STRANGE FIRE ON THE ALTAR
This Spring Calvin College again planned a “Religious Emphasis Week.” It was to be the week terminating in Good Friday and Easter, according to CHIMES of March 20. Actually the program didn’t get off the ground. The scheduled speaker became ill and had to cancel his engagement at a late date.
The same week was “Spiritual Emphasis Week” at the Reformed Bible Institute.
We are somewhat mystified. Possibly I would not have taken note of these things if I hadn’t read a rather scathing judgment of “Religious Emphasis Week” by Bernard Iddings Bell some years ago. Perhaps some reader of these words would like to check what he had to say in his Crisis In Education, pp. 148ff.
Let it be said at once that much of what Bell says about “such rubbish as Religious Emphasis Week” does not apply to Calvin or to the RBI. I am satisfied that the scheduled speakers and the activities were of a high order. And, of course, one has no quarrel with the desirability of bringing competent speakers to the campus to discuss relevant religious themes.
What then is the problem? It’s those labels – “Religious Emphasis Week” and “Spiritual Emphasis Week.” The former is, I am rather sure, an importation from campuses very different from Calvin College.
These labels seem to me to be strangely out of place on the campus of a calvinistic educational institution. Have I been misled all my life in believing in and promoting a Christian education that finds its character precisely at this point, namely, that all teaching in a Christian school must express a religious emphasis, a spiritual emphasis? Is not this ideal enshrined in a Christian school, namely, that all the teaching shall serve to inspire and form an experience of genuine fellowship with the Lord of all and the only Saviour of sinful men? Is not the aim of the total program of Christian education the expression, application and enrichment of basic Christian convictions? How then can we speak of a “Religious Emphasis Week” or a “Spiritual Emphasis Week” in such a school? Surely no one at either institution would make a separation between the biblical convictions basic to and expressed in Christian education on the one hand, and some kind of experience called “religious” or “spiritual” on the other. Such distinctions mean the death of sound religion.
It seems that “Religious Emphasis Week” serves the purpose at some schools of giving religion a place and a hearing. Such special need surely does not exist at Calvin. And does not the RBI feel that such a label as “Spiritual Emphasis Week” is an insult to its own fine program? I would suggest that both schools rid themselves of these wholly incongruous labels.
Indeed, these labels suggest an attitude toward religion that ought to be repugnant to every person on the campus of either Calvin College or the RBI. They are a kind of strange fire on the altar that ought to bum constantly with the flame of that warm and steadfast devotion that is the very heart of Christian education.
PROCLAIMING THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM
That the minister of a Reformed church must uncompromisingly proclaim to his people total depravity, unconditional election, particular atonement, efficacious grace, and preservation of the saints goes without saying. Not to do so is to neglect a sacred duty. However, when Dr. Eldersveld proclaims these doctrines on the Back-to-God Hour to a pluralistic public, as he did recently, that is something else again. Some denounced it as a display of narrow sectarianism. Others called into serious question the wisdom of it. But there were also those who approved. The undersigned approved warmly. He did so because of the following considerations.
Historically, the five points of Calvinism belong to a most honorable tradition. In the fifth century, Augustine, usually esteemed the greatest of the church-fathers, vigorously confessed the first four in his controversy with Pelagius. Calvin. the ablest theologian among the Reformers of the sixteenth century, emphatically affirmed all of them. In the next century the Synod of Dort, at which practically all the Reformed churches of Europe were represented, formulated them painstakingly in opposition to Arminianism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith., the most mature of all Protestant Confessions. reiterated them unequivocally. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries they were upheld unitedly and energetically by a brilliant galaxy of theologians such as Kuyper and Bavinck in the Netherlands, the Hodges and Warfield in these United States. Surely. a more glorious tradition is hardly conceivable.
Something more meaningful. even much more meaningful, needs to be said concerning the five points of Calvinism. Where did the aforenamed theologians and ecclesiastical assemblies get those doctrines? They got them. from the supernaturally inspired apostle Paul; more broadly speaking, from the infallible Word of God. The Bible has correctly been designated the book of salvation. In distinction from God’s general revelation it tells us all we need to know about the way of salvation. And what it tells us on that all-important theme is precisely this: salvation is not of the will of man but of the sovereign grace of the Triune God. That may well be said to be the central teaching of Holy Writ. And it is exactly that teaching which is summarized in the five points of Calvinism. Eldersveld is right when he describes them as so many basic Christian doctrines. They add up to the one most basic teaching of the Word of God. Most assuredly they must be proclaimed without any apology or compromise—boldly.
Not every believer subscribes to the five points of Calvinism. But that is because the theological thinking of many believers is confused. For that matter, the heart of every Christian is better than his head. A Christian may be defined as a person who in his heart of hearts trusts in the grace of God for salvation and gives to God all the glory for his salvation. That makes every Christian in his heart of hearts a Calvinist. The uncompromising proclamation of the five points of Calvinism cannot but strike a responsive chord in his inmost being.
LET’S GO PROMISCUOUS
It is generally known that the moral climate of our day is far from healthy. Time magazine in an article entitled “The Second Sexual Revolution” presents a lurid picture of the American scene. There is no reason to question the factuality of this report. Apparently there is a “revolution of mores and an erosion of morals.” The result is a “sex-affirming culture.”
