TO CHURCH TWICE EACH SUNDAY?…
Our sister churches in the Netherlands are openly facing a problem which also concerns us. Should believers and their families continue the tradition of attending divine worship twice on the Lord’s day?
That this “unwritten rule” among the Reformed family of churches is not being observed as faithfully as in the past requires little proof. Especially in many Netherlands churches the slow but steady decrease in attendance has assumed some alarming proportions. During the past few years statistics have been gathered. From these it is evident that many members are conspicuous by their absence. especially at the second service. In Amsterdam. for example, only 45% of the total membership is present at the first service and 34% at the second service. And this is no isolated instance.
In Gereformeerd Weekblad (Sept. 14, 1962) this situation is faced frankly.
The writer lists several reasons which are given for the growing unfaithfulness on the part of church members. Many argue that church attendance twice on each Lord’s day is a Dutch tradition. Others insist this is no more than a tradition. Even more, people today consider it quite legitimate to use the day for recreation. Behind all this lies “a specific theology,” a reaction against sabbatarianism’. The comment is much to the point, “In this theology the unity of nature and grace, creation and redemption, law and gospel, old and new testament, paradise-covenant and grace-covenant is slighted. In the light of such discontinuity the sabbath declines, and the Sunday becomes a product of the church, a regulation of the Constantinian age, and not the fulfillment of the sabbath, not the command of God.”
Thereupon our attention is drawn to the uniqueness of the Christian day of rest.
It is the day set aside in praise of the Creator and his creation. It is the day of rest whereon we are called to pattern our lives with the divinely ordained rhythm of work and rest after God. It is the day whereon we praise God for his salvation. It is the day for God’s kingdom. It is the day of fulfillment, whereon we by faith look forward to the consummation of all God’s works, Only in the light of these Biblical insights will the Lord’s day be appreciated and used aright. This, more than anything else, so the writer argues, sheds the right light on the whole matter of twice to church every Sunday.
These perspectives have been too much forgotten not only by our Dutch brethren and sisters but also by ourselves. They must be consistently and continually emphasized among all who love the Lord and seek to serve him according to his Word.
REFLECTIONS ON THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
What promises to be one of the most significant events of our years for the Christian churches is taking place as these lines are penned.
Today, October 11, 1962, the Second Vatican Council is being assembled. After much preparatory work the prelates from all parts of the world are assembling under the leadership of Pope John XXIII. How long these sessions will last is unknown. Much less can anyone now predict what influence its deliberations and decisions will have not only for Rome but for all who name the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In recent months this council has been much in the news. Protestant leaders throughout the world have been commenting on this step which Rome is taking.
Many of these remarks deserve our attention. They serve notice on the nature of the fearful foes which threaten our reformatory faith. By no means all of them come from outside of the Protestant world. Indeed, Rome’s pretensions to being the sale authoritative and reliable voice of God in the world have not measurably weakened. Modem philosophies of materialism, secularism, and relativism are doing their dastardly work in whittling away at the gospel which must be proclaimed by men everywhere. But more dangerous are the forces from within. In numerous churches there is blatant compromise with heresy.
Our attention is called to several pertinent comments made by church leaders. From a recent issue of Christianity Today we have culled the following.
On seeking friendship with Rome out of fear of being a minority…
“Last century W. E. Gladstone alleged, ‘Catholicism is hostile to intellectual liberty and incompatible with the principle and trend of modern civilization; it arouses unwarrantable pretensions to govern, and threatens the rights. of the family; it tends to undermine the soul’s love of truth; it alienates cultured minds in whatever country it is professed, and wherever it reigns, saps tho morality and strength of the state.’ No British Prime Minister would dare say the same today. not because Rome has changed, but because of the growth since then in Rome’s influence and numbers (estimated now at 530 million ), even in lands once solidly Calvinist” (J. B. Douglas).
On the challenge to think in terms of dogma…
“Perhaps nothing less than an ecumenical council summoned by the pope was necessary to wake our sleeping churches from their ecumenical dreams…The dogmatic decrees of the council will compel us to think again in terms of dogma. Our encounter with the living Roman dogma will be of the mightiest sort of challenge to us. We shall again understand that Christianity without firm convictions must degenerate. even morally, because it makes hypocrites of those of us who pretend to convictions which we do not possess, as for example when we sign confessions which we do not even properly know or which we accept with a ‘reasonable liberty of interpretation’” (Herman Sasse).
On the folly of thinking that Rome has really changed...
“Let us not be blind to the facts—Rome will never actually take a single step of real consequence towards unity. She ever demands the return of the ‘prodigal sons’ (Protestants) to the ‘Father’s house’ (the Vatican). The sad truth is quite the opposite: it is Rome who has left the Father’s house and Bible-laving Christians who inhabit it. An approach to Rome will never lead us to the truth; it will lead inevitably to apostasy” (Don Francisco Lacueva).
These comments speak for themselves!
THE THROBBING HEART OF REFORMATORY PREACHING…
In an interesting and instructive article W. Stanford Reid exposes what he terms “The Long Roots of the Reformation” (Christianity Today, Oct. 12, 1962).
