At the after-dinner program of the banquet which marked the closing of the second convention, the host committee had arranged an interesting debate on the topic, “Should doctrinal differences be minimized?” The affirmative position was maintained by two young men of Fuller Ave. Young Men’s Society, John Piersma and Walter Hof man. The negative was represented by two young ladies from Talitha Society, Alice Reitsma and Eileen Slopsema. No judges were needed because the Messr. Piersma and Hofman capitulated to the negation in their closing speeches. In order that the views expressed might have a wider circulation, the debaters have consented to the publication of their speeches. They are as follows:
RESOLVED: That Doctrinal Differences Dividing Denominations Should Be Minimized.
AFFIRMATIVE—1st Constructive Speech
Strictly speaking, this is not a debate. It might better be called a series of pro and con speeches on the stated topic.
We of the affirmative can already feel the prick of the thorns and briars of the “scourge” in our backs and hear the epithets of “despicable curs and miserable creatures” ringing in our ears.
To allay a misunderstanding, we feel that a few words of explanation are in order. Because of the nature of the subject, it becomes necessary for us to affirm several things which, are not necessarily our heart-felt convictions. We hope to show rather by our speeches the complete absurdity of the supposition of the resolution. We ask you to bear this in mind as we proceed.
As is customary for the first affirmative speaker, it is my task to define the terms of the subject. By “minimized” we understand the “process of reducing to the smallest possible part.” “Denomination,” which is derived from the Latin “Nomen,” meaning “to name,” and with the prefix “de” means “that which is named.” In our subject, therefore, “a group named alike.” Denomination is not strictly an ecclesiastical term. It is used in connection with several things, as for example money, bills being of one denomination, etc. In ecclesiastical circles, however, there are several denominations—unnecessarily so, as will be pointed out. Bringing to mind a few, there are the Protestant Reformed, Christian Reformed, Reformed, Episcopalian, etc.
“Doctrine,” also derived from a Latin word “docere” means “to teach.” or that “which is taught.” Doctrine, therefore is the teaching of a particular group. A mere definition of this term does not designate its real meaning. What it really implies in relation to our subject will be brought out a little later.
I will point out that doctrines should be minimized because it is not the essential thing, nor is it understood as such.
My colleague will show the way in which peaceful harmony can reign in a united Church.
There are a few observations I would like to make concerning the subject. First, it admits of differences—nor would anyone deny this. All that is necessary is to look around and see the several names of the several Churches, revealing the great disagreement among church-goers.
Secondly, it implies that these differences are of an essential nature for they divide denominations. But, is this really a fact? By investigation we find that these differences are really non-essential. The example which lies closest to our hearts is the split between the Protestant Ref. and Christian Ref. Churches. A separation not of essential differences, but merely a difference of teachings. We, and they, still have the same Creeds, the same standards. We still both strive for the same goal. The difference is only one of opinion.
The same is true of the differences between the Reformed and the Christian Reformed Churches. Neither was this split of an essential nature. Its cause was a difference of opinion among the various leaders over such questions as “admission of lodge members,” the “insurance question,” and other minor matters.
So we could go on comparing Baptists and the Reformed, or the Methodists and Episcopalians, and we would have to conclude each time that the differences were really not of an essential nature.
Thirdly, besides essential differences, there are also non-essential differences, which may still exist within a particular Church. Nor can anyone deny this. I am quite tempted to say that no two people see “eye to eye” on all of the various minute details involved in Church teachings. No, not even in our own denomination, which pounds away at doctrine so fervently.
This is all we ask, that differences among individuals be acknowledged and tolerated.
Everyone knows and feels that it is much more preferable to live as congregations in a spirit of love and fellowship, rather than to be continually bickering and quibbling about non-essentials.
Doctrine is harped upon often at the expense of true Christianity.
Many believe that because they belong to a certain denomination professing a logical system of thought, that they will be saved. No matter how they may treat their neighbor, they go to “the” Church and possess all that is necessary.
That is what doctrine does. It constricts us in body and mind so that we lose sight of the important truth that Christ died and will save all His own, and not only those in a special group. All the elect are not present here tonight. All those that will inherit the Kingdom of God do not go to the Protestant Church. Who dare deny that some from every nation and creed will see God and reign with Him?