What all this adds up to is that there are no absolutes. What is moral or immoral is a matter of private judgment Morals are both private and relative. More and more people are coming to believe that sex belongs not in the realm of morals but of science. Live by your own code; nothing is wrong as long as no one gets hurt. No longer what is right or wrong, but what is socially feasible is the criterium by which actions must be judged. On many a college campus a virgin is regarded as a square; the loss of virginity, extra-marital pregnancy is no longer considered an “American Tragedy.” One really should feel guilty only about feeling guilty. There is a great deal more, but this is sufficient to indicate the climate in which we live.
Well may we ask what has become of the deterrents of sexual immorality which effectively operated in the past? This, of course, is not to deny that there always was immorality. But at least it was called immoral. Deterrents generally were three in number.
First and foremost. was the Christian religion, which fostered what Time calls the Puritan ethic. But the Puritan ethic “is widely considered to be dying, if not dead. and there are few mourners.” How many people mourn the passing of the Christian religion is impossible to say. But there are plenty of mourners for other reasons. The real mourners are the teenage girls that come home and cry on their mother’s shoulders. “Oh mother, I greatly fear…” The mourners are distracted parents who never thought this could happen in their respectable family and community. And when they ask who the father of the unborn may be, they may be told that this is the sixty-four dollar question. Few are the pastors unacquainted with such situations. O yes, there are plenty of mourners.
The second deterrent, apart from any religious consideration, was the fear of pregnancy and VD. The unwed mother was a social outcast. Of course, this attitude, especially among Christians, is to be condemned. Jesus has shown us the way in the case of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We hold no brief for the self-righteousness and hypocrisy too prevalent also in the church. Nevertheless, it inspired fear and kept many young people on the path of virtue. All this has changed. Extra-marital pregnancy is no longer regarded as an “American Tragedy.” Moreover, contraceptives, and bye and bye “the Pill,” may be purchased at any supermarket. In spite of all this, Time presents some startling statistics. The birthrate of illegitimates of teen-age mothers has more than doubled over the last twenty years; of mothers in the age group from twenty to twenty five it has more than tripled. This leaves out of consideration the abortions for which no statistics are available. And though science would eliminate the fear of VD, the frightful increase of this among teen·agers is becoming a big concern of the A.M.A.
Finally, one of the most remarkable factors in all this is the silence of the pulpit on this problem. Sex may be the subject of parlor conversation in any crowd, mixed, or otherwise, but on the pulpit the subject is taboo. Two reasons may be ascribed. First, the church is the victim of widespread skepticism. The Bible is no longer regarded as the Word of God. Absolutes are become relatives. Many divorcees are honored and honorable church members, no matter how revolting the circumstances of the divorce may have been. “The meaning of sin is no longer predominantly sexual.”
Where will all this lead? History supplies the answer. It is the worm gnawing at a nation’s vitals ultimately to choke her in the froth of her own moral corruption. Evidently no one trembles at the thought that judgment must needs begin at the house of God. Remember Jonah? The threatening storm did not come upon the ship because of the wickedness of the sailors; it came as a judgment upon a recalcitrant prophet who refused to preach the Word of God. A large measure of the responsibility for the deplorable conditions must be laid at the door of the church’s failure to proclaim the “Puritan ethic”: “Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
NO COALS TO NEWCASTLE…
According to the well-known English proverb, to .n carry coals to Newcastle is to engage in foolish and futile labor. The city of Newcastle has enough coals to keep going.
Beginning with this issue and continuing, hopefully, throughout the coming year Torch and Trumpet will present four study outlines each month. To the uninitiated this may seem like carrying coals to Newcastle. Aren’t there enough magazines already which present Bible study material for both societies and individuals? We need only mention the contributions which appear regularly in the Young Calvinist, Illinois Observer, Christian Courier and Federation Messenger. Also this magazine has published such material for some years. The series on “The Book of Revelation” by Dr. William Hendriksen was concluded as recently as the April issue.
Despite all these excellent materials, we still believe that the needs of Reformed believers in this field are not being adequately met.
Complaints have been registered from time to time on the dearth of study materials for after-recess discussions in the societies. In the large church centers, where speakers are readily available, this may not seem to be such a big problem. But how about the hundreds of societies which lack such opportunities? Even more, we are convinced that a steady diet of after-recess speakers, no matter how competent and challenging their addresses, is no substitute for lively discussion. Information gleaned with so little effort will soon stifle all intellectual inquisitiveness and interest.
Reformed Christians also must do more than study the Bible solely for the sake of the development of their personal faith and godliness. They must learn to see the specific relevance of Scripture for every area of life. Only then dare we speak meaningfully of a truly Biblical, Reformed life-and world-view. God’s Word speaks pointedly about the home, education, society and its problems, national and international relations, labor and culture. Yet too infrequently are such subjects discussed Biblically and systematically among us.
We further find throughout the churches a growing number of discussion groups. Many of these meet periodically on Sunday evenings. Others, and we trust that their number is not diminishing, still engage in systematic personal study of the Bible and its application to life.
In an attempt to meet some of these rising needs Torch and Trumpet presents two series of outlines. Each will consist of twelve outlines, two of each series to appear each month. The first series deals with the Biblical approach to “the state” in man’s life; the second with Biblical material on “the family.” Thus these two sets of outlines will be concluded in the December 1964 issue. Especially commit· tees planning the after-recess programs for the new society season are asked to review this material Should there be sufficient interest, Reformed Fellowship will be pleased to reprint in quantity the eight outlines to appear during these summer months. Also in this way we hope to make some small contribution to our ever-widening circle of friends throughout this country and the world.