The Conservative and the Changing Church

Rev. John H. Engbers, pastor of the Calvin Christian Reformed Church of Rock Valley Iowa, delivered this article as an address at a public meeting at the Grandville Avenue Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 27 at the time of the Annual Meeting of Reformed Fellowship, Inc.

As you may know, I am a novice in the ministry having spent most of my life in the pew and in the business world. For this I make no apology. But feeling the call of the Lord to lay down the hammer and trowel and arm myself with the Sword of the Spirit, I make no apology either for what I plan to say tonight abut The Conservative and the Changing Church. My remarks may not give evidence of profound insights or keen perceptions, but I assure you they are the burden and conviction of my heart.

The conservative defined – Before proceeding permit me to define and limit somewhat the framework within which I shall confine my observations. I’m keenly aware that the moment you say conservative it brings up all sorts of connotations, some good, others not so good. I was given some definitions of a conservative in a letter received a few weeks ago. Allow me to share some of them with you:

“Conservatives consider themselves martyrs . . . a passive hero if there is such an animal; a hero in being two-faced, acting nice to his liberal opponents and catty to his supporters who want him to be a real hero . . . faith for them is a formula on how to survive in the church jungle of their own creation.”

“A conservative is possessed of some strange sort of pride, The mere fact of being tolerated in the church, reduced to impotence or meditation, makes them regard themselves as men of wisdom and superiority.”

“The marks of a conservative are: a slightly sceptical turn mind; an attitude of ‘nothing works’ anyway; what can I do, with the emphasis upon I; a faculty for subtle allusion, greatly sharpened by years and years of straddling the church fences, evading issues, and trying to save one’s own skin.”

“A conservative is a man who does not act and therefore is a thing, and is treated as such . . . he is pushed around and used as a slave or windowdressing . . . they let themselves be treated as an imbecile is handled by a nurse . . . they enjoy their spiritual spinelessness and don’t even know or realize what they are enjoying.”

Now I will not deny that there may be a measure of truth in some of these allegations. Too long we’ve been mopping the trenches instead of taking up the Sword of the Lord on the field of battle. Too long we’ve stood idly by while others were busy dismantling the house of faith a board at a time. Too long we’ve been content with an occasional chairmanship of a Board or Synod, while others have gained the real seats of power. It’s more than time that we exchange passivity for passion; this is the hour to negate the negative and accentuate the positive.

But the conservative of whom I speak tonight is not the person who merely sits back to rest in the glorious truth that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” Rather, he is one who holds fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and affirms that faith on the basis of the inspired, authoritative, infallible, inerrant Scriptures. He is creedally committed to the precious truths that Word conveys and he is militant in the defense of those truths.

Now the moment one takes that position he is immediately branded as being narrow and intolerant. We are told, Let’s not allow doctrinal differences to separate us, for after all doctrine is simply the necessarily changing expression of Christian experience, and various doctrines will find their unity if they are translated back into the experience from which they come. Individuals who speak that way are guilty, it seems to me, of a really astonishing narrowness of mind, for they have never understood the essence of doctrine. The conservative is not the narrow one, for at the very center and core of his faith is the conviction that instead of doctrine springing from life, life springs from doctrine and has implications for all of life. And what can be broader than that?

Conservatives are branded as intolerant if they exclude heretical minister from their fellowship. In my judgment the real intolerance is to be found in those who deny them the right to exclude him. Let’s look at it in its simplest terms. Here is a group of people who believe that the greatest thing in the world is to proclaim a way of salvation, a system of biblical doctrine, that is summarized in creedal statements. They come together in a body called a church. No doubt the purpose of their organization, which is set forth as plain as day in their confessions, may seem to be very foolish to many. But surely they cannot be accused of being intolerant for seeking to maintain their existence by insisting that their accredited representatives arc not to combat their fundamental purpose from within through dishonesty in creedal subscription.

How absurd it is, then, to say that the church is trying to silence certain men. It is doing nothing of the kind. It is merely seeking to avoid the dishonesty of allowing a creedal church to proclaim a message which is the very opposite for which it exists. It is no limiting of liberty for the church to insist upon one type of teaching on the part of its representatives who are speaking not merely with their own authority, but with the authority of the church. If a man does not agree with that type of teaching he is free to seek another platform on which he can really speak his mind. So look who is calling whom narrow and intolerant!

