“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
This query of Israel’s sacred singer is one which keeps ringing through the souls of Christian believers in our day. It is not a question prompted by pessimism; rather is it a challenging call to look to the God of the covenant who loves righteousness and assures us that the upright shall behold his face.
Often we find ourselves tempted to pray for a revival of God-pleasing devotion in our lives and a reformation in our churches. And while prayer is the chief part of our thankfulness and the true breath of the soul without which we cannot live, such petitions offer no excuse for drowsing on a soft pillow of indifference, indolence and indulgence in our fleshly appetites while the world is rushing to ruin. God calls us incessantly to covenantal obedience in all of life. We are to know ourselves joyfully bound to his Word of salvation as those who have tasted his electing love in Christ Jesus, have responded by the Spirit’s power to his saving gospel, and are now to live for him in all things. Only in this way will we know experientially the blessing of being saved and in turn become a blessing to others. Herein the healing power of God’s truth in Christ Jesus is channeled through our words and deeds to transform in accordance with his high purpose the wastelands of our present generation.
We do well at the beginning of a new season of activity in home and school, church and daily vocation to reflect on God’s will for those who seek to walk uprightly before his face.
Our first concern may well be the Christian family. This institution is basic to a well-ordered and God-glorifying society. That the family is under great and growing attack in this generation is plain to see. Nor has the Christian community escaped the consequences of the subtle perversions which have become theoretical and practical commonplaces.
The growing estrangement between parents and children is cause for alarm. Where are the families which still pray and read Scripture together three times a day? How frequently do parents speak with their growing sons and daughters about the claims of our gracious God? What prompts believing mothers to join the swelling ranks of working-wives while leaving their little ones to fend for themselves or to the care of baby-sitters? Is it really as impossible, as many affirm, to live on one pay-check? Or has our standard of living been raised so high by the insatiable appetite for things to which the advertisers incessantly appeal that the Biblical demand to live soberly and righteously and godly in this world falls on deaf ears? Should this be the case, we need not be surprised that things spiritual receive short shrift in our daily conversation and conduct.
Perhaps this is also one of the reasons for the alarming decline in the birth rate of the United States. From 1960 to 1965 this declined from 23.9 per thousand inhabitants to 19.6, and the figures for the first half of 1966 show an even sharper decrease to 18.4, the lowest since the depression year of 1936. And this despite the great increase in the number of marriages! Undoubtedly the “pill” tempts even confessing Christian couples to dodge one of the basic purposes of marriage.
Much more could and should be said, but already these facts serve us notice that God’s people must take heed to themselves. Why not pledge ourselves to live increasingly as godly families during this coming season, making our homes seed-beds of sanctified living wherein our children learn from our lips and lives how to serve God together with joy? Here the Christian church and school can help by keeping at least some evenings free for those vitally interested in their programs to stay at home.
Meanwhile those who walk uprightly before the Lord are deeply committed to the organized church. Here the bread of life is broken to them and they experience the tie that binds them in Christian love to God and his believing people.
It is almost superfluous to mention that the foundations of ecclesiastical life according to God’s will are being shaken. What with the “God is dead” theology and the new morality which is the old immorality dressed up in specious reasoning, the convictions by which the true church has always lived are everywhere being called into question. Meanwhile preaching has fallen upon evil days. Even where there is still some willingness to be faithful to the Scriptures, sermons tend to major in minors. Thus the call to personal repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is strangely muted.
Need it surprise you that all the churches are wrestling with the problem of empty pews? In Europe the organized church has rapidly lost influence in recent decades. Affluent Sweden finds less than five percent of her people at divine worship on the Lord’s Day. In England the situation is no better. Each year the membership statistics are showing the loss of several thousands. The secularization of the masses, prompted also by more money and more leisure time, has bitten deeply into the life of the several churches in west Germany. Even the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerd ) are so influenced by their environment and its changing theoretical and practical climate that, according to statistics given over some years in Centraal Weekblad, in many congregations less than one half of the members attend the morning worship on the Lord’s Day and often only one third come for the second service. The growing number of such “fringe members” is cause for alarm.
