All Around Us

A Continuing Presbyterian Church 

We have reported in this column from time to time developments in the Southern Presbyterian Church in which, while the denomination as a whole continues on its increasingly liberal course, conservatives make preparations to preserve a denomination which is loyal to the Westminster Confessions. These matters have also been discussed in the columns of the Standard Bearer by John Richard De Witt, a minister in that denomination. 

Because all these matters will continue to be discussed in the future, also by the editor of this paper, we shall not enter into detail concerning recent developments. However, there are two matters which ought to be mentioned to keep our readers up to date. The one is the appearance of a new confession. In 1969, the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church commissioned a committee to prepare such a new confession. The draft has now been published and will be submitted to the General Assembly in 1975 for adoption. The entire confession has appeared in the pages of the Presbyterian Journal and is being discussed in a series of articles. 

We cannot enter into a detailed discussion of the proposed new confession in these columns, nor is that important. It is sufficient to observe that, should the new confession be adopted, the entire confessional basis of the Southern Presbyterian Church will be so completely altered that the entire confessional character of the denomination will be in keeping with the liberal and modernistic trends so much in vogue in our day. 

It is not surprising therefore that the conservatives oppose this confession and see it as an attempt to steer the denomination away from her historical confessional position. 

The second development of note is the formation of a new presbytery (approximately equal to our classis) called the Vanguard Presbytery. On September 7 six ministers and ten elders signed a resolution agreeing to “covenant together to form an association to be known as Vanguard Presbytery, a Provisional Presbytery for Southern Presbyterian and Reformed Churches Uniting.” 

What is striking about this development is that this “covenant” was signed by men who belong to congregations which have already withdrawn from the denomination. 

The movement reveals a division of sorts within the conservative element in the Southern Presbyterian Church. While many are alarmed at the liberal trends within the denomination, these same conservatives are divided over precisely how to proceed. Many, including the “Presbyterian Journal’s editor, advocate remaining within the denomination until the merger with the Northern .Presbyterian Church actually is consummated. One of the reasons why these choose to remain within the denomination for the time being is because they see greater hope of keeping their property when finally they leave. This hope is based upon the so-called “escape clause” in the present plan of union which gives opportunity for congregations to withdraw without penalty within a certain time after the merger is consummated. But those who have formed the Vanguard Presbytery believe that the time has come now to sever ties since it has become obvious that there is no hope of restoring the denomination as a whole to her historical confessional basis. 

A Victory For The Amish 

The Amish have been in trouble with the courts for a long time. Their troubles revolved around the question whether Amish children should be made to go to school beyond the eighth grade. The laws in the country generally require that all children are required to attend school through age fifteen. The Amish did not keep these laws and Amish children discontinued school upon completion of the eighth grade. Their claim was that further education would harm the religious training of their children, for it would tend to wean them away from the religious beliefs of the community. The issue therefore became one of freedom of religion. While some Amish had already moved out of the country to seek religious freedom in South America, others stayed here and fought to battle through the courts. 

Last summer the Supreme Court handed down a decision in which the Amish won a very notable victory. The Court upheld their contention that education beyond the eighth grade was a serious threat to their religious beliefs. While the Court did not strike down as being unconstitutional present laws which require a child to go to school until he is sixteen years old, the Court did make an exception in the case of the Amish and spoke of the fact that a balance had to be sought between these state laws and the religious convictions of the Amish. 

This is a significant victory and it will, no doubt, have implications for others who have established their own school systems for the religious training of children. Specifically it means that, at least for the time being, there is less threat of government control of our own schools. How long this will last is another question, of course. But in the meantime we can be thankful for such a decision; and it ought to be added incentive to pursue our calling to instruct our children with diligence and faithfulness. 

The Problem Of Death 

Death has always been a grim specter for men. There is something ambiguous about man’s attitude towards death. On the one hand, he considers death as being normal. Especially from the evolutionary viewpoint, death is the normal end of all living things. And he accepts it as such. So normal does he consider death to be that he will, when he is filled with despair seek death actively by taking his own life. He tries to believe that death is the end of existence and that, in the evolutionary process, death fits somehow into the great scheme of things. On the other hand however, he cannot escape a certain fear of death. He tries desperately to avoid it as long as possible. He tries to still any voices which speak of the fact that death is not the end of existence, but that “something” exists beyond death. He may, as some philosopher once said, describe death as a leap into the great unknown. Yet the fact is that he knows, from the voice of God which cannot be stilled, that death is abnormal. He knows that death is part of the punishment for sin. He knows with a conviction that will not be put down that death ushers him into the presence of the Judge of heaven and earth. Yet, for the sake of the semblance of peace which he must maintain, he cannot admit this.

Two very striking evidences of this have recently come to my attention. 