The church is changing – But in spite of the fact that conservatives are committed to a system of biblical truth, it remains true that the church is changing. Such change is evident, I suppose, in every denomination but I wish to confine myself to the Christian Reformed Church, for what we find in our own bosom is characteristic of the whole of Christendom. Changes are occurring in the CRC today which are affecting, and even threatening, the life, growth, and future of our denomination.

A recent series of articles in The Banner have perceptively laid bare several movements within the denomination as contributing factors to the changes so painfully apparent to us all. The first such change is “a prevailing spirit of unrest” evidenced “in a critical spirit directed against nearly every aspect of church life, from the highest bodies of the denomination to the individual congregations and pastors.”

A second major change is “the loss of homogeneity.” The author of the articles has delineated four movements which, in his judgment, are contributing to the weakening of our unity as a denomination. Number one is that of militant orthodoxy which sees the church in danger of losing its Reformed heritage and seeks by aggressive means to counteract that danger. The Reformed Fellowship is listed in that category. Number two is labeled as cautious liberalization and is characterized by a progressive spirit which maintains that we cannot remain unchanged in a changing world if we are to speak meaningfully to our age, but we must “rethink our fallible understanding of the infallible truth.” A third movement is that of modern-day pietism emphasizing the importance of spiritual experience and personal devotion. This group is often critical of the organized church for its failure to inspire spiritually and commitment in its membership. A fourth movement characterized as neo-Kuyperiaoism seeks to promote the Kingdom of God in every area of life in an organized way and is often critical of those who fail to see or implement the distinctive demands of the Kingdom. Sharp differences between these four movements and their critics have tended to polarize the denomination and in turn have caused our membership to do what the Bible forbids—choosing for Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ.

In addition to a spirit of unrest and a loss of homogeneity, a third change evident in the church is the erosion of denominational loyalty. An increasing number display little or no loyalty to the CRC and switch their allegiance for little or no reason. There is a growing indifference to church attendance, doctrinal preaching, Church Order, discipline, Sabbath observance, and Christian education, all of which have long distinguished us as a church.

A fourth observable change is the decline in Christian commitment evidenced by a growing loss of membership, religious indifference, and even outright rejection of the Christian faith. While there are undoubtedly other phenomena to be observed, these should suffice to indicate that the church is indeed changing.

In a recent editorial in The Banner our esteemed editor stated that “conservatives should take heart” . . . the prevailing theological “breezes are blowing their way.” Several synodical decisions are cited as supportive of that opinion. But as a delegate to the last Synod I do not share his optimism. To coin his phrase, when I put my “duly moistened finger to the wind” I get a different reading. Dr. De Koster gave good advice however when he said, “If you like whence the breezes blow, say sol If not, do your bit to shifting the wind’s direction.”

Now I have no such delusions of grandeur as to suppose that what I say tonight will in any way change the direction of the prevailing wind, but I would like to offer several suggestions at this point which I consider to be absolutely essential for the conservative who finds himself confronted with the phenomenon of a changing church.

1. First of nil, the conservative must be committed.

He must be committed, number one, to an infallible Scripture. For those of us who are committed to historic, Protestant Christianity, nothing is more tragic and painful than to see churches turning away from the doctrine which is foundational and basic to our faith, namely, that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. We can take it when enemies outside the church attack that foundation of our faith, and we try to defend ourselves against them. But when that attack comes from within, that’s much worse -that really hurts!

And when I say from within I mean just exactly that! There are so-called ministers of the gospel today who do not believe in an infallible Bible. They entertain the possibility that the first chapters of Genesis are allegory, or myth, or saga, or even something that Moses may have dreamed. There are professors in colleges and seminaries who believe that the Bible contains errors and that there are some texts so doubtful that they should never be preached but could better be omitted! There arc theologians who say that the Bible only becomes God’s Word when it strikes fire in the soul; only then does the Bible become the Word of God. For Barth, the Bible is a human instrument and as a human instrument it partakes of all qualities of humanness.

