THE UBIQUITY OF THE PINK PEPPERMINT
A Roman Catholic family moved into the house next door to a Christian Reformed family. After they had become acquainted, the Roman Catholic housewife felt free, over a cup of coffee, to say to the Christian Reformed housewife, “I understand a little of what your church believes, but one thing puzzles me. What is the significance of peppermints in your religion?”
This was not a facetious question. This Roman Catholic woman had noticed her neighbor buy peppermints in the local super market every week. She had heard the neighbor children ask on the way to church, “Do you have the peppermints?” And she had visited one of our Christian Reformed Churches and noticed with what regularity a large percentage of the congregation surreptitiously slipped one of these peppermints into their mouths. (A whole article could be written describing all the subtle means people have devised for popping the peppermints into their mouths undetected.) So, on the basis of her observations, she asked her question.
What is the significance of peppermints in our religion? I don’t believe it’s a matter of doctrine. A glance at the index of Professor Berkhof’s Systematic Theology reveals no section on the doctrine of the ubiquity of the pink peppermint, or any reference to the peppermint at all (pink or white, or green or chocolate). Is it a matter of church order? No, the peppermint has been omitted from the Church Order Commentary also. We can only conclude that eating peppermints in church is one of those meaningless habits which, with the passing of years, has become a tradition.
I don’t know how the tradition started or how it retained its popularity. Maybe it’s based on the principle that “a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way.” But whatever the reason, it is a tradition which, even though it may be harmless in itself, makes us look ridiculous to others.
At this time in the history of our church, we are especially concerned about mission outreach and our witness to the world. It might be well to take a critical look at ourselves and rid ourselves of the strange little habits that might make not just us, but our worship itself, seem ludicrous.
LOUISE M. HULSTMrs. Louise Hulst is the wife of Rev. John Hulst, pastor of the 12th Ave. Christian Reformed Church of Jenison, Michigan.
UNDERESTIMATING OUR CHILDREN
Every now and then someone tries to sell me on the idea of a “children’s church” on Sunday. The proposal follows the familiar pattern adopted by many “progressive churches.” Children meet with their parents for the “preliminaries” of worship and then are dismissed to some room—sometimes an adjoining chapel—where they continue their worship in more elementary dimensions. The reason commonly given for this “children’s church” is that boys and girls in the preadolescent groups are too immature to derive benefit from the kind of sermon generally heard in our Reformed churches. Why ask these youngsters to sit through a doctrinal sermon, or even a substantial practical sermon, when in terms of interest investment and powers of assimilation they can profit so much more from a “simple” message, supplemented, perhaps, with manual activities or with a mm?
It is concerning these “powers of assimilation,” mentioned above, that 1 write these lines. Through the years of my ministry I have become increasingly aware that we tend to underestimate a child’s powers of assimilation. From what appears to be inattentiveness, in a given instance, we too quickly conclude that the child is not listening and that nothing is being absorbed. I am ready to say quite categorically that the average child gets more from a typical doctrinal sermon than we realize. Right this moment I have on my desk a batch of papers written by a group of 11 and 12 year old catechumens. I am delighted with what they have written. Let me tell you what the assignment was.
Recently I preached a sermon on The Lord’s Supper. In the introduction I gave a brief survey of the interesting developments in the Netherlands with regard to the new evaluation of the Roman Catholic Mass. I quoted some of the startling things being said by such top Roman Catholic theologians as Edward Schillerbeeck and Piet Schoonenberg who have been creating quite a stir with their bold statements about the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. These men are saying that Christ’s presence in the Supper is to be understood in personal, spiritual categories rather than in those of substance. This re-thinking of the Mass has aroused the Pope. His encyclical, Mysterium Fidei certainly can be interpreted as a warning to these Dutch theologians.
I asked the catechumens, mentioned above, to write me a paragraph summarizing what 1 said in that sermon introduction. I felt this was a good test of their powers of assimilation, the more so since the material in that introduction was a bit academic. The papers lying on my desk have convinced me again that we often underestimate those powers. To be sure, the papers are not of equal grade, but in the gross they are most gratifying. Some of them gave me a chuckle. One boy writes: “The pastor said there is a leak in the Roman Catholic Church.” Another writes: “Some Dutch preachers by the name of Edward and Pete made the Pope angry.”
No, I am not going to promote anything that resembles a “children’s church,” or even a “children’s sermon.” Without over-playing my conviction I am going to continue to assume that these children take in more than we realize, even when they appear to be inattentive. With some prudent modification of terminology here and there, and, perhaps, with a few more illustrations, we ministers of the Word can confidently continue as we have been doing. And when we saturate our sermons with prayer, depending not upon ourselves but upon the Holy Spirit for an effective transmission of God’s truth, why shouldn’t we believe that this truth is reaching these young hearts?
Dr. Leonard Greenway is pastor of the Ninth St. Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan.
