One comes to expect anything nowadays from theologians and professors in Reformed seminaries and pulpits. The sad fact is that strange teachings hardly create a ripple anymore. An example of such appeared recently in an article in the Christian Reformed Banner of February 11, 1977. It was written by professor, emeritus, Henry Stob who has assisted in the teaching of a generation of preachers. And of all places, it appeared in a rubric entitled: “Test the Spirits.” His article was called: “Christianity and Other Religions.” Dr. Stob writes ably and presents some very good points. He arrives, however, at some very strange; un-Reformed, anti-scriptural conclusions. At the end of the article, he confronts the question of the “fate of those who die without knowing Jesus Christ and without making any profession of His name.” His question is: “Are all those who have not known the name of Jesus, and all those who have not acknowledged the Galilean as the world’s Redeemer, consigned to hell?”
The article points out that saints of the Old Testament were saved in Christ—even though they “had no conception or image of the historical Savior.” That statement itself is hardly accurate. It is true that they had no conception of the historical Savior as we presently do in light of the New Testament scriptures; yet they surely had a proper conception of the Savior in light of the Word of God spoken to them through prophets (cf. Is. 53 for instance), and given by means of the types and shadows (the temple, altar, etc.). The other parts of his answer, however, are far more disturbing. He speaks of children who die in infancy:
It is likewise universally acknowledged that the children of believing parents who die in infancy are without their knowledge, and without confession, and even without baptism, received into heaven. It is also held by such Calvinists as B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Robert Breckenridge, Robert Candlish, and others, (whose opinion I share) that all who die in infancy, whether born of believing parents or not, are children of God and enter at once into His glory.
This view is hardly consistent with Reformed thought (though Stob claims support from several staunch Calvinists). All infants, dying in infancy, shall be saved? One wonders what happens with the view of total depravity in this case, and the truth of original guilt of which all born in this earth possess. This view must presuppose a certain Pelagianism (that all those born on the earth are without sin—but only become sinners through their own actions), or it must suggest that the death of Christ removed all of original guilt from all men, or a combination of such views. The view of predestination is also ignored, as is the scriptural view of the covenant. God calls His people of believers and their spiritual seed. Surely these views are ignored in the proposition set forth by Stob.
But other questions arise. What of the infants who died in the flood, or in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Did all such infants go to heaven, too? According to the viewpoint of Stob, the answer must be that they did. One might almost then say, “What a wonderful thing that God sent this flood! Thus hundreds of thousands of infants were also brought to heaven—who otherwise might have been lost eternally in hell!” The flood, then, would have been the means not only to save righteous Noah and his family, but perhaps millions of infants as well!! Yet Scripture hardly speaks that way. We read, in Gen. 7:1, “And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.” There God identifies Noah as righteous—but also distinguishes him from all his generation in that respect. That can only be regarded as God’s judgment also of those infants who drowned in the flood.
And what does Scripture teach of Sodom and Gomorrah? When Abraham pleaded with God to preserve the city for the sake of the righteous, and God agreed even if as few as ten righteous were found there (Gen. 18:32), the cities were nevertheless destroyed. Counting the infants, as Stob would have to do, the number would surely have exceeded ten many times over. Did the infants who died in the destruction of those cities go to heaven? They did not—if God’s judgment of those cities was correct. And for myself I would far rather take God’s judgment than that of Stob—though admittedly, Stob’s judgment is more appealing to the flesh!
Besides, if Stob’s position were correct, one could wish and pray for many disasters, catastrophes, wars on this earth—so that many more infants of unbelievers might enter heaven. Though it might sound absurd, one could even rejoice in the actions of Hitler in killing many Jewish infants (with their parents) who now will be in heaven! The suggestion, of Stob certainly does not harmonize with Scripture.