Every major denomination, including our own, has in the If\st decade had under discussion the matter of the inspiration, the nature and the extent of biblical authority. Now I don’t need a study committee to tell me that this Book is inspired! I don’t need an act of Synod to tell me the nature and extent of this Book’s authority! All I need to do is read from its pages, and the Spirit that inspired it witnesses with my spirit that this is the very word of God!

God does not merely reveal Himself through the acts of history; but He reveals Himself by acts and comments which He Himself makes to explain His working in history. I mention this because there is an emphasis today which says that God works in revealing acts and that in the Bible you have only the human comment upon such a revealed act. In other words, the words of the Bible are not God’s word concerning Himself or what He has done, but it is only man’s fallible witness to an infallible act—which in my opinion is an impossibility.

In the Scripture we have the very Word of God by which He reveals Himself to us to make known to us what His will and purpose are for our salvation and for the history of the world. If the most brilliant man of all time was to tell me about the way of salvation, namely that Almighty God sent His Son into this world to pay for my sin on a cross and to conquer death for me by His resurrection—I wouldn’t believe it! For that matter, if an angel from heaven came to tell me that story, I still wouldn’t believe it! But God Himself tells me that story. He says it’s true. I have His Word for that and that’s the only reason I believe it! The Bible tells me so!

Now don’t take that reason away from me and from thousands of others like me! Don’t tell me that I can’t trust God’s Book anymore—that it really isn’t the Word of God; that it is only a witness to His revelation. If we let them take away the absolute, divine authority of this Book we have no solid ground in this world on which to stand. Then we have nothing to live by, and we don’t dare to die!

Why go to church unless you go to hear the Word of God, not a preacher who has his own ideas about religion and who is free to reject or revise the teaching of the Bible? Why pray unless you can be sure you are praying to the God who has revealed Himself clearly and unmistakably in the inspired and infallible Scripture? Why support the preaching of the gospel and the cause of missions unless that gospel comes from God Himself—not only in the Person of His Son, but also from the pages of His Book? Why promote Christian education and send your children to a school where all teaching is centered in the Bible, unless you can be sure that the Bible is what it claims to be?

Some speak of inspiration and by it they mean to say that Cod inspired noble thoughts in the hearts of men. Now as these noble thoughts come through the human channel they obviously partake of all the errors and all the mistakes and all the difficulties and all the problems that you find in the human channel. The result is that the finished product, although in a sense inspired by the Holy Spirit, nevertheless partakes of humanness. Therefore the Bible has many weaknesses. You’ll find errors in it. You’ll find allegory in it; you’ll find fable in it. You don’t have to wonder why many parts don’t agree. After all, you simply have to recognize that as a fact and a part of the human problem.

I would like to say this evening, as clearly as I can, I reject that view of Scripture! I reject it because doesn’t say what the Bible has to say about itself, nor does it say what the Reformed Standards say about it either! We believe in organic inspiration: that the Holy Spirit acted on the writers of the Bible in harmony with the Jaws of their own inner being. He illumined their minds, aided their memory, and repressed sin so that what they wrote is indeed the Word of God. Now I confess this puts me outside the pale of twentieth century theology. This places me in the category of such men as Calvin, Warfield, and Hodge—all great men of the faith, But you see they were men of a previous generation and according to present-day theologians they have nothing to say to this generation. This is not the time for the church to accommodate its doctrine of Scripture to suit the mind of modern man.

The Reformers of the sixteenth century faced essentially the same kind of problem that we face. They were living in a church that no longer had the power of God for the salvation of lost souls in a lost world. It had cliches and traditions, but no gospel. How did they make the church relevant again? Not by adjusting its creed to suit the mind of man; not by revising and refashioning its faith to fit the findings of sceptical and sophisticated scholars who could no longer embrace the supernatural facts of divine revelation. On the contrary, they called the church back to the inspired and infallible Bible; to the historic gospel of divine grace in Jesus Christ!

The Reformers spoke the living Word of God to the deepest need of mankind: the need to make peace with God at the cross of His Son. To that the conservative in the changing church must be committed! If this Book is not the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, then we better just close our Bible, adjourn this meeting, and forget all about religion.

