October is a good time to say this.
Why? Because this is the month to celebrate the glorious Protestant Reformation. At least this is what we should be doing as those who still call ourselves Reformed—even Christian Reformed.
Or has the glory of that illustrious sixteenth century in church history now grown dim and dull for us also, even as it has for so much of so-called Protestant Christendom.
The old–time Reformation Day meetings, once so well attended, have largely become passe. The gold of those yesteryears seems sadly tarnished. The glory has departed.
Hand in hand with today’s unprecedented affluence and a hail–fellow-well–met ecumenism, a climate has set in that is no longer congenial to an enthusiastic Reformation Day celebration. A contagious religious malaise is making it increasingly difficult to flick as much as an eyelash to an appeal to become joyfully, actively, and militantly involved in the celebration of our glorious Protestant heritage, to say nothing of an all–out preservation and proclamation of it.
An either-or – A familiar illustration may be adapted here for our purpose. It is told of Alexander the Creat, King of Macedonia and conqueror of the ancient eastern world, that it had been reported to him that there was in his anny a soldier with the same name as his, Alexander, and that this soldier was a coward. Summoning this weakling before him, Alexander the Creat is said to have told him: “I understand that you have the same name as mine, Alexander, but I am also told that you are a coward. Now, either you be a brave soldier or otherwise I command you to change your name.”
Even so, it has been said, our Commander in Chief, Jesus Christ, is telling us who call ourselves Christians: “You call yourselves by My name, but I know that you do not live as those who believe in Me, as those who belong to Me, and as those who serve and honor Me. Now, one or the other—either you live up to the name you go by, or otherwise I command you to change your name.”
And may the same not be said of Luther, Calvin, and the other great Reformers? Do they not speak to us across the centuries from their hallowed pages in church history saying substantially the same thing: “We understand that you call yourselves Reformed but, at the same time, that you show by your life that you mean so little or nothing of it and that your interest in what we were used of God to do is next to nil. Now, in the name of our Lord, we command you: Either you must show yourselves to be the Reformers of your day right where you are, or otherwise you must change your name!”
Is all this really Reformed? – At this point certain recent incidents come to mind that fill me with misgivings about just how serious we are as a CRC about being really Reformed. The incidents to be cited are, at least in part, public knowledge, and insofar I betray no trust in writing about them openly. My prayer is that I may write about these matters not only forthrightly but also in Christian love.
1. Incident number one is the following. On Sunday, June 2,1974, the evening service at the La Grave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids was an Ecumenical Celebration of Pentecost, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism. My attention was first called to this by the church news in The Grand Rapids Press, and a few days later I ran across a brief article about it in The Western Michigan Catholic under the heading “Six ministers and a priest—Ecumenical Pentecost Service.”
The Roman Catholic priest, Father Don Heydens of St. Francis Parish in Grand Rapids, participated by leading the “Response of Faith,” a recitation in unison of the Nicene Creed. Well, what’s so bad about that? Don’t we also have the Nicene Creed?
Indeed, we do. But the Roman Catholic priest and any member of the Christian Reformed Church who knows the abc’s of Reformed doctrine on the one hand and Roman Catholic theology on the other must know that they are far apart in what they mean, even though they may be formally reciting the words of the Nicene Creed in unison.
I made it a point to attend that service at La Grave because I really wanted to see firsthand whether we too are so far down the ecumenical road that we can now have a Roman Catholic priest on the pulpit of a Christian Reformed Church to participate in conducting a Sunday evening service.
Well, there he was alongside of the other participants who were from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Park Congregational U.C.C., the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism, Central Reformed Church, First Community A.M.E. Church, in addition to those from La Grave Avenue.
Now, don‘t misunderstand me. A Roman Catholic priest should be welcome in a Christian Reformed Church at any time. Whenever I meet that amiable old gentleman, Father Maloney of St. Joseph Seminary right around the corner from where we live, wc can have a neighborly chat together. But to ask him to participate in conducting one of our services, that’s different.
And the whole thing is confUSing. It leaves thc impression that our differences are not important and can safely be ignored. Subtly, whether consciously or unconsciously, that’s the way to sabotage the Protestant Reformation and to encourage doctrinally illiterate and indifferent members to say farewell to our Reformed heritage. By doing this kind of thing at a worship service one builds a bridge for CRC members to cross over to become Roman Catholic.
