The Christian Reformed Church is a 300,000 member denomination, mostly Dutch, with a noble history. Some of her notable sons are Cornelius Van Til, Louis Berkhof, and William Hendriksen. Formed in 1857, her faithful days appear to be numbered. She is plagued by a heavy bureaucracy that is supported through yearly quota payments of over $500 per family. Moreover, contrary to the faith of her constituency and her confessions, evolutionary theory is believed and taught at Calvin College, Calvin Seminary has a feminist agenda, Home Missions has become engulfed in "church growth" practices, even subsidizing trips for CRC ministers to be trained by Robert Schuller, and the Reformed doctrine of Scripture has been seriously undermined, to the point where this year her widest assembly (synod) opened all church offices to women (subject to ratification in 1992). The following is an edited transcription of an address delivered to Concerned Members of the Christian Reformed Church at their annual conference in 1988. Since the CRC's situation is a microcosm of the Western church today, the points raised in the address are relevant for all concerned Christians in these times of compromise.
I am here because you are heirs of the covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Someday the natural heirs, the Jewish people, my kinsmen according to the flesh, will have the veil removed from their eyes. Until then, the whole Word of God, which brings salvation, must be preserved. I am here to tell you that we have a fight on our hands to preserve the Word of God, and I charge you in the name of Christ to fight.
Make no mistake. We are engaged in a solemn and a holy war for the truth, the honor, and glory of God. This war is between those for the Word and those against the Word, and it has been raging since the beginning of time.
The Word of God is unchanging in its divisive character. As Calvin noted, "It is the native property of the divine Word never to make its appearance without disturbing Satan and rousing his opposition." We see the divisive nature of the Word in the cross of Christ: on the one hand, there is the Word of salvation, and on the other hand, the Word of condemnation. Everywhere the Word is, there is division. God's Word is a separating word, and as a separating word, those who believe it are duty bound to protect it and defend it against all attacks. We must also recognize the simple historical fact that the church's greatest attacks have always arisen from within the church itself. We are not the first, nor are we alone in the fight.
I have a very simple message from Hebrews 12:1:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
This passage from Hebrews 12, as P.E. Hughes notes,
uses the dramatic imagery of an athletic contest in which the competitors in the arena are surrounded by the crowded tiers of an amphitheater....[O]ur author pictures himself and his readers as competitors, who, as they contend for the faith in the arena of life, are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, namely, those champions of the faith of earlier generations....They have triumphantly completed their course, and we, who are now contestants in the arena, should be inspired by their example to give of our utmost in the struggle. I am inspired by their example to give of their utmost in the struggle.
In contemplating those who have gone before us, I am inspired by Phineas. When the Midianites threatened to compromise the covenant people, Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor" (Num. 25:4,5).
Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman, right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of the meeting. When Phineas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite into the tent and drove the spear through both of them. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped. But twenty-four thousand people died in the plague.
The Lord said to Moses, "Phineas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites, for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal, I did not put an end to them. Therefore, tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites" (Num. 25:11-13).
If we do not stand up today and do more than wring our hands, our grandchildren will have no sure Word of God.
I am inspired by the Levites. Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and become a laughing stock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the Lord, come to me." All the Levites rallied to him (Ex. 32:26).
The camp was divided because the enemies of God had arisen within the camp and had given themselves over to the lie.
Then [Moses] said to them, "This is what Jehovah, the God of Israel says, `Each man strap a sword to his side, go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" And the Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about 3,000 of the people died. Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers and He has blessed you this day" (Exod. 32:27-29).
I am inspired by these men who counted their personal relations with men as of no value compared to the glory of God and His commandments. I am even more inspired by the commendation given to these heroes in Deuteronomy 33:8-9:
Your Thummim and your Urim belong to the man you favor. You have tested him at Massah, you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, `I have no regard for them.' He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your Word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel."
Our battle is a covenant issue! This is the Word of God we are fighting for. This is not Dutch names. This is not friends and buddies. This is not status in the community. This is not political advantage. This is the Word of God!
I am inspired by Micaiah: In II Chronicles 18, Micaiah appeared before Jehoshaphat and Ahab when Jehoshaphat unwisely sought political alliance with Ahab, the king of the northern tribe. In that time Ahab asked, "Will you go to war with me, Jehoshaphat?" And Jehoshaphat told Ahab to consult some prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. The false prophets declared, "Go, for God will give it into the king's hand." Ahab's itching ears were satisfied. Jehoshaphat was a little too godly for this and said, "Don't you have a prophet of Jehovah nearby?" Ahab responded, "I have one but he never tells me what I like." Nevertheless, the messenger called for Micaiah and said, "If you want to make it in the Christian Reformed Church, you had better tow the line. Everybody is telling them what they want to hear, and if you are smart, you'll tell the two kings what they want to hear or else the boards and agencies will come down on you."
We read Micaiah's response: "As surely as Jehovah lives, I can tell only what my God says." In verse 22, Micaiah declares: "So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you." Similarly, for some reason, God has put a lying spirit on the campus of Calvin College, a lying spirit in many of the faculty of the seminary. There is a lying spirit that teaches untruths, that perverts the Word of God, distorts it, twists it, and takes it away from our covenant youth.
