October 27, 1961
Some of us present here tonight recall those days, ten years ago, when we met informally in Mr. Muller’s office building and discussed plans for a new magazine. It was our brother Henry Van Til who gave the magazine its name. We remember the twinkle in his eyes when he added, “Let it have the nickname of TNT.”
Our chief concern in those early days of our Fellowship was for the purity and doctrinal integrity of the Church. Even before our magazine received its name we were determined that its voice was to be that of a trumpet that gives no uncertain sound. The first cry of the newborn periodical was a militant cry. From the first issue I quote these introductory editorial statements of which the late Professor Van Til was joint author:
“We are frank to say that we are moved by a serious concern for the welfare of Zion. Alarmingly and increasingly persistent are reports that there are so many in the Reformed churches who seem to be insensitive to the real meaning of a Reformed confession and life. Men and women with sharp Reformed ‘feelers’ (Gereformeerde voel-horens) are becoming almost a curiosity….We believe the disease of religious and doctrinal indifference is making insidious progress among us, and we would indoctrinate our people with that truth of God…When necessity presents itself, we shall not hesitate to engage in controversy.”
In the second issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET the lead article was written by Professor Van Til on the subject, “Militant Christianity.” Here again we were warned about an attitude of appeasement which “seems well nigh universal in the Church of Christ.”
It is apparent that our Reformed Fellowship at its inception was dedicated to an chart vastly more strenuous than that of being a mere spectator. We pledged ourselves to be contenders, not spectators. True, we have had to be reminded through the years that there is an important difference between attacking a man’s position and attacking his person, and even now, in this tenth anniversary year of our united effort, it is not amiss to be reminded again. Let us never be so preoccupied with attack that we forget to “let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).
Our first concern has been and must continue to be with the torch of truth, specifically Reformed truth. And it is a torch that we hold in our hand, not a tiny birthday cake candle. It is a flame, not a flicker. The more light the better! This is not a play on words. We arc dealing with vital issues! The kingdom of darkness being what it is, we can never feel ourselves at liberty to relax our vigilance or dim our lamps.
In our own Christian Reformed Church we need to be on our guard against trends that are deleterious and dangerously close. Some strange ideas are being suggested about admittance of lodge members into our membership. Evidence is not wanting that a new dimension in Christian “tolerance” has captured the interest of some of our people. When we observe our people giving their support to free-lance evangelism, we wonder what has happened to our Reformed conception of the Church and Missions. Then, too, one wonders whether we are sufficiently alert to new liturgical developments that threaten our public worship. Is the preaching of the Word in danger of being eclipsed by the impressiveness created by the rich timbre of organ diapason and the sonorous reading of forms? When people say, “The service was so impressive,” just what are they referring to?
Recent discussion in our church circles respecting our official stand on Scriptural infallibility has, on the one hand, served the good purpose of clarifying to some folks the meaning of certain terms and expressions, but, on the other hand, has aroused serious misgivings with some of us as to how united we are in our doctrinal commitments. Judging from some of the things one hears and reads, it is now to be concluded that men spake from God being borne along by the Holy Spirit who sometimes let them down! I cannot share the optimism of those who think that the infallibility controversy in our Church has been satisfactorily settled.
One thing that has disturbed me much in recent years is the mounting evidence that in so much of our modern preaching and teaching there is a serious mis-focussing of the Gospel, an obscuring of its essential message and emphasis. There is current today a presentation of Christianity which makes it serve primarily as the buttress of true liberty and democracy, and which represents it as the best lever for social regeneration. To turn every neighborhood into a brotherhood we need a religion of love. Christianity is that. Therefore, let us spread it. This I regard as a serious obscuring of the essential message of the Gospel, and the fear keeps growing in me that in a few instances at least it is a deliberate obscuring. Even Ralph W. Sockman is apprehensive about this. He writes:
“Many pulpits try to make religion popular by presenting it as the best way of preserving our economic system. The Church must rise above the current emphasis on religion as security and revive its original Gospel of salvation. If we support the Church only as an insurance for our property and practise prayer only as a means to success, then we are materialistic, even as are the communists.”
Here is where the light of our torch is desperately needed! The number one concern of the Gospel is not with communism, totalitarianism, social inequalities, slum clearance, politics or industry, but with sin and guilt and what that means to God!
We bear not only the torch but the trumpet as well. I like the sound of the trumpet. It is penetrating. It moves to action. One cannot sleep when the trumpets are blowing. The sound of the trumpet is not like that of the flute which comes to us in velvet slippers and seems to say, “I hope I am not disturbing you.” The trumpet is affirmative, positive, bold. It is dogmatic! Such was the voice of John the Baptist. Such the voice of Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost. Let that be our voice too!