COMPLEMENTARY TRUTHS AND HERESY
Christian theology consists largely, if not exclusively, of pairs of complementary truths. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the deity of Christ and his humanity. election and the covenant of grace, reprobation and the sincere offer of the gospel, Christianity as doctrine and as life, the guidance of the church into the truth by the Holy Spirit and the right of private interpretation of Scripture these are a few examples.
The relative emphasis to be placed on each of two complementary truths often presents a problem.
Room must be left, as regards that emphasis, for some difference among brethren. A seminary student, let us say. takes a special interest in Dogmatics. In his first charge he will, as a faithful minister of the divine Word, stress strongly both life and doctrine, but he is almost sure to put the greater emphasis, relatively speaking, on Christian doctrine. A classmate of his takes a special interest in Ethics. In his first charge he will likewise, as a faithful minister of the divine Word, stress strongly both doctrine and life, but he is likely going to put the greater emphasis, relatively speaking, on the Christian life. Who will say that there is anything objectionable about such a difference?
On the other hand, a difference of emphasis may be truly reprehensible.
We human beings find it exceedingly difficult to keep our balance. That holds for theological balance, too. And so it may easily happen that a minister—or someone else stresses a truth to the detriment, although not the complete neglect, of its complement. To do so is incipient heresy. For instance, one may exalt the church’s creeds so highly as to leave little room for interpretation of Scripture by the individual Christian. Then he is on the road to Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, he may place so much emphasis on the right of private interpretation as to detract from the value of the church’s confessions. In that case he inclines to Anabaptism.
All of us have in us a strain of rationalism. That makes it extremely difficult for us to accept the paradoxes of Holy Writ. As in many instances -not all-complementary truths are patadoxical, we are often tempted to accept one and to reject the other. That is not incipient but outright heresy. For example, he who accepts the humanity of Christ but rejects his deity is a heretic. So is he who does the reverse. Likewise, to deny, in the interest of reprobation, the plain Scriptural teaching of the sincere offer of the gospel is heresy, and to reject the plain Scriptural teaching of reprobation in the interest of the sincere offer of the gospel is no better.
COMPLEMENTARY TRUTHS AND THE REFORMED FAITH
Calvinists are wont to claim that the Reformed faith is Christian theology in its purest expression. A claim made perhaps less frequently for the Reformed faith is that it is the fullest expression of Christian theology. Yet the latter claim is no less just than is the former.
It is the glory of the Reformed faith that it accepts complementary truths of Scripture without detracting from either, and that it accepts both teachings even when they are paradoxical; that is, when it is impossible to reconcile them with each other before the bar of human reason.
In other words, the Reformed theology is not a closed system every part of which according to the laws of human logic fits in perfectly with every other part. Contrariwise. when the Calvinist is completely certain that a matter is taught in the Word of God, he takes that matter into his system, whether it seems to fit in or not. For him the test of truth is not human reason but the Word of God. He willingly subjects human logic to the divine logos.
Following is an example.
It has often been said that theological truth consists of two hemispheres—divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and that the Calvinist holds the former, the Arminian the latter. It is difficult to conceive of a more serious perversion of fact. Obviously, Arminianism does violence to the sovereignty of God. It teaches that God chose sinners unto everlasting life, not in sovereign love, but on the ground of foreseen faith. It even dares to say that God cannot save a sinner without the sinner’s consent and thus makes salvation dependent ultimately on the will of man. Does Calvinism do violence to human responsibility? Instead of stressing it less than does Arminianism, Calvinism stresses it more. According to Arminianism God adjusts his demands to the enfeebled powers of man and never requires of him what he is unable to do. According to Calvinism God often demands of man what he cannot do. For instance, although no man can come to Christ in faith except the Father draw him, God requires faith of everyone to whom the gospel comes and holds him responsible in case he does not believe.
The Reformed faith embraces “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
NEEDED: CALVINISTIC ACTION
“Calvinists can in no sense be a ‘quiet’ party, content if they can only possess within their own circle those things which make for the fulfillment of their spiritual needs. More than any other group they are a party of action, of holy ‘agitation: To agitate is for them a matter of devotion to duty.”
These words are attributed to a great Calvinist of a previous generation (Prof. D. P. D. Fabius). I believe they are true insofar as they attempt to reflect the kind of dynamic witness which Calvinism ought to send forth. They are also disturbing, because we seem to fail to demonstrate that kind of “agitation” in our time and in this land.
