Letter to Jim

Dear Jim:

Some time ago I was privileged to attend a youth retreat at a lake in Northwest Iowa. It was a good retreat and of great spiritual benefit to those who attended. We studied the Word of God together and discussed its meaning for our lives in 1970 . We also sang, prayed, and played together. It was a good experience which I will never forget.

One of the organized recreational activities was a tug-of-war. All kinds of sides were chosen and placed at opposite ends of the rope. It was great fun. Toward the end of the tug-of-war session someone suggested that the liberals pull against the conservatives That’s precisely what was done and—you guessed it—the liberals won. They usually do!

Now I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this, Jim, but I saw something in that tug-of-war which made me sick. Evidently we’ve given you, the youth of the denomination, the impression that the conflict between liberals and conservatives is the issue of our day. I can understand why you’ve gotten that impression, because for some time two sides—the liberals and conservatives—within our denomination have appeared involved in an ecclesiastical tug-of-war which even now threatens to pull our denomination apart, leaving it nothing more than a heap of broken and fractured groups.

I know that there are various definitions of what it means to be conservative and liberal. To be conservative can mean accepting the Bible as the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God; acknowledging the Bible as the only infallible standard for faith and life ; seeking, without compromise, to defend and promote the historic, Christian, Reformed faith against attack and in the face of all opposition. To be liberal can mean denying the inspired, infallible nature of Scripture; rejecting fixed, biblical standards for faith and life; compromising one’s faith in terms of whatever may be the latest “religious” fad. If this is what the terms mean, Jim, then you and I must quickly take hold of the conservative end of the rope.

More and more however, it seems to me that the terms conservative and liberal are coming to mean something quite different. To be conservative increasingly means to be concerned only with the preservation of the instituted church, its marks, and its traditions; the maintenance of pure doctrine; the conservation of the status quo; and the avoidance of any contract with the contaminating forces of a sinful world. The conservative mind seems to have taken to itself a “world flight” mentality. On the other hand, to be liberal appears increasingly to be concerned only with relevancy; changing with a changing world and rejecting that which is old; ministering to the needs of a society which is torn by war, poverty, racial conflict, etc; and seeking to establish some kind of utopia on earth. The liberal mind tends toward activism and finds itself with nothing more than a “social gospel”, which is really no gospel at all. Now if this is the only option to us, Jim, while we may be inclined to take hold of the middle of the rope, we’d better take hold of the conservative end, for one may question whether the Christ of the social gospel is the Christ of the Scriptures.

But this is not the only option open to us . In fact, it’s no option at all! To be Christian, biblical, and Reformed is to recognize that God created us to live and work with His creation according to His law and unto His glory. It is to see and understand that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and that we have been redeemed to live as citizens of His Kingdom, not only in the instituted church but also in the other spheres of life. Of course we must work to maintain and preserve our Reformed faith, opposing those who seek to destroy it by means of compromise. But we must maintain and preserve our faith in order that the redemptive will and grace of Christ may be seen and felt everywhere. Of course we must seek to be relevant, make an impact upon our world, and speak to such issues as war, poverty, race relations, labor strife, etc. But we must do so in terms of the faith of our fathers, making clear that our Bible-based faith is at no time “up for grabs”.

I know that this matter concerns you and your friends, Jim. Many of you have spoken to me and others about it. Let’s pray that God will bring an end to this tug-of-war in our denomination. Let’s work to that end, both young and old, recognizing that “pulling in one direction” demands bowing together before God and His Word and seeking both the preservation and the promotion of our faith to the glory of His Name.

So long, Jim.

Rev. Hulst