Times when sharp differences in the church give rise to unpleasant tensions are always disturbing. It is personally much more desirable to live in harmony with all the brethren.
However, such times do come in the life of the church of Christ. Much as we dislike such experiences, we must face them when they occur. How must they be faced?
In the first place, issues that arise in the church must be honestly and resolutely faced in the light of Scripture and the doctrinal standards of the church. In the second place such honest facing of the issues must take place in a setting of love for the brethren.
It is not easy to meet these two requirements. Many people don’t like to face issues. Facing issues honestly and resolutely requires study, clear thinking, and fearless decision. And let us admit that it is not always easy to love those with whom we differ. Please, let’s not talk about such love too easily. It is often apparent that some of those who speak most about such love have the least of it when the issue is sharply drawn. A better course of action is for each of us to pray for a larger measure of it.
There will be difference of opinion as to whether these requirements have been met in any given instance. But it is proper to ask how the climate of discussion is improved by an attitude that sometimes appears. This attitude is expressed in pointing to some person or group as responsible for the troubles in the church. The appealing suggestion here is that if this person or group would only be quiet all would be well in the church.
An instance of this approach to the problems in the Christian Reformed Church appeared in an editorial in The Church Observer of June, 1960. The editor of this Chicagoland paper writes as follows under the heading “United We Stand”: “Yet another burden to some of us is the fact that those who have come into our church from other quarters are so certain that they know just what we must confess and do, so as to avoid disaster. As a vocal minority they write and speak and confuse our people into believing that the church is in dire need of cleansing. They cast subtle shadows over the reputation of leaders who hold an opposing viewpoint.”
A similar instance of such an attitude appeared in The Banner of June 9, 1960, in the article “That Shortage of Ministers: Another Look.” Here we read as follows: “Then too let us realize that some ministers coming from other circles, perhaps not knowing us well, have an inclination to dispute our heritage and to foster fractious controversies among us.”
Does the record support such charges? Let’s take a look.
Who produced a pamphlet a few years ago criticizing our church’s method of doing mission work among the Indians in our Southwest?
Who proposed not so long ago that we change om’ historic stand on the issue of membership in the lodge?
Who wrote a long article calling for a thorough overhauling of our entire theological structure, an article containing sharp criticism of men who had a large place in the forming and articulation of “our heritage”?
Who called for a scaling down of our requirements for church membership?
Who wrote a booklet of some length criticizing much in the mission thinking and practice of the Christian Reformed Church?
Who in our centennial year questioned the historical right of our church to separate existence as a denomination?
Who proposed only a little over a year ago that we set aside our doctrine of the Covenant of Crace as basic to our system of Christian schools?
Now let us take a look at the two issues that have stirred the church most sharply in recent times, namely, the TCNN (Theological College of Northern Nigeria) matter and the question of the Infallibility of the Scriptures.
The facts as to how and where these issues started are well known. By no stretch of the imagination can the raising of these issues be laid at the door of men coming into the ministry of the church from “other circles.” The TCNN issue has had its main spokesman in a man who once taught at Calvin Seminary. And the Infallibility issue originated at Calvin Seminary. That’s hardly an influence from other quarters.
And who were the main spokesmen of the opposition in these issues? Unless I am sorely mistaken the fact is that the opposition on the TCNN issue was sparked in the first place by a member of the Board of Foreign Missions who has never been anything other than Christian Reformed. Another sharp critic of the proposed TCNN has been the Managing Editor of this magazine, for many years the editor of The Banner.
Of the many who sounded the alarm on the Infallibility issue none stands out more prominently than the present editor of The Banner. His editorial writings on this issue are well remembered by many with deep appreciation, by some with a puzzling hostility. Another who figured significantly in this debate is a professor at the seminary who has reached retirement age after long and faithful service. Surely, all of these men who sounded the alarm on these two issues cannot be regarded as being anything other than thoroughbred Christian Reformed.
My point in making these references to different people in the church has not been with the intention of pointing an accusing finger. The intent is simply al!d solely to make clear that the record does not support the unkind charges referred to above. Discussion of issues is not clarified and the peace of the church is not enhanced by that kind of writing. Rather, may all of us pray humbly for a larger measure of solid, honest, and biblical address to issues, and for a richer portion of true, heaven-born love.