Sensitivity is a characteristic of life. It is the path to life’s enlargement and enrichment. It also saves life. In the wonderful world of wild life sensitivity to foreign sounds and smells is the creature’s best defense. It constitutes a life-saving mechanism given by the Creator. Man has added many mechanical devices, both in peace and war, to aid his nervous system in detecting dangers.
In the spiritual world sensitivity is quite as imperative for preservation as in the physical. It is a kind of spiritual awareness by which one senses danger. It is made up of knowledge of the truth and a tender regard for the Word of the covenant God.
In connection with the Centennial I want to discuss this spiritual awareness as it relates to doctrine; hence the title, Doctrinal Sensitivity. First of all, let us listen to the voice of God as it comes to us in the holy Scriptures. However, since the term doctrine has fallen into disrepute even in our circles it may be well to consider briefly what we ought to understand under the term “doctrine.”
In its most elementary sense “doctrine” simply means teaching. It may refer to true or false teaching, to the teaching of Christ or of his enemies, the Pharisees; to the teachings of Paul or of demons.
As such doctrine must be learned by the disciple. It calls for effort and concentration to master doctrine. This, of course, does not rule out the emotions, for to learn the truth we must be emotionally involved. If doctrine is to become saving knowledge we must believingly accept it, and faith is a function of the heart.
Secondly, doctrine consists of fact plus its interpretation. Dr. Machen uses the Pauline phrase, “Christ died for our sins,” to illustrate this.1
That Christ died is a fact of history, but without Cod’s authoritative interpretation we do not know its significance. Some said, “he died as a blasphemer,” others, “he died as a deluded fanatic,” still others, “he died a martyr for his cause.” But Paul preached the gospel that Christ died for Our sins. This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Accepting it is not a matter of taste but of life and death, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved.
Furthermore, let us not be duped by modernism which creates a false antithesis be· tween doctrine and life. Without the truth there can be no Christian life; truth is the foundation. The cry of “No creed but Christ” is but a fundamentalist variant of the modern creed.
Since doctrine, then, is inevitable, it boils down to the question whether we have the true or false doctrine. This is where doctrinal sensitivity functions. Our hearts must be atuned to the Word of God. Just as the gyroscopic compass always points to true north so the Word must be our sure guide in thought and practice. As we learn to make every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, we become increasingly doctrinally sensitive.
I. Required by God’s Word
We find this sensitivity to the truth of God very pronounced as we study the history of revelation. But let us never forget that it is first of all a heart question. Christ said to his disciples, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). True discipleship is a matter of abiding in the word of Christ (John 8:31, 32), of trembling at the word of the Lord (lsa. 66:2). In the Old Testament God expects his people to be sensitive in distinguishing between the heathen gods and Jehovah. To help them he gave them the institution of prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:9–18).
Furthermore, the Lord expected discernment of his people and he developed their doctrinal sensitivity by warning them against false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:2022; Jeremiah 28:9). who were to be put to death because they spoke presumptuously, not being the bearers of revelation. Jehovah also commands his people to educate the children to be doctrinally conscious and alert to false doctrines ( Deuteronomy 6:7–9). This system of education was calculated to produce holy living, but also to nurture a doctrinally sensitive people, who were able to distinguish the truth of God from the lies of the devil.
When apostasy did set in God complains through Hosea, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” While Amos says in effect that the covenant breakers are insensitive to the teachings of Moses and the prophets. What doctrines, we ask? The doctrine of the covenant itself, and the fact that covenant blessings entail covenant responsibilities (d. Amos 3:2; Malachi 1:2ff).
Furthermore, there are cases in which Jehovah reprimanded his people for lack of doctrinal sensitivity. Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, for example, is told by Jehu the seer, “Shouldest thou help the wicked, and love them that hate Jehovah?” This man had made an alliance with wicked Ahab and given his son in marriage to Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel. Ahab himself had so confounded the doctrinal sense of the people that they halted be· tween two opinions until Elijah recalled them to the worship of Jehovah.
The New Testament, however, gives us the most striking example in the sudden apostasy of the Galatian believers. Paul complains that they were quickly removed from him that called them in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel, but he warns them that it “is not another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). These Galatians lacked the spiritual discernment to distinguish between the gospel of the free grace of God and that of salvation by human merit as proclaimed by the perverters of the gospel. Incidentally, this is still the shibboleth in our day and many cannot pass the test.
