How to Rekindle the Fire and Polarization in the CRC – Why and How?

The fire or our religious conviction and commitment . . .

How urgently it needs to be rekindled!

In ourselves, in the CRC, and in others.

“Kindle a fire in the pulpit,” a great preacher once said, “and people will come to watch you burn.’”

And the same applies to the pew.

Sit there ever so faithfully and never miss a Sunday though we may—if the fire is out, no one will come to be warmed by our frigid presence.

Remember those men of Emmaus?

Cleopas and his companion?

The fire in them was almost out.

April – this is the month of Good Friday and Easter and we probably will be reading and hearing more about these men. Downhearted, depressed, dejected—as disciples Cleopas and his companion may have been about ready to call it quits.

To the unknown Stranger who pressed Himself upon them in their grief and gloom, they disclosed that their talk had been all about “Jesus the Nazarene, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” who had at last been condemned and crucified. And that the fire of their great expectation was all but extinguished was made clear when they added: “But we hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

Satan was having his way with these deeply troubled disciples. And with others also who had been on fire as followers of the Master. Peter had boldly confessed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” All the disciples had sworn allegiance to Him. Peter had boasted: “Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee,” and: “Likewise also said all the disciples{ (Matt. 26:35).

But Satan wants nothing of that. Such fires of conviction and commitment must not be allowed to burn, and he will do all in his diabolical cunning or ruthless fury to stamp them out. Judas betrayed his Master. Peter denied Him. All the disciples forsook Him and fled. And now Cleopas and his companion were going home, poking around as they went in the ashes of a fire that had burned brightly once upon a time.

But then it happened.

Incognito, the risen Savior joined the crestfallen men of Emmaus and rekindled the fire of their conviction and commitment so that it burned brightly once again. “A bruised reed will He not break, and a dimly burning wick will He not quench . . .” (Isa. 42:3). Suddenly the hearts of Cleopas and his companion caught fire, and in great amazement they knew that all was well again. The embers had burst into a flame, and then “their eyes were opened” and they knew that their risen Lord had done it.

And how had Jesus done it?

Read and reread the story.

He did it by means of the Scriptures.

“O foolish men,” Jesus said, “and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25–27).

That’s how Jesus did it.

And Cleopas and his companion knew that this was how it happened. “Was not our heart burning within us,” they said to each other, “while He spake to us in the way, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

It takes fire to strike fire.

And it takes the fire of God’s Word to kindle or to rekindle the fire of religious conviction and commitment.

The Bible leaves no doubt about that.

To Jeremiah the Lord once said: “I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jer. 5:14).

“Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah . . .” (Jer. 23:29).

Think also of Pentecost. . . . “And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3).

Fire has an amazing and almost unlimited potential—either for good or for evil, for life or for death.

Fire nurtures and it saves life, it warms, it illumines, and it spreads; fire can also be devastating and destructive. The Word of God can do all of that and more. It acts either as a savor of life unto life or as a savor of death unto death. Either it kindles the fire of religious conviction and commitment unto life eternal, or it consigns to the unquenchable fire of eternal perdition.

We play with fire at the peril of our lives. To triffle with the fire of God’s Word is to run a risk that is infinitely greater. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked . . .” (Gal. 6:7).

The malaise of the men of Emmaus is all around us today also. Although the Lord was still holding unto Cleopas and his friend, they had pretty well lost their grip on Him. The light had gone from their eyes, the spring from their step, and the joy from their hearts. The fire of their conviction about Jesus and of their commitment ‘to Him was burning low. The miracle that transformed them and set their hearts aflame again was due to one thing. It happened when the risen Lord broke through their gloom and opened the Scriptures to them in the way.

The moral of all this is clear.

The fire of conviction concerning the Reformed or historic Christian faith and of commitment to Christ the King is not burning as brightly as it should. This is true not only round about us but also much closer to home. The CRC is no exception.

“There you are again,” someone may say, “a prophet of doom and gloom, always critical.” Well, let me suggest then that you consider the following.

Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, director of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, is a well-known evangelical author. In The Presbyterian Journal of March 6, 1974 he looks also in the direction of our CRC when he writes:

“Going back to the 1930’s in the United States, the larger historic denominations were largely lost to the liberals, but three were not: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Christian Reformed Church (italics added), and the Southern Baptists. Thirty-five years later, these three denominations arc now grappling with the same issues, all of which arc rooted in the question of the authority of Scripture (p. 7).

You see, that’s what the battle is all about.

Satan is determined: the fire of God’s Word must out!

Francis Schaeffer is right: the issues with which we are grappling “are rooted in the question of the authority of Scripture.” This is true not only of false doctrine but also of the secular and alarming preoccupation with the treasures and the pleasures of this world that wean us away from our commitment to Christ as our Lord and King.