But Stob points out something which, to me, is far more disturbing. Stob does say, “Missionary work isnecessary because the natural man is lost without Christ, no man being able to be saved by even the most diligent observance of the prescriptions of the ethnic faiths.” However, he, does not consistently maintain this. He includes a disturbing suggestion:
The fate of others who, not knowing the Christ in His historical concreteness, remained external adherents of pagan or heathen cults (as, e.g., Socrates): and the fate of those who, having heard of the Christ, made no public profession of His name and continued to bear some non Christian label (as, e.g., Ghandi)—the fate of these must be left in the hands of God; we are not here entitled to enter into judgment. We are only to remember that God is sovereignly free in His election and that the Spirit of God bloweth where He listeth.
The one thing we are authorized to declare with certainty is this: If anyone is saved, it is because of what God did in Jesus Christ, who by His birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and kingly session became the only Savior that lost sinners will ever have; who, in short, is and will ever remain the one and only mediator between God and man.
This is nothing short of astounding! Stob at least suggests the possibility of salvation of those who have never believed! And he comes with this suggestion on the basis that God can do anything (“sovereignly free in His election”) and that the Spirit works in ways other than we might expect (“Spirit bloweth where He listeth”). Though I hesitate to state it, one can only conclude that this is nothing short of blasphemy. It attributes to God the works which are of the devil Stob refers here not merely to “common grace” but to a “saving grace” which will lead these unbelievers nevertheless to heaven! That is a terrible doctrine! And a generation of preachers, presumably, was taught this under Stob!
It is true that Stob does not affirm the above to be undoubtedly the case. He presents a theory which he is ready neither to affirm nor deny. It remains merely a possibility in Stob’s mind that some unbelievers are also saved; But is not this ever the approach of the heretic? Does he not cleverly instill doubt in the minds of the child of God by way of question? Didn’t Arminius and his followers do this when they wrote the five articles of the Remonstrants—especially in connection with the truth of preservation of the saints? These did not deny the truth of preservation—but left it an open question. Did not even Satan himself do this in Paradise when he asked, “Yea did God say that ye might not eat of every tree of the garden?” By asking the question, one can not pin a heresy on another. Yet the heretic has the opportunity to instill his evil suggestion in the minds of others. Let Stob either affirm outrightly or deny the proposition. To come in the form of a question is devious and deceitful. Nor let him claim the omnipotence of God as the basis of the possibility he suggests. That is as preposterous as claiming that God, Who is omnipotent, can will to sin if He would. God can not, do what is contrary to His nature and Word.
But can not Stob know for sure? If he believes the infallible Scriptures, he can. Remember the cry of the Philippian jailor, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And what did Paul answer? “Don’t worry! The Holy Spirit bloweth where He listeth! A good man as yourself can easily, perhaps, be saved just the way you are!” But what saith the Scripture? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house.” There is no other way. Or, in Romans 10:9, 13-15, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved . . . . For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Or did not Jesus say to Nicodemus, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”? (John 13:18). And are there not many other similar passages?
No, Stob; Socrates and Ghandi are not irrheaven.
How long can this sort of thing be taught or implied unopposed—and still a church retain its name “Reformed”?
From Christianity Today, Mar. 4, 1977, (and many other magazines) comes the report that the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern Presbyterian) has officially rejected its proposed new confession. This is particularly surprising since many of the “conservatives” of that denomination left to form the Presbyterian Church in America. To approve such a document, three-fourths of the districts (similar to our classis) must approve. To date, more than a fourth have rejected it. Many of the votes were extremely close. Those seeking as new confession, however, will not cease their efforts. The attempt to gain approval in the future will have a two-pronged approach. There will be a continuing attempt to change the constitutional demand that three fourths approval of change is required (perhaps lowering the requirement to two-thirds approval). And there will be a resubmission of this constitution or confession, perhaps with certain changes to gain additional votes, in the future.
The rejection of this new confession throws doubt upon the success of the proposed union between the southern and northern Presbyterian churches. The United Presbyterian Church (in the north) had adopted a new confession about ten years ago.