Then Zedekiah, son of Kenaanah, went up and slapped Micaiah in the face, "Which way did the Spirit from the Lord go when He went from me to speak to you?" he asked. "Who made you a prophet?"
Micaiah replied, "You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room." The king of Israel then ordered, "Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon, the ruler of the city, and to Joash, the king's son, and say this is what the king says, `Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.'" Micaiah declared, "If you ever return safely, then Jehovah has not spoken from me (II Chron. 18:23-27).
Micaiah knew a sure word of God.
I am inspired by Ezekiel, when God commissioned him:
"Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you," and as He spoke, the spirit came into me and raised me to my feet and I heard him speaking to me. He said, "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn."
Say to them, "This is what the sovereign Lord says," and whether they listen or fail to listen for they are a rebellious house, they will know that the prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words, don't be afraid though briars and thorns are all around you, and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them though they are a rebellious house.
You must speak my words to them whether they listen or fail to listen for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you, do not rebel like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I give you (Ezek. 2: 1-8).
I am inspired by our Lord Jesus Christ, who, as it is recorded in John 2:
went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and others sitting at the tables, exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves, he said, "Get these out of here. How dare you turn My Father's house into a market!" His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume Me."
Where is the zeal for the Word of God as we have received it? Not hand-wringing, not preaching to the choir, not patting each other on the back for saying the right shibboleth for being Reformed. Where is the zeal in your heart for the Word of God? Does it burn within you? Is it life or death to you? Do you hate it in your bones when you see it corrupted and distorted and spat upon? Where is your zeal for God's honor?
I am inspired by the great apostle Paul, who did not seek to please men but wrote in Galatians 1: "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him go to hell!" "Oh, brother," I can hear someone say to Paul, "wouldn't you like to modify that statement? It seems divisive." So Paul says it again: "If anybody's preaching a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be be condemned in hell forever."
This is the unchanging character of the Word of God. It hasn't changed just because the canon is closed. Everywhere Scripture goes, there is a fight.
I am inspired by Jude, who says in his letter:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
I am inspired by the very last chapter of the Word of God:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the city which is described in this book.
I am inspired by Athanasius, who in his struggle against Arianism, was willing to be banished and maligned in order to defend the truth of God's Word.
I am inspired by Augustine, who fought against Pelagianism and the error of free will and the doctrine that perverted the true doctrine of sin.
I am inspired by Luther who fought against Romanism.
I am inspired by Calvin, who fought against syncretism.
I am inspired by the fathers of Dort who fought against Arminianism, recognizing it as an enemy of the church.
These are the witnesses who are now surrounding us and looking into the arena and saying, "What are you going to do today in the face of the challenge that God has laid before you?" We are once again engaged in battle. Know your enemies. Today the church does battle against humanism, spearheaded by relativism, with feminism (egalitarianism) in the lead. The only thing that can vanquish these foes is an unchanging Word from God. A Word of God that can change is no problem, as I will demonstrate, but a Word of God that doesn't change, that will destroy them. Many fail to see the critical nature of our struggle: a struggle which Christ Himself calls us to.
In the 1920s and 1930s, J. Gresham Machen was involved in a painfully similar struggle against modernism in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. He wrote:
The plain man in the church has difficulty understanding the nature of the struggle. He does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the church the modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the This modernist preacher might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed faith. It is not that part is denied and the rest is affirmed, but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or as symbolic, but not as truth. A thing that is useful may be useful for some and not for others, but a thing that is true remains true for all people and beyond the end of time.
We would do well to familiarize ourselves with the struggle that occurred in that church that led to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. There are those who remain saying, "We're going to just see what happens." But look at the PCUSA today and see what has happened.
We, too, have become a church that seems to echo Pilate's pitiful plaint, "What is truth?", when all the while, Truth was standing in front of him. The truth is in our hands and it is, as our Belgic Confession (Article 7) says,
unlawful for anyone, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures. It is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God. It does evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither may we consider the writings of any men of equal value with divine Scriptures. Nor are we to consider custom or the great multitude or antiquity or succession of times and persons or councils, decrees and statutes as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all. Therefore we reject, with all our hearts, whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule [whether they be teachings that are current at Calvin College or the philosophies that motivate some boards and agencies].
Do you reject them with all your heart? The dogmatic statements of our confession are very disagreeable to the modern visionary. He doesn't like them; he chokes on them, although he might affirm them as useful.
Perhaps even more disagreeable are the unchanging characteristics of the Word as is formulated in chapter one of the Westminster Confession of Faith. I wish I could spend all day and talk to you about chapter one, but alas. Ten sections are devoted to the doctrine of Scripture and every one of these sections is threatened by the relativists among us.
The Westminster Confession begins by declaring the necessity of Scripture. This section concludes by saying, "Scriptures are most necessary, those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people, being now ceased." The necessity of Scripture is threatened by a universalism which suggests that people may be saved without the Word of God coming to them; that people may be saved, as we hear in the United States, without repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. These preposterous and heretical notions are entertained in the pages of the Banner (CRC's denominational magazine) as being legitimate options to consider, not necessarily confessional, but something that should be aired. Nonsense! It is crucifying Christ all over again. The Scriptures are most necessary and not in any way optional.
