That My House May Be Filled: by Dr. Harry R. Boer
A study of evangelism in the Christian Reformed Church
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957. 128 pages, $1.50.
My friend Dr. Harry R. Boer excels in integrity, in courage, and in zeal for evangelism. Those virtues come to vigorous expression in his latest book.
Dr. Boer is a man with more than ordinary impetuosity. That quality, too, comes to emphatic expression in his appraisal of Christian Reformed evangelism.
Being a Christian and Being Reformed
That all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are members of His spiritual body and therefore eligible for membership in the visible church. few will care to dispute. That is the simple meaning of catholicity. But Boer goes farther. I-Ie contends that the Christian Reformed Church is not merely a branch of the holy catholic church but itself a manifestation thereof and for that reason should welcome into its membership any and all believers. He finds serious fault with the Christian Reformed Church for not doing that. And this is the main thrust of his book.
On this score there are two traditions among Calvinist churches. Roughly speaking, they may be distinguished as Dutch and Scottish. The former is that of the Christian Reformed Church and is expressed as follows in article 61 of its Church Order: “None shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those . . . who have made confession of the Reformed Religion.” In their comment on that article Van Dellen and Monsma uphold the position that only adherents of the Reformed faith are to be accepted into the membership of a Reformed church and that all other believers should be directed to other Christian denominations (The Church Order Commentary, p. 251. The latter tradition, in support of which Boer rightly quotes none other than Charles Hodge (pp. 29f.), is that the one and only requisite for membership in a Reformed church should be faith in Christ. Boer comes out unqualifiedly for that tradition.
This reviewer was reared in the Dutch tradition, but close contact for many years with conservative Presbyterians has taught him that a case can be made out for the Scottish tradition. It can be done by pointing out that the two are not as far apart as may seem to be the case. Regrettably Boer has not done that. Instead, he has placed them antithetically over against each other.
The Reformed Faith is the Christian Faith
The very core of the Reformed faith is the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace. The five points of Calvinism add up to just that. Of all interpretations of Christianity the Reformed holds most uncompromisingly to the Scriptural truth that salvation belongs to the Lord. Salvation by grace is nothing else than salvation by God. Boer makes a very good, although not detailed, statement of that doctrine on page 34 of his book. That truth, he says, must be the heart of the evangelist’s message. Now presumably only those who receive in faith the substance of that message are eligible for church membership. And precisely that every true believer does. According to the ·Westminster Shorter Catechism, faith in Jesus Christ is “a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the Gospel” (Question 86). In that definition the word alone is supremely significant. Implicit in it is the entire doctrine of salvation by grace. And that amounts to saying that every true believer is at heart Reformed and, whether or not he is familiar with that name, consciously so. In the words of B. B. Warfield: “Whoever recognizes in the recesses of his soul his utter dependence on God, whoever in all his thought of salvation hears in his heart of hearts the echo of the soli dea gloria of the evangelical profession—by whatever name he may call himself, or by whatever intellectual puzzles his logical understanding may be confused-Calvinism recognizes as implicitly a Calvinist, and as only requiring to permit these fundamental principles-which underlie and give its body to all true religion—to work themselves freely and fully out in thought and feeling and action, to become explicitly a Calvinist” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, p. 360). How I wish that Boer had expressed himself in some such way! Instead of answering in the negative the question, “Must a man be Reformed before he can be a member of a Christian Reformed congregation?” (p. 21) he should have insisted that every true believer is essentially Reformed.
That the author takes too narrow a view of what it means to be Reformed appears in his assertion: “The church of Jesus Christ can exist and in fact does exist in many places without being Reformed” (p. 22 ). He seems to forget that the Reformed faith embraces not only the so-called five points of Calvinism but the entire body of Christian doctrine. Such truths, for example, as the deity of Christ and justification only by faith are definitely Reformed. The Reformed faith is the Christian faith in its most comprehensive, most pure, and most nearly consistent expression, and every church that deserves to be called Christian is at bottom Reformed. To be sure, not every Christian church is consistently Reformed; likely no church is that. But it may be asserted without hesitation that a church is truly Reformed in the measure in which it is truly Christian. The annoying fact remains that, as Warfield puts it, the logical understanding of many is confused. That holds, for example, of Baptists. And so the pertinent question arises whether a believing Baptist should be received into the membership of a Reformed church. I recall that almost fifty years ago Professor William Heyns used to teach his classes in Calvin Seminary that in certain instances that may be done. At this point an important distinction must needs be made. To bar a believing Baptist from membership in a Reformed church is one thing. To suggest to him that he unite with an orthodox Baptist church is another thing. And, significantly, the latter does not necessarily imply the former.
