CONCERN FOR FELLOW CALVINISTS…
As many readers possibly know, the eastern bastion of the Reformed faith in Europe has always been found among the Magyars, better known in the English-speaking world as Hungarians.
Among these people, found not only in Hungary but also in large numbers in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Rumania and certain border lands of Soviet Russia, there are some three million belonging to the Reformed churches. After the synod of Czenger (1557) adopted a Calvinistic creed, the Protestant movement swept throughout the land. Towards the close of that century the larger part of the people and the whole nobility with but three exceptions accepted the Reformation. Thereupon began the Counter-reformation, headed by the Jesuits under the leadershIp of the capable Peter Pazmany, himself born of Reformed parents who belonged to the nobility. A Hood of sorrows overwhelmed the churches ever since. Wars with the Turks, persecutions by the Hapsburg rulers under papal urgings, and isolation from fellow Calvinists in western Europe took their toll. Yet nearly a quarter of the Hungarians to this day hold membership in the Reformed churches.
Since the end of World War II also this church suffers because of Communistic rule.
Tens of thousands have escaped their unfortunate land in the years 1945 to 1949 and again after the revolution of 1957. Many of them have found a new home and new hope in the United States and Canada. In several cities and communities various Presbyterian and Reformed churches have provided a church home for those who are Reformed. But by far the majority, for numerous reasons, are like sheep without a shepherd. The number of pastors who can speak the Hungarian language is minimal. Several of these arc too old to engage in the arduous task of searching out and visiting those who have strayed away. Others seem little concerned about the spiritual plight of their countrymen.
In the United States it is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 Hungarians and their descendants are found; in Canada somewhere around 200,000. Again, nearly a quarter of these are traditionally Calvinists. A conservative estimate places their number in Toronto, for example, at 40,000 and in Hamilton between 8,000 and 10,000. Only a few hundreds are active members of the small churches provided for them. Here is a precious opportunity for evangelism which the Lord has laid at the doors of many of our Christian Reformed churches. The work will be hard. Obstacles in the form of social, cultural, and linguistic differences will have to be met. Sorely needed would be ministers and evangelists able to understand these people and their spiritual plight. Then with God’s blessing much could be accomplished before another generation arises in these two lands to swell the growing number of the godless.
A SIGN OF SCHIZOPHRENIA?…
Religious periodicals usually devote a page or two to book reviews. In this way the reading public (and may its numbers greatly increase!) is made aware of what is being written about major themes of the Christian faith. But what should be some of the most interesting material is often tragically dull as ditch-water. Usually a summary of chapter headings is listed together with an innocuous comment and an exhortation to buy.
It is refreshing to read a review which actually seeks to evaluate the argument presented, daring at times not only to state but also to defend a contrary opinion.
One such review appeared recently in the Reformed Journal, a sister-magazine of Reformed comment and opinion.
In the May issue Dr. James Daane reviewed R. B. Kuiper’s God-Centered Evangelism. Here exception was taken not merely to a few phrases but an entire argumentation. Especially under attack is the chief contention of the book that evangelism roots in the eternal and sovereign decree of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The reviewer argued that this “is no certain way to obtaining a sound God-centered theology of evangelism. Its dramatics are chiefly theatrics.” In fact, “the assertion that evangelism is rooted in eternity says nothing of special significance.” He does admit that the author has said “many truthful things about evangelism.” This sounds much like damning with faint praise. It would really be a shame as well as a shock, were this not so. But Daane contends that all this is vitiated by Kuiper’s approach.
To demonstrate his evaluation Dr. Daane quotes three statements which, when interpreted in isolation from the rest of the writer’s argument, are open to stricture. Not only is it the right but also the duty of an honest reviewer to mention these. But when all the rest of the book is read in the light of three questionable assertions instead of reading them in the light of the rest of the book, we wonder just how objective is the reviewer’s appraisal.
All this would not deserve comment here, were it not for the fact that Dr. Daane levels some serious charges. The idea of God which he finds in Kuiper’s book he claims “is theologically unsound, and it is certainly alien to the gospel.” One statement he insists “betrays the notion of an arbitrary God.” “I would suggest,” he adds, “that the God-concept around which Kuiper seeks to create a God-centered evangelism is at very important points neither Reformed nor biblical.”