The Confession then discusses the Canon and the Apocrypha. Commonly, the Scripture itself is being "apocryphalized" -- regarded as less reliable than reason and nature. The fourth section declares that the authority of the Holy Scriptures, "depends not upon the testimony of any man in our church, but wholly upon God who is truth itself, the author thereof, and therefore, it is to be received because it is the Word of God." I recently read an article in a book called, Exploring the Heritage of John Calvin. Over and again the author said, "Paul says, Paul says, Paul says..." for ten, twenty pages. Not one time "The Holy Spirit speaking in the Word of God says..." But the Bible and the Confessions tell us that God is the author of Scripture, every part. The unchanging character of Scripture as authoritative means that we allow Scripture itself to tell us how to regard it.
Anyone who denies the authority of Scripture at one point, has denied it at all points. If we assert that we can set aside the six-day creation doctrine, we have asserted our supremacy over Scripture. Our mind and our convenience now have a higher authority. Clearly, therefore, the question of authority is at stake in Genesis 1. Whose word is authoritative and final,God's or man's? Who has the last, as well as the first, word?
The Confessional doctrine of Scripture's self-attestation is threatened by those who subordinate God's testimony and Scripture to a contrary, yet allegedly more reliable testimony in nature. We can only believe Scripture, they say, when nature agrees with what we read in Scripture. But they have it exactly reversed. Any Reformed six-year-old should be able to tell you that. You interpret nature in terms of the Word of God, not vice versa. The Fall has had effects -- noetic effects -- effects on our minds that need to be corrected before we can understand things properly.
The sufficiency of Scripture is challenged on several fronts. And what has happened to the perspicuity of Scripture? We are now told that we need a new elitist core of intermediaries, a new priesthood to stand between the "ignoramuses" in the pew and God. Have we even forgotten that there was a Reformation? I may have been in this denomination a short time, but I have been in this struggle long enough to have heard some of the attitudes that are present.
For example, the regional home missionary that I mentioned in Messiah's Mandate, Vol. I, No. 1, called me up and objected saying,
"I never gave a sermon entitled, `God our Mother.'"
I said, "OK, I'll print a retraction. Do you believe `God our Mother'?"
He said, "Oh, yes."
"Do you have any theological problem praying to Our Mother, who art in heaven?"
I said, "Have you changed the pronouns from the pulpit when you read the Scripture -- 'he' to 'she'? (Always, of course, 'he' to 'she', never 'she' to 'he').
He said, "No, I don't."
"Do you have a problem doing that?"
"No, of course not."
I said, "Then why don't you do it?"
"People aren't ready for it yet!"
Such people despise you. I mean it. These arrogant people really think that it's just a matter of time before they railroad you out of your possession and your inheritance. For as far as they're concerned, the battle is over and they have won. Now, only money and institutions are at stake. Who gets to control them? They have already made up their mind about the Scriptures. They are just waiting to train a generation of harlots and have the faithful die off, and it's all theirs. That is why we can thank Jesus Christ that Howard Van Till wrote The Fourth Day because now we have what we might call an accelerated epistemological self-consciousness. Now we can see more clearly than when they were playing the game under the covers. The covers are being pulled off.
At the root of many of the attacks upon the Word of God, we find research, writings, pronouncements, and policies founded on the presupposition of epistemological neutrality and a bastardization of the common grace doctrine that effectively subordinates the Word of God to sinful, autonomous reason and observation. Everything that you hear from Calvin College is justified in the name of common grace.
The epistemological question is this: How do we know? Originally or after God knows? The unbelieving doctrine of knowledge is: Nothing is known unless man knows it. It is a mystery until man knows it. The doctrine of our faith is that God knows everything, and He shares knowledge with us. Therefore, He is the original knower and we are analogical knowers -- we know after the pattern of God. We are dependent knowers; He is the independent knower. Much of our denomination's thinking is committed to the epistemology of unbelief.
We have here a frightening parallel to what occurred in the Machen case. The modernists in the Presbyterian church had been drinking deeply from the fountain of the world. Their grumblings originated not exegetically, but from extra-Scriptural considerations which determined the way that they then handled Scripture. They were latitudinarian and anti-antithetical. The antithesis was obnoxious to them. I still meet Reformed people who tell me they were raised on antithetical preaching. They were taught there is an antithesis in this world. Now we are told that the antithesis is of the devil. Church leaders now want to tear down the antithesis so that they can have the respect and approval of the world.
The spirit of the modern world which threatens us is far more sophisticated and subtle than it was in the days of Dort and Westminster, even than it was in the 20s. But if we stand back a bit, we will hear the same question being asked now that was asked in the Garden of Eden and ever since -- "Yea, hath God said?" This doubt was followed by denial -- "You will not surely die." This is a word of possibility, a word of flux, a word of chance as over against God's certain word. This is the basic issue. Who speaks the certain word? Is it God or man? The modern compromisers still pay lip-service to the Bible. They say that it is indeed God's Word, but it's not the last word. This is the original temptation.