What difference does it make then whether we all agree as to what is taught in its entirety. All profess the same God and receive the same reward of life everlasting where love shall reign. That, too, should be our aim in this life, forgetting petty differences and having no Creed but Christ and Him crucified.
Think, too, of the ugly picture the Church must present before the world when engaged in one of her periodic quarrels. We, who should be an example before men, arguing and quarrelling not as Christians living in love, but as men and women of the world who are self-centered and self-righteous.
Neither is this the way we are taught to do. Christ’s teaching was not so. His was informal and constructive, deriving its great power from His works.
The Scribes and Pharisees on the other hand were steeped in doctrine. Theirs was a formal compact body of knowledge strictly adhered to and handed down from one generation to another. Of them we are warned—“beware of doctrines of the Pharisees.” But what is the testimony of Christ? “He taught as one having authority and not as the Scribes.”
What then was the essential teaching of Jesus? In its development by the apostles it has three main characteristics:
(1) That Jesus was Christ.
(2) That He was risen from the dead.
(3) That salvation was by faith in His name.
It is further developed by Paul in his Epistles. There are several references in his Epistles to sound doctrine, which implies that a body of teaching had emerged which should serve as a standard of Orthodoxy. The content of this is nowhere implicitly stated, but it is a very probable inference that these references are to the Roman formula, which later became known as the “Apostles Creed.” Upon this Creed rests the Church. It must become the great common denominator, which will unit all of the factions into a Universal Church of God.
All who profess this Creed have said enough.
“I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of Heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ his Only Begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
He suffered and died under Pontius Pilate.
Was crucified, dead and buried.
He descended into Hell.
The third day he arose again from the dead,
He ascended into Heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father,
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost.
I believe an Hoy Catholic Church,
The communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, The resurrection of the body, and Life everlasting.”
NEGATIVE—1st Constructive Speech
The proposition has already been stated. We of the negation maintain that doctrinal differences dividing denominations should not be minimized, but on the contrary, that they should be emphasized. Doctrine is the very backbone of the Church; therefore to minimize that doctrine would rob her of her very right to exist.
Doctrine, we understand from our opponents, means teachings—teachings of the Word of God, teachings of the true Church with respect to that Word. You will agree that God entrusted His Word to His Church that she might preserve it, propagate and proclaim it, maintain it, and defend it. Now when the Church so maintains and defends it and also when she so rejects the errors of those that preach contrary notions thereto, that Church expresses her doctrine. Therefore inasmuch as the Word must be proclaimed and defended, we must have doctrine, and inasmuch as these will always be those that oppose that true doctrine, we must have doctrinal differences.
Since doctrine is then the ground on which the true Church is built and since doctrinal differences are therefore inevitable, I shall attempt to prove that to minimize that doctrine would in the first place be a very definite step in the wrong direction, a very definite aid to the false church. My colleague later will point out that to minimize doctrinal differences would cause the Church to hide the truth.
According to Article 29 of our Belgic Confession, one of the marks by which the true Church is known is the preaching of the pure doctrine of the Gospel. I repeat, the pure doctrine of the Gospel. It is only that pure doctrine with which we are concerned tonight; we are not considering those doctrinal differences which might separate two or more false churches. Now it must follow that if the preaching of the pure doctrine of the Gospel must characterize the true Church, all churches who do not bear that distinguishing ear-mark must in that same measure be classified as the false church.
What is wrong with so many of our modern churches today? Why is it that sound, well-founded, shall we say “well-doctrinized” Christians cannot enjoy or gain spiritual benefit from many sermons preached from their pulpits? Why is it that from many of them you would hear little more than an inspirational address, a pep-talk or a sermonette? Why? Because their doctrinal differences that once existed have long since been so minimized that they no longer have doctrinal standards; they have no doctrinal differences and therefore no basis of unity. They now concern themselves with present-day economic conditions and perhaps can give you a fairly good remedy for them or can tell you what’s wrong with Hitler or who shall win the war. The ear-mark of the true Church, the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, is obsolete and old-fashioned. To be sure their inspirational address will be based on a Scripture text, but for illustration and authority, they will hand you just a bit of Shakespeare or the theories of some supposedly great scientist.