It would be very easy for anyone to assert that many Calvinists today are satisfied to make a very quiet (some call it dignified) witness to the theological superiority of traditional Calvinist positions, raising their well-modulated voices only occasionally at some learned conference or in some theological journal. And anyone could point to the fact that many a pastoral prayer in divine worship regularly expresses a sense of gratitude to the Almighty for the privilege of worship without molestation.
For Calvinist theology and for worship true to the Word every one ought to be very grateful. But if we were really convinced of this sound doctrine, and genuinely gripped by this unresisted, unmolested preaching of the Word, wouldn’t we agitate as a party 0/ actionP
Or is perhaps the best theology and the purest preaching meaningless unless it is known and heard in faith by those willing to be properly active and vocal in the good tradition of John Calvin? I think so!
A “THAW” MEANS THIN ICE
The Kremlin’s top-notch psychological war machine is hard at work. These post-graduate experts in subtlety are getting just the headlines they want in the American press. One recent headline intimated that a “thaw” was coming in the cold war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
These masters of deceit are plying the newly inaugurated President Kennedy with unabashed flattery. They are busy polishing him up so fine that, compared to that war-monger and imperialist Eisenhower, Kennedy is a saint wearing the twin crowns of wisdom and peace. Then they pulled that splendid stroke, releasing the two American flyers. We all rejoice in this release, of course. But why was it done? For humanitarian reasons? Out of concern for these men or their families? The prison camps of Siberia give the plain answer to those questions. These shrewd manipulators of minds and emotions gave America an emotional Bing to be added to the experience of hailing a new administration with a new mistress of the White House who stirred inane reactions to her hairdo, her clothes, and even her nose.
Is our new young president going to fall for all this, even a tiny bit? Is there going to be a least relaxing of our vigilance? Are any of the new men in high posts in government (in the State Department and at the U.N.) going to fall for this crusty guile?
We earnestly hope and pray not. What has in the past been called a “thaw” in the cold war has meant only one thing—thin ice. It meant danger. It meant, and still means, that these crafty sons of the father of lies are busy furthering their cause somewhere in the world while America is temporarily lulled.
Why do Americans insist on being so soft-headed? When tile masters of the Kremlin make these seemingly good gestures, what should we hear? Should we hear about a relaxing of the cold war? Not at all. We should hear about an intensification of the cold war. We should be warned of new chilly blasts in this conflict in which we are engaged.
Why? Because this so-called cold war is in reality a hot war, the hottest of wars. It is basically an ideological war, yes, a spiritual war. It is fundamentally the conflict of the ages between those who say “In God We Trust” and those who say there is no God. In this warfare there is no letup. In this warfare every friendly act of the enemy is in reality an unfriendly act.
Let us pray for our new administration that they may see this issue in its true, basic character. However, let’s face it—it’s often hard for products of America’s secularized education to see these deeper spiritual issues. That is part of our very serious problem.
Mr. Kennedy—there’s thin ice ahead. Watch out!
SPORT-LOVING; ALSO TRUTH HUNGRY?
I was party to a great spectacle a few weeks ago: a big crowd (more than 5,000), two well-coached, highly skilled basketball teams, a historic rivalry, and, for this time, a very satisfactory ending. Our side won. An enthusiastic fan in my section of the hall excitedly reported that “the place would have been sold out if there were twice as many seats.” I think he was right.
However, I couldn’t help but contrast the enthusiasm and interest of this fine occasion with another. Let me list its features: a competent lecturer (just returned from a year of study at the feet of the internationally famous Karl Barth), a very significant subject (What does Karl Barth’s theology mean for us?), and a very strategic setting (the chapel of the largest Calvinistic college in the world!).
The Truth was honored in these lectures, as had been promised by wide-spread announcements in a church community claiming tens of thousands of Christians “of Reformed persuasion.”
Was there “a big crowd”? No, another two or three hundred could have been seated in the 650 seat auditorium.
Draw your own conclusions.
PROGRESSIVE INCOME TAXES
The idea of progressive income taxes is one of the prominent items in the Communist Manifesto. In fact, communism can be established in a country merely by the one single device of a strongly progressive income tax. Such a tax can be set to take away nearly everything over a certain income.
