Rev. Van Baren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches. *This was the address given at the annual RFPA meeting held on September 22, 2005.

Several months ago Mr. Fred Hanko called and asked me to speak at this meeting on the subject: “All Around Us.” I hesitated. But Mr. Hanko is a persuasive man.

Finally I agreed. Yet I could hardly imagine crowds of eager and anxious people coming to hear a moving speech about “All Around Us.”

By way of introduction, I give you a bit of information about the rubric and its origin.

The rubric first appeared in the Standard Bearerof October 1, 1945 with the name “Periscope.” The first writer was Rev. Walter Hofman. After a number of years, a new editor, Rev. James Howerzyl, wrote articles through September 1952. He ceased writing at that point without explanation. I suspect it had something to do with the church controversy during that period of time.

The next article written for “Periscope” was by the editor of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Herman Hoeksema. In the issue of November 15, 1952 he wrote the first article, and continued writing for seven issues.

At that point, the rubric was renamed “All Around Us.” The editor explained that “Periscope” is to “look over or to look around”; therefore “All Around Us” would be a suitable “translation.”

The first editor in the renamed rubric was Rev. Marinus Schipper, who wrote for seven and a half years. After that, Prof. Hanko took over the rubric and wrote for 15 years. Rev. H. Veldman wrote for one year. From 1976 until the current time the speaker has been writing. There was a period of one or two years during that span of time that Prof. Decker took over the rubric. The last few years Rev. Kenneth Koole, Rev. Rodney Kleyn, and Rev. Michael DeVries were appointed to write some of these articles as well.

The material for these articles comes from various sources. Many newsworthy articles come from World magazine. Other articles are taken from the daily newspapers. Articles are frequently sent in by readers for comment. The Internet is another source of interesting material.

I call attention to: “All Around Us.” There are three things I would consider with you: 1) a view of the world in which we live; 2) a view of the churches; and, finally, 3) an examination of ourselves.

“All Around Us” and the world in which we live

There have been many articles in “All Around Us” that treat world events. Out of curiosity I read some of the early ones. I found one of interest by Rev. Herman Hoeksema. He was the first one to make comments in the Standard Bearer about that debatable subject of smoking. In December 15, 1952 he wrote an article in “Periscope”:

Recently several papers and journals published articles that deal with the effect of smoking on the larynx and the lungs. Investigation seems to show that excessive smoking produces cancer of the lungs. This appears to be the case especially with cigarette smokers, probably because the latter usually have the bad habit of inhaling. The following quotation I clipped from “Signs of the Times.”

There follows a fairly lengthy quotation. And he concludes this way:

The figures, I must admit, are rather impressive. How valid the conclusion is that is to be drawn from them I cannot judge. The question is, of course, whether other factors, such as, for example, excessive drinking, must not also be taken into consideration. At any rate, personally, I rather stick to my pipe, which I have smoked for 60 years.

Many articles were written about world events. Some dealt with the question of evolution or theistic evolution. Articles were written showing the development of the one-world power that will culminate in the final Battle of Armageddon.

In reading these news events, one soon finds powerful reminders of the fulfillment of the signs of the times of which tonight’s chairman read inMatthew 24.

One phrase repeatedly used when possible disasters are discussed in the media is: “It is not if, but when.” It is the attempt of many today to prepare us for inevitable disasters. They are “natural” occurrences that have scientific explanations. These have nothing to do with God’s rule.

On the contrary, we see these same things as a fulfillment of Revelation 8. Surely the prophecies of Scripture are clearly being fulfilled.

“It is not if, but when.” That phrase was used a year ago when several devastating hurricanes swept Florida, entered into the Gulf, and came very near New Orleans. There were those who said then that inevitably New Orleans would be hit. And if a hurricane hit that city, which is mostly below sea-level, there would be a terrible disaster. The city would be devastated. This year the “when” has taken place. Not only that, but another hurricane is striking somewhere in that area that might be as devastating as Katrina—a hurricane called Rita.

The phrase has been used in connection with terrorist attacks. We have had the devastating one in New York—the 9/11 attack. Several years before, there were those who said, “There will be terrorist attacks, perhaps in some of our largest cities. It is not a question of if, but when.”

There is the matter of earthquakes, especially on the west coast. Earthquakes could destroy San Francisco again, as one did in the year 1908. It is not a question of “if, but when.”

We have read about the tsunami in Asia and the possibility of future tsunamis. We are reminded of the possibility of very destructive volcanoes. We hear of Avian (or bird) flu. The statement is repeatedly made: “It is not if, but when.”

Sounds like the trumpets of the book of Revelation, does it not? The media provides natural explanations. The Bible reminds us that God’s prophecies of the end-time are being fulfilled.

The second thing taking place “all around us” is the development in science and medicine. It has become the means of joining the whole world together. Thomas Friedman is an editorialist in the New York Times. He has recently written a book entitled, The World Is Flat. In it he points out the economic development of the world from Columbus to the present day.

From Columbus to about 1800, he says, was the age of nations.

From 1800 to about 2000 he labels the age of large companies. Wal-Mart is one striking instance.

