The Rev. H.J. Kuiper in his rubric Timely Topicswrites in the February, 1958 issue of Torch and Trumpet on the question, “Do We Want Community Churches?” We have reason to believe that this is indeed a timely topic in his particular church.
Just before the first of the year we had a conversation with a member of the Christian Reformed Church in the Grand Rapids area who was just finishing his term as elder in his church.’ This brother expressed to me his deep concern, as he put it, “for the future of his church.” Very critically he spoke of some of the conditions as he saw them in his denomination, and especially was he perturbed relative to the evangelistic zeal evidenced in the rearing of many chapels into which heterogeneous groups are being gathered. The brother had no objection to the evangelistic zeal. Nor was he alarmed by the fact that people of many different colors and backgrounds were congregated by means of the chapel services. Nor was he against the rearing of many chapels. His alarm was relative to the fact that these people are not being brought into the Christian Reformed Church in the proper manner, under the Confession and discipline of that church. In other words, as he put it, “the chapel is not serving the purpose for which it was established.” And I gathered that he was referring to the very thing Rev. Kuiper is concerned about, namely, that the chapel to all intents and purposes will end up being a community church. If my surmise is correct, then Rev. Kuiper is not only writing on a timely topic, but he must be given credit for fearlessly uncovering a bad tendency in his church, or rather, his denomination.
We, too, observed first-hand a few years ago while visiting with relatives on Long Island, New York near the community of Hicksville, some of the methods used in establishing a so-called community church, as well as some of the conditions. prevailing there which literally destroy all denominational distinctiveness, which in effect leaves the church no more than a social center, or a mere civic enterprise. Here was a case where over night, so to speak, a new community mushroomed. Its constituency comprised mostly business and professional men who commuted each day to New York City, but who desired the quiet and the advantages of a small country community far from the din and smoke of the big city.
The community we were told had been pre-planned as far as the homes, stores, etc., was concerned. And the denomination of churches that first applied for a church site was, if acceptable, given exclusive right to build a church and serve that community. In the case I am referring to, two churches made application almost the same time, namely, Lutheran and Reformed; and both were granted permission to build a church on the grounds that the community was sufficiently large to accommodate only two churches. And I was told that both of these churches were being filled with people who, either had no former church connection whatever, or who came from many different denominations. And when I was told what goes on in these churches, as far as the preaching is concerned as well as activities in the churches themselves, the only conclusion you could come to was that they were no more than social, civic centers, and no church at all. A pathetic situation, indeed. And we can agree with the Rev. Kuiper in what he sees as the danger of community churches, and can easily understand why he considers this subject a timely topic in his own denomination.
The writer in his brief article delineates on two questions: What is a community church? and should we have such churches?
Introducing the subject he asserts: “There is a sense in which every church should be a community church. No church, or congregation; should be isolated from the community in which it exists. Every church should be a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hid. It should reach out into the community to bring the message of redemption to those who lead Christless lives.
“More than that, every church should welcome to its membership all who accept the gospel message and are willing to be instructed in the fundamentals of that gospel; who are ready to indicate their agreement with its teachings and to submit to its discipline.”
In answer to the question: What is a community church? the Rev. Kuiper writes:
“A community church, in the sense in which that term is generally understood today, is quite a different organization from the one just described. It denotes a church which has no particular denominational affiliation and no definite creed, and which is ready to receive as members all who claim to be Christians and who are ready in some formal way to signify their desire for affiliation and to actually become members.
“We should add that the term ‘community church’ sometimes has a wider connotation. There are churches which call themselves by that name even though they do have denominational affiliation and a specific creed but which at the same time make the terms of membership so general that all who hold to some form of that evangelical faith, whether Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, or Baptist, are permitted to join.
“Such community churches are numerous especially in new neighborhoods, particularly where no single denomination is represented by more than a very few individuals or families.
“It stands to reason that this type of organization, especially in new and fluid communities, has decided practical advantages over strictly denominational organizations. Yet there are very serious objections to the community church idea.”
Not to quote his entire article because of our limited space, his main objection is a doctrinal one. Kuiper contends and rightly so, “The church of Jesus Christ is not a service club, or merely an organization to satisfy the ‘religious aspirations’ of people. According to I Timothy 3:15, the church of the living God is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth.’ Its mission is to preach the truth, teach and expound it, confess it and defend it against all error . . . .