Sinners will always choose a word of possibility over against the word of absolute authority, even if it means their death. Rather to rule in hell than to serve in heaven. But God and man do not run on a continuum. God is uncreated, man is created. God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Man is finite, temporal, and changeable. Therefore, we are utterly dependent on God for our being, our ethics, and for our knowledge as well. That is why we always say, "What do the Scriptures teach?" Adam and Eve were tempted to determine knowledge and ethics for themselves, not according to a Word of God. "Look at the possibilities. Look at the world opened up before you. All you need to do is to forget that other certain word about dying and just take and eat. All kinds of things will open up." That is what is being offered to us today. The effort amounts to the attempt to bring God down to our level of being, even though He remains higher up the scale, so they can pay lip-service to God.
Some assume the following: we are little fish, and God is a big, big, big fish, so He has a lot to offer us. He can protect us, we can talk to Him. He is very smart, but we are really floating around in the same sea of possibility. That is how radical the change is at the presuppositional level. A compromise here is the end of the faith in seed form. In their efforts to make their own rules, the visionaries must pay lip service to the confessions. They talk about unity and peace, but they want it on their terms. Recently, the Banner called for a truce about women in office, the new Psalter hymnal, and evolution. Should Paul have called a truce with the Galatian heretics? Should Jesus have made a truce with those who were occupying the temple and corrupting it? A truce in this battle is defeat.
Note the following:
If our contention that the evolution hypothesis is part of an antitheistic theory of reality is correct, then we must do away with every easy-going attitude. The evolutionist is then a soldier in that great, seemingly all-powerful army of anti-theists that has from time immemorial sought to destroy the people of God. We must then prepare for a life and death struggle, if not in the courts of the land, then in the higher courts of human thought.
Do you know where this was written? This call to action was written in the Banner, 1931. The 1931 Banner says evolution is an enemy to the people of God. The 1987 Banner has two weeks of Van Leewen laying the groundwork of three weeks of Van Till, without so much as a whisper that the man was under investigation, without so much as a hint that his views are considered heretical by everyone sitting here and by untold numbers in the rest of the denomination. What has happened? Has truth changed? If truth has changed, then I tell you, God Himself has changed. But the Bible says, "I am the Lord, I change not." The Bible says, "Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
Churches used to split about what was true,but now we're arguing about "what is truth?" We are seeing two radically different answers evident in this discussion. Some in the Christian Reformed Church, say that the truth we desire to explicate, preach, and live out is the truth that was once for all delivered to the saints. But others believe that the truth is found in the search itself. We may simplify this as a conflict between two factions: those who believe that truth is in the content and those who believe that truth is in the process. Therefore, you see there is such a very great tendency tofocus on style and not content. Of course, truth for the church involves process. There is history, time, and providence under our sovereign God as the Scriptures were compiled, distributed, studied, systematized and lived out. But those who have succumbed to the lie of seeking truth in process have elevated history, not as the realm of revelation and redemption, but as prior to and determinative of both revelation and redemption. Thus they tend to view all Scripture as an accommodation. Therefore, it is relative. Truth is behind, above, or outside of Scripture. We have people who view every portion of Scripture subject to cultural scrutiny. A careful reading of Bavinck would help these people learn that there is a difference between condescension, which is involved in revelation, and accommodation. God necessarily condescends to speak to us, but He doesn't necessarily accommodate Himself to our prejudices. For example, the accommodation view allows Jesus to speak about Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt, and since the ignorant Jews of His day believed that and to make a spiritual point, Jesus accommodated Himself to their ignorance. That's accommodation. That's garbage! Because then you don't know what to believe. But condescension is necessarily involved with a God who is so transcendent as ours.
Viewing revelation as an accommodation puts it in our hands. It becomes anthropocentric, not simply anthropomorphic. Both God and man are seeking to find themselves in history. We and God become co-strugglers to attain truth. Only He is much further down the road. This is why we could read in a publication of the Committee for Women:
Changing sexist language did not come easy for me. Due to peer pressure I first began altering people words, you know chairperson, mailcarrier, and no more generic "he." These terms still provoke laughter and they felt awkward to me as well, with some more radical women addressing God as she. I just laughed some more. But God finally caught up with me. I had just heard that our pastor had once again failed to recruit any women to preach at our church during his vacation. Driving home that night I was screaming and crying with the car windows up, of course. It was unfair that God would never understand what it meant to be a woman. How could He help but be on the men's side? God broke into my rage with the thought, "But I am not on their side. I am not one of them. I'm at least as angry over this situation as you are." What? God was not He?
Slowly I began to explore my previous perception of God as male. It is hard to describe the depth of freedom I felt as I experimentally called God "She." Over time I gained a new vision of God and myself. No doubt about it, changing the way we talk about God and God's people will change us and change is hard. The National Council of Churches Inclusive Lectionary explored this issue where this is excerpted from and has changed traditional Biblical language. These changes are causing incredible controversy as we ponder the pros and cons of speaking inclusively. Let's be open to what the Spirit may be saying to the church today.
What the Spirit is saying where? In the Bible? Then it is an exegetical issue. The Spirit says nothing to the church that is not in His Word. If it is true, it isn't new, and if it is new, it isn't true. Is it in the Scripture?
The original temptation suggested that freedom was to be found in liberating oneself from the awful determinative Word of God, but such freedom always equals death. In the Arminian controversy, proponents sought freedom from God's decrees. They said of the God who decrees salvation and damnation, "I just can't live with that." A refuge was imagined in having God somehow made dependent on man's will. The argument was that freedom from man required a measure of independence. But even just a little "freedom" requires us to place ourselves outside a total sovereignty of God. But the Synod of Dort said that God alone is absolutely free. B.B. Warfield noted long ago that it is not predestination as such that bothers man, but rather predestination by someone other than himself, and particularly God. We don't want God to do it.