In contrast to the above stands the example of the apostles and the first believers, who continued in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). Jesus himself while here upon earth had given the example of developing doctrinal sensitivity in his disciples, when he warned them against the leaven (doctrines) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Later Christ warns his disciples not to be led astray by false prophets concerning the doctrine of the second advent (Matthew 24:23ff.).
Luke records the doctrinal sensitivity of the Berean believers, who daily searched the Scriptures to see whether the things spoken by Paul were true. No man is above the norm of God’s revelation. Even Paul the apostle, was subjected to this test. How much more ought we to test the words of men and of councils by the revelation of God!
The apostle John, sometimes called the apostle of love, was one of the most sensitive men when it came to doctrinal purity. What else could we expect, for love without truth is not love, either of men or of God. And I would like to stress that although the word “love” may be used a few times more than the word “truth,” the main thrust of John’s epistles concerns the true doctrine about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The main question is always, “What think ye of the Christ, whose Son is he?” The doctrine of love in John is subservient to this main theme.
That the concern for doctrinal purity is one for all the saints and not simply for a few initiated souls is clear from his apostolic admonition: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, hut prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1ff.). Spiritual maturity requires such ability to test the spirits, And in principle, at least, the antithesis is absolute. All the spirits (teachers of religious principles) are either speaking through the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of the anti-christ. There are no neutral spirits and if we entertain those who deny the Christ we partake of their evil works.
This attitude toward those who taught false doctrine is also that of Christ, our commander. His faithful witnesses, says he, shall be hated of all men, and, “I came to cast a sword upon the earth” (Matthew 10:34), Christ calls those that contradict his message false prophets, and warns, “Believe them not;” Paul calls those that bring another message, “perverters of the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7), false prophets, deceitful workers, who transform themselves into apostles of Christ. And small wonder, since Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14). There is no tolerance for those who tamper with true doctrine. Paul had great patience with men who opposed him personally and who sought to take advantage of his imprisonment to improve their own reputation (Philippians 1:14–18), preaching Christ out of envy and strife, Why such tolerance? Because Christ was preached. But when that gospel of Christ was perverted Paul was no respecter of persons. Listen to his searing sentence: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1:8).
And the apostle further sounds the warning that “in later times” some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). And the time will come in which men “will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables (II Timothy 4,3, 4).
Finally, it ought to be observed that the Scripture presents the false prophets and false teachers as having wormed their way into the church. They do not attack the church from the outside. Jude, for example, warns the brethren to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints,” since certain men, “ungodly, denying our only Master and Lord” have crept in privily. Heretics, according to Scripture, are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They ought to be pointed out and prosecuted, not tolerated or coddled under a misapplication of love for the brethren. For false doctrine destroys the body of Christ, the Church of the living God, True love for God and the brethren reveals itself by a spiritual awareness when the danger of false doctrine threatens the church. It is doctrinally sensitive.
II. In the Life of the Church
In the second place, that the church universal as well as our own particular segment of the body of Christ has been peculiarly sensitive to the importance of doctrinal purity is evident from the creeds. The very fact itself that the church expressed itself creedally, that it undertook the arduous task of delineating its doctrines versus heretical opinions of false teachers, indicates its spiritual apprehension and its concern for the truth.
The ecumenical creeds signalize this concern in the ancient church. The Apostles’ Creed sets forth certain basic doctrines which must be accepted by all. The Nicene Creed is introduced in the Psalter Hymnal as “a statement of the orthodox faith of the early Christian Church in opposition to certain heresies, especially Arianism.” Here we see the result of the heroic struggle of Athanasius, who maintained that the Son is not merely like the Father in substance but of the same substance as the Father. To all despisers of the truth the struggle of Athanasius, who took exception to the addition of one Greek letter (the iota), is absurd, is hairsplitting theological speculation; but to the Church this was the truth of God, “for as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). It was Augustine, a century later, who saved the church from Pelagianism, because of his sensitivity in the doctrines of sin and grace.
The specifically Reformed Creeds, to which we as Church subscribe, were forged in the fires of persecution and the heat of controversy. They are strong witnesses to the fact that the Reformation was not primarily a protest against papal abuses, but that the main issues were doctrinal mainly, the doctrine of the Word, justification by grace apart from works, the office of the believers.