From 2000 until today (only 5 years!) Friedman calls the “age of the individual.” By that he means that through modern technology one can carry out important work of companies of the United States (or other modern nations) in India or China or Russia or any number of other places. This is true because of the invention of the Internet, the computer, rapid transmission, and search engines. Within a period of the past five years, it is as though (Friedman’s terminology) these inventions were given steroids. The computers now have hard drives of 200 and 300 gigabytes.

Today information is being transmitted by fiber-optic cables. A cable of 48-strands of fiber optics can transmit all the written materials of the whole world in a matter of a few minutes. There are now search engines like Google that can find any subject in a matter of seconds. Even translation programs are available. One cannot help but think of the wound of the beast that was healed according to Rev. 13.

Individuals in India (or Russia or China) can work as engineers, accountants, auditors, radiologists for companies in the U.S. for onefifth the cost of such specialists who work in the United States. The world indeed is becoming one.

These recent inventions affect us directly in that the world can come easily into our homes via television, internet, radio, and other inventions. The world can use this to deceive and entice into all kinds of sin.

“All Around Us” with respect to the church world

“All Around Us” is concerned especially with developments in the church world. It is interested obviously first with the Christian Reformed Church, our “motherchurch.” There is reason for concern. That concern was expressed already in 1924. Herman Hoeksema protested the adoption of the doctrine of common grace by the Christian Reformed Church. For this he was condemned and deposed. He warned then that this doctrine of “common grace” would only lead to greater worldliness in the church. “All Around Us” has pointed out how this has proven to be true.

Their adoption of a different view of Genesis 1 and creation, their adoption of a changed position on women in church office, the debate about homosexuality, the matter of divorce and remarriage—all these concern us. We see the underlying errors to be their adoption of the doctrine of common grace and a changing view on the infallibility of Scripture.

“All Around Us” considers these developments as warning to us of the consequences of forsaking the “old paths.”

“All Around Us” and self-examination

Finally, we must consider ourselves as we look “All Around Us.”

In the first place, we are concerned about our “mother church.” We cannot rejoice in the errors that we see there. We do testify to the error and urge proper repentance.

Secondly, “All Around Us” seeks to show the development in error. One error leads almost inevitably to others. We, too, must understand the consequences of the adoption of error.

Thirdly, the purpose of pointing out errors in other churches is as a warning to ourselves. We must beware lest we adopt some of the same errors.

There are reasons for concern. The Yearbook in our Acts of Synod lists the total number of families and shows a gain in 2004 of 8 families. The preceding year listed an increase of 46 families. 1999 listed 48 families gained. Last year there were just 8 families gained. Why? There might be a good explanation. Perhaps it is an anomaly. Possibly families were not faithfully and accurately counted by some of the councils. It could be that there were families in the process of transfer—they were not counted by their former congregation and were not added to their new congregation. But it is also likely that the effects of those things happening in the world and in the churches explain some of the problem. Why was there such a small increase of families? Consider how many marriages of Protestant Reformed young people took place in one year. There must have been forty or more marriages. From the point of view only of internal growth, there should have been at least forty families added to the churches. Besides, there are all of the other areas of mission labors in the churches. And there is a gain of only 8 families?

What is the problem? Are we not diligently teaching the Word of God? We might well consider that. Do we properly impress upon our people, especially upon our young people, the importance of the truths of God’s Word as it is maintained in our denomination? Are we faithfully pointing out the consequences of forsaking the doctrines to which we hold?

There is one other important matter. One sees what might be called the “termite-effect.” We rejoice in the fact that our doctrinal stance has remained the same since 1924. But there is a certain “termite effect.” You know how termites work. Termites eat the wood and leave the paint that covered the wood. One first becomes aware of the damage when he pokes his finger through the paint. The shell is there—but the substance behind it is eaten away.

Has there been “termite damage” within our denomination as well? We oppose the false view of common grace. Rev. Herman Hoeksema, from the beginning, warned of the consequences of the teaching of common grace—that it would introduce worldliness into the church. That has happened. The CRC changed its position on the movies and the dance on the basis of its decision on common grace. The movie and the dance as produced by unbelievers are even called the fruit of the common grace of God.

We still deny that error of common grace. But there has been “termite damage.” Increasingly there is the acceptance of drama on television and even in the theater within our churches. The dance is considered by some to be appealing and attractive as well. It is “termite damage.” We deny common grace—the façade remains. Yet, even while common grace is denied, worldliness also creeps into our midst.

We emphasize the antithesis—the difference between light and darkness. Yet this antithesis is not always evident in our lives. Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” However, too often we imitate not Paul or Christ, but the unbelieving sports heroes and the movie actors and actresses, in their dress styles or the types of jewelry that they wear. It is “termite damage,” even while we still rightly maintain the antithesis.

We confess the beautiful covenant of grace that God establishes with us and our spiritual seed. But often we fail to live according to the truth of that covenant. There is real danger of “termite damage” in the churches.

So, when we write in “All Around Us,” we are not simply writing about the world “out there.” We are not just criticizing other churches. But we examine things that can be and are affecting us and our calling. We are encouraged to follow the old paths and teach them to our children faithfully and diligently. For if we do not, we too will soon fall into the same errors into which others have fallen. May God grant to us faithfulness in confession and walk.