An Amazing Statement
In summary, I regret keenly that Boer, in taking the position that the sole requirement for membership in the Christian Reformed Church should be faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, makes the unwarranted concession that a prospective member need not be Reformed, Says Boer: “Our task in evangelism is not to make people Reformed but so to witness that they become repentant sinners, children of God, followers of Christ, in short, believers” (p. 33). That sentence has the serious fault of, in some instances, divorcing from each other being a believer and being Reformed, The fact is that they are inseparable. Again he says: “We do not preach the gospel of the Reformed churches. We preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 39). That statement is nothing short of amazing. Do not the Reformed churches preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ? Of all churches they proclaim it most full). And only they who believe that gospel should be deemed eligible for membership in those churches.
Faith and Knowledge
Boer takes the Christian Reformed Church to task for following a wrong pattern in its evangelization program. That pattern is: 1) disciple, 2) teach, 3) baptize. The Scriptural pattern, he insists, is 1) disciple, 2) baptize, 3) teach. In other words, he judges the Christian Reformed Church to be in serious error in demanding of converts to Christianity as much knowledge as it customarily requires.
In support of this criticism the great commission of Matthew 28:18–20 is cited. In the American Standard Version it reads: “All authority hath been given me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Here discipling, baptizing, and teaching are named in that order. Boer concludes that the evangelist is in duty bound to adhere to the same order. The fact aside that the Authorized Version reads “teach all nations” instead of “make disciples of all the nations,” Boer’s exegesis at this point is truly simplistic. From the fact that certain tenus occur in a certain order in the text it surely does not follow that the church in exercising the activities designated by those terms is obligated to observe that order chronologically. According to Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament, the teaching here enjoined is not coordinate with but subordinate to what goes before, and the participle “teaching” has the force of “while ye teach them to observe everything” etc. And in his commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew Professor Grosheide of the Free University of Amsterdam takes the position that according to the great commission discipling is to be accomplished through baptizing and teaching.
In fairness to the author it must here be stated that he is fully aware that discipling entails “a certain amount of instruction” (p. 58). He does not agree with those evangelists who make their appeal well-nigh exclusively to the wills and emotions of the unconverted and are willing to receive into the church as converts such as are almost completely ignorant of Christian truth. It also goes without saying that any member of the Christian Reformed Church will agree that after the reception of converts by baptism into the church much teaching remains to be done. But thus the gap between Boer and his church begins to narrow. The only question remaining is how much knowledge is essential to saving faith. While an exhaustive answer to that question is difficult to give, the truth may well be stressed strongly that teaching must of necessity be prominent in evangelism. That follows from the very nature of saving faith. The notion, so prevalent in many religious circles, that faith and reason are antithetical is utterly false. Faith presupposes knowledge. One believes in Christ because of what he knows about Him. Knowledge is also a constitutive element of saving faith. The Heidelberg Catechism tells us that true faith is in the first place, although by no means exclusively, “a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word” (Lord’s Day VII, Question 21).
Early Baptism in the New Testament
Of one piece with Boer’s criticism of the Christian Reformed Church that it demands too much knowledge of candidates for baptism is his insistence on early baptism. On that score, too, he disapproves of usual Christian Reformed practice, and he aims to base his disapproval squarely on Holy Scripture, particularly on the book of Acts. He rebukes the church in no uncertain terms for not in practice honoring the canonicity and consequent authority of Acts as regards the method of evangelism.
Boer must know that the Christian church of this day need not, and should not, be patterned after the apostolic church in every particular. One Significant difference between the two is that, the Pentecostalists to the contrary notwithstanding, charisms are no longer found in the church. That has a definite bearing on early baptism. The Ethiopian eunuch and the Philippian jailer received early baptism, the former from the evangelist Philip, the latter from the apostle Paul. Both did indeed receive some instruction before they were baptized, but they certainly were not instructed over a protracted period. However, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian he was, the context tells us, under the special influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26–40), and the apostles had what Meyer calls a “specific charismatic endowment”, which Jesus bestowed upon them when He commissioned them: “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” and, after breathing upon them and saying: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”, declared, “Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).