With the reviewer we agree that the three statements which he cites are of dubious quality and even distressing to anyone who seeks to think of God Scripturally. It were better had they not been written. Our contention, however, is that these are incidental to the main thread of the book. What disturbs us deeply is Dr. Daane’s casual dismissal of all that Kuiper has said about the way in which our Triune God has declared his sovereign grace by word and work in the world. Manifestly contrary to fact is what the reviewer argues, that by beginning with election Kuiper only later adds “the great New Testament affirmations concerning Christ and His Cross.” As if already the first chapter which adumbrates the eternal rootage does not clearly affirm these truths! As if “the New Testament affirmations” about the Savior are not at every point undergirded with affirmations concerning their dependence upon God’s sovereign counsel! It is manifestly unfair to create an impression that the presentation of evangelism in this book roots in a scholastic and speculative view of God.
In the light of this review we may legitimately raise the question of Daane’s view of the relation of God’s election to the realization of the divine purpose in time. He accuses Kuiper of failing to clarify this point. Apparently he also rejects the idea that “evangelism is inherent in the covenant.” How he would square the views from which his criticism apparently springs with the patent teachings of God’s Word would make an interesting article. It seems·and we use the term advisedly,lest we read into the review more than the reviewer intended—as if for Dr. Daane time and eternity exist in a state of unresolved tension to each other, much after the fashion of existentialist theology and philosophy so popular today. Surprisingly enough, the Biblical writers refuse to regard the relation of time and eternity as a problem basic to faith. Although confusing that man cannot fathom the mystery of their relation, they engage in no speculation on that point. No signs of such schizophrenia mar their testimony to the eternal and sovereign God who works his salvation in this world. Many a modern theologian would do well to ponder this point, as he reads the Bible.
Once again, we appreciate critical book reviews. But above all we appreciate those which strive to do justice to the intent and argument of the author. At least this much we owe to each other as Christians. We fail to see that Dr. Daane has successfully achieved this in his review.
BAPTISTS IN HOT WATER…
Occasionally among Reformed believers we hear voices which speak disparagingly of the creeds. Even worse, they are often those who know little if anything of what the creeds specifically declare. Yet for Reformed Christians the creeds remain a potent force for the integrity and unity of the churches.
Quite a different stand is taken by most Baptist groups. Claiming to have no creed hut Christ and insisting that this is truly Biblical, they face from time to time severe crises in their ecclesiastical fellowship. Since they acknowledge no higher authority than that of the local congregation, they are confronted with the anomalous and unenviable situation that within the same city their churches run the gamut from extreme modernism to extreme fundamentalism. But at stated times some of these disagreeing churches meet together in regional and national conferences. Such bodies can only adopt advisory regulations and pass them on to the local churches who do with them as they sec fit.
For many years the Southern Baptist Convention, largest of all such groups in the United States, was regarded as a bulwark of orthodoxy. It had a conservative statement of faith, adopted in 1925, to which all member churches were expected to adhere.
Recently it has become apparent that these Baptists are by no means all agreed. Undercurrents of conflict between liberals and conservatives threatened to break out in the open. Some time ago Dr. Ralph Elliott of Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, MO, wrote a book entitled The Message of Genesis. By many it was deemed totally incompatible with the historic Christian view of the Scriptures. Some expressed alarm that its views were openly espoused in officially recognized seminaries, where students were being trained for the ministry in these Baptist churches. This matter came up at the convention held last June in San Francisco, CA. It was feared that a debate on the issue might rupture the convention. The convention did go on record declaring its “faith in the entire Bible as the authoritative, authentic, infallible Word of God.” By a large majority it also announced “its abiding and unchanging objection to the dissemination of theological views in any of our seminaries which would undermine such faith in the historical accuracy and doctrinal integrity of the Bible.” Meanwhile it appointed a committee to look into the matter of a new statement of faith to replace the one adopted in 1925. Yet should such be adopted by a later convention, it would be not be necessarily binding upon local congregations and pastors. It would merely serve as “information to the churches” and as a “guideline” to the various agencies and institutions affiliated with the convention.
That many Baptists are much alarmed by a liberal trend in their churches is all to the good.
How they will be able to preserve doctrinal integrity throughput the churches and in the seminaries and boards remains an unresolved problem. In a world of confusion and contradiction, which often threatens to engulf the precincts of Christ’s church, much more is needed than “information” and “guidelines.” History amply demonstrates that so long as the Baptists insist on their peculiarly individualistic views, also of church organization and authority, they will lack any effective means of dealing with heresy within their ranks. Either they must tolerate all views which claim to be Scriptural or else endure more divisions in their fellowship, a process to which the Baptist movement has been highly susceptible throughout the centuries.
