Indifference, Stagnation, Bankruptcy, Apostasy

What‘s this world coming to? Here is a question asked by many thinking people. Is not a seething caldron of unrest, rebellion, anarchy? With the Psalmist we pray, “Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty” (Psalm 74:20). What is the Church coming to? That too is a legitimate question. It seems that we are heading towards the super church by way of the ecumenical movement. And why not? Most denominations have lost all reasons for separate existence. And if the same question be asked about the Christian Reformed Church, what reaction would there be?

Well, some of our people would look at you in amazement. There is nothing in our Church that indicates the need for asking this question. We are vigorous; our mission program is running in high gear; our ministers, barring a few exceptions, are preaching to capacity audiences; our Christian schools are a monument to sacrificial giving, etc. In others the question will create resentment. They regard it as looking for trouble, heresy-hunting, rabble-rousing. Let’s muzzle these cantankerous disturbers of the peace, they say. Still others fail to see anything out of line but become curious. They are willing to listen. This may be a fair analysis of the varied reactions of our people: amazement, resentment, curiosity.

We contend that this is not a time to be at ease in Zion, Dr. John Kromminga being my witness in his Convocation Address. (See The Banner, Dec. 30, 1960.) He speaks of “setting our house in order…that we have parties which threaten to become hostile factions…they have not had the Christian courtesy and patience to listen to each other,…are more concerned with the advancement of party than with the joint concentration on the tremendous task which confronts us.” So the question may be to the point after all.

If we look carefully at the four words at the head of this article, few will deny that this is the road many a church has traveled. The downfall of a church begins with indifference to doctrines and creeds, which soon leads to stagnation and intellectual bankruptcy, while the final station is apostasy. Once the first has taken a firm hold. the other three are inevitable. Are there symptoms in the present-day Christian Reformed Church which point in that direction? Let’s see.

Let’s begin with our young people. Here we find there are a number of factors at work which are deadly for intellectual pursuits, specifically in the area of doctrinal development. One need but mention the sports craze and the busy schedule of school activities -basketball games, bowling teams, etc.—which are playing havoc with our catechism classes. Very often the church program has to capitulate to the school program. Then, too, we may ask whether our catechism teaching is as effective as it once was. Is there no reason to believe that some of the theories of modern education in which all memorization is devaluated, are being adopted in our circles? Above all, to teach a child to memorize something he does not comprehend is numbered among the cardinal sins. I suppose we committed a grave error in our own home when we recited with the children the Decalogue. the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, before they ever saw the inside of a school. They knew these from memory though they did not understand them. To say that this is detrimental to a child is foolish.

Another factor that enters into this picture is a sort of anomaly. Generally our young people make profession of their faith at an earlier age than was formerly the case. Quite generally it coincides with graduation from high school. That is reason for joy and gratitude. However, our joy is not unmixed. For this is also the end of all catechetical training. In one of my former congregations half of the young people’s class were confessing members of the church. Today I have none. I know of no substitute for this loss. Moreover, when the age of twenty has been reached, even though no profession of faith was made, our non-confessing members consider themselves “too old” to go to catechism.

Also, our young people marry at a much younger age than formerly. Look at a picture of any young men’s society of thirty or forty years ago. Half of them were fully matured men, in their mid-twenties or thereabouts. Many of our present-day elders and deacons received their training there. Today, by and large, these societies are obsolete. And our present young people’s societies offer no substitute for that type of training.

Here, then, are a number of factors which contribute to the indifference that is becoming more and more pronounced and leads to intellectual stagnation. The sports craze, early confessions, youthful marriages, and—not to be overlooked—the amusement craze, the vacuous T.V. shows—all combine to stifle the doctrinal interest and training of our coming generation:

It does not require it prophet to foresee that all of this must necessarily have a debilitating effect upon the power of the pulpit. Preachers will soon hear, indeed have already heard, that they are preaching over the heads of their people. And preachers, being human, may soon succumb to the demands for more “practical” or “evangelistic” sermons. No greater calamity can befall a minister, particularLy if he is young, than to be unpopular with the young people. Catechism preaching already is being assailed by not a few. Judging by a recent article in this’ magazine, we may lose it by default. It may be questioned whether the Catechism would be faithfully preached if the synodical directives were withdrawn. Do some of our younger ministers themselves chafe just a little under the compulsion? Some of our present-day preaching, under the guise of being “practical,” seems to be in danger of being little more than moralizing. Years ago in Dutch education that was known as “De Brave Hendrik Theorie.” It was regarded with disdain.

Another question must be faced. Are our consistories alert to the dangers, and are they properly concerned about doctrinal soundness? Can one escape the impression that not a few are placed in office because they are successful in business .and of some social standing in the community? Do our consistories insist upon it that their ministers are loyal to the creeds; or are some themselves averse to solid doctrinal preaching?

But let’s look at the higher echelons of the educated community. We appreciate that we have a community of scholars of the highest rank In three colleges we have faculties that stand second to none. We have Ph.D’s by the dozens. To all of them we pay our highest tribute. But are we becoming degree-happy? We have a coterie of scholars in our Christian schools, our principals and teachers. We may at least assume that our clergy are devoted to scholarship.

However, when we consider the scientific productions in various fields—theology, science, and literature—our accomplishments are slightly less than overwhelming. It is telling that the monumental work in theology produced in our circles was by a man who did not hold a doctorate. Of course, for this lack of productivity we have both reasons and excuses. But we seem to be enamored with size. Soon Calvin College will have an enrollment of upwards of three thousand students. But scholarship does not receive the emphasis among us which it deserves.

Sit down and consider the sobering fact that we do not have one—and I mean not one—truly scientific journal to air our views in such a way that the intellectual world about us will sit up and take notice. We thought we had . a beginning in the Calvin Forum. It died of anemia. Today we have the Reformed Journal and TORCH AND TRUMPET. They cannot illl the void. What we have in mind is some kind of journal like “Philosophia Reformata” of the Free University. Why, even Westminster Seminary, so lightly esteemed by some of our intelligentsia, has a Theological Journal, and a respectable product it is. But we?

Let not these sentiments be construed as coming from an ingrate. We are thankful for all our institutions. We honor all our scholars. We love our Church. But we still consider being Reformed a badge of honor, though sometimes the word evokes a wan smile. Unless some of the trends here indicated are reversed, we are on the road to intellectual stagnation and bankruptcy. Are the days of an aggressive, virile, militant Christian Reformed Church over?