The calling of the true Church according to 2 Tim. 4:2 is “Preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” Now we are asking our opponents to reconcile, if they can, that text, that sacred calling, with their idea of minimizing doctrinal differences. Is it possible, do they think, to preach the Word and at the same time to minimize it? We have proved that to minimize doctrine would inevitably mean minimizing the Bible,—God’s Word can never be separated from doctrine. Or perhaps can they reprove, rebuke and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine” and at the same time minimize that very doctrine? We maintain it is impossible!
Allow me to show by way of frustration how a policy of minimizing doctrinal differences with respect to church membership would lead to a false church. Picture with me a church, probably a small one, one that has heretofore consistently borne the ear-marks of the true Church. Fifty percent of this congregation is made up of parents and smaller children while the other fifty percent consists of young people, “eligibles” we’ll call them, all about to be married to young people from other churches between whom there do exist very definite doctrinal differences. I’ll stop right here to admit that this illustration is preposterous and farfetched to be sure, but what is impossible at a point of time may easily become the result of a gradual development over a period of several centuries.
It so happens that all of these prospective husbands and wives have been persuaded to become members of this church not because they acknowledge that the doctrine taught there is the true and most perfect doctrine of salvation but because the doctrinal differences were not so essential after all and “at all cost they must have peace in the family.” The church officials having had visions of the results of a fifty percent membership increase, now decide to accept our opponents’ policy of minimizing doctrinal differences and accept the new members on that basis. As a result you have a picture something like this. One third of the congregation remains as before; another third is made up of the new members who disregard what they consider “non-essentials,” and the other third consists of those who have compromised with the previously mentioned third. Those who have a real concern for the mark of the true Church are now in the minority—a sad picture indeed!
I repeat, this is a fantastic and impossible illustration but not too fantastic to develop over a period of three or four generations. Look about you—it has happened in history!
We believe that our opponents’ strongest argument is that of the desirability of unity in the Church. We certainly agree that the Church as the Body of Christ is one and that it ought to be made manifest in the world as such. However we want unity in the true Church—never a unity between the true and false Church! Unity, but not compromise!
Rev. Hoeksema in his book on the history of our own church said, “Far more precious than any external unity is the truth, and while the former must often be sacrificed on the altar of the latter, never may truth be sacrificed for the cause of an external oneness of the Church as an organization in the world”.
Shall we then as our opponents suggest, minimize those doctrinal differences that are dear to us, minimize that pure doctrine of the gospel that marks us as the true Church? On the contrary, we of the negation maintain that we should not only not minimize it, not only emphasize it, but that we should study it, talk about it, and make it our own. We as young people should find where we stand, then stand there, and as Paul says, stand fast!
(The first affirmative speaker filled in for Gertrude Yonker who submitted to an operation just a week previous.)
AFFIRMATIVE—2nd Constructive Speech
The negative so far in this debate has assumed a good deal and has accused no little without a semblance of support. For example, the speaker that has just left the floor has stated that we must agree that “doctrine” is the backbone of the church. And allow me to assure you that we certainly do agree that doctrine is an essential thing in the Church. We must agree with that statement, and you must agree to it, no matter where you stand in relation to this question. Every movement, whether religious, or political, or social, or whatever it may be, must have, and necessarily does have certain teachings, or ideas that are fundamental to it, and without which that movement by the very nature of the case would drop out of existence. If the orthodox Christian denominations would eliminate the doctrines of the substitutionary atonement, or justification by grace, or any other similar tenet, it is very evident that the very idea of Christianity would have to be eliminated.
Nor do we have any desire to squelch all dissention, and hide under certain phases of the Christian faith in order to preserve peace. Discussion is a good thing. However, we wish to eliminate all quibbling, and bickering—in short, we wish to grant to every person agreeing to the doctrine set forth in the Apostles’ Creed a right to his or her opinion in regards to the details of these doctrines. Let us be tolerant, and not attempt to force our conceptions on someone else!
