THOUGHTS ON CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH…
Within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) the lines between liberal and conservative theology are being more sharply drawn these days. This has led to heated debates and contentions in several congregations. Whenever this happens church law in that denomination allows for the appointment of a “judicial commission” which receives “the authority of presbytery to move in and settle things.” According to the editor of The Presbyterian Journal, “There must be a couple dozen such commissions riding herd on various and sundry congregations at anyone time.” This fact has stimulated the editor recently to do some “thinking out loud.”
In this “thinking out loud” the editor says some pertinent and practical things. He opines that in many such instances of strife within the congregations “the situation finally boiled over because the conservatives, trying to improve a situation they deemed bad, failed to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ The overall effect, much too often, has been to make out the conservatives as the villains in the case.”
Thereupon he analyzes the approaches taken by the two groups.
“The liberal (or ‘progressive’) boys fight just as hard, spread just as many innuendoes, block the election of just as many good candidates by devious means, and intimidate just as many pulpit committees (perhaps more)…as their conservative brethren. Somehow, though, they manage to be nice about it and seldom sully their reputations in the process.”
How this is achieved ought to serve warning to all who take seriously the Christian’s obligation to preserve the faith once-far-all delivered to the saints. Not infrequently a church has changed from conservative to liberal “over a lot of dead bodies.” But who recalls a knock-down, drag-out congregational hassle led by the liberals?
“The truth of the matter is that the liberal manages to do his politicking quietly, and without troubling the water. He is everlastingly at it but his conservative brother seldom realizes just how efficiently -unless he should happen to get in the way or wind up at the receiving end. The conservative, on the other hand, is quiet and sweetly disposed when he is not politicking. But plop him in the middle of a contest of some kind and he raises his voice and waves his arms. Upshot of it all: a commission gets appointed and he takes a licking. It appears to us that some of the Lord’s own people need to learn how to contend for the faith without being contentious. And they should realize that there is nothing immoral about politicking, in the right way. We sometimes suspect that all of that noise is too often by way of attempting to justify the ‘unfortunate’ necessity of taking action in a bad situation. But there are ways—and ways—of taking action. They don’t all have to lead to judicial commissions.”
Regrettably, much of what the editor says is true. Yet we wish he had carried through his “thinking out loud” to a more definite and definitive conclusion. In all Reformed churches there are “ways” of dealing with departures from the confessional standards and the Holy Scriptures. To follow these ways in a God-glorifying and approved manner, however, requires much more vigilance and forthright commitment to the historic Christian faith than conservatives (if we may be permitted the use of this rather ambiguous term) are usually willing to manifest. Theirs may never be a fight against the “liberals” or any individual or party within Christ’s church. Theirs is a fight against the devil who transforms himself as an angel of light to deceive many within the church with false doctrine. When this is remembered, positive action will be taken at the outset. The erring brother will be warned patiently and, if at all possible, privately. Only when he refuses to reject his false positions and return to the pure doctrine which is according to godliness will the matter be ripe for the church courts. Not politicking but processing complaints in these church courts, which have been set up for this very purpose, is the way which those who love the Lord and seek to live in obedience to his revealed Word should always walk.
If this is what the esteemed editor of The Presbyterian Journal meant, we wish he would have said so clearly and concisely.
WHY THE FIELDS REMAIN UN HARVESTED…
The evangelization of the world is in every generation the chief obligation of the Christian church.
This is as true today as in the times of the apostles.
Indeed, in the fellowship of the Reformed churches throughout the world this seems to be receiving more emphasis during the last two decades than previously. Yet we have by no means begun to scratch the surface of our missionary potential. Much less have we been as obedient to Christ’s commission as many of our people seem to suppose.
In our day there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles to world-wide missions. We need only mention the resurgence of false religions, the competition with unchristian sects who claim to speak in Christ’s name, the awakening nationalisms throughout Asia and Africa which frequently identify the church’s mission with western colonialism, and the overwhelming apostasy which characterizes those nations which are commonly called Christian. These and many other difficulties burden committees, boards, and churches which reflect seriously on their duty to “make disciples of all nations.”
Yet the highest hurdles are not found in the external circumstances. These are found rather in the hearts and lives of those who have confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Tens of thousands of the world’s far-flung acres remain spiritually unharvested, humanly speaking, because the church comes with too little and often too late. Of this we are reminded pointedly in a brief article in Youthful Outlook, magazine for Calvinistic youth in Canada. Here a comparison is drawn between the first and twentieth centuries in their responses to the Savior’s command.
“They had no way to travel but by camel, or donkey, or sailboat, or on foot. But the Lord told them: ‘Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.’
“Every way they turned, they faced natural barriers—oceans and lakes and rivers; mountains; desert wastelands; impenetrable forests; tropical wilderness: wastes of snow and ice.
“Still He said, ‘Go.’
“They had no printing presses, they had no books, no magazines, no newspapers. They had no radio, no television, no telephone. But He charged them to get the good news of the gospel out to the whole world.
‘Nearly twenty centuries later, the call rings as clear as that day on the Mount of Olives: ‘Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.’
“And we disciples of the 20th century have automobiles, and trains, and ocean steamers, and jet transports. No longer are the oceans, or the mountains, or the deserts in our way. We look down upon them from the windows of our planes. In a matter of hours we can reach the remotest places.
“‘Go,’ He says, and we find no natural barriers in the way. Science has eliminated these. But other barriers remain.
“There is the barrier of racial prejudice. Christ says, ‘Go to all the world…’ But many professing Christians reply: ‘Just to the white race, Lord.’
“There is the barrier of materialism. ‘Go’ says the Master. ‘Wait until I make a million,’ comes the reply.
“‘Go’ says the Lord. But there is the barrier of easy living. ‘We like it here, Lord.’