Take the case of these disturbing courtships that Christian Reformed and Roman Catholic young people at times get into together. Surely I am by no means the only minister who has been called in by distraught parents to try to do something to help these young people to avoid all the trouble that such a marriage will in all likelihood lead to. But what do you tell such young people if the Christian Reformed Church begins having Roman Catholic priests take part in conducting the services?
Now, for a moment, back -to that Nicene Creed. It mentions the Virgin Mary. But anyone with a minimum of knowledge about the matter must know that the “Mary” of Roman Catholic theology is definitely not the Mary of the Bible. We may say the same words, but in meaning we are far, far apart. The Nicene Creed speaks of Christ’s saving work and of His death. But when the Roman Catholic insists on the need for and the merits of good works in addition to the saving work of Christ and also on the constant repetition of the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, how can we join hearts and voices with a Roman Catholic priest in reciting the words of the Nicene Creed when our meaning is so far, far apart?
We should never forget that a Roman Catholic priest cannot function at a Refonned service except within the context and on the background of his whole Roman Catholic theology concerning the Mass, the authority of the church above that of the Bible, Penance, the Priesthood, “Mary,” and other matters.
But now, why don’t I contact Rev. Eppinga and La Grave Avenue about this? I have done so. I did send Rev. Eppinga a letter expressing my disapproval of such a service. We also spent approximately two hours in conversation about this but we apparently got nowhere. And twice I have altered him space in THE OUTLOOK to write about this matter if he wishes to do so.
A copy of the letter sent to the La Grave Avenue Consistory brought forth the response: “Best assured, dear brother, that our decision to act as hosts of this worship service was fully considered, principled, and (we believe) correct. . . . In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we continue to support our pastors and our Worship Committee in the common conviction that this worship service was a testimony of praise to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They found my letter “altogether puzzling, in that no specific violations or Scripture, Creeds, or Church Order are alleged.” The invitation of the Consistory to continue the discussion with them is one of which, the Lord willing, I shall avail myself. Their courtesy in the matter is appreciated.
2. A further incident to which I wish to refer is the three-year reappointment of Rev. Eppinga by the 1974 CRC Synod to the denominational InterChurch Relations Committee. Why do I bring this up? Because I am convinced that anyone who engages in and defends a Roman Catholic-priest participation in a CRC worship service (to say nothing of the others who took part) should not represent the CRC on this important committee unless this is the direction in which the CRC is now minded and ready to go.
In my letter to Rev. Eppinga ] gave expression to my concern as follows: “What disturbs me, in addition to the fact that you are a CRC minister and that La Grave is a CRC congregation, is the fact that you also serve as a member of the CRC Inter-Church Relations Committee and that the Committee is recommending to Synod: ‘‘That for the good of the work being carried on at present’ you should be reappointed for a three-year term. Please allow me to ask whether the kind of ecumenical service you had on June 2, is representative of the inter-church relations you do or would like to sponsor and encourage, as a member of our denominational committee.”
And because the Inter-Church Relations Committee was asking the 1974 Synod to reappoint Rev. Eppinga to its committee “for the good of the work being carried on at present,” I immediately sent a copy of my letter to Rev. Eppinga to Rev. Tymen E. Hofman, Secretary of the Inter-Church Relations Committee. But apparently that made no difference. I received no reply and see now that Rev. Eppinga has received the reappointment. Are we not justified in asking what we can now expect from our InterChurch Relations Committee?
Moreover, in the light of the above, I am frankly baffled by what I find Rev. Eppinga saying in a speech delivcred at a meeting of the Holland (Mich.) Christian Schools and reprinted in the July-August 1974 issue of Christian Home and School (p. 4). Note the following excerpts from what he said:
“There are new words in vogue with us today like ecumenicity, outreach, social action, racial equality—all good words and legitimate phrases. I rejoice in their appearance among us. But these new wordy must not stand in opposition to the old words and concepts that represent our theological tradition. Rather, they must flow from them . . .
“It is my experience that there are those among us who are tired of being distinctive and are more anxious to conform to the style of other church communions. I am sounding a warning. We must be relevant to the world of today, but we must also maintain our traditions, be proud of them, and grateful for them. The question is not how can we be more conformed, but how can we be more Christian.” (The italics in the above excerpts have been added.)