For after all, none of us would dare to admit that we agree perfectly in every little thing with any one other person, whoever that person may be. They tell me that even husbands and wives do not always see eye to eye on everything, and, although I really know very little about this from personal experience, I suppose, that if in that intimate relation agreement is not entirely possible, among men not so closely bound together agreement is still less possible. And this fact is not difficult to understand, is it? For after all, all of us are very really different. We are all individuals, having our own personal traits, natures, characteristics, etc. None of us can view the same thing and see, I mean “see” in the broader sense of the word, the same thing. Strange as perhaps this may sound to you, it nevertheless is true. Therefore, the negative postulates here that those doctrinal “differences” dividing denominations should be minimized.
And, if we analyze the subject material furnishing cause for disagreement among Christians we can readily see that agreement is hardly possible. Examine with me for a moment such tremendous concepts as Immortality, Creation, the Incarnation, and, even the concept of God, Himself! Who will dare to claim the last word in respect to these and all of the other things discussed in the Scriptures? To ask the question is to answer it. None of us will presume to believe that he or she has exhausted the potential wealth of thought that any one of these subjects contains. We agree to them, that much is sure. And nevertheless, although we agree to them, we must admit that there must be much about any one of these fundamental doctrines that we do not understand. Therefore, the affirmative draws the conclusion here that any attitude that seeks to exclude dissention in regards to the details of these doctrines is not practicable, nor the right attitude to assume.
This becomes still more apparent when we take a glance at the average member in the pews. What about Mr. John Q. Churchmember—is or is he not able to come to a real logical conclusion in regards to these machinations of the theologian. That is what most of these doctrines are, I mean those dividing denominations, aren’t they? They spring, of course, from the minds of those most able and most active in these matters, the ministers and professors in the seminaries, whose daily round of activity brings them into contact with the doctrines of the church constantly. You and I, the average “layman,” do not manufacture hypotheses and conclusions in regards to what should be believed and practiced in the church, do we? Of course not. We seem to have all we can do to assimilate that which is given us from the pulpit, in catechism, in the Society and in the Sunday School, and through any other means employed by the church. And, isn’t it true that amazing discoveries are frequently made when we seek to discover that which is actually understood by the average man. In spite of all the efforts of the above-mentioned agencies, very little seem to sink into the understanding. Consequently, when theologians begin to argue and to disagree on a certain matter, most often a good deal of the argument goes over our heads. We spend our time, for the most part in secular work, in activity that excludes from our attention the things of the spirit. Especially now, in our day and age, when competition is keen in all lines of endeavor, and we are required to exert the best that is in us to keep our jobs, do we find it difficult to hold fast to that which we have. Besides, we have not been trained to think into the more difficult aspects of these doctrines. All of this, and more, forces us to conclude that it certainly is useless to expect the laity to be vitally concerned with the argumentation of theologians.
Finally, we wish to recommend the following plan to you in regards to this situation. Do not think that we desire to minimize the problem as such. Rather, we wish to maximize its importance as a destructive power among orthodox Christians. It is sad that certain groups are denied the possibility of fellowship with us because they feel that they must disagree in regards to our conceptions of various aspects of our common faith. Let us therefore advocate that the church seek to confine itself to certain prescribed fundamentals; and that these fundamentals be prerequisite to membership. And also, that upon these fundamentals entire agreement is not essential, although desired, of course, but, that everyone is entitled to his or her own interpretation of the more remote details of these doctrines. Then, if the fear of being branded as a heretic is removed from the scene of argument and discussion, men will feel encouraged to meditate and to think for themselves upon the doctrines of the church.
NEGATIVE—2nd Constructive Speech
All that our opponents have done so far in this debate is to try and find a road that runs between the narrow road of the truth and the broad road of the world. But they can’t find any because there isn’t any there. There is no road that runs parallel to these two roads; but there is a road, a cross road, that branches off from the narrow road of emphasizing the truth and run directly into the broad road of discarding the truth and that is the road of minimizing the truth. And by the end of this debate, you will see clearly that that is the road which our opponents must take.
Our opponents stated that we should not always be harping on and wrangling and quibbling over doctrinal differences; that we should not have hair-splitting and quarrels, because after all, we are all striving to go to the same place. That is not the point, however. We are called to live our lives as closely to God as possible and God is Truth, therefore, we must have truth at all costs. That this causes friction, we are willing to concede, but we must not be afraid to offend with the truth. Christ Himself says, “Think not that I came to send peace, but a sword.”