2. Next: the conservative must be committed to preaching.

This should be self-evident, but the fact remains that the church today is making a carnival out of the pulpit by introducing all sorts of clever gimmicks. It has given itself to the showing of films, dramatic productions filled with moralisms, and in some instances has laid aside the sermon to allow for meaningful experiences through sharing.

In addition to all of this the church today suffers from a bad case of liturgitis. Preachers get into their pulpits and put Christian soldiers through their Sunday calisthenics by having them stand up and sit down and read responsively until the exhausted army of Jesus Christ sinks back in their pews with the cry: How long O Lord, how long? In our generation the preaching of the Word of Cod has taken a secondary, sometimes a tertiary, and sometimes a last place in the worship service on the Lord’s day. The church has relegated preaching to an unimportant place.

Now people define preaching in a great many ways. Someone has aptly observed: “That to comment on the times no matter how incisively; to set form a philosophy of life no mutter how effectively; even to state a theology no matter how clearly; to moralize no matter how winsomely—that is not the essence of Christian preaching. Preaching is the authoritative proclamation of the gospel.”

Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of Cod unto salvation to everyone who hears that word and gives heed to it. But right here we run into the first barrier. Where do you find a preacher in 1973 who dares to enter the pulpit and declare to the congregation: “Thus saith the Lord”? Far too often the sermon is a series of: “It is my opinion that . . . . I think that . . . . I have carefully come to the conclusion that . . . . I trust you will agree that I don’t want to make you feel bad but . . . .”

No, the preaching of the Word of God is authoritative proclamation if it is faithful to the Scriptures because this is the Word of Cod. In the final analysis the question is not what the herald thinks. The question is: What is the word of the King? The question comes to our generation, as it came to a previous generation, Is there any word from God? Ah, my friends, there is! The Word of God speaks to every age. It is a word of authority; it is a word that gives assurance; it is a word that gives us a foundation of hope. Men and women don’t want your opinion. They don’t want to know what you think They want to know, Is there any sure Word from God?

And when that Word is preached the dividing line goes out. There will be those who will hear to salvation; and there will be those who reject it to condemnation. No minister of the Gospel has any business to waste his time or the time of the congregation with trivial matters because he is dealing in matters of eternity. That ought to shake the soul of every single one of us who has been given the privilege and the high responsibility of preaching the Word. It’s the greatest task in all the earth! And that ought to shake the soul of every officebearer who has been called to the awesome responsibility 01 supervising the preaching and teaching of the Word.

And I want to emphasize at this juncture that the messenger of the Word of God ought to be a prepared instrument for preaching by careful and prayerful study. It’s a tragedy that there are so many schools of theological learning where young men talk about the Bible; they talk about the critical methods of approaching the Bible; they talk about the problems of the Bible; they talk about the languages of the Bible; they will discuss all the settings of the Bible, but they never deal with the Word of God.

In the midst of a changing church, the crying need is for messengers who are committed to preaching the authoritative Word of God. That preaching, however, must be more than just a sharing of experience or a call to “only believe.” It must be a presentation of biblical truth. In response to Peter’s sermon three thousand souls were converted on the day of Pentecost. What did that sermon contain? Was it merely an account of Peter’s own experience of salvation? Not at all.

Peter set forth facts about Jesus Christ: His life, His miracles, His death and resurrection. It was on the basis of that setting forth of facts that three thousand believed, confessed their sins, and were saved. In I Thessalonians Paul turns to a whole system of theology. “Ye turned to God from idols” there is theology proper. “And to wait for His Son from heaven”—there is Christology. “Whom He raised from the dead”—there is the supernatural act of God in history. “Even Jesus”—there is the humanity of our Lord. “Which delivereth us from the wrath to come”—there is the Christian doctrine of sin and the cross of Christ. What many despise today as doctrine, the New Testament calls gospel and the message upon which salvation depends. This important work of edification has been sadly neglected today. It has been neglected even by some who believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Too often doctrinal preaching has been pushed from the primary place which it rightly deserves. Is it any wonder that the church is carried away with every wind of doctrine? Is it any wonder that the church is helpless in the presence of unbelief? There is one work which will stand the test of judgment fire—and that is the Sunday-by-Sunday, day-by-day presentation of what God has told us in His Word.

