WE OUGHT TO TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH…
A quarter century ago some of us were studying the Scriptures in seminary, preparatory to becoming ministers of the Christian gospel. The temper of those times often tried our souls. The optimistic liberalism, conceived in the fertile minds of such men as Schleiennacher and Ritschl and nurtured by a Troeltsch in the classrooms and Rauschenbusch on the social frontiers and the erudite Fosdick in the pulpit, was slowly withering away. The star of Barth burned brightly in the theological firmament. Bultmann, Cullmann, and others were only beginning to be heard on this side of the ocean. To follow the true way was not as easy as it seemed to many who stood on the outside. The need was for a touchstone, a standard, a basic norm. And in seminary that norm was unquestionably for professors and students the holy Scriptures. We were told that this Word, and this Word only and always and fully, was to be preached.
How to handle that Word aright was not always quite so transparent to us.
One day the late Prof. D. H. Kromminga, esteemed professor of Church History, said to his class: “Gentlemen, remember when reading and listening to others to take sharp note not only of what is said. Look just as closely for what is not being said. Heresy is best recognized by what it either fails or refuses to say.”
Forcibly these words came to mind on two widely different occasions in recent months.
Sometime ago a scholar was addressing a group of Reformed believers. Just who he was and where this happened is not to the point now. The burden of his message, how. ever, was telling. He emphasized the “humanness” of the Scriptures. About this aspect of God’s self-revelation some very proper things were said. The audience was reminded that the Bible writers bad their personal insights and experiences, their limitations of knowledge and understanding, their struggles and triumphs—many of which were reflected in the Word by which we claim to live. But what was not said may have been even more revealing. Not once were these Scriptures affirmed to be the authoritative, infallible and divinely-inspired Word of the living God. Several left that gathering very “muddled” in their reactions, wondering what could and what could not be accepted as the trustworthy speaking of our God.
Not long afterward someone else was preaching to a Reformed congregation. Again, just who this was and where he spoke does not concern us at this time. By every superficial criterion the sermon seemed to be Scriptural. What was said reflected the obvious hallmarks of being true. It was a message on the sovereignty of God in the lives of men and nations, a pertinent theme in these days of crisis. The eternal God was proclaimed as the Lord of all history. Several appropriate texts were quoted. But—and this was deeply disturbing—Christ Jesus was mentioned only a few times and then in passing.
There were those who left the church confused and uncomforted. They had remembered some of the catechetical instruction of earlier days. They realized that ours is not an “abstract” God but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; that this faithful God and Father exercises his sovereignty in and through the Savior-King; that this present reign of God in Christ is employed especially unto the salvation of the church and the consolation of his believing children. But none of these things were said. Perhaps the preacher thought he could presuppose them. Then he should be counseled that in something as significant and salutary as true preaching such fundamentals can never be presupposed.
Preachers and people alike do well to remember the “test” advocated by the late Prof. Kromminga.
Witnesses called to testify in a court of law must solemnly swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…As Christ’s official witnesses to the church. preachers may not content themselves with anything less. As Christ’s official witnesses in every area of life to a world lying in darkness and death, the believing people may not declare anything less. Always we are commissioned to speak the whole truth.
TIlls is proclamation in the true apostolic tradition. Paul could say to the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26,27).
Anything less than this will tend to confuse and conduce to error. Anything less will be a betrayal of high trust and holy calling. Anything less, unless repented of and repudiated, will imperil men’s souls by feeding them with a gospel which is not the gospel but a deceptive and demonic imitation thereof.
QUIA OR QUATENUS…
“We the undersigned, professors of the Christian Reformed Church, ministers of the gospel, elders and deacons of the Christian Reformed congregation…,do hereby sincerely and in good conscience before the Lord, declare by this, our subscription, that we heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine, contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine, made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618–1619, do fully agree with the Word of God.”
These words, I suppose, were read in the consistory room of many Christian Reformed churches at the beginning of the year when newly-elected elders and deacons assumed the duties of their respective offices. This annual reading of the Formula of Subscription is a good custom which ought never be abolished.
I have underlined the words, “do fully agree”, because I was reminded of the discussions on this very point more than a century ago (1816) in the Netherlands. These have been caned the Quia -Quatenus debate. (cf. Documenta Reformatoria—J. N. Bakhuizen-Vanden Brink, et. al. Vol. 2, pp. 115 fl.)
At that time divergent interpretations of the significance of the signing of the Formula of Subscription were current. Some subscribed to the creeds of the church because (quia) they fully agreed with the Word of God, while others subscribed to the creeds in so far as (quatenus) they agreed with the Word of God. In the case of the Quia signers the Church could know exactly what they believed, while the Quatenus signers left the Church in the dark and could conveniently hide their sometimes radical disagreement with cardinal points of doctrine under the dishonest cloak of silence.
It is plain from our present Formula of Subscription as well as from the subsequent history of this debate that the quia position is the present understanding of the church,subscription to the creeds because they do fully agree with the Word of God. Only upon this basis may subscription be rightly demanded by the church of Jesus Christ.
This being so, the high responsibility of subscription to the creeds should be clearly seen and fully acknowledged. When someone signs the Formula of Subscription this act is tantamount to a declaration to the church of the signer’s conviction that the creeds of the church do fully agree with the Word of God—and that one agrees with and feels personally committed to and bound by them.
To proceed. in any other way would be less than honest. Anything less than complete honesty at this crucial point cannot be tolerated by the Christ in his church.
By offering our signatures to the Formula of Subscription let us always be aware of what we are doing. Let us also mean exactly what we are signing.
RE-TREADING the RETIRED
That there is much life left among the growing numbers of the retired is a fact which has been signalized in our day. Ours is an age when a man of 65 years has a life-expectancy of several years. Yet for many these are often spent in the dreariness and weariness of an enforced idleness. Our aged are younger and stronger than their predecessors in many ways; yet there seems to be less of a place for them than in any previous generation.
The tragedy of this lies in the fact that many of these are “partakers of His anointing” (Catechism, q. 32). As Christians theirs is the considerable responsibility of being prophets, priests and kings—a calling from which there may be no retirement! It always strikes me as essentially wrong when older people of venerable status as God’s children while away their closing years as if they were of no account, as if they were hardly responsible to him who requires careful stewardship of every moment and every experience.
It was good, therefore, to read in a recent issue of one of our national periodicals that the legal profession had discovered a new use for retired lawyers and judges. Law schools, it was reported, are finding that many of these good men are useful for teaching; that their experience and competence as well as enthusiasm are recognized as being of great assistance to aspiring jurists. Yes, enthusiasm! for these men are so grateful for the opportunity to be active in this area and so devoted in their effort to do well that law students gain from them new insights into the glory of their chosen profession.
Isn’t there something in this for the church and its retired pastors and professors of theology—to restrict ourselves to this group for the moment?
I think so.
Over a cup of coffee with a fellow pastor recently our conversation turned to the fact that Calvin seminary is providing a considerable service to the student body and the community by sponsoring various speakers from varying backgrounds. This provides much stimulus, I am sure, to those fortunate enough to have opportunity to attend.
My friend made an observation, however, which is the occasion for this comment: “Isn’t there one among all the retired preachers, pastors and professors whose experience and competence makes him worthy of consideration as guest lecturer in the field of practical pastoral work?” He meant to suggest, of course, that there must be several, and that our students and pastors could profitably sit at the feet of such men.
In pastoral work experience is so valuable. In Grand Rapids retired clergymen are very numerous. Why not try to use them?