INQUIRY WITH RESPONSIBILITY
Very likely many have pondered the article of Dr. Henry Stob in the May-June Reformed Journal (p. 5), where he writes about the propositions set forth by the “Dekker” study committee.
In effect he warns that Synod should not proclaim the committee’s propositions as “‘dogmas’ to be honored by all who are charged to think Christianly about the biblical givens. This burden the theologian who is concerned to be faithful to Christ, and to live in the freedom which Christ has conferred—this burden he cannot bear.”
One wonders what special meaning he intends as he puts “dogmas” in quotes, and what he means by “freedom” in this connection. Does it mean freedom from doctrinal guide-lines which the church may be led to adopt? Would he deny Synod’s good right to do that in 1966 or 1967?
Later he writes: “Should Professor Dekker or any other of us depart from the faith that is confessed in the living community of the Church, let us be called to account. But let us not be subjected to theological criteria by an ecclesiastical court, for then the theological enterprise is tragically arrested and we are robbed of our vocations.”
When he writes “let us be called to account” (if necessary), by which criteria and in what kind of court would this be if not “by theological criteria in an ecclesiastical court”?
Did not he, along with all our office-bearers, sign that solemn promise of our Form of Subscription “to submit to the judgment of the Consistory, Classis, or Synod” in points of doctrine where differences might arise? These are ecclesiastical courts and would have to judge by theological criteria, would they not?
We seem well advised carefully to avoid any impression that our professional theologians are, to quite some extent, untouchables.
Dr. Stab reminds us that “theology is a scientific endeavor into which not all people can be drawn.” But surely it is good and needful that all our people, so far as possible, intelligently share in the theological concerns of the church. When the article says: “The faith is one thing; theology is another,” we agree on the distinction but would beware of any unhealthy separation of the two. How we need the keen doctrinal sensitivities of our Aquilas and Priscillas who can sense weaknesses in our brilliant Apolloses! How many seminaries, neglecting the close bond between simple faith and sound theology, have, under the guise of “giving new form to the age-old Gospel,” to use Stob’s expression, led their denominations into the broad waters of liberalism!
Professor Stob well reminds us that our theological inquiry ought to proceed with all caution and responsibility. In that spirit these lines are offered.
WHAT PREACHING DO WE NEED?
The tension found in the Church today a tension between the pulpit and the pew . is due, I believe, to the fact that two different languages and thought-worlds are to be found.
The pew complains that the sermons it hears today are irrelevant to life. One hears time and time again: “Why can’t the messages from the pulpit be more practical for life?” Ah,…but for which life?
Today we live in an era that is “doctrinally indifferent.” This spirit of the age has also invaded our churches. Catechism sermons are not appreciated. They are said to be “too dry and dogmatic and impractical.” Yes, that is one of the complaints heard from the Christian Reformed pew; the Christian Reformed sermon is dogmatic…and thus, to the mind of many, impractical! Perhaps the Christian Reformed Church has passed out of the era in which its constituency was what n. B. Warfield and H. C. McComas called “the intellectual type” believer, whose faith is an intellectual response in the presence of God and His Word. These “intellectual type” believers were attracted by doctrinal sermons; they enjoyed discussing the fine paints and distinctions in Reformed theology. Today such individuals are in the minority among the constituency of the Christian Reformed Church.
Also the “action type” believers, those insistent on Christian action in all spheres of life, seem to be disappearing. Granted, there is still an active nucleus in the Christian Reformed Church which emphasizes Christian social response especially in the areas of labor and politics. But the vast majority of our constituency appears unconcerned about these matters. Christian education seems to be the only such activity to rally our people. Thus the “action type” sermon, appealing to the will of the person, is also passe. It, too, doesn’t speak to the congregation as a whole!
When one hears the complaint: “Why can’t the preaching in our churches be more practical, speaking about life as we live it,” one is tempted to the conclusion that our constituency may be “the experiential type” of believers, who desire to hear sermons that speak to their hearts, to their emotions.
Early in the history of the Christian Reformed Church, the constituency was “experiential believers.” Prior to 1880 the sermons preached and the literature read were largely experiential. In 1001 the late Rev. Van der Vries wrote in De Wachter that in the period prior to 1880 we were accused of setting forth the “Christian” in pulpit discourses more than the Christ. The members of our Church in that era wanted to hear that which spoke more to the heart, than to the mind.