When I contemplate the marvelous system of doctrine that the Bible contains I’m amazed that in the presence of such riches men can be content with that other gospel which is beginning to dominate preaching in the church. When I think of the glorious majesty of the Creator God presented with such clearness in the Old Testament; when I think of the glorious dealings of God with His Old Testament people until the fulness of time was come and the Savior was born into the world; when I think of the way His coming was accomplished by a stupendous miracle; when I stand in awe of the wonderful kindness of the Savior; how He forgave when none other would forgive and helped where all other helpers failed; when I think of that blessed thing which He did when He died in our stead upon the cross; when I enter into the fear and joy of those who found the tomb empty and heard the angels say: “He is not here, for He is risen”; when I think of Pentecost and the pouring out of His Spirit upon the Church; when I hear the wonderful way in which the Bible tells us how this Savior may be our Savior today; how you and I sitting here tonight can come into His presence in far more intimate fashion than the multitudes who pushed their way to Him when He was on the earth; when I think of the application of His redeeming work by the Holy Spirit; when I think of the glories of the Christian life opened to us by that mighty act of God; when I read and think of the unfolding of the glorious hope of that time when He who is now seated on the throne shall come again in power.

When I think of these things I can’t understand how any man can stand in the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday and hand out some innocuous lecture on some contemporary subject or other. I ask you in God’s name, how can you preach the gospel to men who are standing on the brink of hell and not preach it with love and fervency and ardor in your heart?

The blessing of God rests upon worship that is full of the great doctrines of the Scripture. There is so much that passes for worship today: a nice little homily about how you should love your neighbor, and things of that nature. The fact is that the right worship of God centers around the proclamation from the Scriptures of the great doctrines of the faith. And it’s when the Lord’s people come and gather around these truths that there is blessing. You just mark my words, the Christian families who love the preaching of the Word and who love to hear about those truths, and love to root their lives in the mighty realities of the Scripture, those are the strong families; those are the ones where there are children that desire to follow in the faithful footsteps of their parents. The conservative in the pulpit and in the pew must be committed to preaching from the infallible Scriptures.

3. Number three: the conservative must be committed to Christian education in the church as well as the school.

I firmly believe that in our denomination today there is an unarticulated cry for moral and religious leadership, and it’s only logical that we turn to our schools. But that leadership is not forthcoming. Our campuses do not radiate enthusiasm for the Reformed heritage. There appears to be an absence of passionate commitment to the faith of the fathers! Far too often there are evidences that the Reformed faith is being caricatured by those who are supposed to teach it. It is all too common to find students who can tell you all about the latest theological fashions; who know all about Heilsgeschicte and Formgeschicte and Sitz Im Leben; who can speak on Bultman, Barth, and Tillich, but who can’t tell you with any precision about the basic tenets of the Reformed faith.

It has become a cliche I suppose to say that the youth of today are the church of tomorrow, but its an awesome truth nonetheless and it should force us to concentrate our efforts on the education of our children. If we hope to stem the tide in a changing church we must redouble our efforts in the church as well as the school so that our youth will have a more profound appreciation of what it means to be Reformed and to become conversant in the things of the faith. Our young people must come to know who they are and what God calls them to be. If the church fails in this it will soon cease to be a church.

Without reservation, a wonderfully strong catechism and Christian school program on all levels is essential if we arc to remain a Bible-believing and Bible-preaching church. In this age of theological and moral laxness we must redouble our efforts to inspire and challenge our covenant youth in personal Bible study, discussion, and commitment to the teachings of God and the things of the Kingdom.

Christian education in schools and churches has become a highly specialized science with ever-increasing emphases on methods and communication. The curriculum and methods of the Church School are now under careful study, and that’s good provided that the biblical message is honestly and clearly presented. With the increased concern for the scientific methods of teaching it becomes imperative that these and other advances be anchored to the divine revelation and not become a clever means of substitupting human opinions for the clear affirmations of Scripture.

