Is the A.R.S.S. Guilty of Subjectivism?

In his article “The Reformed Faith and the Dangers of Subjectivism,” published in the April 4 issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET, the Reverend Peter De Jong has given a lucid and significant history of Subjectivism within and outside of Reformed circles. We are aware of the strongly one-sided aspect of this problem as found in Karl Barth as we1i as in other groups and individuals prior and subsequent to the Reformational era. De Jong has indicated the strongly individualistic tendencies common to these people and has warned against the always dangerous temptation of blurring the difference between God’s revelation which acts as a dynamic force in our lives as opposed to personal qualms and predilections. He has suggested, quite rightly, that we may not attempt to bargain with revelation by trying to derive a harmonious balance from a confrontation between God’s revelation as an “objective fact” and our own “subjective feeling.” De Jong says. quite profoundly, that “the Bible never speaks of a truth between two extremes, but of a truth opposed to all lies.”

With all this we heartily agree. De Jong has defined “Subjectivism” as a purely personal response independent of “objective” truth or, in this case, independent of abiding truths revealed by God. This simply means that the ultimate appeal for an individual’s action is the reaction—of spiritualistic—of the human self, more particularly, the human emotion. “Montanism” was one of the earliest symptoms of this disease. Down through the years of the Early and Medieval Church it was perpetrated in other forms of heterodoxy. Later it was commonly found among Anabaptists of a radical stamp and left its traces on the great Puritan, Jonathan Edwards. Now De Jong suggests that the A. R. S. S. displays similar tendencies towards Subjectivism. How did this accusation arise? It is not true that the A. R. S. S. proclaims to know some “secret” or “inner-light-type” teachings and that this has precipitated a dispute between Calvin College and the A. R. S. S. As Dr. Kooistra has clearly indicated: The A. R. S. S. wishes to break with synthesis-thinking which continually and inevitably leads the Christian into contradictions and finds him swept along with the apostasy of relativism. For that reason the A. R. S. S. has formulated an educational creed. The Reverend De Jong hints that this different creed is unnecessary and that it seems to suggest a number of extra-revelational doctrines. Moreover, De Jong suggests that the “bent” of the creed tends to be schismatic, that the creed itself “threatens to become a ‘form of disunity.’”

Let us look at some of the arguments which supposedly support this charge. Are they based upon the facts? Is there not a note of bitterness and discontent in the words: “privately formed ‘educational creed’”? In answer let it be said, that first of all, the basis of the A. R. S. S. Constitution requires allegiance to “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, here confessed to be the Word of God in the sense of the historic creeds of the Protestant Reformation.” (Article II of the Constitution, in part.) There is obviously no attempt here to elbow the Reformed creeds out of the back door. De Jong’s contention that the A. R. S. S. “refuses to commit itself to any of the common Reformed creeds” cannot be supported in view of the Constitutional Basis. In all fairness to the A. R. S. S. this charge of Subjectivism should therefore be retracted.

De Jong continues by saying that there is no reason why a “Christian should make a different confession of faith in one area of life than in the other!” He continues: “Although there will be more extensive application of that faith in a school than in a church, must not the faith be the same?” The implication in the first sentence, made explicit in the subsequent question, clearly reveals a misunderstanding. It supposes that. if there are two creeds, there must of necessity be two faiths. This supposition is however in error. The faith in each instance is undoubtedly the same. However, because we are dealing with two different functions of the body social, each governed by laws and requirements inherent in them, different applications of the same faith are required. Faith is not something which can be pigeon-holed arbitrarily. Faith finds different and multi-purposed direction and application in different situations.

De Jong’s attitude moreover has another disconcerting ring to it. It implies that the Reformed creeds which have been traditionally established represent a complete summary of what we believe, that the church creeds are sufficient to meet every life-situation including politics, labor-relations, etc. This is not only highly improbable, but betrays a peculiarly “subjectivistic” slant in so far it decides on its own accord to what extent the church creeds, as we confess them, are applicable.

We have always believed that the formulation of our Reformed creeds accepted in the A. R. S. S. Constitution was directed by Scripture, but we have never concluded that they constitute a closed system. We have never pretended that they have immediate, practical application to every life-situation. Similarly, the Educational creed has been derived from Scripture; it only seeks to provide an outline more particularly suited to the needs of Christian scholarship.

Furthermore, how the formulation of the two creeds could “re-introduce a conflict between its (A. R. S. S.) own creed and that of the church” is an enigma. Both are derived from Scripture; both seek to re-capitulate basic scriptural tenets; both represent the same faith; both are oriented to Christ’s kingdom work; both have the glorification of God and the edification of the Christian community as goal. How can this lead to a conflict? Surely, it cannot. Only misunderstanding and misrepresentation can result in conflict and disunity. The Educational creed of the A. R. S. S. does not wish to assume primacy over church creeds, but the A. R. S. S. also believes that the church should not pontificate over educational matters. It merely wishes to remain true to the scriptural teachings embodied in the principle of sphere-sovereignty. It must be clear, however, that both creeds swear allegiance to the same faith in Jesus Christ. In this way it becomes evident that the one creed is not at all designed or intended to replace the other.

Another weighty problem concerns the “personal screening” of prospective members. In principle, of course, the screening is done according to the requirements made by the Constitution. What De Jong attacks here, however, is not the degree to which screening should be carried out, but the principle of safeguards itself, stating that “Subjectivism” is merely compounded ostensibly because members “subjectivistically” determine who should be permitted to join and who should be rejected. This view held by De Jong is, in Our opinion, irresponsible and wholly untenable for the simple reason that any cause or organization, irrespective of faith, must exercise restrictions on its membership. One of the primary purposes of this is to screen out Subjectivism!

We feel that the accusations leveled against the A. R. S. S. concerning Subjectivism can by and large be rejected. The primary one, questioning the wisdom of having two confessions, erroneously implies that the two creeds represent two faiths. There are no legitimate grounds for accepting this implication. The unity of faith has been clearly demonstrated, and the diversity is justified by the peculiar needs for which each has been designed. The second argument, that the common Reformed creeds have been ignored, is repudiated by the A. R. S. S. Constitutional Basis itself. The third charge, which seems to call into question the system of safeguards, cannot be upheld without inviting pure anarchy.

We conclude that, although the Reverend De Jong has done a very capable job of presenting the dangers of Subjectivism and although we do not at all doubt the sincerity conveyed in this article, he has placed himself out on a limb in accusing the A. R. S. S. of propagating the “Subjectivistic heresy.” We admit that there have probably been individual cases where procedure has been irregular and contrary to the ideals of the Constitution, but this does not warrant a general disapproval of the A. n. S. S. We also realize that many people are not acquainted with the Constitution of the A. R. S. S. We encourage all to send for a free copy of the Constitution. Please mail inquiries to the Publication Manager of the Grand Rapids Chapter of the A. R. S. S., Me. John Hultink, 710 Bates, S. E., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49503.