After the Reformation had been established there was the departure from the doctrine of the free grace of God by the followers of Arminius, known as the Remonstrants. This resulted in the Canons of Dordt, with the famous five points of Calvinism. At this ecumenical Synod in 1618–19 the fathers were not only concerned to state the truth positively, but they also scored the errors of the Remonstrants. Heresy had to be made known as such. This document portrays doctrinal sensitivity of the highest order.
Moreover, our fathers were concerned that this doctrinal sensitivity should continue to mark the office-bearers of the church in order that purity of doctrine might continue among us. Note the emphasis on this matter in the various forms for ordination to office among us.
Ministers (missionaries also) are called and ordained among other things for the purpose of “refuting with the Holy Scriptures all errors and heresies which conflict with this pure doctrine,” and they solemnly promise to reject all doctrines in conflict with the Word of God.2 Concerning false doctrine the words of Paul to Titus are quoted, namely, “that a minister must ‘hold to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers.”3
Passing by the elders, who likewise must maintain the purity of the Word, we note that theological professors are called to caution their students against ancient errors and heresies not only, but must put them on guard especially against heresies of their own day.
Finally in the form of subscription, which is signed by all office-bearers in the Church and by all who teach at Calvin College, the promise is made “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine” (as expounded in catechism and confessions ). “We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned Synod (Dordrecht 1618–19) but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”4
Two centuries after Dordt, under William the First in 1816, a man by the name of Janssen advocated a national church, and doctrinal liberty to the point that subscription to creeds was to be abolished. This cry has been taken up by the liberals ever since. It was against such inclusivism and the denial of the Kingship of Jesus Christ over his Church which caused the great Secession of 1834 in The Netherlands. Professor Kromminga says that the seceders came from the humbler walks of life, and “though numerically and economically weak and lacking social prestige, the group developed a spiritual power that in course of time astounded its adversaries. The spring of that power was their common love for Reformed doctrine and their loyalty to the Reformed formularies as founded on the Word of God.”5
The Doleantie under Kuyper was the result of a long struggle in the Hervormde (State) Church of the Netherlands against the influence of the Groninger School of Theology, which was unitarian, Arian, universalistic; and against the Ethicals, who, although less radical, tried to transform doctrine into life. At the same time the higher critical theories had made their way into Ronand through Keunen and were being popularized by Busken Huet. Modernism was in full bloom. Ministers no longer believed in the doctrine of the trinity or of the sacraments. Against this tide of unbelief Groen Van Prinsterer led a valiant struggle “for the authority of the Creed in the Church.”6 Abraham Kuyper, by the grace of God, was able to bring this work to fruition by breaking with tho state church in 1886, thereby giving our fathers the opportunity to worship according to the dictates of the Word and to maintain pure doctrine.
Our immigrant forefathers were not unaware of the developments in the homeland. They came originally from the Secession of 1834 but later in great numbers as followers of Kuyper. It was not long after the union with the Reformed Church in America, so precipitously entered upon, that unrest developed. Professor Kromminga finds it is “regrettable that no better methods were used in preparing this union. Van Raalte did not sufficiently know the church into which he was taking his colonists or he would have known that the Reformed Church in America had not merely changed the Church Order, but had also introduced modifications in the Belgic Confession and had dropped the negative parts from the Canons of Dort.”7
Gradually newcomers, who had stopped on the eastern seaboard for some time, enlightened the colonists concerning the deficiencies in the Reformed Church’s preaching and practice. For example, one T. Ulberg reported that no catechism preaching had been heard in Wyckoff’s church during his sojourn there. After a two-year residence in the East, Gijsbert Haan, an elder trained under Van Velzen (one of the original secessionists) brought more disquieting news to the effect that a certain Reformed elder had not presented his children for baptism since he wanted them to choose their own church because he saw no difference between the denominations. Besides, many Reformed ministers made no secret of their lodge membership, and even at that time catechetical instruction was being replaced by Sunday Schools, which gave only Bible history.
This whole conflict came to a head when the question concerning lodge membership was not properly answered. Van Raalte himself defended the right of lodge membership in the church on the ground that the secrets of the lodge were mere child’s play and that the charity done by the lodges was laudable. This is, of course. a most glaring example of doctrinal insensitivity, since the Masonic Order denies the uniqueness of Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. It may be easy for one to sneer at the narrow-mindedness of the common folk who were responsible for the organization of the Christian Reformed Church in 1857 and to say that they did not want to become Americanized. But for those doctrinally sensitive elders and unlearned believers, Americanization was not merely a matter of learning the language and the ways of America. They saw that it included lodge-membership, lack of covenant consciousness in catechizing children and in neglect of doctrinal preaching. Eventually it included rejection of Christian education as a divisive force in the commonwealth.