The women's issue is part of a worldview which doesn't see decrees and laws and God as ultimate, but potentiality itself. This is why you'll always see this language of potentiality and "becoming" and "struggling." These words are throughout their literature. It's a different motif. Freedom is not found in Psalm 1 or Psalm 119, "I walk at liberty because I keep thy commandments." Rather, these feminists view the law as a springboard to freedom. You leap to freedom from the Word, but you don't find it in the Word. Thus the character of the Word of God that is propositional, eternal, unchanging and normative is changed.
The God of Scripture did not speak to the feminist quoted above. It was a demon. For her, the Bible has become a mystical tool and a mere collection of principles. Her new view of reality is just really the old Greek view of Heraclitean flux, revivified and dressed up in Biblical language. For feminists, a final word is anathema. They want a possible word, as do evolutionists.
Thus Howard Van Till finds it impossible to do what he considers to be true science under a sound exegesis of Genesis 1-11. For Howard Van Till true science requires an open universe. It must be completely open so that any hypothesis he offers to fit particular facts is to be regarded as possible. Openness.
At the same time, Van Till requires an absolutely closed universe which operates according to rules knowable to man. If God were allowed to unexpectedly come into Van Till's universe at any time, say, by a miracle, then all the hypotheses would be thrown off. They would become conditional upon God, who would retain the final word. This is why unbelief is at the same time rationalistic and irrationalistic. It requires perfect consistency and perfect inconsistency. It requires perfect order and perfect chaos at the same time.
The faculty at Calvin College are offended when people use the Bible to "shackle academic freedom," because academic freedom, they say, requires openness. We have to be open to where we are going. The Banner chafes at an orthodoxy which believes it has found the truth, for truth is in the search and requires openness. Home Missions has visions that are aided by continuing revelations. They have conferences that call for "openness." They should read their own literature. In one issue, there is a little cartoon of a guy opening his head with a zipper. It says "Don't have such an open mind that your brains fall out."
All the struggles we face today can and must be seen in light of this hatred of a final and unchangeable Word of God and willingness, if not a lust, to cash it in for a few thrills and some possibility. Everyone pays lip service to the Word in confessions. Please, don't think that just because someone says "I believe the confessions" that they, therefore, believe them. You have to watch how they are put into practice. In Ezekiel it says:
Son of man, my people come to you as they usually do and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy. Indeed to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words, but they do not put them into practice.
Why do they call Christ, "Lord, Lord" yet they do not do what He says? Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom. Merely listening causes no pain, but doing often does. When I became a Christian in my mid-twenties, I realized I must be baptized. When I first told my parents about my belief in Christ, they did not mind it so much. They thought there was room in the Jewish world for people who had high views of Jesus. When I told them I was going to be baptized, my father said, "If you do this, you are never welcome in my home again."
I found courage in Matthew 10 and Luke 6 where Christ tells me what it costs to be a Christian. I don't think there is a trade involved. You just do what God says. I told my father this, and he came that night and gave me a few things that my wife had left at his house. He hugged me, and he was prepared never to see me again. Doing something means you really believe it. Without doing it, you don't believe it at all.
Belief that doesn't do isn't Biblical belief. We have teachers and ministers who want the name but won't play the game according to their rules. This is their version of I Timothy and Galatians: "God says no women are allowed to rule, that is very clear. God says women are utterly equal, therefore they are allowed to rule, that is perfectly clear. They both can't be wrong because they are the Word of God. That is perfectly clear. They can't be both unchangeably correct because they contradict, so how do we resolve these seemingly conflicting passages of I Timothy 2 and Galatians 3? One will give way to the other in time. One will become history and the other will bring us into the fullness of the revelation." That is such cheap handling of the Word of God. There is a better way, a faithful way that does not produce contradiction.
I Timothy 2 says: "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must be silent, for Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."
Galatians 3:28: "If you belong to Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greeks, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
In the book of Galatians, Paul was arguing that you are justified by faith and not by works of the law. The Jews, in their daily prayers, pray: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a slave. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman." I want to remind you that that is in precisely the same order as you find in Galatians.
In the Jewish religion you are righteous if you keep the law. The more law you keep the more righteous you are. Paul says that is not why you are righteous. But the Jews thank God that He gave them the law instead of the Gentiles so they can reckon themselves as more righteous than other people. Because they are not slaves, they can keep all the Sabbath commandments so they can be more righteous. One Jewish tradition denies that all of the commandments are obligatory for women. Men alone are required to fulfill all the Mitsvah, and all the commandments, such as traveling to Jerusalem three times a year. The men thank God that they were made men so that they would have more opportunity to be self- righteous. And that's all Paul is addressing.
Paul says that when it comes to our righteousness before God, there is no advantage to being a Jew over a Gentile, or slave or free, or male or female. That is the whole nine yards. Feminists have so beaten this passage into delirium that the heads are swimming in our denomination. You ask a feminist about I Timothy 2, and they respond, "Galatians 3:28!" By all means Galatians 3:28! Only, interpret it correctly. The devil also quoted Scripture out of context to our Lord. Jesus' response was based on his view that Scripture can neither be broken nor self-contradictory.