Needed so urgently is to have the fire rekindled.

The risen Lord did this for the men of Emmaus by opening the Scriptures to them. Nothing else will do. To introduce gimmicks, pageantry, and other artful contrivances in the pulpit as a substitute for the preaching of the Word is to be guilty of consummate folly. To do so is to present strange fire on the altar—the sin of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, for which they were smitten with death. When a church thinks that the preaching of the Word will no longer fill the bill, it has no more reason to exist. The quicker it closes its doors the better.

What then is the moral of all this?

Preach the Word, the whole Word, and nothing but the Word!

Let us read, reread, and study our Bibles, and fill our minds and hearts with the wonderful words of life! And let us pray that the Holy Spirit may open the Scriptures to us!

In season and out of season, let us defend and propagate and proclaim the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word of the living God!

Jesus opened to them the Scriptures.

That did it for the men of Emmaus.

Nothing else can cause the sparks to fly again and the embers to burst into a flame of holy fire.

“To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them” (Isa. 8:20).

Holy fire can be kindled in no other way!


In writing this concluding article on polarization in the CRC, there is one thing 1 want to get off my chest right at the start. That is the matter of the minister’s pension, and whether I and possibly others are advocating polarization rather than secession from the CRC for fear of losing our ministerial pension. As ministers in the cnc we have been charged with staying put because we have “pensionitis.”

One correspondent, obviously a man of good will, puts it this way: “I appreciate your articles in THE OUTLOOK about the so-called conservatives, although . . . ‘stop to count the cost’ made me stop and think: is this, as some say, ‘a lot of conservative preachers would secede were it not that they would lose their pensions.’” I am grateful that this brother was kind enough to add: “I am sure you did not have this in mind.”

Now it will be well to try to set this matter about ministerial pensions and “pensionitis” straight, once and for all if possible. It isn’t pleasant, you know, to have one’s motives called into question. Now the fact is that my own full pension nor that of any other cnc minister who has served in the denomination for thirty years or more would be jeopardized whatsoever if we should secede from the e RC. Not even if we were deposed or excommunicated. That pension is protected by law, according to Mr. Jack W. Stoepker, Administrator of the Ministers’ Pension Fund, with whom I have once again checked the facts before writing this. How does this apply to those still in the active ministry? At the age of retirement (65), even if they have seceded from the CRC, they also are entitled to a proportion of or their full pension depending on the number of years they have served in the CRC. So, that “pensionitis” talk should now be put to rest, we hope, once and for all.

Why Polarize – The reasons for advocating polarization in the CRC must be such that they can stand the test of Scripture, and also serve the purpose of the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means that every step of the way we arc to pray for the Lord’s guidance so that we may be blessed and prospered as we proceed according to His will, and that we may promptly desist if and when it is made plain that we are going contrary to it. Consider then the reasons for polarization I wish to suggest:

1. First, for Bible believers this is inescapable.

The closer we draw to God’s ‘Word, the closer we will draw to each other. Polarization around Scripture—that’s where conservatives find their focal point or pole attraction, and that’s where they find one another.

And that is precisely where the Bible tells us we are to be. “To the law and to the testimony if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them” (lsa. 20:8).

Sure, some will call this an over-simplification. But, in the last analysis, this really is what it’s all about. And one need not be a college or a seminary graduate to come to grips with this basic issue. Don’t be fooled or misled by those who, on the other hand, are guilty of over-complication.

There will be “no morning” for the CRC or for any other church unless we are polarized or crowded and kept very close to the living Word. Unless all om ways radiate from that living Word as our center, the darkness will grow even deeper and the light will never dawn.

2. Next, polarization is a means to sorely needed communication.

Committed to the absolute authority of Scripture for faith and life, conservatives do have something to say; and they should say it as effectively as possible. And what they have to say is not only negative or destructive, but very definitely also positive or constructive. Fact is, God’s Word builds more than it destroys; and inevitably the same will be true of anyone who recognizes its totalitarian authority in every area of life. In that way God causes His kingdom to come.

Polarized, we can better communicate with each other. We must know the enemies of God’s Word, and up to a point we must also keep the lines of communication open with them. But, in a far closer and richer sense, we must know and communicate with those who are friends of the Word.

Closely aligned with those who are like-minded, we can communicate with each other for mutual information, edification, fortification, and preparation to give ourselves in earnest to the mandate of our Lord.

But we must also communicate the heritage we treasure to others. To our fellow church members, to the denomination, as members of which we have a corporate responsibility, and also to others who have never been or are no longer in the line of the historic Christian faith—to these we owe communication. Either we will do what we can to share our convictions with others or else we will surely lose them.