It is impossible within the limits of this paper to treat this question exhaustively. However, I merely wish to cite what others may call an insufficient reason for our denominational existence, the concern of our fathers far doctrinal purity. In this Centennial celebration the question of whether they were right or wrong ought to be of real concern to us. If our fathers were wrong, we have no right to celebrate their folly; or, even worse, their sin of schism. Instead we ought to repent and sue for re-admittance to the Reformed Church in America. On the other hand, if we believe our fathers were right, we ought to disavow the inclusivistic spirit of modernism, which in the name of ecumenicism would join all churches together without regard to doctrinal purity or basic agreement concerning the creeds.
III. In the Christian Reformed Church of Today
I proceed now, in the third place, to evaluate the present status of the church in general and in some particulars with respect to doctrinal sensitivity. For unless we are willing to come to grips with reality at the level of the contemporary scene our appreciation of the past will remain purely lip service. Ours is the tradition, but the question is, “does it exert a vitalizing power?”
It is true that what I am about to say is my personal opinion and reflects merely my experience over the last twenty-five years, fifteen of which have been spend at Calvin College as student and instructor. I would speak plainly on this important matter; I may not do otherwise. So did Elijah and Amos. The latter was told to begone from the king’s private altar. However, the words of Amos we cannot escape even today: “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion, and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come” (Amos 6:1).
How pertinent this warning is today. There are far too many who are at ease in Zion. They show this in many ways. For many evidence of spiritual vigor “is seen in great building programs—fine churches, palatial parsonages, modem school buildings. Then there are those who seem to think that all is well just so the quotas for Calvin College and Seminary are paid to the full. These things are not wrong in themselves, but they certainly arc not measuring sticks of true spirituality. These things do not measure the all-important matter of doctrinal purity and devotion, for example. These things do not prove that there is greater joy in the service of God and in laboring for his kingdom. Such things may only prove that there is pride and efficient ecclesiastical machinery.
I am fully persuaded that our people are losing their doctrinal sensitivity (Gereformeerde vaelharens). So many no longer judge a sermon on the score of its doctrinal soundness first of all, whether it maintains the purity of the faith. But depending on one’s education and predilection, the sermon is good when it gives practical advice on everyday living, when it stirs us emotionally, when it has persuasive logic or beautifully turned sentences, and other equally superficial criteria. This same attitude of doctrinal laxity is to be observed in the songs that are sung. Just try to point out to an average audience that “He Lives,” one of the choruses that is most popular at our hymn sings, is both modernistic and fundamentalistic and not Reformed in its main emphasis. You’ll be amazed at the reaction. It is one of utter impatience and even rebuke. When one goes to many programs in our churches, whether a men’s rally or a Sunday School affair, he finds that many of the songs reflect subjectivism and experientialism if not maudlin sentimentalism about the cross of Christ.
Furthermore, we lack sensitivity on the doctrine of the covenant, which is being broken with impunity in many mixed marriages appearing in our circles.
Another distressing phenomenon is lack of personal piety among many of our members. Yes, many are “respectable people” (brave mensen) and are counted as leaders in the church, some of them are elders and deacons, others are captains of drives or Centennial chairmen. But it is easy for them to stay home together at the cottage of a Sunday evening, or to drive most of the Lord’s Day to or from a week-end of personal pleasure; they have the Sunday papers scattered all over the living room floor, or even listen to the ball game on Sunday afternoon. All these things and many more indicate a lack of sensitivity as to the Lord’s Day, sanctification, the offices in the church and the keeping of the covenant. Where is the new obedience to which we are called? Can anyone deny that to be strict about observing the Lord’s Day and to be exacting in the observance of religious duties is decried as narrow-mindedness? Here too Americanization has taken its heavy toll! We want to be like the other churches, as of old the Israelites wanted to be like the other nations, seeking a king other than Jehovah.
Our loss of doctrinal sensitivity is also illustrated in the ease with which many change their church affiliation today (witness the statistics in the Yearbook) and the ease with which we receive members from. another church, Whether such new members know our distinctive doctrines or not does not seem to matter much in many instances, just so they are nice folk and the preacher gets a good impression when he calls on them.