Today, we hear complaints which suggest a similar desire. People want to hear about the life of the Christian…how he is to live life. They don’t want doctrine, they want what is practical! However, this does not necessarily mean that they want to hear experiential sermons as our forefathers heard.
It appears that earlier generations wanted to hear about the Christian and his spiritual life, with its “ups and downs” as the believer made his pilgrimage to eternity. In the early issues of De Wachter there appeared dialogues between “concerned souls” “established believers,” “weak believers” and “nominal believers” about the life of the soul. Popular literature of that era were books like Schorbnghuis’ Innig Christendom and Verschuir’s Bevindelijke Godgeleertheid. Dr. H. Beets tells us, in one of his books, that in that era reports were published of weeping people, and broken-hearts during the church services…a type of emotional reaction to the sermons.
But is our constituency today concerned about the life of the soul in the midst of this life? Are our people concerned about their eternal welfare to such a deep degree? Or are they concerned about their temporal welfare in this life?
Many are asking for practical sermons, sermons which speak about life. But which life? The life of the soul, or the life of earning a daily living, a life in contact with fellow men? I believe that the latter is the case.
It is in this sense that people are asking for practical sermons which will apply to daily life. There is a grave and growing danger that they are asking for a type of preaching that was heard in the circles of the “Ethische Beweging” in the Netherlands, a type of “social gospel” with a “Reformed” tincture. But such a gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. Such an “ethical gospel” is a far cry from the Gospel of God’s Word.
Perhaps what we need is a return to “experiential preaching” of the old school. A proclamation of Christ as the Savior of sinners, and the Christian as a saved sinner. But such an “experiential preaching” must be well balanced. The danger of passivity must be avoided. Experiential truths must be set forth in the three·fold strand of the Heidelberg Catechism; personal, experiential knowledge of sin; personal, experiential knowledge of redemption in Christ by God’s free grace; personal, experiential knowledge of gratitude in life. All three strands must be present.
Such a presentation of Christ and the Christian the life and work of Christ as Mediator, Surety and Savior of God’s elect people, and the life of the soul and the work of the born-again Christian—will fulfill the need of all, who seek the right answers to the questions of life. For those who by the free grace of God have been born-again shall live life…daily life…to the glory of God, in accordance with the Word of God. It declares the way of life in all its spheres and activities. Those who are born again are also being sanctified by the Spirit. And sanctification is that process whereby the true child of God lives his life as a life of faith and a practice of godliness, to the glory of God and the welfare of his neighbor. Under the guidance of the Spirit, who applies God’s Word to the heart and life of the child of God, he will be instructed in the practicalities of how he is to live in this life. Here the answers to his questions of life will be found. Such preaching, and such preaching alone, is truly practical.
The corruption and moral irresponsibility of the largest labor union in the land has presented an alarming spectacle. A few weeks ago the Teamsters Union held their convention in Florida where the voting delegates to that convention re-elected James Hoffa to the presidency of their union and rewarded him for his good deeds by voting a $25,000.00 annual pay raise. At the same convention it was decided to pay the legal fees incurred by him and his close associates in their continuing battle to avoid imprisonment for misappropriation of union funds, jury tampering, and assorted other indictments. Here is a union leader convicted of corrupt union practices and of attempting to tamper with the exercise of justice in the courts and of using union welfare funds for his own profit. Yet the voting delegates of the union endorse and support him with re-election.
This marks a low point in moral responsibility on the part of organized labor. It appears from this that the voting delegates of this union arc only concerned with the exercise of power for the purpose of increased financial benefits. Some time ago a teamster being interviewed on a national television hook·up stated that he didn’t much care what Hoffa did so long as it resulted in financial profit for him. Apparently the rank and file of this union agrees with this. They voted for corruption; they voted for dishonesty; they voted for deception; they voted for moral disregard; they voted for the lie and against the truth. Their children will rise lip in the judgment and condemn them for the example of lawlessness, immorality, and idolatry which they gave to them. How can we expect our children to have respect for law and justice, for honesty and integrity, for truth and righteousness, when the older generation by their example and instruction show disdain for these things?
The idol of financial gain is a false god which has its own code of morality. Every god decides for itself what is right and wrong and this idol of materialism and financial profit has made its decision too. Anything is right so long as it makes a dollar for us. If someone else is injured in the process, this is not our concern. If we destroy others in the name of our false god, we can be sure that we will someday destroy ourselves. Idolatry, lawlessness, and immorality finally bring about the destruction of the society of men.