Dr. Reid raises the question “why the earliest reformers bad achieved so little in their attempts to change the Church.”
His reply, while not minimizing the various political and social factors which were operative, is accurate. “In the first place, while the would-be reformers had continually called for a return to the Bible and for a re-emphasis on God’s sovereign grace, they never really faced man with his responsibility in terms of a demand for faith…In the second place, they lacked an audience or social context to which their demands appealed.” From this he concludes, “In the providence of God, when the fullness of time had come all the elements were present to start a spiritual revival: the message, the messenger, and the audience.”
Of supreme importance he counts the message. It stands as the sine qua non, the indispensable condition, for reformation and revival. Speaking of these forerunners of the Reformation, Reid writes, “They had never set forth clearly a doctrine of justification by faith alone, so that, even in their thinking, they had not shown the connecting link between man and God’s grace.”
How much we need to remember this today! Men are clamoring for revival. Not a few would engage themselves to this end. They urge prayer. They gather groups around themselves. They organize revivals and rallies. But altogether too often their efforts leave the masses untouched and the churches without transformation. It is pitiful that with all the insistence on revival, few voices are heard insisting that the church must be reformed by commanding men to repent and believe and casting out those who reject the fundamentals of the Christian faith. God indeed alone can and will bring true revival in his own time. Meanwhile as Christians we have our calling. Every believer is challenged “to be constantly in prayer and ever watchful that he may witness a good confession.” And this “good confession” is that of God’s justifying grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. There would be far less moralizing in the pulpits of the land. if the “good confession” were actually understood and believed. Preaching would take all new relevance, if and when men, women, and children were confronted with their personal sinfulness in the light of God’s rich grace. Then the challenge to faith would begin to mean something. Not only the term but the reality of justification would begin to echo and re-echo in men’s lives.
This was the throbbing heart of reformatory preaching.
Today it is a lost chord in the glorious music of the Christian gospel. Since it is largely forgotten and ignored, the preaching of our day makes little sense and less impact.
We do well to wonder bow frequently and fearlessly justification by faith alone is still proclaimed in the churches. It is possible to have all the audiences and messengers we so fondly wish for, and still see no springtime in the churches. Without this message, which is God’s good news for lost sinners, reformation and revival will not appear in our day.
HOW NOT TO PREACH
For several decades Protestants have wondered why the church lost her hold on the masses. In evangelical circles. where the Bible is still believed and honored, the cause for much of Protestantism’s powerlessness bas often been traced to the pulpit. We are admonished that much, if not most, preaching fails to herald the good news of God with authority in accordance with Christ’s command.
In view of this sound stance, it is passing strange that the suggestions which evangelical periodicals pass on to Protestant preachers for their preaching schedule fall so far short of the ideal which they profess to embrace.
Once again this is evident in “The Minister’s Workshop,” regularly published in Christianity Today.
With almost monotonous regularity in the suggested outlines one misses any serious attempt to understand the text of Holy Scripture. Indeed, a text is used, but seemingly only to give a bit of coloring and authority (perhaps?) to what the preacher will say. The text serves as little more than a diving board from which the pulpiteer jumps to perform his Sunday morning acrobatics in full view of the congregation. No wonder people seem to think more highly of how he speaks than of what he speaks. Having jumped, he can twist and turn in almost any direction which may happen to appeal to him.
This does not mean that the outlines suggested contain unsound and unscriptural material as such. Happily, there seems to be commitment to the basic Christian verities. But these truths as announced and developed in sequence in the suggested outlines are seldom derived from the text. Little or no attention is given to the setting wherein the very words of the Lord appear. In several instances the message suggested has really nothing to do with the text which is chosen. Repeatedly the cardinal rules of Scripture interpretation are either neglected or violated.
May we give an example? It deals with a suggested approach to Matthew 4:1, “Then was Jesus led of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” Believe it or not, but this is to be treated under the theme: “The Way to Meet Temptation.” Thereupon the preachers, for whose edification this column is intended, are supposed to think along the following lines when preparing their message. “To be a Christian means to be like Jesus. 1. He met temptation:—at unexpected times—places—in strange ways. 2. He conquered: by appealing to the Bible—in the Bible to God. A believer can do what Christ could not—appeal to himself. Better still, preach two sermons here.”
We submit that following such suggestions will not produce seJ;l11ons which announce the mighty acts of God for the salvation of sinful man. Taking this approach leads to sermons which fall far short of the Biblical view of proclaiming the Word of God. Here is little appreciation for the unique place of our Lord in the divine plan of redemption. Comparisons between Christ and the Christian in meeting temptation at this point pervert the central thrust of the text. Quite likely a sermon geared to the above suggestions will be purely exemplaristic, moralistic, pietistic in the most devastating sense of the term. And this is the curse of much Protestant preaching today, if radio messages and published sermons are any accurate indication of what is going on in the pulpits. What is missed most of all is the divine declaration, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Unless preachers stop worrying about what people are going to say about their sermons and begin to worry more about what the Lord will say about them, Protestantism will command no respect and exert little influence unto the salvation of souls and the strengthening of the churches. Most of all, it win fail desperately in its obligation to the triune Cod who saves his people through Jesus Christ.