The committee which was responsible for preparing this anniversary volume of the Standard Bearerwanted an article from each of the departed writers which would, on the one hand, be fitting in some respect for an anniversary commemoration, but which would, on the other hand, somehow fit with the general topic of the rubric for which the writer was responsible.
I was on the committee at the time these plans were drawn up; and the idea seemed to me to be an excellent one; I wholeheartedly endorsed it. But now the time has come for me to write my “anniversary article”, and the hard realities of following the committee’s (and my) ideas have to be faced very concretely. (This is, perhaps, a good experience for everyone: to have to carry out, at least in part, the fine plans which committees prepare often far removed from the realities of execution. It tends to make one a bit more reserved on committee meetings. It is one thing to come up with all kinds of ideas of one sort or another. It is quite another thing to bring to realization what some committee has decided.)
One is tempted on an occasion such as this to make some sort of a survey of the ecclesiastical world which is “all around us”, and attempt some sort of analysis of current trends in ecclesiastical history. One could, if there were still space left, include a kind of a survey of world events from the viewpoint of an editor of an ecclesiastical paper. This would not be all that difficult to do. One could, for example, analyze the current status of the ecumenical movement. This might even be worthwhile, for, at least temporarily, the steam seems to have gone out of ecumenism. It hasn’t quite turned out to be the utopia in the ecclesiastical world that some dreamed it would be. One could go on and point out at length the disturbing fact that almost all the denominations in this country and abroad are beset by serious problems. One could put forth some effort to analyze these problems. And if one did, one would find that at the root of the problem lies a departure from the Scriptures. Forsaking the Scriptures, leaders in practically every denomination have begun the road that leads to a denial of the fundamental doctrines of the faith. Although this takes on many forms, the general direction seems to be a drift into social involvement. More and more, even in Reformed Churches, there is increased emphasis on the “social” implications of the “gospel”. Even in Reformed circles, increasing problems of a social nature attract the Church’s attention. There are serious theological implications in all this. But, in general along with an increasingly vehement denial of the faith those who teach such things seek the kingdom here upon earth.
There is a reaction. There are those who are troubled by all this. And so the times have produced many movements of “concerned” people. But the ecclesiastical posture which these concerned people take varies widely from one place to another. There are those who are content to remain in their denomination and seek a “polarization” or a “modalities church”. There are others who turn to various sectarian movements such as Pentecostalism to fill the void left by departures from the truth. Then again, secession is stirring up renewed interest, and the whole question of the right and method of secession is a burning issue. Some have followed the road of secession. But here, too, lies a danger. For there are many who base their secession on a lot of negative criticism of the parent denomination. On the basis of such negative criticism, they are content to move their secessionist group back to some historical point in time where the errors of liberalism have not yet sapped the lifeblood of the church. They forget that secession, if it is to be genuine church reformation, must be a positive commitment to and a positive development of the historic faith. The result is that oftentimes secession movements themselves are weak and hold little promise for the future.
If, on the other hand, one would turn to an analysis of world events, one can also find a great deal to write about. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus that it was urgent to redeem the times, for the days were evil. If this was true when the apostle wrote his letter, it is all the more true today. One could write about Watergate, about the current shortages in food and natural resources, about the pollution of the environment. One could turn to the evils of immorality and the legalizing of sin in gambling and abortion. No doubt one could spend considerable time with a great deal of profit speaking of the sharp increase in superstition in our scientific age. In fact, this reminds me of an interesting quotation I came across just today in Herman Bavinck’s book Bijbelsche en Religieuze Psychologie on this very subject. He writes:
If some people, in their lofty Scientific development, have driven religion out the front door, it enters again by the back door in the form of superstition and magic. Our times show this very clearly. Along side of and in the very circles of unbelief, superstition revives in the crassest of forms. Materialism and spiritualism often go hand in hand. There is not a single heathen superstition of practice of magic which is not at present resurrected in the very middle of Christian society.
And this was written in 1920.
