All Around Us

Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

As our readers know, for the past several years this rubric of our Standard Bearer has been capably edited by the Rev. Gise Van Baren. His contributions were informative, well written, and often provocative. The undersigned will try to maintain the same high standards for “All Around Us” in future issues. Our intention is to keep our readers informed concerning what is happening in the church generally. We will concentrate our efforts especially on the churches which are nearest to us, those of the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. Critique, suggestions for improvement, news worthy items from you, the readers of The Standard Bearer, are welcome. Send them to the undersigned at the Seminary address.


Alcoholism

The Grand Rapids Press recently published an interesting article on this subject in its editorial section. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times. While its authors, two university professors, do not write from a Biblical perspective, they do maintain that classifying alcoholism as a disease is at least open to question. Here are some of their comments:

Today many, if not most, of those in the mental health professions are willing to call virtually any deviant or excessive behavior an “illness” or an “addiction”—including violent crime, gambling, jogging, sex, work, eating and, especially, drinking alcohol. This alleged disease of “alcoholism” is said to be epidemic, afflicting at least 10 million Americans and those close to them.

These behavioral “illnesses’ are seen as medical problems despite the lack of any evidence of pathological causes. This deludes the public, and it allows so-called ill people to avoid moral, and sometimes legal, responsibility for their behavior.

Often, the labeling of a person as an alcoholic or a drug abuser as one suffering from the sickness of drug abuse is a refuge from accountability. Celebrities often go from shame to lionization when they publicly explain (usually called “courageously admitting”) their professional and-or personal failings as the consequences, not of lost ability or irresponsibility, but of alcohol or drugs . . . . Is there any validity to the notion of alcoholism as a disease? The answer is complicated.

“Alcoholism” means different things to different people . . . . This confusion over definition leads to confusion and dispute over the causes and cures of alcoholism. The media report, frequently and uncritically, that there is a consensus among medical “experts” that inborn biochemical factors are the cause of alcoholism, or at least predispose alcoholics to their condition (an argument that, again, begs the question of what alcoholism is).

But Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant (who supports the disease metaphor), in his landmark study on alcoholism, argues that people are not psychologically disposed to become alcoholic, and says that a biochemical cause will likely never be found: “I think it would be as unlikely as finding one (biochemical cause) for basketball playing.”

Scripture does not forbid the moderate use of alcoholic beverages. Even Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana and this is termed the “beginning of miracles” (cf. John 2:1-11). Scripture also warns us in no uncertain terms against the sin of drunkenness. (Cf. Proverbs 23:21Romans 13:13I Corinthians 5:11.) Scripture also assures us that no drunkard will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (I Corinthians 6:10).

It cannot be denied that drinking to excess leads to physical and psychological dependence. Habitual drunkenness also results in the destruction of the body. While all this is true, drunkenness itself is not a disease, but a terrible sin. The cure, therefore, is the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Making Merchandise of the Church

Among the signs of the coming of Christ and of the end of the world is the fact that many false teachers and false Christs shall come and deceive many. Jesus said: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many . . . . And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many . . . . Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:4, 5, 11, 23, 24). Scripture warns us concerning false teachers: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (II Peter 2:1, 2). These false teachers are motivated by covetousness and “with feigned words make merchandise of you . . .” (II Peter 2:3). In other words the false teachers make money, often a great deal of it, off God’s people. They use the gospel and God’s people to make a fortune for themselves. The Banner in its August 26, 1985 issue reports on two well-known and rich evangelists:

“Electronic evangelist Jim Bakker, of the ‘Praise the Lord Club,’ is building a $56 million luxury hotel in South Carolina that will feature ‘world class’ accessories like a shopping mall, spa, and custom made furniture.

“The complex is necessary, says Bakker, because existing religious-retreat centers are ‘run-down, tacky, and falling apart . . . . We’re using better bait to win people to Jesus Christ’.”

“Oral Roberts, the 67 year-old evangelist whose ministry heals the sick and raises $60 million a year, is about to unveil another miracle in Tulsa, Okla., where he founded a university and a hospital. The next project is a seven-acre attraction, called a Healing Center, that will cost $15 million and will be able to accommodate up to 2 million visitors a year. Exhibits and special effects are being designed by Peter Wolf Concepts of Dallas, which has done work for Broadway shows and world fairs.

“Besides shops, restaurants, and a television studio, the park will offer a ‘Walk Through the Bible,’ where tourists will witness God’s creation of the world, the parting of the Red Sea, and Moses’ receiving of the Ten Commandments. The exhibits will attempt to create the illusion of real miracles. ‘Journey into Faith’ will depict the life and faith healing ministry of Oral Roberts.

“‘Providing people with fun is not our sole purpose,’ said a Roberts spokesperson. But Jeffrey Hadden, a sociology professor and author of Prime Time Preachers, calls the park a ‘last-ditch effort to try to save Oral’s shaky financial empire.’ (Grand Rapids Press)”

One cannot help wondering how long the Lord will tolerate such flagrant blasphemies. One thing is sure, in the light of Scripture, our Lord’s return cannot be too distant. Let us, when we see these things, not be deceived. Let us, rather, be sober and prayerfully watch for Jesus’ coming. Indeed, the end of all things is at hand.

Seceders or Schismatics?

An article under this title appears in The Banner(August 26, 1985). The writer, Dr. John H. Bratt, asks: “Yet, because of sin, a time sometimes comes when the ‘faithful remnant’ is forced to separate from the church. When does the breaking point come?’ ‘ Bratt’s answer is: “It comes when the parent body retrogresses to the point that it loses its claim to be the true church of Christ and demotes itself to the level of a false church. It happens when the church descends to that level of falsity which distorts or scuttles the biblical doctrine of salvation: vicarious atonement, redemption through the blood of Christ on the cross, and salvation by grace through faith.” After citing four examples from church history to support his contention (Calvin’s calling the Roman Catholic Church the false church because “it had allowed and provided for the intrusion of human merit into its concept of salvation,” the Afscheiding of 1834, theDoleantie Kerk under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper in 1886, and the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936 under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen) Bratt deals with what he calls “The Key Question. What about the pivotal doctrine of ‘salvation by grace alone’ (along with the related doctrines of the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, his physical resurrection, and his second coming—doctrines which Calvin calls non-negotiable)? Is that doctrine taught, upheld, and propagated? Are deviations from that doctrine strongly disciplined?

“If a church jeopardizes, waters down, compromises, or repudiates that doctrine, that church lapses into the category of being a false church. Unless that falsity is rectified, secession must follow in order to preserve the faith.”

We certainly agree with Dr. Bratt that schism is a terrible sin. Our Lord’s Supper form lists it among those sins which bar one from the table of the Lord. We and all Christians do and ought to deplore the sin of schism. We also agree that when a church denies the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ, it can no longer claim to be a manifestation of the true church of Christ. The faithful remnant must come out of such a church. This after all is the material principle of the 16th century reformation, the sola fide principle. Nevertheless, we have two questions the answers to which ought to be self-evident. 1) Is not Arminianism because “it allows and provides for the intrusion of human merit into its concept of salvation,” a legitimate ground for secession? Or are the Canons of Dordt meaningless? 2) When the formal principle of the 16th century reformation is denied, the sola scriptura principle, is not that a legitimate ground for secession?