And how many elders today are chosen on the ground that they with the preacher are able to maintain purity of doctrine, or apart from the minister are able to determine whether his preaching is sound doctrinally? In my experience of the last twenty-five years I have observed, and heard others complain about it, that the most distinguished and most successful men of the church community are often chosen as elders. Many ministers want the type of elders that will agree with them rather than an individual with sharp sensitivities spiritually. This is another result of Americanization, namely, the great evil that the man of worldly success is equal to all things. But the Scriptures demand another standard ability to exhort, being filled with the Spirit, knowledge of the truth, sobriety.
And finally, as church we no longer appreciate controversial preaching, We no longer can bear doctrinaI debate (ever since the common grace issue we have more and more closed our official papers to debate for feaT it would lead to schisms) while militancy in the church militant is often seen as belligerency. The watchmen upon the walls of Zion are shamed into silence by a fine scorn or snide remarks concerning heresy hunters. In classical meetings one’s motives are impugned if he stands up to question anything our boards may have decided, while on the floor of synod men are openly proclaiming themselves to be middle-of-the-roaders on important issues and they prefer not to use the term “militant” in defining the task of Seminary professors.
I now come to particular cases. First, I cite the notorious Wezeman case, in which a minister in good standing in the church was found guilty of teaching the evolutionary naturalism of the higher critics in his Bible notes prepared for the pupils at Chicago Christian High School. When faced with the evidence Dr. Wezeman pleaded ignorance. He was willing to retract his work, and synod accepted his confession almost unanimously. Then he went back to his work as teacher of Bible and as head of the school besides. Here is a case of dual insensitivity. First of all, Dr. Wezeman had no sense of the orthodox, let alone Reformed tradition; but nevertheless had a place of honor and great influence in our circles. Secondly, the people of influence in Chicago said in effect, when they permitted him a free hand to run the whole school, “We do not care whether a man knows and loves the truth, he is a fine gentleman and a scholar, and that is enough for us.” Thus for many years one of our biggest Christian High Schools, which was one of the main feeders of Calvin College, was headed by a man who forfeited every right to our confidence in his leadership. And what of the Synod? When an ordained man commits a sin against the moral law he is forthwith defrocked, although his repentance is accepted and he continues thereafter a member in good standing in the church. Is not the sin of heresy according to both the Old and the New Testament just as heinous and detestable as the sin of fornication or theft?
Case number two. In a doctoral dissertation published a few years ago on Kierkegaard’s time-eternity concept, the author maintains that he is going to criticize, not from an objective, foreign viewpoint namely, in this case, from the presupposition of our Reformed faith, but from a subjective, internal point of view. The result is some piecemeal, fragmentary criticism, but the basic anti-Christian character of Kierkegaard’s thought is not signalized. Furthermore, the author agrees with Kierkegaard, thereby taking his stand squarely against J. Gresham Machen, by saying that Christianity is not a doctrine, and Faith is not knowledge, because Christianity is not a doctrine, and again, one can· not be offended at a doctrine. Although this is not the place to refute these errors. I wish to say that the catechism says very emphatically that the first part of faith is knowledge. It is also a well-known fact that Jesus’ opponents were offended at his doctrine (John 6:10, 11), and it is exactly the doctrines of Calvinism on election and reprobation that constitute the real offense to many church people.
This same minister now wants the church to accept Masons into its membership before they have denied the blasphemies of their Masonic faith. Surely the kindest words we can use for this sort of approach is that it reveals a serious lack of doctrinal sensitivity.
There are also many among us who do not appreciate the doctrine of the antithesis, or perhaps one ought to say, they do not understand it. Some time ago, one of our ministers claimed on the basis of Ephesians 2:14–18 that Christ had abolished the antithesis. Paul, however, speaks of the middle wall of partition being broken down, Christ having slain the enmity by his cross. Now what is he talking about? He is simply telling the people at Ephesus that thy once were Gentiles, called uncircumcision by the seed of Abraham; that they were aliens from God and his covenant blessings. But now they too have been brought nigh, and thus there is no longer a wall between Jew and Gentile. However, Paul says nothing about the basic spiritual warfare between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman being abolished. In fact, he exhorts these same new recruits for Jesus Christ to put on the whole armor of God, in order to carry forward this holy war. Just because a number of the enemy come over into our camp does not mean that peace has been established. This will not take place until our Commander destroys all his enemies and turns over the kingdom to God the Father. Case number three. Another man writes a dissertation and tells the world that the Christian Reformed Church in the deposition of Janssen has snuffed out the progressive spirit and has become reactionary as a result. This indicates lack of doctrinal sensitivity with respect to the purity of the Word.
