HOW CHANGING IS THE CLIMATE?
When I was taking the course of Christian Reformed Church History in our Seminary. the question was raised as to the right of the Christian Reformed Church to separate from the Reformed Church of America in 1857. After explaining the various reasons for the decision to become a separate Church, the professor led the class to see that this decision was indeed warranted. Perhaps the very question as to our right of existence shocked some of us, as it may surprise some today. But if one is shocked that the right of separation is questioned regarding the Christian Reformed Church, he would be dismayed that the very existence of Protestantism in general has now been called into question by one of the ministers of the Christian Reformed Church. In a recent article in the Reformed Journal, Rev. Boelo Boelens poses a question that he plans to answer in subsequent articles. His question is whether the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification is really so different from the traditional Protestant interpretation. In other words, was Luther right to begin the Reformation since there is a very real possibility that no essential difference existed between him and the Roman Church? Rev. Boelens concedes that if this is the case, we may have to proceed to the nearest Catholic Church and confess to the local father, “Father, we have sinned.”
The fact is, of course, that in all the writing that has been favorable in terms of the “Changing Climate in Roman Catholicism,” any change in the basic doctrines of Romanism is conspicuously absent. Whatever changes have taken place, and no one will deny that there have been changes, have been of peripheral concern. The essential doctrines that have forced the Reformed consensus that Romanism is still heretical in terms of Scripture have not been changed. Boelens himself bases his statements on Father Hans Kung, a theologian who is plainly out of step with the official Roman Catholic position. One has only to read the religious page of such a periodical as Time magazine of Sept. 10 and Nov. 5, to mention only two discussions on Roman Catholicism, where the reporter states that these dissenting voices are not to be construed as the official voice of the Church.
All of which leads one to wonder about the legitimacy of the question that Rev. Boelens poses. Unless indeed, the official doctrinal position of the Roman Catholic Church will change in the future in regard to such doctrines as the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, justification, the infallibility of the pope, the role of Mary, and the relationship of tradition to Scripture, there can be no possibility that any true Reformed Bible-believing Christian ever need apologize for the Protestant Reformation.
HENRY VANDEN HEUVEL
“HONEST TO GOD”
The title of the book Honest to God is keenly challenging, whatever one may think of its content.
Being honest to God is hard because of the kind of people we are and the kind of world we live in. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9) and it is very difficult for us to rightly know ourselves. All Christians live with weaknesses and inconsistencies which, unless sincerely combatted, verge into subtle hypocrisies. And the dividing line is so hard to sec! Especially since our world with its complex patterns and trends “lieth in the evil one” who tirelessly promotes lies and deceit.
Of old the Bible warns men against being less than honest to God. Psalm 78:35f says of chastened Israel: “And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their redeemer. 36 But they Battered him with their mouth, And lied unto him with their tongue.”
Ezekiel speaks a similarly searching word in 33:31f: “…they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words but they do them not; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their gain. 32 And, 10, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words but they do them not.”
What hollowness! What “a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof!”
Our Savior probes deeply in this same area when he says: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Again he solemnly declares: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21).
That also probes and searches us. Do we ring true?
We say “Lord, Lord,” don’t we? We heartily avow our faith in God’s sovereignty. We hold high his Word as our infallible rule of faith and life.
We take for our own the great guide-lines of the Bible: love God above all and our neighbor as ourself; seek first the kingdom of God; do all to the glory of God!
We recognize our own weaknesses and acquiesce in stern sermons—often too passively and comfortably! We agree that we need much correction—but too often without doing much about it!
Are we trying honestly and earnestly to get our lives to square with what we profess? If an impartial and knowledgeable observer would carefully match our profession, our prayers, and our praises with our lives, to what conclusion would he come? Even allowing for human weaknesses?
Our prayers put us on trial! We so often ask “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” That implies that we sincerely want that will done in our lives too. But do we strive for that as we ought? We sing the prayer: “Hold o’er my being absolute sway,” but how much holding back on God is smugly “lived with!”
Our praises put us “on the spot” keenly. We heartily lift our voices in the grand old words: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my life, my soul, my all.” But how feeble, and complacently partial, is our program of presenting our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service” (Rom. 12:1)!
We love God’s Word but perhaps not as fervently as we too readily assume, judging by the time and earnest thought we give to it daily as compared to the time and interest given to T.V., other reading, chatting, etc.
We firmly hold to the need of prayer, much prayer: individual, family, congregational But a careful accounting of the amount of time and fervent attention devoted to prayer each day would humble most of us.