“The typical community church, with its diluted gospel and its half-baked messages, can never meet the spiritual needs of its members. For such a church will fail to present the great themes of the gospel, the basic tenets of the Christian faith, for fear that this will provoke disagreement and contention within its own bosom. For that reason it is bound to disappoint its best members who want it to strike a spiritual note and to bring a rich as well as distinctive message.” In answer to the question: Should we have such churches? Kuiper writes:
“Even if we should want such churches we should not have them because they are bound to be a detriment to their own members and to the denomination of which they are a part.” He then proceeds to commend his churches for the zeal they have evinced in making each one a center of evangelistic activity. He cites several areas in his denomination where this zeal is particularly noticeable. But he concludes:
“We must not fail to face the fact that this worthy program of neighborhood evangelism exposes us to the danger of establishing anemie community churches. If our leaders give ear to the plea of some to lower the bars of membership for mission converts by requiring no expression of agreement with our Reformed faith—which is nothing but the Christian faith in its purest and clearest expression—but demanding only that they confess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it will not be long before we have a number of community churches which are Christian Reformed only in name.
“Such an approach to evangelism is bad for more than one reason. It is bad because it substitutes worldly standards of success for those of Scripture, . . .
“Second, such an approach to evangelism as characterized above is bad because it ignores the law of discipleship: ‘deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me’—which includes forsaking the world, the lodge included. It is bad because it puts more stock in ‘bigness’ and ‘numbers’ than in knowledge of the Word, spirituality, and perseverance in the faith.” Rev. Kuiper emphasizes in the concluding part of his article this badness when he notes that this “approach to evangelism is bad for the convert, for the community church which he joins, and for the denomination.”
In respect to the latter, he writes: “If the community church idea once finds entrance it will spread and the result will be that in the end we shall lose our creedal distinctiveness. For we cannot consistently require of our own children to receive instruction in and subscribe to our Reformed doctrines if we do not require this of mission converts. No church can successfully maintain a double standard of admission to membership. Such a dualism cannot last. The community church idea, once accepted, will permeate our Church like a leaven, though the process be very slow, and in the end reduce us to the colorless level of many denominations today.”
Hoeksema An Example of Immigrant Production.
In the same issue of Torch and Trumpet above referred to, appears an article of Professor Henry R. Van Til of Calvin College under the title: Is Our Theology Vital? In the January 15th issue of The Standard Bearer under the title: Dr. Daane Again Under Scrutiny, we called attention to the fact that Dr: James Daane, minister in the Christian Reformed Church was being severely taken to task because of some of the aspersions he casts relative to the theology of, his own church. In the December, 1957Torch and Trumpet no less than two articles are directed against him in defense of the theology of that church.
Now again Professor Van Til, very handily in our judgment, answers Daane. I am not so much interested now in repeating what Van Til says about Daane. More particularly I am interested in what he writes about Rev. H. Hoeksema.
Under the subtitle: Immigrant Production, Van Til calls attention to certain outstanding men, immigrants from the Netherlands, to whom he pays tribute as having contributed considerably to the development of theology in this country. He mentions men like Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, William Hendriksen, Diedrich H. Kromminga and others. Among them also appears the name of Professor Herman Hoeksema. This is what he says about him:
“Another redoubtable immigrant, who has been very productive while holding the fort and maintaining the faith, as he conceives of it, is Professor Herman Hoeksema of the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This man has produced prodigiously. While pastoring his people he taught many subjects to his theological students and managed to write a ten volume commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism and a complete Dogmatics, which is available at his Seminary. Hoeksema is no mean exegete and dogmatician, hut neither has he neglected biblical theology, as may be seen from the articles he has written for the last thirty or more years in The Standard Bearer. Although we believe Hoeksema’s rejection of Common Grace vitiates his work at many points and we must agree with Professor John Murray that he sometimes commits exegetical violence, we must acknowledge that he has been theologically productive.”
We are happy with this recognition which Rev. Hoeksema surely deserves. But we are also greatly disappointed with the concluding remark Van Til makes. How much better would it have been had Van Til showed his readers how Hoeksema’s rejection of Common Grace vitiates his work at many points. And why does he not give them some examples where sometimes Hoeksema commits exegetical violence? Hit and run drivers are dangerous to have on the road.