooner than we dare to think) a divided church which hides its disagreements under the disguise of a specious external unity. Nor will the situation change by itself, much as we might like this in order to escape any direct and personal involvement. Everyone who is a member of the Christian Reformed Church has some degree of responsibility to promote (and restore, in so far as this may be wanting) the unity of the church in the truth according to the law of love. There is no better way to begin, besides that of fervent prayer to and dependence upon the God of all grace. than to speak with one another. As soon as in our hearts we have written each other off, all our speaking together will be so many wasted words. It is because the writer believes strongly and sincerely that we haven’t really written each other off, much as at times this may seem to be the case, that these few lines are penned. But it may be, as a few have without hesitation said to him, that he is hopelessly wrong.

At this point it does no good to continue with generalizations. There may well be a time for such language; the situation which presently confronts us no longer allows it.

Many throughout the church ate being deeply disturbed by disagreements and divisions of judgment between the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen and its supporters on the one hand and Calvin College and Seminary leaders with their supporters on the other. The lines are being drawn with growing sharpness. Charges and counter-charges are being spread, some of them in print and more of them in private discussions with small groups. As these multiply, opinions begin to harden into irrevocable judgments. When this happens, all efforts to resolve the conflict and restore a brotherly fellowship which can in truth worship and walk and work together for Christ’s cause seem doomed to failure. We can then no longer reach each other with either what we regard as the facts in the case or our arguments supposedly resting on these facts, because we have in our hearts written each other off as members of the same household of faith.

The time, so the writer is convinced, grows late although as of now not too late for that healing by the Word and Spirit of the Lord of the church promised to all who seek it in the way appointed by him. Permit us to speak with openness.

Among those who belong to the Association together with its friends we find many who have nothing good to say about Calvin College and Seminary—its professors, students, board members, and ardent supporters. Conversely, within this last-named group (and I have spoken on this to more than a mere handful) there are those who can say no good about the Association and anyone who rallies to its cause. All who belong in any sense to one “side” are branded as “liberals,” modernists, careless about or indifferent to their pledges, compromisers, or people interested only in a comfortable position while they either openly or subtly lead the church and its membership away from the true faith professed by the churches. And the others are equally vehement in their insistence that the Association is divisive. an organization of troublemakers who with utter disregard for the law of love speak half-truths and untruths without blushing even when their errors are exposed. Yet all gather every Lord’s day, many we believe with heavily burdened hearts, around the Word and sacraments in churches which would honor the Christ of the Scriptures by their common confession and worship.

Brethren and sisters, these things may not so continue.

Here our concern is not to weigh the charges and counter-charges, necessary as this may be because of their growing influence and intensity. It ill becomes anyone as an individual to engage in a task of such great and grave proportion. Nor can this be done alone or even by some group requested by either or both of the “parties” to the dissension, unless much time and full cooperation by everyone involved were allotted. What the writer is concerned about, and that most deeply, is the effect of this upon the spiritual lives of all. This affects us not only personally; it affects also our children, every member of the Christian Reformed Church, fellow-believers in other denominations, our relation to the world at large, even to the angels and above all to the Cod and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose grace alone is our hope in this life and in the life to come. As the tensions increase, our faith is attacked, our love grows cold, and our hope which should sustain us in all the troubles of this life is dimmed. Few of those with whom I spoke see much hope of any true understanding of and reconciliation to each other on the issues involved. This is the greatest disappointment of all. But possibly I’ve been talking to the wrong people.

Yet in the hope that these lines will be read by some and that seriously and prayerfully, the question is put as pointedly as possible: Have we really written each other off as fellow-believers joined to the Lord by our common confession and commitment?

The temptation is ever with us to speak too quickly and too lovelessly. It seems so much easier to talk than to listen with a sympathetic ear and an understanding heart. Often without full awareness we hurt each other deeply. And when this is somehow brought to our attention, we find it so difficult to seek and to give forgiveness even though we claim to live only by the forgiveness of our Savior.

These lines are not written in order to minimize the issues which have been and are being raised. The temptation to sweep criticisms under the rug is by no means imaginary. Often we find it extremely difficult both to speak the truth and to speak the truth in love, when we or our dearest friends are challenged. We want so much to be right at all costs, that we quickly lose patience with those from whom we differ and write them off as undeserving of any further consideration. Are we applying a rule for Christian perfection in truth and love to others which we would not dare apply to ourselves? Do we speak about the persons, positions and practices of others, in private conversation fully as much as in public, with full awareness that what we say is being heard and judged by our Lord? Are we daily praying for those who we believe have despitefully used us? Is om deepest concern that the truth of Cod as set forth in his gospel shall prevail among us? Are we eager to grow in that exercise of Christian love which “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things?”

To these and similar questions everyone who loves Christ with an unfeigned faith and hope must and will be compelled to give an answer—to himself indeed, perhaps also to those with whom he differs radically, but always and above all to the Christ who has by his blood redeemed us to himself. Only then can the present tensions be increasingly eased and the pertinent issues be properly resolved. But if in our hearts we are busy writing each other off, the end of the Christian Reformed Church as an authentically confessional and confessing church will be upon us sooner than we now suppose.

Dr. Peter Y. De Jong is professor of practical theology at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.