Case number four. Somewhere in our Church a man is trying to reach out and touch the modern mind in the student world. He cans the Bible “a mine of religious insight.” Now with all due respect to the Pauline program of become all things to all men, I insist that this statement is perilous. For this statement perfectly reflects, though unintentionally, the modern evolutionary naturalism against which we have to light all our lives. It fits the thinking that makes religion a product of the human spirit, and so may constitute a denial of the supernatural element in revelation. Besides, pedagogically we don’t gain any advantage, for the pagan will give you his religious insight, or that of Buddha. And then what norm does one have to hold that the religious insight of the prophets or of Christ was higher? As soon as we are ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Paul made no apologies either in Athens or in Rome) we shall do despite to the cause of Christ. His Word ought to be proclaimed; it will not return empty.
Case number five. I wish to cite the editorials in Chimes, a student weekly that is sent throughout the land and reflects the training received in the church, in the home and especially in onze school. In a recent editorial, “God or Baal,” the author advocates the idea that the struggle against Baal should be conceived of as our common opposition to Anti-Christ, which is to be sought outside of nominal Christianity. Therefore, we have no right to judge those who confess Christ, no matter bow faulty their confession may be. However, the Bible does not give us the impression that all men are equally dose to the heart of Jesus, no matter what they think of Jesus. Here again we have lack of appreciation for doctrinal purity in the name of ecumenicity and brotherhood.
Finally, case number six. I have now finished a decade of teaching at our denominational college and have heard literally scores of chapel talks on the primacy of love on the basis of I Corinthians 13. This is fine. But the speakers usually leave the impression that the faith, that is the creed and its defense, are secondary to the exercise of love. This is a grievous misinterpretation of the text, in which Paul IS speaking of the subjective function of the heart in believing. But when Paul speaks of the faith, which he has kept and for which he fought, and for which we ought to contend (Cf. Jude) then it is an eggregious error to say that love is more important than the purity of the faith or the truth of God. Yet that is the impression one gets from such chapel talks. And we do not hear militant language exhorting the soldiers of Christ to do battle valiantly for their Lord and King.
These are all straws in the wind. One could multiply such instances, but my alIoted space forbids further amplification.
The question finally is, how can we stem the tide of doctrinal indifference that is overtaking us? I would suggest that this phenomenon which I have sketched is a symptom of spiritual decadence; we are neglecting salvation because the tents of many are pitched toward Sodom. It is the great peril of secularism and materialism from which we must repent. To the law and to the testimony! We must be recalled to the Word! We are in need of reformation and revival! Woe unto us if we are at ease in Zion! Woe unto us if we congratulate ourselves in smug complacency, citing our offerings and sacrifices and forgetting that the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken heart and a contrite spirit! For to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams! We are become worldly minded. We scoff at child-like piety. We are proud of our program, of our achievements. We say religion is not doctrine but the good life! And we are becoming an influence in the world. We are improving society, so why worry about the fine points of doctrine?
Let us not forget that Israel in the time of Amos was very religious and Micah tells us that the people asked God what more they could do to please God. But the prophet say, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you; seek the Lord and ye shall live” (Amos). Does anyone imagine that we are better than Israel of old? That the prophetic message does not apply to us in this age of apostasy? Are we still saying, “It cannot happen to us.” Then we are willfully blind. The Hebrews also in the times of Amos, Jeremiah and of Malachi said: “The temple, the temple! God will save his covenant people from such an overthrow.” But Jehovah says that because he has given them his covenant he will bring them into captivity for their iniquities. Does anyone imagine that the Hungarians are more wicked than we are, that they suffer so? We ought to see in tho rape of Hungary the shape of things to come, unless we repent.
In short, doctrinal sensitivity will not be achieved unless we tremble at the Word of God, unless we again offer ourselves to him who brought us with his precious blood, Christ, our Lord and King!
“For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.”
ST. PAUL TO TIMOTHY1. Dr. J.G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 27. 2. Cf. Liturgical section—Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, pp. 99–101. 3. Idem, p. 100. 4. Idem, p. 70. 5. Cf. Prof. D. Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Tradition, pp. 87, 88, (italics added, H.R.V.T.) 6. Idem, p. 115. 7. Idem, p. 106.