Our opponents went on to point out that the average layman does not understand these underlying doctrines anyway. However, if the people in the church are too ignorant to understand and appreciate the basic principles, things surely are not as they should be. This certainly cannot be used as a reason for minimizing these principles. On the contrary, instead of minimizing the doctrines to suit those ignorant people, those ignorant people had better do what Paul tells Timothy to do, that is, study so that he may be approved of God and able to rightly tell what is truth and what is not truth.
And that brings us to our second point, namely, that if doctrinal differences are minimized the truth will remain hid. It stands to reason, the church must have the truth to begin with. And since we believe that our church has that truth, we wish to use our denomination -as an example.
If we as Protestant Reformed Churches, were to minimize our doctrinal differences with other denominations, we would, in the first place, have to discontinue the publication of these pamphlets on “The Millennium,” “Sin and Grace,” “Baptism,” etc., for, after all, if we wish to minimize our doctrinal differences with other denominations we surely do not want these pamphlets floating around, for they express what we uphold as the pure preaching of the Word of God—our Doctrine. In the second place, we would certainly have to call home our missionary. For, if we wish to minimize our doctrinal differences with other denominations, what in the world would our missionary be doing out in that field, working amongst the other denominations, telling them what we uphold to be the pure preaching of the Word of God—our Doctrine. And in the third place, I am very much afraid we would have to cut out our Standard Bearer completely, for that is the Bearer of our Standards—our doctrines, and if we are going to minimize our doctrinal differences with other denominations, we surely would not want to publish a magazine filled with what we uphold to be the pure preaching of the Word of God—our Doctrine.
So you see, if in our own denomination, we were to minimize our doctrinal differences with other denominations, we would have to discontinue all our efforts to reveal the truth. And that certainly .is not what the Bible teaches us to do. The Bible tells us let our light shine, to gird our loins with the truth and in Titus 2:7 we read, “In all things showing thyself an example of good works; in doctrine, uncorruptness.”
What is true of the denomination as a whole, is also true of the individuals of the denomination.
Our opponents have implied that for the sake of peace and friendship, it is much better that friends do not talk about their doctrinal differences because all it does is create hard feelings and everyone goes home hot under the collar. Well, sometimes it does take a little heat to produce the necessary effect, but at least if you are a hot-head about your doctrine, you won’t be accused of having cold feet. And, after all, what does a friendship amount to, if friends cannot talk about and agree on the thing which should.be dearest to the heart of a Christian, that is the truth.
Let us see what happens when friends do not discuss their doctrinal differences. I read a book a short time ago all about the Negroes. You know, when one darky starts singing a song, then all the other darkies start chanting the same tune. Now, if you, and your friends of other denominations talk about the Bible and religion in general, but when it comes to your doctrinal differences, you think you had better let that slide, so you sort of beat around the bush and talk over it and around it, well, then, all you are really doing is just chanting the same tune. And, of course, there is always the method of keeping still completely. But, when you go fishing, is there anything that irritates you more than when the fish keeps its mouth shut? Well, that is the fish’s method of staying out of trouble. And it is also the method used by a great number of Christians.
And, now, if you do not care to join in and chant the same tune, or use the fish’s method of keeping your mouth shut to stay out of trouble, you will become conscious of a strong bond of fellowship between yourself and your friends with whom you agree doctrinally.
So you see what is true of the denomination as a whole, is also true of the individuals of the denomination. Now, then, our opponents must either, on the one hand, maintain that doctrinal differences should be minimized, and then also admit that the church will then have the existence of a jelly fish because it will be robbed of its doctrinal backbone, that it will no longer bear the mark of the true church, and that it will have to be satisfied to bury its principles for which it stands; or on the other hand, they must agree with us that doctrine is the very backbone of the church, that the only way to maintain the true church is to maintain the principles for which it is in existence, that the only way to let our light shine out clearly is to reveal the truth; and that the only way these things can be done is by emphasizing doctrinal differences between denominations.