“‘Go,’ pleads the Master. But there is the barrier of cold hearts and little compassion. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
“Today there is a special call to the religious press to get through the ears and hearts of the people. For the religious press is to be ‘a disturber of Israel,’ to stir up those who are ‘at ease in Zion.’ Ours is the task of informing and enlisting and inspiring 20th century disciples and helping to break down the barriers in the way of world conquest for Christ.”
Is it wrong to wonder just how many members of the Christian Reformed Church—to speak of this denomination now—are “helping to break down the barriers in the way of world conquest for Christ”? More than a few, we fear, are comfortably “at ease in Zion” while the fires of materialism, false religions, and Communism are burning brightly throughout the whole world to doom the very citadel wherein they and their children sit drowsing.
If this were not so, many of the appeals for more mission funds would long ago have become unnecessary.
If this were not so, we would be supporting twice or thrice the number of missionaries at home and abroad than is presently the case.
If this were not so, we would be witnessing in various ways every day to the multitudes around us. We would be pressing the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ not only unto personal salvation but for every area of life. We would be “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” That would mean being missionaries ourselves at home, in and for the schools, in the areas of industry and commerce, in community and national and international affairs. Likely Christ, like the householder in the parable, is asking many of us right now, “Why stand ye here all the day idle” (Matt. 20:6)?
ARIE’S WIFE AND “THE LADIES”…
Of the many periodicals which the mailman regularly delivers to our door, none is read with greater eagerness and enjoyment—even by my wife whose Dutch reading ability is passable at best—than Calvinist-Contact.
Regularly there appears a column or two written by “Arie.” Herein he discusses many matters of concern to the Christian in a new world. Often we are introduced to “Katrien,” his wife, whose sage and sober reflections are a mirror of his thoughts and aim at stirring the reader to responsible Christian action.
Well, “Katrien” is a member of the women’s guild in her church. This group she calls “The Ladies.” Not long ago, when quiet reigned once more within their home, Arie and his wife were sitting in the parlor. To make conversation he said, “Next week the ladies meet again.” He had expected her to greet the announcement with a measure of enthusiasm. Instead, her sigh was loud and long. Then for more than half an hour she told him what she thought was going wrong with “The Ladies.” She pointed out that time after time the society short-changed the study of God’s Word. Too much time was taken repeatedly with a discussion of socials, league meetings, and committee reports. Upon more than one occasion the president had urged the women to cut short the period set aside for Bible study, lest “important” business remain unfinished. By accepting invitations to attend social gatherings arranged by similar organizations in neighboring churches, “The Ladies” hadn’t really gotten down seriously to the business for which their group had been organized. In view of her disappointment with the experiences of the previous year, “Katrien” wasn’t at all sure she would enjoy the coming season.
The problem of this Christian woman is too much with us today.
With all our organizations, ostensibly dedicated to the serious study and discussion of God’s Word, we are getting preciously little Scripture study done. The clamor seems to be for more rallies and films and outside speakers, not to speak of bazaars and bowling nights. Unless we learn continually to listen to our God and Savior who speaks to us in his holy Word, we shall not be engaged in loving and serving him well.
Not only “The Ladies” but also men and young people do well to heed the apostolic word, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). This passage, we are convinced, has a direct application to our societies. Unless we take it seriously, the sooner our church societies dissolve the better.
WATCHING THE PENDULUM SWING…
As time and seasons change, so seemingly do also the thoughts and theories of the sons of men. Reflecting on the shifting positions of his day, Alfred Lord Tennyson sang:
“Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be: They are but broken lights of thee, And thou, 0 Lord, art more than they.”
Since his day “systems” of religious thought also have come and gone. Some were more long-lived than others. A few seemed to go for a while only to return in a somewhat different dress.
This is true of the liberal stream in Christian thought.
As a result of the strong and sustained impact of neoorthodoxy, often called Barthianism, the tides of liberal thought seemed to run out. Only a few during and after the second World War openly confessed that they, while modifying their insights, were liberals still. Now the slln of Bartbianism seems to have passed its zenith, although its effects will be with the chmches throughout the world for several decades. Not a few of its erstwhile disciples. are running far beyond Barth to embrace the views of Bultmann. Others who, for a season at least, employed Barthian terminology—possibly to give the impression that they were in step with the “latest” in theology—are moving back to views championed by the liberalism of the first decades of this century. It is plain that the pendulum is swinging, perhaps faster than all but a few seem to realize.
Because of these changes in the theological and philosophical climate we appreciate the precise, polished article of Bernard Eugene Meland in the Christian Century (Sept. 26, 1962) on ‘“The Persisting Liberal Witness.”
Dr. Meland is professor at the University of Chicago divinity school. Already in 1936 his ability in his chosen field was amply demonstrated, when he co-authored with Henry Nelson Wieman a volume entitled American Philosophies of Religion. In the recent article he tries to define as carefully as possible wherein liberalism in Protestant theology consists. Although brief, the article is worth reading several times. It shows us where the battle-lines for truth are going to be drawn. It is evident from what he writes that we have back again the liberalism so strong in our yesteryears.
Indeed, it grapples with new problems, but its spirit remains unchanged. It takes its starting-point, even its “norm,” to use the phrase of Meland, in man. Such a position may be at times deeply influenced by what the Bible says about God, man, freedom, sin, and salvation. But because of its presuppositions, avowed again openly in this article, it cannot and will not submit unconditionally to the authority of the Christian Scriptures. How far the pendulum will swing in the American theological world will depend in large measure upon individual liberals and their ability to make disciples. But that this will be a force which we must recognize anew is plain. Against it “the trumpet” of sound Christian scholarship may never give “an uncertain sound.”