TRIBUTE TO DR. E. J. YOUNG
The Reformed community was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of Dr. Edward J. Young of Westminster Seminary on Wednesday, February 14. Each generation is privileged to see some men of surpassing brilliance appear on its horizon; Dr. Young was one of those men. His life has been marked by a scholarship that has been unsurpassed, but to an even greater degree by a humility that was manifested by his absolute faith in God and his infallible Word. It is this humility coupled with his scholarship that has brought to the Reformed world a wealth of material that has stood as the most respected of conservative, Reformed interpretation of Old Testament Scriptures. Because of this unique combination of humble acceptance of the inspired and infallible Word of God and a world-renowned scholarship in the field of Old Testament, Dr. Young’s passing is an event of singular consequence for the evangelical world.
To recount the many titles that have come from his pen would require several paragraphs. Suffice it to say that his three volume commentary on the Prophecy of Isaiah, which was providentially finished just before his untimely death, was considered by himself to be his greatest contribution. This commentary can truly be called the greatest work on the prophecy of Isaiah since John Calvin. It has surely dealt a severe blow to the critical treatment of Isaiah that has held sway for almost a century. For the truth of the Word of God, Dr. Young has been raised for precisely a time like this.
The passing of Dr. Young is not only a great loss to the Reformed community. It is an even greater bereavement to Westminster Seminary. He came to the Seminary in 1936, just a few years after it was founded by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. For 32 years he taught in the Old Testament department, and influenced hundreds of men through his person and scholarship. His presence will certainly be missed at the Seminary.
Although we are saddened by the death of Dr. Young, we do not despair. For this event too is in the providence of God, and will surely work together for the good of God’s people. Even in the presence of raging sorrow, we believe and know that “God doeth all things well.” Let us therefore fervently pray that God will raise up men who will continue to hold aloft the glorious truths of Scripture and the Reformed faith, and let us receive inspiration from the life of such a man as Dr. Edward J. Young who trusted that, though God’s ways are above our ways, his ways are nonetheless always the best.
HENRY VANDEN HEUVEL
Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel is pastor of the Princeton Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
KINGDOM AND CHURCH
Are you in kingdom work? That is, are you a minister or missionary or Christian school teacher? Are you in full time service? Such questions reflect a misconception concerning the basic teaching of the New Testament, namely, the kingdom of God.
Sometimes Christians illegitimately narrow the kingdom of God to the church-institute, that is, the organized church. They unbiblically restrict the scope of the kingdom activities, not realizing sufficiently that a Christian is subject to his King in every aspect and zone of life. For them the kingdom is primarily, and often solely, the church-institute.
In reaction to this unbiblical shrinkage of the kingdom, some so elevate the non-church institute aspects that they neglect the prime importance of the organized church. In their zeal to give a proper place to Christian organizations, such as school societies, labor unions and political parties, they have unscripturally dethroned the church as organization. Desiring to stress that all of life is religion, they have negated the primacy of the church-institute. Realizing that all of life is worship, they have leveled the church-institute to just another form of worship alongside of the worship performed by a machinist or athlete or truck driver in his daily occupation. They picture the kingdom of God as a line composed of several equal segments, one of which is the church-institute.
Both of these views are unbiblical. On the one hand, the kingdom of God is not the same as the church-institute. It is much broader and affects every terrain of life. Jesus Christ puts his claim on all governments, political parties, business organizations and cultural societies. And as the Christian attempts to recognize Christ’s authority and to follow his will in these non-church institute areas, he is working directly for the kingdom of God—just as much as is a minister of the gospel.
But, on the other hand, it is likewise unbiblical to place the church-institute upon the same level as other Christian organizations such as a Christian school or labor union. It is not just another segment of a straight line.
Rather, the church-institute is a circle with a circle. It is the heartthrob of the wider circle of the kingdom of God. From the smaller circle—the church as an organization—goes forth the impetus to be good kingdom workers in other parts of the kingdom; and not vice-versa. The church-institute reminds the kingdom subjects that they have responsibilities in the area of education, science, business, arts, etc. But it is not the task of the Christian labor union, for example, to point kingdom subjects to their duties in other kingdom spheres, such as the family or sports or the ecclesiastical church. As a matter of fact, the ecclesiastical church is the one part of the kingdom that is ecumenical—universal. All other parts exclude some kingdom members. The schools exclude the non-school members. The business world excludes the science world. The Christian labor organization is restricted to laborers. Only the church-institute is ecumenical, i.e., it alone embraces all the kingdom members: male and female, slave and free. employer and employee, educator and laborer, artist and farmer, scientist and salesman.
Accordingly, it is the church-institute that receives the preeminence in the Bible. Christ did not establish Christian political parties or Christian labor unions although, he implied that it is the Christian’s duty to do so—but he did establish the ecclesiastical church. At the close of his earthly ministry, he climaxed the entire message and mission of his kingdom by addressing the church-institute as represented in the Apostles. He said: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth. Go. therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18-19).
The New Testament epistles were addressed to the central circle of the kingdom, the church-organization; and Paul went about establishing officers in it—ministers and elders. He did not establish officers in any other visible manifestation of the kingdom.
Thus, while it is important to remember that there are many more kingdom manifestations and activities than the church-institute; it is also important to remember that the church-institute is the most significant manifestation of the whole kingdom of Christ.
EDWIN H. PALMER
Dr. Edwin Palmer is pastor of the Grandville Ave. Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.