WHERE DOES THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH STAND?…
It is generally thought that the larger Protestant denominations in the south are theologically more conservative than their counterparts in the north. This may have meant something fifty and sixty years ago. We have the right to wonder how much it actually means today.
Recently the Southern Presbyterian Church held its general assembly. One of the most acute and alarming issues arose in connection with the debate on the Layman’s Commentary, a series of Bible commentaries sponsored and published by one of the agencies of that church. An overture had been submitted asking the assembly “to instruct the Board of Christian Education to provide stronger safeguards in the publication of future volumes.” At several points the published material was at variance with the Reformed faith. Novel views of Scripture and preaching were presented. At least one writer, so some charged, championed the notion of universal salvation. Deep inroads by both the old and new modernism were pointed out.
Even though the overture itself laid no charges before the assembly and pressed for no heresy trials, it was rejected by a substantial majority. Throughout the debate, which was recorded in great detail in the Southern Presbyterian Journal, deviations from the historic positions of that church and its creeds on the integrity and reliability of the Scriptures were defended in the interests of “modern scholarship.” What complicated matters somewhat was that not all the writers were members of the denomination which published the volumes. It was evident, according to Dr. L.N. Bell, that the decision was based more on personalities of the writers than on the principles of God’s Word. That bodes little good for the church. Dr. Bell seems to find some comfort in his belief “that the overwhelming Assembly vote in favor of the destructive critical study of the Bible hardly reflects the actual beliefs of the commissioners, or of the Church as a whole. If so may God have mercy on us and our future witness to a dying world.”
Storm signals should be raised in that church without delay.
It is bad business when a whole assembly seems more concerned with the honor of writers and church committees than with the honor of our God and his Word. Charges of heresy may never be lightly made. Heresy trials are painful experiences for all who are involved, accusers as well as accused. But if the creeds and especially the Scriptures may be attacked with impunity, then how dare a church claim that she still believes them? Such a testimony would be a farce rather than a force for preserving the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints.
COMMUNISM AND THE CHURCH…
In Poland, now under a Communist regime since World War II, nearly 85% of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Here the church has always been influential in training the children. Gomulka, the Communist leader, agreed in 1956 to permit voluntary religious instruction. Since that time, however, he has tried by every possible means to restrict this permission, realizing that so long as the church was teaching the children and youth, the molding of mass opinion in favor of Communism would be at a great disadvantage.
The first step taken by the government was the banning of all religious instruction in state schools. Later the state announced that it would also “supervise” the catechetical classes given by the church outside of the school system. Thereupon the monks and nuns who operate schools and orphanages were barred from teaching catechism at all. When the church resisted, nuns and children were evicted from three Warsaw convents where religious instruction was still given.
Now the conflict has broken out in the open.
During August, Cardinal Wyszynski replied in a strong pastoral letter which was read in all Warsaw pulpits. He accused the state authorities of “unprecedented lawlessness” in closing the convents. The Office of Religious Cults responded by insisting that where there was “tactlessness” in enforcing the orders, the officials were provoked by the nuns. Now within a year all schools and orphanages run by the religious orders are to be taken over by the state.
This suppression of religious liberty and the right of the church to train its children and youth is universal in all lands under Communist control. One of the first steps taken in Hungary by the Communistic regime was the secularization of all the schools together with control of the church’s finances. Severe restrictions on the number of religious services were imposed. In East Germany similar problems have been encountered by the churches. In Estonia, largely Lutheran, there is an avowed attempt to woo the youth away from the churches.
In the face of all this the Russian Orthodox Church was welcomed with open arms into the fellowship of the World Council of Churches. Liberal church leaders who have toured countries behind the iron curtain, including Russia, have at times argued that there is yet a large measure of religious freedom. Many professing Christians in western lands all too eagerly accept such reports as true. We wonder what greater trials will have to be imposed upon the churches in those countries before the gullible here will realize that sand has been thrown into their eyes. Communism is much more than a social and economic experiment. It is a totalitarian faith and life. In it there is no room for the God of the Scriptures, for Christ and his redeeming work and his believing church.