Is Christ’s Suffering?

With some hesitation I continue to comment on the installation of the Rev. Marchiene Rienstra at Hope Reformed Church at Holland, Michigan. I hesitate because an end must come in condemning this kind of wrong which so many wish to embrace openly anyway. Those who would receive women into the offices within the church remain of the same mind still. 

Yet, it becomes apparent that when one will distort Scripture to allow for one wrong, it becomes easy to distort other Scriptural truths as well. It might be profitable for us to recognize this—and in the concrete instance of Marchiene Rienstra. In order that she be installed into the office of the ministry, those passages of Scripture which forbid woman the right to speak in the church (based on the creation ordinance and the law of God) must be relegated to t he “trash heap” of “time-conditioned” instruction. In spite of the obvious truth, the claim must be made that these passages apply to Paul’s day—but not to ours. Women might not serve in the ministry 2000 years ago because of the cultural situation then, but today the times have changed. Paul’s word no longer applies. 

But when one does this sort of thing to Scripture, the infallible Word of God, he (she) can do the same with other important passages of Scripture. This became very clear in an article which recently appeared in theHolland Sentinel, written by the Rev. Marchiene Rienstra in celebration of the Lent season. Her remarks concern the suffering of Christ—but what she has to say of this is both shocking and contrary to the teachings of Scripture itself. I can not know what she might say within the church from the pulpit, but if this article is representative of her “gospel,” it is neither Reformed nor Scriptural. She says this of the suffering of Christ:

The suffering of Christ is central to our common reflection during Lent. That suffering did not end when Christ cried “It is finished” on the cross. For what happened on the cross is a sign to us of the awesome reality of the suffering of God for us through all time. 

Because of the union of Christ with all humanity through his incarnation (the word made flesh), he continues to suffer in all of our suffering. When children starve to death, Christ suffers the pangs of starvation in and with them. When the elderly are forsaken and alone in their need, Christ suffers the pain of abandonment in and with them. When people inflict terrible violence on each other in the name of justice and freedom, or for no good reason, Christ suffers the anguish of wounding and death in and with them.

This both comforts us, who are united to Christ in our baptism and by faith, because we know that whatever happens, nothing can ever separate us from Christ and his love. But it is also a terrible judgment on the human race. For whenever one precious person suffers needlessly, because of the greed, carelessness or cruelty of another, it is Christ who is being attacked. For he is especially with those who are in great need and suffer in any way. 

The suffering of Christ, therefore, faces us with the awful fact that when we do or threaten violence against others, justifying it by calling them our enemies because they live under a different government or political and economic system, or because they believe and think differently than we do, we are doing and threatening violence against Christ, who embraces all human beings in loving forgiveness as the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the whole world. 

To take away the sins of the whole world is to reconcile everyone to God and to each other—and this means loving unity between all people. The church is called to be a sign of this unity which God so greatly desires for all humanity that he gave his only son….

One might wonder if this is the Theology (or Christology presented from the pulpit at Hope Reformed Church in Holland. One would hope that it is not the Theology taught at Calvin Seminary. 

Notice: Christ’s incarnation is made to be a “union. . . .with all humanity.” The question might well be asked: What does that really mean? Did Christ really assume our human nature? What is a union “with all humanity”? Does Christ, then, in His suffering and death represent all humanity? Is He then too united with the antichrist? Is He united with the reprobate? Is He united with those who remain in their sins? 

Sad too is the presentation that Christ’s suffering is representative of the suffering which is His when people on this earth suffer. The suffering on the cross is not presented as atonement, as payment for sin before God—but as an act of One Who shows His concern for the suffering of all peoples. Does the suffering on the cross mean that “when children starve to death, Christ suffers the pangs of starvation in and with them?” How much more glorious is the testimony of Scripture: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us unto God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Pet. 3:18). Christ indeed suffers long with His people while they are on the earth—but the cross is atonement whereby He would deliver us from sin and death. 

Finally, though there is a reference to “sin,” one can well ask the question: What is meant by that term in the article? Rienstra states: “To take away the sins of the whole world is to reconcile everyone to God and to each other….” First, there is taught the idea that Christ’s death is for every single individual- elect and reprobate alike. That is something entirely foreign to Scripture and Reformed confessions. Secondly, what is stated surely appears to teach a universal salvation. Though now there is the struggle to attain unity, still Christ has reconciled everyone to God and to each other. Finally, the description of “reconciliation” does not appear to involve the removal of original and actual sin committed against God. Rather, it is that which seeks “loving unity between all people.” Such presentation can not give assurance of salvation and glory, nor can it possibly be of comfort then to God’s people. 

But I began by insisting that error breeds error. First, there is denial of the clear teachings of Scripture on “women in office.” Then there is an ecumenism which can even include Jewish rabbis. Now there is a false presentation of the cross itself. Surely one can not tamper with Scripture with impunity.

The P.C.A. Invites the O.P.C.

The Presbyterian Church in America has now officially invited the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to join in organic union. A few years ago an attempt was made to do this, but it failed in a rather embarrassing manner. Then, the assemblies (our: synod) of both bodies agreed to this receive and join procedure. But the various presbyteries (our: classis) had to approve—in the PCA by a 3/4 majority and in the OPC by a 2/3 majority. The OPC presbyteries provided the necessary approval—only to learn that the PCA presbyteries did not approve the invitation by the necessary 3/4 majority. 

But now the invitation was re-issued. The final presbytery of the PCA took its vote—and it was the deciding vote in connection with the invitation. Exactly 3/4 of the presbyteries voted to issue the invitation. Now it remains to be seen what the OPC will do. Many in the latter denomination are strongly opposed to union. Still, the last time the majority indicated their approval. The Presbyterian Journal, April 4, 1984, reports that the “OPC is still eager to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a denomination in 1986. Even if it accepts the PCA invitation, it may wait a year or two to make that celebration possible.”

When to Support—and When to Oppose—Union Membership

Interesting, it is, to observe how that denominations long involved in certain social activism will advocate a cause—until they become personally involved. Some of the more liberal denominations of our land have pushed for organization of the workers. These churches have fought for the “right” of the worker to organize. But now some of their own employees are seeking to organize—and that does not meet with approval of the same denominations. Christianity Today, March 2, 1984, reports:

United Methodist and Roman Catholic leaders are being accused of following a double standard when it comes to workers’ rights. Both churches have stood behind the trade union movement in the past. But when some of their own employees have organized to bargain for improved wages and benefits, the churches have not always been supportive. 

The 9.5 million-member United Methodist Church has long stated its support for collective bargaining. In 1908, the Methodist Church-a forerunner of the United Methodist Church-issued a statement upholding the right of workers to organize. United Methodists supported California farm workers in 1976 and employees of the formerly antiunion J.P. Stevens Company in 1980.

But when denominational employees are involved, the support seems to falter. In 1982, employees of the church’s General Board of Global Ministries, with headquarters in New York City, voted 133 to 88 to join the United Auto Workers Union. However, their attempts to negotiate a contract with improved wages and benefits has been fruitless so far. 

They say they are among the lowest-paid denominational workers in the nation. Although a wage increase became effective this year, it was less than the employees wanted, and they lost many benefits they had previously enjoyed….

All this is somewhat of an indication of the sincerity of the “social gospel” as proclaimed in the churches today.