Emphasis in Teaching in Evangelism
At this point Boer uses strong language, as indeed he does throughout his book. Yet he is not completely absolutistic. He says: “The important thing is that we cease to regard the way we have been following as right, as God-willed, as good, and that we see the good way as the way of Scripture, and regard any deviations from it, however necessary they may be, as necessities forced upon us by the ambiguities of history” (p. 66). The latter half of that sentence gives me courage to call attention to an experience of the early church. Only a few centuries after its founding it felt compelled to insist on the instruction of prospective converts to Christianity from paganism for a term of two or three years. Because of three factors especially this was judged necessary: the discontinuance of charisms—which, by the way, was hardly an ambiguity of history; the abysmal ignorance of pagans; and the rise of numerous heresies in the church. The question may well be asked whether the church does not today find itself in a strikingly similar situation. Now if ever there is a crying need for educational evangelism.
Election and the Covenant of Grace
Perhaps the most valuable parts of the book under consideration are those which deal with the Significance for evangelism of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the bearing on evangelism of the Reformed doctrines of election and the covenant of grace. In admirable fashion it is pointed out that the New Testament church is in its very nature a witnessing church and that the aforesaid doctrines, which have sometimes mistakenly been construed as restrictive of evangelistic effort, do as a matter of fact present the strongest possible imperative for evangelism.
May I suggest that Boer might here have given some credit to others? It is not a fact that “only one really theological argument has been adduced to establish a relationship between election and missions: the consideration that the fact of election gives us the assurance that fruit will attend the preaching of the gospel” (p. 41). Nor is it true that “as little has been done . . . to bring covenant and missions together as has been done to bring election and missions together” (p. 85). The reviewer happens to know a man who for some twenty years has taught a course in the Principles of Missions at two Reformed seminaries and, in the first part of that course, dealing with the theological basis of missions, has been wont to stress strongly both election and the covenant of grace. However, this remark is not intended to belittle in any way the valuable material which Boer has presented on that all-important subject.
The Chapel and the Branch-Church
What the author has to say on the “chapel” and “branch-church” method of evangelism is in my opinion as well taken as is his criticism that Christian Reformed home missions until recently concerned themselves too nearly exclusively with those of Dutch descent. He insists that from the very start the objects of evangelism should be directed to the church and that, as soon as they have been baptized, they should be counted not only, but fully recognized, as church members. Inviting men to Christ involves inviting them to Christ’s body. Only then is a “chapel” in order when it is located at a considerable distance from a church and when it is definitely intended that the “chapel” is to become a church.
The argument, sometimes raised, that the objects of evangelism, even recent converts, and the members of Christian Reformed churches cannot with proBt listen to the same sermons seems to me, as to Boer, to be quite pointless. The messages needed by the two overlap appreciably. And it simply is not true that practically all our members have a thorough knowledge of Christian. doctrine. A surprisingly large number of them are sadly ignorant. On the other hand, the minister who cannot present profound truth in so simple and interesting a way that “outsiders” can follow had better learn to preach. What is preaching if it be not presentation of truth in its simplest terms? Of Jesus it is said that the people, the common people, heard him gladly. More profound preaching there never was.
Movies and Masonry
The church has no right to take it for granted that everyone who calls himself a believer actually is one. Various tests must be applied. It should be ascertained so far as is humanly possible whether the person concerned has that knowledge which is prerequisite to saving faith, whether he has learned to look away from self and solely to Christ crucified for salvation, and also whether he brings forth the fruit of faith in his life.
Regarding the last of these matters Boer feels uneasy about his church. He fears that it may have set up standards that go beyond the Word of God.
Under that head he discusses the matter of “movie” attendance. It so happens that this reviewer can speak with a measure of authority on the official attitude of the Christian Reformed Church to that matter. He was a member of the study committee that reported to the Synod of 1928 on so-called worldly amusements and he served as reporter of the advisory committee of that Synod on the same subject. He wishes to repeat now what he has said often in the past: that in his considered opinion the Christian Reformed Church has never put an absolute ban on “movie” attendance. It has, however, issued a strong warning. He regrets that the 1928 Synod did not make that distinction clearer than it did. Had Synod adopted the recommendation first presented by him, it would have been clear, but Synod rejected that advice. I may go on to say that the decision of the 1951 Synod anent this matter leaves me dissatisfied. It is self-contradictory. What Boer says is to the point: “What cannot be globally condemned may not be globally forbidden” (p. 101). My position is that, while the church has no right to refuse membership to an applicant because he will not promise never to attend a “movie”, it remains its solemn duty to condemn in strong terms the salaciousness and the sacrilege which are so frightfully rampant in present-day “movies” generally. And that holds of “movies” that come by way of television as much as of those that are presented in theaters. I am confident that such an attitude would prove an aid rather than a hindrance to evangelism.