Souls, all too readily and all too often, drift into being less than honest to God. Then religion gets a hollow ring and older folks should realize how quickly youth senses this. Maybe that’s why a group of educators discovered, as they judged, that what youth learns in church classes little changes their lives. Not surprising if they note among Christians a duality deadening to spirituality!
Among Communists stands forth the claim that they are bound to win their struggle because they are putting more work and sacrifice into it than Christians are willing to do; more zeal to advance the Red sway than Christians have for the kingdom of God!
The test is simple. searching, and sanctifying! “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” Our feet will stumble but our souls and lives must seek “one holy passion” more and more.
Is not less than that less than honest to God?
POISONING THE INTELLECTUAL ATMOSPHERE
During the years of World War I and shortly thereafter peoples were frightened at the thought of poison gas which could wipe out cities at one stroke. The last war and the many secret and semi-secret tests made more recently alerted men to the threat of radio-active fall-out. These dangers are still very real.
What most people, even many professing Christians among them, fail to discern is the much greater threat of poisoning the intellectual, moral and spiritual climate in which we and our children live in these mid-century years. Those who point to the overwhelming flood of false theologies and philosophies which are engulfing not only the Western nations but also seeping and even streaming into many Christian churches, colleges and seminaries are quickly branded as alarmists. Too many seem content to rest on the comfortable pillows of the past history of these institutions while lulling themselves to sleep with Hezekiah’s words, “For there shall be peace and truth in my days.”
Again we are being warned.
In the National Review for November 16, 1965, an article appeared which is “must” reading for every concerned believer. Its author, the Rev. Harold O. J. Brown, is a Congregationalist minister and teaching fellow at Harvard. Although speaking from quite a different perspective than that of this magazine, much of what he writes will command hearty assent at once. Brown is convinced that “today the intellectual climate in America is strongly anti-Christian,” and he goes on to prove his point by demonstrating its four chief characteristics: “(1) a commitment to secular materialism; (2) a rejection of rationality and the concept that the universe ought to make sense; (3) relativism in moral judgments and in practical actions; (4) syncretism in religion and synthesis in philosophy.”
Altogether too much worthwhile material is contained in this article to be quoted here. However, some of the striking statements should whet the appetites of all who love the church. Permit us to quote just a few sentences.
On the bankruptcy of modern theology—“The ‘new theology’ is no more successful in cracking the indifference of the merely nominal Christian or the unbeliever than the ‘new theologians’ will admit the Old-Fashioned Revival Hour to be. We should recognize that these would-be evangelists in a new mood are unsuccessful.”
On ecumenism—“Too much ecumenism today is not the victory of love and humility over self-righteous zeal, but the triumph of fatigue and indifference over concern for truth.”
This article, however, does not content itself with analyzing the treacherous disease to which thousands upon thousands are succumbing. The writer prescribes the duty that rests upon all who claim to be Christian. He calls us to battle. “The real challenge to the Christian today is not to ‘break the mould’ of irrelevant traditional piety (although this too may be desirable) but to smash the iron grip of contemporary intellectual prejudices, and dear a way for a real consideration of the Christian alternative.”
Likely many a reader will say, upon reading these lines, that within the confessional Reformed churches of this land the membership is not much tempted to adopt materialism, irrationalism, relativism and syncretism. With respect to its baldest and brashest forms this may perhaps be quite true. But how about the seeds from which such a horrible harvest inevitably springs? Aren’t many being tempted to synthesize creation and evolution? Isn’t church discipline, which has always been a hallmark of those who take seriously the demands for a God-patterned and God-dedicated life, being neglected and even subtly rejected? Can we expose ourselves to the “germs” of neo-orthodox irrationalism and expect to escape the disease? Is it really possible to cast doubts on one aspect of Biblical revelation and still remain loyal to its message of salvation by sovereign grace? Here the lessons of church history, also those which are being written before our very eyes in recent decades, serve as sharp notice. All confessional Reformed churches and their constituency had better watch their “sins of omission” fully as much as their “sins of commission.”
Not so long ago we heard from our pulpits and in our church press such phrases as “covenantal distinctiveness,” “the antithesis,” lines of demarcation between church and world,” “fighting for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” These sounds have been strangely muted in our time. It may be high time to resurrect them, to revitalize them with their profound Biblical meaning, and to resound them far and wide. Unless this is done our children and our children’s children will not know what it means to be Christ’s in a christless and chaotic age.
PETER Y. DE JONG