So far, so good. Actually splendid! But please tell us, Rev. Eppinga, how can this possibly be squared with the ecumenical worship service held at your church and your approval of it?
I hold no brief for all that the ACRL (Association of Christian Reformed Laymen) has written and done. They have erred in the past and I have tried frankly to point it out to them. But let’s not close our eyes to the fact that these laymen do have a cause. I would not dare to deny that they are genuinely concerned about keeping the CRC Reformed in faith and life. These laymen are also prophets, priests, and kings in the church and they are also entitled to have their say.
It is easy to simply dismiss the ACRL in highhanded fashion, to brush them aside, and to dose one’s ears to anything they have to say. But those who do so should honestly ask themselves what they are doing about disturbing trends in the CRC. Or are we sure that all is well and that we can blissfully be .at peace in Zion?
Well, what happened? The same 1974 Synod that reappointed Rev. Eppinga to the denominational Inter-Church Relations Committee saw fit to decide that ACRL members had engaged in divisive activities and that the consistories are “to deal in a disciplinary way with members who are actively involved in such divisive activities” (Acts of Synod, 1974, p. 95).
Obviously, the CRC, like other churches, is in the throes of change. The whole thin.!? is a traumatic experience. Meanwhile, all it seems to take for some to blacklist a CRC minister is to spread the word that he is a friend of the ACRL. Are we really justified in giving these laymen such short shrift? Let’s hear them out and also try to be objective in doing so even as we seem so ready to be with offenders at the other end of our denominational spectrum. And let’s think at least twice, and then some, before we start disciplining the wrong people in the church.
Once again—let‘s either really be Reformed or else let’s change our name!
SUGGESTION FOR THANKSGIVING DAY
Full–page ads in the daily newspaper will come up with suggestions galore about an abundance of food to stuff ourselves with on Thanksgiving Day, and the sports section will once again give all the information as to what to watch on TV the rest of the day. But anyone who is genuinely thankful knows he must set his sights on something higher than all this traditional fare.
Allow me then to offer a suggestion both practical and also Scriptural. In following this, our hearts should be able to throb as one for a common Christian cause throughout the CRC, both in Canada where Thanksgiving Day is to be observed on October 14, and also in the U. S. where the date is November 28. If this suggestion reaches Canada too late for their Thanksgiving Day services, it can still be followed at a later Sunday worship service.
The suggestion is that this year all our churches set aside the Thanksgiving Day offering for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to be used for the poor, the destitute, and the starving wherever it may be possible and feasible for the CRWRC to minister to them. Gradually the facts arc getting to us—that is, unless we deliberately close our eyes and refuse to allow ourselves to be disturbed. The needs of countless of our fellow human beings arc shocking—if only we are willing to be shocked into doing at least something about it, feeble as our efforts may prove to be!
Lying on my desk is a recent issue of The Other Side (July-Aug. 1974). The following brief excerpts from this journal may be cited to point up how acute the crisis has become:
“According to food experts, 20 million people may starve this year (that’s 55,000 people a day)” (p. 2).
“No wonder the current situation is called a population explosion . . . three-quarters of us will go to bed hungry tonight. Tell thousand poor people, mostly children, died of starvation today; ten thousand more will starve to death tomorrow and every day” (p. 19).
Too often in our churches we have taken up offerings for ourselves and for our own causes instead of giving for starving men, women, and children who are so desperately in need of even the crumbs that fall from our tables. To those who give for the poor and needy our Lord will one day say: “I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me to drink.” But what will he say to us if we are content to keep these offerings for ourselves?
And here is an added suggestion—take it for what it is worth. At least it worked in the four churches I was privileged to serve. On the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving Day small envelopes for the special offering were handed out—mind you, not just one for the family but every last man, woman, and child in the congregation received one. It was amazing what interest even the youngest children took in giving their own offerings for a cause that they might check on the outside of the envelope. A number of causes were listed and everyone might check the cause of his or her own choice. To the best of my recollection, in most if not in each case the amount of thc Thanksgiving Day offering proved to be double that of the year before. This year we might place the CRWRC as the only cause listed with blanks for anyone who may have a special preference for some other cause.
Our Lord takes a tremendous interest in the poor. Notice what He says:
“He that givcth unto the poor shall not lack; But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Prov. 28:27).