The one concerns some comments made on the subject by a columnist who is, at present, waging a lonely war against a rare form of leukemia. In a recent column he discussed with the public his views on the matter. Asking the question what it is like to live with this disease, he writes:

Oddly enough, it hasn’t been as bad as it sounds. There have been some moments of fear, and some pain (a marrow test is not fun). There have been a few times when I felt very sick, and when my blood was so thin as to put my life at risk. But when you feel sick enough, you don’t much fear death, and even half-welcome it. In such ways, God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. 

. . . I wish I could claim that the past year has given me profound spiritual insights, but it hasn’t. I was an agnostic before I got sick, and I am an agnostic still. . . . 

If there is a God, why did He choose them (children who have the disease)? Mind you, I am an agnostic, not antitheist. But if there is a God, He surely “moves in a mysterious way.” 

It may seem a bit fatuous to say so, but what has surprised me most about this experience is how nice people are. Most of us live out our lives behind a thick outer tegument (covering), or carapace (shield or shell), that separates us from other people. The threat of death breaks the carapace. It makes you deeply dependent on other people—in my case, my wife, my family, my doctor, my friends and colleagues, above all my wife. Once the carapace is broken, you realize how amazingly nice—there is really no other word for it—most people are. 

When I first got sick, I came across a sentence in an old piece by Winston Churchill: “For the rest, live dangerously; take life as it comes; dread nought; all will be well.” I repeat it like a talisman. . .

In another magazine appeared an article which discussed the recent introduction into the curriculum of a college course labeled Health 476, but which is more commonly known as “Death Education and Suicidal Behavior.” The purpose for this course is to aid students in understanding death so that they will be able to face the reality of death squarely and live happier lives without the threat of death hanging over the heads. From the fact that this course is the second most popular course in the curriculum (sex education is first), the conclusion is made that the fear of death is more general and more deeply seated in people than is often supposed. 

Death is the one reality that even the most optimistic scientist and the staunchest believer in evolution cannot explain away. It is always the ringing of the death-knell which smashes the optimism of the unbeliever to pieces. 

The Christian alone is able to face death squarely because he knows and receives by faith the truth concerning death. It is, according to the Scriptures, not normal, but horribly abnormal, for it is the judgment of God upon sinful man. God, in fierce anger against the sinner who seeks to set himself up in God’s world as lord and master, drives wicked and rebellious man out of the world through the door of death into everlasting destruction in hell. This is the truth concerning death—a truth which, ultimately, not even the unbeliever can successfully evade. 

But the believing child of God hides himself beneath the shadow of the cross of Calvary, for he knows that in that cross is the victory over death. His Lord Who conquered death, rose again mighty and triumphant. The believer alone of all men can sing: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Cor. 15:55-57

Billy Graham On Original Sin 

We quote from a brief news item in a recent issue ofChristian News:

Innocent children are not sinners according to Billy Graham and some other new evangelists. 

Graham wrote in a recent column published in newspapers throughout the nation: “Innocent children have not willfully sinned, and therefore, are not ‘transgressors of the law’ or sinners. True, they have the capacity to sin, and when, of age, will—nevitably sin. But, until they do sin, they do not come under the judgment of the law. The whole trend of Scripture teaches that the innocents who are too young to accept Christ intelligently, are safe in the arms of a just and holy God.”

Christian News adds:

The Bible however, teaches that all men are born in sin and are sinners. Graham rejects the Scriptural doctrine of original sin and the Scriptural doctrine that man is totally depraved and cannot will on his own accord to believe Christ. He agrees with Erasmus and takes issue with Luther on this important doctrine. (See “Of Free Will, Or Human Powers.” pp. 6-8.)

We might add a couple of comments of our own. 

Billy Graham not only agrees with Erasmus over against Luther, but he also agrees with Pelagius over against St. Augustine. It was Pelagius who first introduced the idea that all children are born as a “tabula rosa”; i.e., in a morally neutral condition. There sin, when it appeared, was not due to any defect in their nature, but to evil habits learned from others. The Arminian always essentially adopts this position. Once he denies the total depravity of man, he must sooner or later go all the way. He must sooner or later take the position that sin is not in the nature, but in the act only. Thus, denying a sinful and corrupt nature, he can never take sin seriously. And hence, more and more, drifts, into the position of modernism which teaches the essential goodness of man. Arminianism is always incipient modernism. 

There is a note of warning here also. It is very easy for all of us to forget that fundamental truth that sin is always in the nature. I mean now, not so much in our theology as in our own daily walk and confession of sin. We so easily fall into the trap of considering sin to be in the act only. We do not often take seriously the words of our own Heidelberg Catechism when it, in discussing what we believe concerning the forgiveness of sins, remarks: “That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long. . . .” The implication is that my corrupt nature is my responsibility for which I must seek forgiveness every day—as the publican did in Jesus’ parable: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”