The Presbyterian Guardian of Nov. 15, 1952 has an editorial in which, in connection with the last national election, the calling of the Church in respect to sounding forth a clear testimony “on the subject of righteousness in personal conduct” is discussed.
Writes the editor:
There were undoubtedly many factors which entered into the presidential election, by which one administration was swept out of office and another swept in. But certainly at least one of those factors was the issue of morality, or more simply of plain old fashioned righteousness.
The revelations of corruption in high places in the administration personnel had convinced many people that there could be no effective clean up without a thorough change.
Now there are many matters of national administration on which it may be difficult of not impossible for the Christian Church to take a unified stand. But on the subject of righteousness in personal conduct, there ought to be no hesitancy. Here the church should speak with courage and authority.
However, the writer of this article is convinced that, if the Church is ever to live up to its high calling, it is itself in sore need of a housecleaning. Not only has it emphasized man’s relation to man and failed to give the chief emphasis to Man’s relation to God, but it has also become lax in discipline. Writes he:
For the church is the primary agency on earth for declaring the Law of God. And the Law of God is the only true standard by which good and evil may be measured. It is right at this point that the church must face its responsibility in the present situation. The church has in large measure failed to declare unflinchingly the Law of God. And it has failed to proclaim with certainty the cardinal doctrines it professes to believe, the facts of final judgment and eternal punishment. It has failed to confront men with the reality of the living God, and the fact that every individual lives his life in the presence of God, who knows the life and heart of man through and through.
It is not strange that men brought up in churches where the talk is all of man’s relation to man, and not at all of man’s relation to God, have yielded under pressure to conduct contrary to God’s standard of righteousness
But the church has also failed in another direction, in the administration of discipline within its own ranks. The idea of church discipline has declined to the point where it is largely confined to removing from the rolls of a church persons who never attend.
But so little do church members think of ecclesiastical discipline and church membership, that at the first inkling of such a thing the accused is liable to walk out and join another church body.
There must be a return to discipline in local churches, and in denominations, before the voice of the church calling for reform in national affairs will be heard very clearly.
With the contention that the Church on the whole is lax in discipline we can agree. And, of course, we also subscribe to the statement that “there must be a return to discipline in local churches, and in denominations.” I sincerely hope that the editor has also in mind the need of a return to discipline in the local churches of his own denomination. In fact, it would have been more salutary had he written specifically on this subject, rather than write in general on the necessity of discipline in the church.
Moreover, the first and main key of the kingdom of heaven is always the preaching of the Word. It must open and shut the kingdom of heaven. Where such preaching is lacking, it is virtually impossible to apply Christian discipline.
Nor must the motive be that “the voice of the church calling for reform in national affairs” may be heard. The motive is the glory of Christ, the preservation of the church, as well as the salvation of the sinner that repents.
Polemios, a Dutch paper devoted to general Calvinistic principles, writes about the recent national elections in our country in such a way that one can almost read between the lines that the writer, Prof. C. Gerretson, would have preferred to have seen Gov. Stevenson elected and the Democratic party continued in power. He writes that the election of Gen. Eisenhower was largely motivated by the desire of peace. He calls this a “sentiment” and writes that it cannot be called a sound judgment. In the meantime, I am afraid that the writer himself was hardly motivated by sound objective judgment, but rather by the “sentiment” that, perhaps, under a democratic government Europe would more likely receive sufficient help from our country, both financially and otherwise, than when the republican party occupies the seat of government in Washington. Writes he (I translate):
In Western Europe, Fr. Roosevelt is greatly honored, just as formerly was the case with Wilson. And this is but natural, for it must be attributed to both of the American interventions that Western Europe still lives in freedom. No criticism of American errors, however necessary and justified, may cause us to forget this cardinal fact even for a moment, nor may we forget the material help of the last years. But in America, where the large mass of people is as peace-loving as anywhere in the world . . . lives the recollection that it was the “peace loving Democrats” which for the second time now have caused America to participate in the war; and therefore it is probably after all safer to have a Republican at the helm of State.
Unjust as may be this sentiment—a judgment it can hardly be called—it nevertheless seems to have influenced the election. For many Eisenhower is the peace-general.
The writer seems to forget that other factors must be taken into account that have at least just as much weight if not more. I refer to the well-known corruption in Washington, and to the power of the labor unions. At any rate, it seems to me that he was motivated by sentiment at least as much as the American people, only his sentiment was exactly the opposite from theirs.
The Reformed Journal, Dec. 1952, has an interesting article by the Rev. James Daane on “Theological Dialecticism”. He introduces his article with the remark that “a theology which acknowledges the so- called ‘apparently contradictory’, but which always insists that apparent contradictions are not real contradictions, is confronted with the delicate task of preventing the apparently contradictory from becoming the really contradictory in actual religious thought and practice. Only a measure of theological sensitivity can prevent the apparent from becoming real.
Where the sensitivity is lacking, the insinuation of the dialectical method (the method of the paradox, the Yes and No of Barthian theology, H.H.) into religious though and practice is inevitable.”
He then cites a few illustrations of this tendency to employ the dialectical method in “common religious practice”. One sample centers around the questions whether Reformed preaching is God-centered or Christ-centered, another around the attempt to be Calvinistic and Arminian at the same time, a third around the question of supra and infra, a fourth around the relationship between prayer and work, a fifth around the question of the general well-meant offer of salvation. On this he writes as follows:
In the “Three Points” our Church stated its belief in the general well-meant offer of salvation. Rightly interpreted, this point of doctrine is completely acceptable. But if it is interpreted to mean that God wills the salvation of all men in the same sense in which he wills the salvation of the elect, it has been misinterpreted. Such an interpretation would involve the necessity of accepting the truly contradictory. Since the truly contradictory can be handled only by a dialectical method, the acceptance of the truly contradictory interpretation of the general offer would not clear the way for, but demand the acceptance of, the dialectical method.
As everyone knows, the position that holds that God equally and in the same manner wills the salvation of both elect and reprobate is strictly an Arminian position. Is it perhaps significant that, with the exception of the “infra-supra,” all the above cited instances of dialecticism in our practical religious thinking constitute a movement away from the Reformed toward the Arminian doctrine of salvation? Pleas for a Christ-centeredness as against a God-centeredness, for a tempering of Calvinism by Arminianism, for a dialectical relationship between prayer and work in which prayer itself becomes a human work on which salvation depends, are all of them pleas, however unwittingly voiced, for the displacement of the Reformed conception of salvation by grace alone by the Arminian conception, in which God equally wills the salvation of all men, and in which everything does indeed depend on the prayers and work of the individual sinner, be he elect or reprobate.
It is deplorable that the Rev. Daane does not explain what is the right interpretation of the first point. Is it that of Berkhof or Kuiper? Does the Rev. Daane have an interpretation of his own which is not really contradictory and which is in harmony with the Confessions? Again, the Rev. Daane writes that the “first point” is an error if it be interpreted to mean that God wills the salvation of all men in the same sense in which He wills the salvation of the elect. I do not understand. Is there, then, any sense in which God wills the salvation of the reprobate?
Besides, the Rev. Daane must not forget that the well-meant offer of salvation was adduced by the Synod of Kalamazoo to prove the contention that God is gracious to all men, elect and reprobate. Hence, I would put to the Rev. Daane the old question that has never been answered: what grace do the reprobate receive in the preaching of the gospel?