If you can change the Word at one point, you can change it at all points because God's Word is one. It has an unchanging character. The Reformed faith is an organic system of truth. God's Word is not unclear; it's too clear. But they don't like what they hear. The people at Calvin College and elsewhere, their scattered lackeys, are not as honest as a particular United Church of Canada minister. He just comes right out and says, "The Bible's view of women is invalid." Something honest -- a guy who says what he thinks. He claims: "As churches struggle with this issue of equality in the sexes, Christians have to look beyond the Bible to reason and experience for guidance. The Bible is clear with respect to the status of women. There is no possibility of misunderstanding the Bible." He just doesn't like what it says, and he's not going to follow what it says. He says that we have to understand God's Word for our times. His authoritative base is not Sola Scriptura but Scripture, church tradition, reason, and personal experience. That is the standard he and others advocate. But any change in our responsibility to obey one word from God is contingent upon another Word of God that explains, modifies, expands, or rescinds the first word.
If you give a command to your child: "Don't go outside." They have to listen to you until you change the commandment. "You can go outside now." Or if it's manifest that there was a condition (four feet of snow), and when spring comes around and the snow disappeared, and they still haven't gone outside; then when they go outside, they are not disobeying your command because the condition has been fulfilled that required the obedience. Scripture has some commandments like that, when there is a change in circumstances which form, at least in part, the reason for the command. So, for example, Levitical sacrifices are no longer obligatory, nor are the dietary commandments, but the important part to note is that the New Testament explains this to us. We have a complete book that tells us what we are to obey and what we are not to obey. God can tell us to do something today, and tomorrow He can tell us to do the opposite. He is God and can do whatever He wants.
The point that we must maintain as Reformed Christians is that He has already completed what He has to say. If God reveals a new word, then we could go away from the Bible. That is why feminists and evolutionists are listening to hear what "the Spirit" may be saying to the churches. That is why, when push comes to shove, we see an ever-widening embrace of other revelation, whether it is from nature or private spirits or the charismatic movement. They are trying to find another Word of God that will free them from this Word of God which they believe shackles-in their agenda. And it does shackle. Evolution fits their purposes so nicely. The appeal that Paul makes in I Timothy 2 is that Adam was formed first and then Eve. If evolution becomes accepted as dogma, the foundation of the commandment in I Timothy 2 goes with it. Everything is up for grabs. Each man does that which is right in his own eyes.
We're not faced here with merely a different preference. Some try to compare this to other historic struggles in the Christian Reformed Church. But this issue is not whether you are going to have a service in Dutch or English. This is a much bigger issue. This is not "I'll have vanilla, you'll have chocolate." We are not even looking at the same menu. We are not even in the same restaurant, but they still expect us to pay the check!
There are two very different kingdoms being constructed by and in the same denomination, and they are not compatible. Someone has got to leave the Christian Reformed Church. Abraham Kuyper rightly said,
Satan knows that he can undermine the structure of the church by slyly removing just one fundamental doctrine at a time. He frequently loosens a large foundation gradually, chiseling it away bit by bit. That is why tolerance for the sake of peace may be dangerous. By giving in, one step will lead to a next step; and will not God visit us with blindness if we deliberately darken the truth He has graciously entrusted to us? How shall we justify ourselves if we permit even a little of the truth to be laid aside? Is that ours to do? When peace is injurious to the truth, peace must give way. Peace with God is of greater value than peace with men.
We have a war on our hands, and it won't go away -- a cancer that begs to be cut out. Popular author Tom Wolfe commented on the criticism that he receives when, as a journalist, he writes about other journalists. If they don't like it. Wolfe said, "You are called a neo-conservative. If they really don't like it, they call you a reactionary." But, he says, "I'd much rather be called that than `liberal.' That just means you are orthodox, which means you have nothing interesting to say." Well said, Mr. Wolfe, but one man's boredom is another man's excitement. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, to use the vernacular, turns me on. But one man's heresy is another man's orthodoxy. Wolfe's point is that when you just say what is already true and what has already been believed, people don't want to listen to you. It is not interesting. But God has solved that problem for us by giving us children. They have never heard it before we tell them. So it is interesting to them. That is the way we keep interest in the CRC: process and content. Make no mistake, a new orthodoxy is emerging, and if it's not cut to death now, it will emerge triumphant in our denomination. The orthodoxy of egalitarianism, hermeneutical elasticism, and humanism.
While the troublers among us are bored of being accepted by us as orthodox, they do not therewith lose their desire to be accepted. Not at all. They are lifting their skirts at the highway, hoping to catch a ride with those moving away from Biblical orthodoxy. Dr. John Whitcomb has described this attitude as the New Evangelicalism:
A desperate desire to be accepted, not so much by the Lord as by others prominent in the visible church who deviate to some extent from the teaching of the Word as we understand it. In the interest of being accepted, the New Evangelical attitude is willing to sacrifice truth on the altar of ecumenical expediency.