When the income tax was first passed, the universal expectation was that the rate would never go beyond 10% or 12%. The minimum rate for Federal taxes is now 20% on taxable income. The higher rates are so punitive that no business decisions of consequence are made nowadays without considering tax consequences.
Once a man has enough money to live, he ought to start giving his assets away to his children, in order to keep taxes down.
Many men of great ability, whose work would be very valuable for the community, retire from money-making activities because their tax rates are too high to make it worth while for them to work any longer.
Some of the principal victims of progressive taxation arc churches, schools and charities. The prospects for private colleges and charitable institutions in the country are not good. At one time they got their principal support from large gifts by the very wealthy. The government tax policy is in the process of drying that up. However, the full process will take a considerable period of time, and the full effects are not apparent yet.
The best material on the real character of progressive income tax can be obtained from an essay by Professor Friedrich A. von Hayek entitled “Progressive Taxation Reconsidered,” pages 265ff., in a book of essays entitled 011 Freedom And Free Enterprise, edited by Mary Sennholz (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, New Jersey). The book, I am confident, will be in the Grand Rapids library.
Just as an example of how deceiving things can be, consider the 5z.t; income taxes which corporations pay. Even most businessmen think that they pay it. Actually, the consumer pays it. Businessmen are obviously compelled to set their prices so that they can get the necessary money in order to pay their corporation income taxes. I have been in business for 40 years, and for 40 years I have been helping to set prices in a manner to pass the corporation income tax back to consumers.
A Christian Business Man
TIMELY EMPHASIS ON BIBLE STUDY
J. Edgar Hoover has performed a great service in pointing out that Communists are fanatically devoted to their “religion” because they are required to spend much time in studying the original sources of their beliefs, that is, the writings of Marx, Engel, and Lenin. All Communists are urged to do this daily and to maintain a schedule of reading throughout youLh, in middle life and in old age.
In contrast, Mr. Hoover asks, “Do we as Christians take enough time to read the Bible, and the writings of our prophets, seers and men of God during the past 20 centuries? Are we digging deep enough in the wells of our faith?” Then Mr. Hoover adds, “Most truly, the Bible gives inspiration, zeal, and guidance for life. To neglect it is to reduce our national vitality and strength.”
Continuing, Mr. Hoover asks a series of questions which every Christian should face and answer: “How many Christians read the Bible only on special occasions? How many Christians set aside a certain amount of time each day or week for reading religious literature? Do some Christians regard the Bible as a book only for children; do they think that as adults they have outgrown it? Do we view the Bible as an ‘antique book’ which has no message to our modem age? Do we display the same ‘iron will and firm determination’ to learn the Christian faith as the Communists do for their ideology?”
H.E.K. in Christian Economics
When, in religious discussion, marked differences of ideas and feelings appear, some feel it best to drop the matter. But if the subject really needs more consideration or emphasis we ought to find a better way; a way to avoid the “fire-works” but not the subject, a way to disagree without being disagreeable. And if, due to human weakness, the earnest quest of truth involves a few “bumps” that should not deter the quest.
Because of its high importance may we apply that approach to our discussions of orthodoxy? Whatever differences may obtain, let us emphasize our large measure of agreement and then confer together to gain light on aspects of divergence.
Surely, it is a time for us all to join in manifestly and emphatically insisting that orthodoxy must be held high! The dictionary reminds us that being orthodox means to be “sound in opinion or doctrine, esp. in religious doctrine.” So inspired Paul insists on the “form of sound words,” on “being sound in the faith” (II Tim. 1:13, Tit. 1, 13; 2:2).
Such soundness has held, still holds, must hold an honored and guarded place among us if our church is to maintain its position and do its work for the Lord. Think again of the volume our seminary president authored: “THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH: A Study in Orthodoxy.” Surely, we must watch, work, pray, and strive to keep that characteristic; closely guided by God’s infallible Word and by our Reformed Standards.
Orthodoxy will suffer among us if we to any extent, for the sake of unity, compromise with even so-called slight deviations from our Reformed Creeds. But it wiII also suffer if we become two camps with widening cleavages, drifting farther apart instead of drawing closer together, because we have failed to do our utmost to clarify the issues and to seek a fruitful discussion of our differences.
Can we think of any area where we can more profitably or more beautifully close ranks than in honOring orthodoxy?