Together with the increasing emphasis on methods of communication goes the question: What is it we arc trying to communicate? Is it possible to be pedagogically perfect and at the same time a menace to those who are taught? Of what value is teaching which results in unbelief rather than belief? What spiritual food can be obtained from clever explanations which in effect deny the clear affirmations of the Word of God? What has method accomplished when it leads people to question rather than believe the Bible which is supposed to be the heart of Christian instruction?

These are all relevant questions—not in all denominations, but in some; not in all issues of materials, but in some. We need to teach our youth in the truths of the Word. They must be instructed by dedicated, Reformed teachers, and sent out into the church and the world well-grounded in the Bible and the Reformed faith. To that we must be committed.

4. Number 4: the conservative must also be committed to Christian discipline.

We are living in a day when denominations have left and arc continuing to depart from the authority of the Word of God. There arc symptoms of it in our own denomination as well. The old guidelines apparently aren’t good enough anymore. Growing out of a new attitude toward the Bible is a new theology that redefines God; a new evangelism that redefines what a person must be in order to have spiritual well-being; and a new morality that permits a person to be anything that the wants to be and still be called a Christian.

In a true church the Elders make it their business that sin be rebuked personally and face to face and no one is permitted to settle down and be comfortable in their sins. In the true church Jesus reigns by His Word! That’s why the gospel is preached; that’s why His Table and Font are properly used; and that’s why discipline is exercised to godliness. And just as long as the Word reigns those three marks will remain in the true church.

But when you stop to reflect a moment you will sense that when these marks begin to decay they begin in the reverse order. You wouldn’t get very far trying to undermine the church by preaching heresy from the pulpit; people would know it. No, deterioration doesn’t begin with the Word. It begins, rather, in the area of moral life and discipline. When the Elders become lax in church discipline; when they don’t care anymore that God’s people live ungodly lives, it’s only a matter of time before those same Elders arc extending the communion plate to persons whom they know are not living in accordance with the Word of God. Or they are inviting parents to the baptismal font whom they know will make a lie and a travesty of their baptismal vows.

And then it isn’t very long before the church comes to have within it more and more persons who by their life contradict that which they know to be true from the standpoint of doctrine. And as their lives deteriorate they’re willing to tolerate less and less as far as the proclamation of the truth of the Word of God is concerned. Everyone here can think of churches that you know, where there is virtually no such thing as discipline; where people can live any kind of a morally sloppy life that they want and no one will ever say anything to them. Such a church is on the way out; it’s on the way to collapse. It all begins to deterioate from the moral end, and it isn’t long before they won’t tolerate sound doctrine anymore.

Elders of the church! can’t you see why meeting after meeting it’s necessary, even though we hate to do it, to talk about the problem of discipline and the need to confront our people with their responsibility to obey the Word of God? And, before the living God, I urge very Elder to once again prop up the walls and not let people run in any direction they like; for once that occurs the next step is inevitable: the Word of God ceases to be proclaimed from the pulpit, in the catechism classes, and in the societies of the church.

Discipline in morality is essential to the well-being and spiritual health of the church. But of eve;; greater import is the exercise of discipline in doctrinal defection. We live in a day when all sorts of doctrinal aberrations are tolerated in the name of love and cordiality. The history of the United Presbyterian Church is a sad commentary on the results of such tolerance. Seventy-five years ago that church had enough doctrinal integrity that when a professor in their seminary denied the infallibility, verbal inspiration, and inerrancy of the Word of God, he was summarily brought to trial and dismissed as a minister of the Word in that church. In 1924, 1293 ministers of the then United Presbyterian Church signed what is called the Auburn Affirmation in which they insisted upon tolerance for positions of unbelief in the church. They insisted that although the Bible may be verbally inspired and inerrant, it may also be true that it is a somewhat human book in which there may be errors and mistakes. And therefore, said they, we must also tolerate that position in the church as well. Although it may be true that Jesus was born of a virgin, it may also be true that He was naturally born and what the Bible says is a myth. Therefore we must tolerate that position as well. And they went down the list of the great doctrines of the faith and gave a position of tolerance to unbelief within the church.

Now none of the signers of the Auburn Affirmation were disciplined for signing that tolerant document. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t very long before those signers of the Auburn Affirmation composed a majority on the Boards of the institutions of that church.