From the time of its founding the Christian Reformed Church has taken the position that no member of the Masonic order may be a member of its communion. The basic reason for that stand is that Masonry is a false religion. That is an undeniable fact, and likely there is no one in the Christian Reformed Church who cares to dispute it. Recently. however, the thought has been expressed that in some instances Masons might be received into membership with a view to subsequent instruction and admonition, and, in case of failure to heed, possible excommunication. Boer leaves it an open question whether or not the church should alter its established practice in this matter, but he suggests that perhaps it should. Says he: “There may be situations in which it is not possible wholly to do the right thing” (p. 107). As Scriptural instances he cites the facts that in the apostolic church polygamy was in some instances and for the time being apparently tolerated and that the prophet Elisha did not forbid Nauman the Syrian to perform certain functions in the house of Rimman.
In passing it must be remarked that Boer’s statement that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church accepts lodge members is, to say the least. insufficiently guarded, but that he may well be on good ground when he quotes Dr. Theodore Graebner of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, to the effect that some organizations that were once upon a time lodges and perhaps still go by that name are no longer really lodges and that, therefore, the wholesale condemnation of all lodges is unwarranted.
Masonry a Pagan Religion
What shall we say of the proposal that in certain instances Masons be received into the membership of the Christian Reformed Church? Let Scripture speak.
The Word of God never sanctions sin. But it is more severe in its condemnation of some sins than of others, Polygamy is sin. That Abraham, the father of the faithful, and David, the man after God’s own heart, practiced it in no way alters that truth. Nor does its toleration by way of exception in the apostolic church, But what of idolatry? Of that sin Scripture is utterly intolerant. The Word of God condemns it in terms that are completely unqualified. In the old dispensation the idolater had to be put to death, And in II Corinthians 6:14–18 Paul insists that the separation of Christians from pagan worship must be nothing short of absolute. He asks the rhetorical question: “What concord hath Christ with Belial and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” And he commands: “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate.” Now Masonry is religion. It is a false religion. For that compelling reason those Christians who are in the Masonic order—and there may well be some—must come out of it. Membership in the Masonic order is as reprehensible as is membership in a Buddhist congregation. Membership in either is itself idolatry. And the church has a perfect right, and also the solemn duty, to demand of applicants for membership in the church of Christ that they terminate their membership in the Masonic order and thus prove their faith by their works.
Each passage of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the teaching of Scripture as a whole, the regula Scripturae, If that is done, the view is hardly tenable that in his dealings with Naaman Elisha connived at idolatry, What Naaman had in mind when he said: “In this thing Jehovah pardon thy servant: when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there. and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, Jehovah pardon thy servant in this thing” was not that he himself was going to engage, however little. in the worship of Rimmon, but that protocol demanded that he accompany the king of Syria in the latter’s worship of Rimmon. That interpretation is borne out by Naaman’s emphatic declaration: “Behold, now I know that there is no god in all the earth but in Israel” and “Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto Jehovah” (II Kings 5:16–19).
Methods and Results
Boer is certain that Christian Reformed evangelism would have borne much more fruit than it has, had those methods which he deems Scriptural been used. That there would in that case have been more additions to the Christian Reformed Church is beyond doubt, but whether there would have been more genuine conversions who can say for sure? Robert Morrison is said to have labored for twenty-eight years in China for ten converts, And Samuel Zwemer once stated that forty-five years of missionary labors in Arabia had won only forty-four Moslems to Christ. Were methods at fault? With full recognition of the truth that in the keeping of God’s commandments is great reward I would recall that for results the evangelist is utterly dependent on the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit. That remains true when both his message and his methods excel in Scripturalness.
This book, I am sony to say, is marred by several extreme statements and occasionally by undue severity. I much prefer not to mention specific examples of such defects. Yet two instances of extremism may not be passed by. Says Boer of the church: “Her being, her purpose, her destiny in the world is to transmit to others the Spirit which she has been given” (p. 13). To put it mildly, that savors of Roman Catholic sacerdotalism. Only God can communicate the Holy Spirit to men. All the church can do is to communicate the gospel. Again he says: “The minister does not preach theology, He preaches the gospel” (p. 80). How patently false an antithesis!
Would that this book excelled in precision and poise as it does in frankness!
That My House May Be Filled contains much that is true and good. The Christian Reformed Church can learn much from it. It should. This reviewer hopes it does. But he can recommend this “study of evangelism in the Christian Reformed Church” only with the substantial reservations indicated in this review.
And may the Christian Reformed Church, without ever becoming a mere sect, continue without apology as a definitely and emphatically Reformed church in the grand tradition of Kuyper and Bavinck, Hodge and Warfield, Calvin, Augustine, and inspired Paul!