Polarization means that the lone voice in the wilderness will be joined by others, thus making it possible to turn up the volume for the cause of Christ. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). If there were no polarization as found in the Reformed Fellowship, publication of THE OUTLOOK, with a growing circulation the Lord is graciously giving, would not be possible.

Conservatives with their heritage intact, by God’s grace, are highly favored and greatly privileged. But favor and privilege always go hand in hand with responsibility. In this case, it is our calling to communicate with all the power God may be pleased to place at our command.

3. Third, polarization must aim at reformation.

Conservatives are derelict in their duty if they are comfortable and clannish in their isolation. Polarization may never be an end in itself. Careful reading and consideration of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor should prod us to realize that we too must be reformers. Our Lord Jesus did not and does not simply write off a church that is threatened with apostasy. Lovingly and also sternly He first calls it to reform.

Those seven churches of Revelation represent the different church situations with which the faithful are confronted throughout the entire New Testament dispensation. There was so much in those churches that needed correction; and, though the Lord censured them severely, in His amazing grace He also called them to return to Him in doctrine and in life. In this, Jesus should be our mentor and we should follow in His steps.

We do not easily give up on those whom we love. As conservatives in the CRC we must be as fervent in our love as we insist on being sound in our doctrine. The counsel James gives for dealing with an erring brother may be applied also to our dealing with an erring church:

“My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (5:19, 20).

To win an argument about some point of doctrine or life may be good; but it is better if, in so doing, we gain a convert to the right way of faith and life. Conservatives who polarize should be united in a sincere desire and also in fervent prayer for the restoration and return of those who have gone astray. Polarization can prove to be a great blessing, not if it is sought in a holier-than-thou attitude, but only when it is characterized by the spirit and the mind of Christ.

4. Fourth, secession grows out of polarization.

Not always and necessarily so. But, if there is to be an eventual secession, it must be preceded by polarization and a lot of groundwork if it is to amount to more than a splinter movement. Without this there could be what someone has called a “flaking off” of members here and there, but not a movement that could draw a substantial number to secede.

Some correspondents are writing to convince me that the time to secede is now. J n their impatience, according to my considered judgment, they may find themselves picking fruit that is not yet ripe. May God forbid that the time should come that we will be left with no other alternative but to secede. But if, in God’s providence, that time is in the offing, a lot of preparatory work must be done in advance if such a movement is not to die aborning.

Take, for example, the case of the newly organized National Presbyterian Church which already numbers more than three hundred congregations. Anyone who has followed that history knows that this did not come forth full-blown in a day or in a matter of months. For years The Presbyterian Journal has been polarizing conservatives in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., a crusade that just recently reached its fruition in the organization of this new denomination with its substantial numbers. The cover of The Presbyterian Journal carries this line underneath the name of the magazine: “Advocating continuation of a Presbyterian Church loyal to Scripture and the Reformed faith.” In the matter of polarization and secession we should be willing to learn from them.

How long will it take for polarization in the CRC to lead to secession? I am no prophet and do not presume to know. It may come sooner than we think. But should we not hope and work and pray that it need never come at all? Meanwhile, let’s also pass the ammunition and keep our powder dry. Too militant? But does not contending earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints require that also?

How to polarize – Finally, a few guidelines on how to polarize would seem to be in order. Let me suggest the following:

– study and discuss with others the issues that arc agitating the CRC, realizing that anyone not willing to become informed cannot expect to be or to become Reformed;

– let consistories, ministers, and others also face up to and meet the challenge of a recent letter widely circulated by the Board of the ACRL in which several contrasts are listed between what we profess to believe as a CRC and what this letter charges are deviations; to refuse even to consider these accusations, perhaps because of the source from which they come, and simply to toss the letter in the wastebasket may be a temptation for some, but let me suggest that it will be far wiser at the very least to take a long and hard look at what this communication has to say;

– sponsor meetings and invite competent speakers to assess the state of the CRC and to give guidance as to how conservatives can make their voice be heard and their influence felt;

– organize regional Reformed Fellowship chapters to promote a study and discussion of where we are as a e RC and also to initiate action to counteract apostasy whenever and wherever it appears and also to encourage and approve that which is good; write to the Reformed Fellowship, Inc., P. O. Box 7383, Grand Rapids. Michigan 49510 for a model Constitution for a regional chapter, and also for other suggestions as to how to proceed;

– subscribe to THE OUTLOOK to keep abreast of issues in the CRC; also encourage others to subscribe, or present someone who may be interested with a gift subscription;

– don’t ever underestimate the power of a Gideon’s band commissioned by our Lord to contend for the faith, and to safeguard and promote the purity of His church; and never forget that even just one is always a majority if God is with him.

Eendracht maakt macht!
In unity there is strength!
We cannot afford to be weak!
Either we will polarize or we may perish!