Well in 1967, just six years ago, that same denomination adopted a Confession of Faith in which the unbelief that was tolerated—that barely stuck its nose into the tent like the proverbial camel—in 1924, now occupies the tent. Within the space of seventy-five years that church went from tolerating unbelief to enthroning it and today barely tolerating fundamental Christianity! It’s happened in other churches and it’s in the process of happening in ours as well. There are those in our own denomination who profess to love God and His Word, but want to be tolerant of those who are unbelieving and sceptical. I hope you will join me in praying that our denomination may be utterly inflexible, unbending, and intolerant of heresy! God grant it!

But whenever someone brings up the subject of church discipline and rebuke of those who depart from the truth, someone else says: Isn’t God tolerant of His church? And I must answer that question by saying, No, God is not tolerant of His church. He is faithful to His church! He is gracious to His church! He is forgiving on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus; but He is not tolerant of His church because He loves His church and He knows that when “sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccles. 8:11).

The biggest threat to our church is not a preacher or even a group of preachers who are liberal in their views; our greatest danger is Elders and laymen who arc careless or indifferent in the exercise of discipline. The conservative must be committed—committed to the infallible Scriptures, to preaching, to Christian education, and to the exercise of discipline.

I want to conclude by saying that commitment is not enough however?

That’s only one side of the coin. The conservative in the changing church must also be courageous. Commitment without the courage to live and act from those commitments is like a ship without a sail. All the commitment in the world will get you nowhere unless it is accompanied by the courage to speak out from those convictions. These two points are intimately connected.

We are being told today that our theological differences will disappear if we just get down on our knees together. Men are saying that instead of en~aging in controversy in the church we ought to pray for a revival. Instead of polemics we ought to engage in evangelism. Well, souls will hardly be saved unless the evangelists can say with Paul: “If we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed.” A man who is truly committed to the things I’ve mentioned will proclaim the truth joyously and fearlessly against everything that is lifted up against the gospel of Christ.

Men tell us that instead of engaging in controversy about doctrine we ought to seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray tell, how can a man receive the power of the Holy Spirit if he evades the question whether the blessed Book that the Spirit has given is true or false? Again, men say we can preach the truth without attacking error. Well, I’m here to say, it isn’t so! The Bible is a polemic book from beginning to end and if it’s preached courageously it must of necessity attack error.

Our method of defense should be open and above board. If it involves an article write it. If it involves argumentation speak up. If it involves an overture—send it. If it involves instruction material—prepare it; but be perfectly open and above board. Secondly, the defense of the faith should be of a scholarly kind. Mere denunciation does not constitute an argument. Personalities should be kept in the background, and analysis of motives has little place. Victory by rhetoric is only in the eye of the beholder. Said the Indian to the white man: If you win it’s a battle; if we win it’s a massacre.

It’s no easy task to defend the faith, but knowledge of the truth is essential. The Christian religion flourishes in the light, not in the darkness. Intellectual slothfulness is but a quack remedy for unbelief. The true remedy is the consecration of intellectual powers to the service of the Master. The defense of the faith is not the task of a few specialists. We need the minds of many men. You can avoid the debate if you choose, and many choose to do so. But the church is waiting for men of another type to lead her in the battle for truth. They need not all be men of great attainment, but they must all be men of courage and commitment.

At the center of this incomparable Book stands the figure of One in whose presence all wisdom seems to be but folly and all goodness but as filthy rags. But if we have His favor, little shall we care for the favor of the world, and little shall we fear the opposition of an unbelieving age. It’s the Lord’s battle and we must be courageous.

In the midst of a changing church, we, as Christian believers who hold to the Reformed faith will endeavor by God’s grace to continue with commitment and with courage, not on a foundation of equivocation and compromise, but on an honest foundation of devotion to God’s Word. We believe that the Christian religion as set forth in the Reformed Confessions is true. We believe that the Reformed faith welcomes, and is capable of, scholarly defense. We believe that the Reformed faith should be proclaimed without fear and in clear opposition to whatever opposes it, either inside or outside the church. On that platform we stand. Pray that we may be enabled, by God’s grace, to stand firm!