The visionaries in Grand Rapids are like bored girls who can't wait to get out of a small town for no other reason than because it is small. They are trying every way to make an escape, trying to do away with the wooden shoes. Only the escape has this twist: they haven't the guts to really leave because Daddy still pays the bills. So they stay at home, and they bring their lovers into our town and into our home in the hope that we will get used to them and that someday we will get tired of arguing. Finally, we will just give in. "Alright, alright, alright -- Have your stinking heretics at the college. Have your whores at the seminary. Have your double-talkers and deceivers in boards and agencies." Eventually, they expect to convince a generation to forsake the stuffy, limited and boring village that we call Orthodox Junction. They really believe that they have found the better way and they want us to follow them with their lovers to Broadway.
We are at a crossroad. The Siren's Song calls us from the narrow, the particular, the well-defined and the precise to the broad, the general, the sweeping, "to go with the flow" -- to the blurred from the distinct.
The drift toward indistinctiveness was seen in the recently adopted Contemporary Testimony, a modern quasi-confessional document adopted by the synod. It is not so much that it contained anything particularly harmful, but it contains nothing particularly helpful. A statement of the great theologian William Shedd is most pertinent in helping us understand the trouble with this approach: "When the popular feeling of a period is becoming less correct and healthy, nothing in the way of means does so much toward a change and restoration as strict accuracy, which is the same as strict orthodoxy in the popular creed." This is true, yet we find ourselves floating in the very opposite direction. Like Jonah we have been called to preach against the specific sins of our generation to our generation, but we have taken a ship called Vague in the direction away from our calling. No one wants to say anything specific. The last analysis is not just a matter of a New Evangelicalism, a new reformation or a new hermeneutic; it is the Word of God in the balance. It is the world in the grip of an idea: time versus God's Word. The questions are: Who is God? How do you know it? And where does it say so?
I want to suggest that we have answered these questions in our confessions which serve the function of skin. Skin keeps in what you want in and out what you want out. Our confessions should form the basis of who is allowed to stay in and who must go out. Scripture is unchanging in its character precisely because its author is unchanging. Here we must stand. But I am afraid that the Christian Reformed Church has contracted Ecclesiastical Aids. We seem not to have the will to fight those microbes that are invading the body. Be they ever so insidious, calculating, dishonest, arrogant or destructive, above all, we want comfort. We do not want the truth; we want to be polite. We are polite-ing ourselves to death. Along with a loss of the will to fight, many have lost the will to live. Where, my brothers and sisters, is your heroic Dutch blood, and why is it not boiling? I do not know.
I would like to offer a twelve-point program-- one for each tribe! We are not the ones who ought to leave, but we dare not promote decay. We had best fight it as this cloud of witnesses looks on.
1. Cancel subscriptions to the Banner. It doesn't measure up. "Whatever is true, noble, pure, profitable...." The Banner fails. We must recognize that the Banner is the mosquito which carries the virus to the body. It gives us feminist poems ridiculing the godly opposition to women's ordinations; calls those "simple-minded" who believe that God regards homosexuality as an unqualified abomination; promotes birth control, hinting at more occasions for abortion than saving the life of the mother, and on and on.
The latest abomination is a column on family affairs by an associate pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, the biggest little whorehouse in Southern California. The Crystal Cathedral is not the Church of Christ because it preaches another gospel. Why is a denominational magazine getting someone from that church to write a weekly column in our newspaper? Why not Jay Adams? Or someone whose credentials and fidelity to the Word of God are unquestioned? The Banner: vague, open...cancelled!
2. Expand and improve the Christian Renewal and Outlook. Get these journals into the hands of all consistory (session; board of elders) members. I have heard of and from, consistory members who hadn't heard of Howard Van Till until very recently. One individual called me about something I had written and told me that he had never heard of the man. This is inexcusable. We have to get this information into the hands of council members (elders and deacons). In articles in these journals, let's aim at providing more names, dates, and witnesses so that the factuality of our concerns will be self-evident and thus accelerate the self- consciousness of our denomination. I still must believe that the body at large is faithful and sound and we have to inform them.
3. Provide solid and simple expositions of our confessions, especially Belgic Confession articles 27-32 on the Church, to all consistory members. We need to clarify holy obligations on particular issues of moment. We need to provide guidance for them.
4. Compel your consistories to take stands on issues in writing. Don't accept double-talk and equivocation. Exercise your confessional rights as a congregant. Require Biblical justification from your council and consistory for important decisions and policies. Watch the form of subscription (in which all office-bearers swear to God to defend the truths of the Bible as summarized in the confessions), and keep it fresh in everybody's minds.
5. Plan and strategize like Joshua. Do it before and at classis (presbytery meetings; regional meetings of elders) and synod. We have been outmaneuvered so many times that it's nauseating. At the synod of 1986, the Banner editor was approved on the floor of synod for another four-year term without one single question from the floor by any elder or minister. Not one comment. Everything is done in committee, buried and rubber-stamped on that floor. There is so much opportunity, but we get outmaneuvered. Let's get smart. Let's learn how to play the game. It's unfortunate that we have to do it, but it must be done. Use church order. It's used against us, so let's use it against the forces of compromise.
Provide a speakers' bureau like the Committee for Women has. They send a list to every consistory in the denomination, saying they have all these speakers who are willing to speak on these subjects. Moreover, we too should have a lot of conferences around the country and in Canada.