Meanwhile the Christian Reformed Church -to speak at this lime of no others in Canada and the United States -enjoys reasonably faithful attendance at both services. But this is not an occasion for unmixed rejoicing. Also here attendance at evening worship is slowly declining. Too many parents leaH’ their younger children at home without good cause. Others find it too hot or too cold to come for a second time on the same Sunday. Meanwhile week-ending and extended vacations, both during the summer and the winter seasons, take their toll.
We still have our sizeable catechetical classes and Sunday Schools and even our societies for the study of God’s Word. But so much of this program, let’s confess it honestly, is routine. Spiritual hunger for the living Word is not as strong and sustained as it should be. Thus bowling leagues for men and sports events for the young people elicit far more enthusiasm than the blessed truth of God which sets men free.
Also here our calling is clear. The battle will first have to be waged on our knees in self-searching and humble contrition before our God. Only then will the revival and reformation become a reality—beginning with each one who rededicates himself and his family to walk uprightly before the Lord.
And how about our Christian schools, high schools and colleges?
Little need be said at this point about them, since this issue contains a challenging article on the dangers which threaten these institutions which have been for so long a source of spiritual strength and blessing. But unless we learn anew why God wills such schools for such a time as this and begin to revitalize our concern that they shall be what God wants them to be, the light which Cod has so graciously kindled in and through them can be turned into a deepening darkness. Only in his light, which he has so sufficiently and authoritatively and clearly revealed in his written word, shall we and our children see the light who is God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nor have we pointed to what is one of the legitimate and lasting goals of living uprightly in this day our calling to be under God a blesSing unto the salvation of the world around us.
Often complaints are heard that the church and the church members are so ineffective in their witness. Much of this complaint is justified. But where lies the root-cause for our apparent impotence? Is it not to be found above all else in our lack of whole-hearted commitment to the God of the covenant and his gospel of grace? We have faith, so we say, but does this faith drive us out into the marketplaces where daily we jostle with our fellowmen to tell them the “good news” by which we profess to live? Can others see in our lives the urgency of the Spirit’s forceful wind and the unquenchable glory of the Spirit’s fire? You see, we radiate as much of God’s grace in Christ as has gripped our lives—no more, no less!
Recently two articles appeared in The Banner which berated the Christian Reformed Church for its lack of impact on present-day society and suggested that much of this must be attributed to our position on distinctively Christian schools, clubs and organizations for social, vocational and political life. With some of its complaints we are in hearty agreement; with its underlying presuppositions we find ourselves in sharp disagreement. Apparently the writer does not know or admit the validity of the distinction between the church as institute (organized as fellowship of believers with its office-bearers) and the church as organism (witnessing both as individuals and as organized groups in all areas of society). Meanwhile he unwarrantedly claims that such distinctive (not “separate”!) Christian organizations and institutions are witnesses only to and for ourselves. Nor does the writer do justice to the official pulpit witness of the Christian Reformed Church where all the issues which he wants to see discussed—“crime, juvenile delinquency, traffic safety, mental illness, alcoholism, poverty, family breakdown, education, lack of equal job and housing opportunities”—are mentioned and illumined in the light of God’s claims on our lives as his people. Precisely at this point our preaching on “the sum of doctrine contained in the Heidelberg Catechism” demands a wrestling with these and many other modern problems without allowing the church to obscure the proclamation of God’s grace in Christ Jesus in the interests of its practical personal and social implications.
What we need, indeed, is self-examination on all these points. Then it will become evident to the humble and honest believer that not our patterns of witnessing but our personal commitment and involvement have failed. The perplexed and perishing world of our generation is not going to be greatly helped by a witness in which believers and unbelievers join hands and try to say the same thing about the pressing concerns of our day. Such a witness will only be achieved by compromising the gospel of our God.
It is more than time for the church, both in its “institutional” and in its “organic” manifestation, to be truly church of the living God, pillar and ground of the truth, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And that call comes to each one of us without exception. He calls us to walk uprightly before his facc every day and in every area of our life.
The foundations, indeed, are being destroyed!
How about the foundations of your life, your home, your church, your school, your life in all its various endeavors? Will this be the season for deepening our covenantal communion with God, so that his name may be daily praised by us, our lives and the lives of our children may be enriched, and the world around us may be confronted in love with the full gospel which brings peace and joy and hope? Only then are we walking uprightly before him who loves and calls us into his fellowship which is our true and only life.
– PETER Y. DE JONG