Discerning Comments

In the Banner, April 29, 1985, a discerning letter is presented in “Voices” which makes several pointed comments about the relationship of “common grace” with the present direction taken by the Christian Reformed Church. One would hope that many have taken note of it:

In 1924 Classis Grand Rapids East deposed Rev. Herman Hoeksema because he was found guilty of publicly attacking the three points of common grace. The CRC has never retreated from this doctrine of common grace, which was supported by liberals and conservatives. 

Yet two years before the Hoeksema case liberals and conservatives were at war over the Janssen case. Synod 1922 condemned Dr. Ralph Janssen’s views and relieved him of his professorship at Calvin Seminary. His views were those of a higher critic, and were based on his belief in common grace. 

If common grace allows one to maintain that natural man manifests good in the world of arts and sciences, then one is allowed a view of Scripture using “lower” and “higher” criticism. 

Perhaps the conservatives’ belief in the doctrine of common grace precludes unity with the Protestant Reformed. Yet their failure to be consistent in the development of the doctrine of common grace denies them kinship with those who are developing it. It is this inconsistency which precludes unity within our own ecclesiastical walls.

An interesting comment indeed! For many years the P.R.C. have been accused of relating the developments toward greater liberalism in the CRC to their adoption of the three points of common grace. And repeatedly the conservatives in the CRC have insisted that this liberalism was a result of distorting the idea of common grace—or that there was no relationship at all. Yet here is a writer who asserts what has long been denied in the CRC. 

The relationship between the common grace theory with the Janssen case and present-day “Report 44” and other developments within the CRC could well have a careful study. In fact, would it not be worthwhile if these “conservatives” mentioned by the letter-writer were interested in an indepth study of common grace with the PRC who were cast out of the CRC because of their denial of this Synodically-adopted doctrine? Perhaps these conservatives could show how that proper development of the “common grace” theory excludes and precludes “higher criticism” and liberalism—or the PRC might show how that the letter-writer is so very correct indeed!

“Faithful in Love”?

The R.E.S. News Exchange, April 9, 1985, presents the following comments on a Dutch study guide, “Faithful in Love,”

Writing in De Wachter, bi-weekly Dutch language magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, in North America, editor Dr. Sierd Woudstra castigates the study guide “Faithful in Love” as being unfaithful to Scripture. Issued in 1983 on behalf of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), the small booklet (48 pages) is intended to promote discussion about biblical norms for personal relationships, both inside and outside marriage. 

Woudstra’s major objection to the guide is its failure to acknowledge that Scripture sees marriage as a unique institution, quite unlike any other relationship. According to Woudstra, the booklet rightly states that the biblical directives are colored by the times and situation in which they were given. For that reason, for example, Reformed churches in general have taken a less absolutistic view of divorce than would be dictated by a strictly literal application of the words of Jesus. 

But the writers of the booklet, opting for what they call a “covenantal” approach, go far beyond that. Not only do they refuse to reject so-called homosexual and lesbian marriages, they also contend that such relationships can have the same ethical value as a marriage between man and woman. Expressing his great disillusionment with the booklet, Woudstra faults the writers here for lacking all sense of direction.

This is one further indication of the rapid drift towards apostasy. It is also in line with other “liberal” views concerning divorce and remarriage, women in office, etc. which likewise rest on a “less absolutistic view . . . than would be dictated by a strictly literal application of the words of Jesus.” Denial of “literal application” as well as a literal interpretation of Scripture can only lead to these deviant views introduced wholesale into the church.

Movie Attendance

Some time ago, Calvinist Contact, August 24, 1984, contained comments by Henry Knoop concerning movie attendance which are worth consideration. Though the writer seems to approve of certain selected movies, he has some pointed criticism about the whole matter:

Movie attendance has been a subject of controversy among Christians for over fifty years. In the Christian Reformed Church, for example, the Synod of 1926 accepted a motion that movie attendance was a “worldly amusement” and appointed a committee to study the nature of worldly amusements and give advice concerning the disciplining of church members who engage in worldly amusements. 

The committee reported two years later and declared that, through Common Grace, worthwhile movies could be produced by unbelievers, but it was the task of the believer to responsibly exercise his Christian liberty. The implication was clear—movie attendance was a form of worldliness that the Christian must avoid. 

In response to a classical overture, the Synod of 1949 appointed a study committee to clarify the stand on worldly amusements taken in 1928, but not to change it. Two years later, however, this committee responded with two reports: one emphasizing that people who engage in “worldly amusements” should be disciplined, the other emphasizing that not every instance of movie attendance is wrong for a Christian. The Synod of 1951 listened to both sides and adopted a compromise. For the most part it followed what the latter report stated, but at the same time added that it did not condone movie attendance. 

As a result of another classical overture and study committee appointed in 1964, the Synod of 1966 adopted a number of principles concerning worldly amusements. Among them:

—The Christian must lead a life of spiritual separation from the world even while enjoying those things (such as movies) which are neither commanded nor forbidden by the Bible.

—In going to movies the Christian shall be guided by an enlightened conscience, in prayerful submission to the Word of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

—Christians should voluntarily restrain the exercise of their Christian liberty to go to the movies by their concern for their own spiritual welfare as well as a loving concern for the spiritual welfare of others.

—Because the movie is a “cultural thing” like a magazine or newspaper that can be used for good or evil, it must be judged in the light of Christian standards of excellence.

—The Christian should reject and condemn the message of those movies which sanction sin and subvert the Christian view of life. 

—Christians should become sensitive to what is good and evil in movies. Christians must engage in the constructive critique of movies and learn how to evaluate them from a Christian point of view. 

These principles are still the official guide of the church . . . . 

A number of thoughts come to mind as a result of this quick survey. Note, first of all, the gradual shift in emphasis from “worldly amusement” to “a cultural thing,” a term much more favorable for movie goers today. Yet, I wonder how many movies being produced today actually contribute to the development of our culture in a significant way. It seems that the vast majority of popular movies today are merely “amusements,” and worldly at that. It is getting increasingly more difficult to find a good one. 

Secondly, when I look over the list of principles guiding movie attendance, I wonder how many people actually consider the matter so seriously anymore? How many people prayerfully submit to the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it comes to movie attendance? 

. . . Finally, for almost twenty years we’ve been challenged to constructively critique movies and evaluate them from a Christian point of view. Have we succeeded? Do most Christians have a well-defined critical framework which they can take with them to movies? I wonder . . . .

One can appreciate the comments made above. One senses too an agonizing appraisal of the past decisions of the CRC on movie attendance—and their consequences in the life of the church. 

We also can learn from all of the above. Reports of young people from our churches attending movies are heard. Television, presenting essentially the same movies, is watched in some of our homes. Do we well understand that the CRC gave limited approval to see some movies—on the basis of common grace (a doctrine which we deny)? Are we ever consistent in our walk? The antithetical walk must be clearly evident—for such is the fruit of the Spirit.