6. Watch boards and agencies and get written answers to specific questions. Home Missions is especially manipulative and avoids adequate accountability. I am not referring to missionaries, but to the company boys. Calvin Seminary lies through its teeth, and it has a feminist agenda that is so manifest that it is unbelievable to me that they can deny it. We have to sit on these guys and let them know that the denomination is watching. We are not going to accept it.
7. We ought to engage an investigative reporter to chronicle the near demise of our denomination, to expose the politicking, to expose the double-dealing, that has gone on in the last fifteen years or so. Get a graduate student at a school of journalism whose Reformed credentials are excellent. Let them do it as a project for the salvation of our denomination. Let them bring the truth to light so that what has gone on can be known.
8. Explore alternatives to Calvin College. Even better, let's clean house there and at the seminary. Let me inform you, the Missouri Synod Lutherans had trouble and exercised stringent discipline in their main seminary, Concordia, in St. Louis. They dismissed every unorthodox teacher and instructed all students who were sympathetic to them to leave within one week. That was one of the most dramatic, drastic, and successful examples of institutional church discipline that this writer was aware of in the history of the church. The theologically radical groups, students as well as faculty, all left and started their own seminary, Seminex (Seminary in Exile), in another part of the city. They actually marched out under banners as if they were Moses and the children of Israel leaving Egypt, and they gained great sympathy in the media. Nevertheless, in twenty years, their school, having no solid doctrinal position, finally collapsed. In the meantime, Concordia Seminary, under the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, quickly regained its size. The rest of the evangelical world noted with amazement how these Lutherans handled the New Evangelical invasion of their main training center. Clean house. Let's get these guys out, however we can do it. This is life and death we are talking about.
9. Ordain qualified men from Westminster Seminary, Reformed Seminary, and Mid-America Reformed Seminary without a fifth year at Calvin. That requirement is unbiblical, and, therefore, cannot be made a requirement for office. Ordain qualified, holy men, even if we need to gather an ordination council from beyond the boundaries of a single classis. Let's get people together while we remain in the church and ordain men that are recognized as preaching the Word of God. We ought not be dependent on agencies that do not serve Christ.
10. Quota is acceptable only when there is heartfelt and justified confidence in the integrity of an agency. It is foolish to pay for the knife that would stab us. Forget about being good little quota payers or forget the Christian Reformed Church. If we continue to fund them, we could never defend the faith. It's defend and defund. We don't realize that they are depending on us just to continue to be good little boys and girls and to do what we're told. If your consistory tries to whittle away around this by saying, "You don't pay your quota, we're going to make it up with somebody else," then don't give money to your church at all. Send it to another Christian Reformed Church. You may not subsidize wickedness and sin. God will hold you accountable for that. We have a cloud of witnesses who are looking down to see how we are doing in this struggle.
11. Repent, not of conservatism, but of an unwillingness to examine yourselves and your practices in light of the Word alone. Repent because there are valid points brought up, even by our adversaries, concerning particular beliefs and practices that may not stand the test of Scripture. We sin when we refuse to recognize any of them, saying, "We don't want to go to the Word. We just want to do what we've always done. But if you're going to say, "Sola Scriptura," you had better practice it too. Repent of the timidity and self-interest which permitted things to get this bad, this gangrenous relativism which has spread so far. Repent of a lack of zeal in sharing with others your confessional treasures and thus giving opportunity to the enemy to get a foot in the door and slander us with justification.
12. Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. This is a battle but in I Chronicles 5:18-22 we read:
The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh had forty-four thousand seven hundred and sixty men ready for military service, able-bodied men who could handle shield and sword, who could use a bow and who were trained for battle. They waged war and they were helped in fighting. God handed over their enemies because they cried out to Him during the battle. He answered their prayers because they trusted in Him. They also took a hundred thousand people captive and many others fell slain because the battle was God's! They cried out to God in the battle and He was with them.
We are in the arena. Many have gone before. The battle is tough, and it will get tougher, but God is able. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Is the Spirit of Phineas among us today? Has the zeal of the Levites been handed down to you as well as the Word that they carried? Is Micaiah in the audience today? Too many are telling us that the battle is over, but I want to call two witnesses from the pages of Scripture: What say you, Joshua and Caleb? Should we fight or should we run away? Hear their testimony: The land we passed through and explored (even this Christian Reformed Church), is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with the milk of the Word and the honey of the heritage of confessional truth and many faithful sheep. Only do not rebel against the Lord. Do not be afraid of the relativists because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them. We should go and take possession, for we can certainly do it. That is from the Word , which like our God, changes not.
1. This is analogous to the decision of the CRC synod to ordain women to the diaconate. While we were still reeling from that, evolutionist professor, Howard Van Till, introduced his new hermeneutic to be a norm for Calvin College -- right in the face of the faithful of the denomination. Those who have been entrusted with the sacred charge of teaching covenant youth have spit in the face of the Lord.
2. See Noel Weeks's excellent book, The Sufficiency of Scripture, (Banner of Truth).
3. Subscriptions to Messiah's Mandate are available from Messiah's Christian Reformed Church, 2662 East 24th St., Brooklyn, NY 11235-2610.
4. My father and I have since renewed communication. Through Christ stands between us, our love for each other is strong and expressed. You know my heart's desire and prayer.