But all of this is based upon a disregard for God’s Word and a rejection of all authority. God’s law is abandoned, and the inevitable result is that lawlessness prevails.
Yet an analysis of all that is happening about us is the task of this column from issue to issue. And while we could perhaps spend the time summarizing, it would not yet bring us to what is specifically an anniversary article.
There must be a recognition of the fact that ourStandard Bearer has been in existence for nearly fifty years.
As I was pondering this article today, I went back into the old issues of the Standard Bearer way back to volume XXV, twenty-five years ago, when this rubric first appeared (though under a different name) to see what had been written throughout the years. It was rather striking that the problems which we face today, though not in such exaggerated form, were much the same problems which appeared in the Church for the last two decades and a half. But what was even more striking was the fact that the Standard Bearer, in commenting on these things, has consistently taken the same position.
Our editor remarked a few issues ago that it was reason for great gratitude for him that our Churches, in the course of their history, had not changed as far as their confession of the truth is concerned. This is reflected in the past volumes of our paper, and particularly in the writings which have appeared in this column. There are some who charge us with being stagnant and grounded on deadcenter. There are those who are critical of this very fact. They insist that the times demand change. And they mean by this that the confession of the Church itself has to be changed in order to meet the pressing needs of today’s world. We are not convinced of this. There is, of course, a basic view of Scripture which is involved in such an assertion. That view, in brief, based upon a denial of Scripture’s infallible inspiration, is that the Scriptures contain no objective truth either in the area of faith or life. We repudiate this position. The epistle to the Hebrews (in chapter 13:8) speaks of the fact that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the same because He is God Who is eternally unchangeable. But it follows from this that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is also the same yesterday, today and forever. Happy is that Church which confesses that unchangeable truth.
There is profound reason for gratitude here. At the very heart of the truth which we confess is the doctrine of sovereign grace. Among many other things, this means that the Church which steadfastly maintains the truth over a period of five decades does so only because God preserves that truth in her. There is absolutely no other explanation for this. We, too, must say with the prophet Jeremiah: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
This may never be a mere matter of formal acknowledgment of a truth which we know so very, very well. Should it ever become that, it becomes a hypocrisy of the worst sort. The truth of it all must pervade us, so that it remains the profound confession of our heart and of our lips. Anything less than this will only mean that the days when the Standard Bearer occupies this position in the church world which it presently does are numbered.
This ought to call us to some serious self-examination. I do not refer only to those who are busy from week to week putting this Standard Bearer in the homes of its readers. They, too, are called to this. But this self-examination is required of all of us, for in a very real sense, our paper is possible only because of the steadfastness and faithfulness of its reading public. The Standard Bearer can be no stronger spiritually and doctrinally than those who support it and read it.
It is relatively easy to engage in an analysis and criticism of what is happening elsewhere. It is extremely difficult to be critical of one’s self. Nevertheless, often with shame, we shall all have to admit that the evils which are so prevalent in the world are evils which have affected us and had their influence in our lives. There is no sin which is foreign to us. I repeat: the Standard Beaver can never be any stronger than those who support and read it. An anniversary ought to be a time for renewed commitment and dedication to the cause of the propagation of the truth of the Scriptures. And it must begin with a renewed dedication to that truth in our own lives.
There is one more thing.
What is happening in the world has helped to prove that there are many throughout the world and in almost every denomination who deeply love the truth and who are eager to join with others of like faith. Often they are lonely, for their numbers are few. Often they are tempted to despair, for there seem to be so few who care. And it is true that the Church of Christ is a hut in a garden of cucumbers, a besieged city, a very small remnant.
If it has pleased God in His great grace to use theStandard Bearer to bring these faithful into contact with one another; if God in mercy will continue to use the Standard Bearer to give help and leadership and direction to many in different lands, we can only hope fervently and pray that God will continue to keep us faithful, so that this work may be continued.
We cannot tell what the future holds for us. In general we know that the Lord is coming — and quickly. All events seem increasingly to point to the nearness of the end. The gathering of the Church is one of these events.
Let us then be faithful in our calling.