(Transcript of an address delivered at the annual meeting of the R.F.P.A., Sept. 22, 1983)
The Standard Bearer, besides being a defender of the truth, has always been a controversial paper. This is not strange, especially when we consider that it was born out of controversy. Although the Synod of 1924, which adopted the Three Points of Common Grace, had decided that this entire matter needed further study by the churches. The leaders, nevertheless, barred Rev. Herman Hoeksema and Rev. Henry Danhof from writing on this subject in the church papers, the Banner and the Wachter. Ironic as it may seem, the very persons who had studied the subject of common grace most thoroughly were prevented from proving their views from the Scriptures before the members of the Christian Reformed Church. It was exactly for that reason that the Reformed Free Publishing Association was formed and the Standard Bearer made its appearance.
Ever since that, from the very nature of the case, theStandard Bearer has been a controversial paper. This is even implied in the name that it bears. A standard-bearer is “one who carries the standard of a military unit.” This standard, or banner, distinguishes that particular unit from the others, also from the enemy. For us this has meant opposing the heresies and errors that appear round about us, as well as defending the truth that God has entrusted to us.
For this the Standard Bearer has often been severely criticized. We have been accused of thinking that we had a monopoly on the truth, or that we considered ourselves the only true church in the world. Even from our own circle objections have been raised that the paper is too doctrinal and fails to discuss the problems of our times.
The question arises whether we are wrong in maintaining a controversial, doctrinal periodical. Sound doctrine is at a premium, so that many in the churches are no longer interested in solid foods; many cannot understand a discussion of the Reformed truth and the five points of Calvinism. One sometimes wonders how many of our own people, especially our young people, actually read the Standard Bearer. Entertainments, sports occupy the attention of many, so that no time is left for serious study or a diligent searching of the Scriptures. Does this mean that we should give up our efforts? Should we give up our distinctiveness, surrender ourselves to the compromising spirit of our times? That would certainly be contrary to our calling as Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as contrary to our calling as the church of Jesus Christ in the midst of this present evil world.
Therefore I wish to speak to you from the Book of Jude, the last part of verse 3, where we read: “It is needful for me to write you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the fathers.”
I. The Faith.
It may be well to mention that Jude, who wrote this epistle, was likely a brother of Jesus. He simply refers to himself, not as an apostle, but as a brother of James. This James must have been well known to the churches and was likely an elder in Jerusalem. Jude’s letter is in many ways very similar to parts of the Second Epistle of Peter, so similar that some statements are almost alike. The reason for this seems to be that, while Peter warned the churches of evils that would arise in the churches, Jude points out that these evils were already evident. Therefore he found it needful to warn the churches and to spur them on to contend for the faith once delivered to the fathers. If ever such a warning and admonition is timely, it certainly is in our day.
The faith that is meant here, for which we must contend is not the subjective faith as believing, but the objective truth of the Scriptures. We often speak of faith in that way. We speak of the Christian faith, or the Protestant faith, or of the faith of our fathers that still lives on. It is the truth of the Scriptures, the revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the truth as it lives in the hearts of the true believers, as these have maintained and defended it, even at the cost of their lives, throughout the ages.
In Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism the question is asked: “What is necessary for the Christian to believe?” That refers, of course, to the content of our faith. The answer is given: “All that God has promised to us in His Word, and is summed up in our Apostolic Creed.” Well may we stress a moment: All that God has promised in His Word. That emphasis on the promise is important. God’s Word is His promise, and that promise comes to the heirs of salvation in Christ. That is what makes that Word very distinctive. It is not a general message, a source of information for all mankind. From Genesis to Revelation it is directed to God’s people, proclaiming to them the sure, indubitable promise of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Although this promise is proclaimed to all who hear it, to all to whom God directs the gospel, it is always a general proclamation of the particular promise. Only he who receives ears to hear can hear what the Spirit proclaims to the churches. It is the believer in Christ who by grace hears the Word, embraces it, cherishes it, and clings to it as the most precious truth, the revelation of the God of our salvation addressed to His people. It is this faith that lives in the hearts of the believers.
It is the faith that was once delivered unto the saints. Jude had in mind particularly the Old Testament in which the promise was revealed. We have along with those Scriptures also the New Testament in which the promises are realized. For us the faith delivered unto the saints includes the entire Scriptures. It is the truth that lived in the hearts of those who were sanctified in Christ, saints in Him. It is the truth as it has been preserved in our Confessions. So many in our day speak disparagingly of the Confessions. They consider them outdated, fit only for the people of that time, but no good any more for our age of flux and change. Yet these Confessions are the expression of the truth of Scripture as it lives in the hearts of God’s saints throughout the ages. They are timeless, even as Scripture is timeless.
On the basis of these Confessions our churches are privileged to maintain specifically three aspects of the truth over against the errors of our day. I have in mind the truth of God’s sovereign grace, the truth of the antithesis, and, last, but certainly not least, the truth of God’s covenant as the relationship of friendship between God and His people in Christ.
II. Contending for the Faith.
Contending is no popular concept in our present-day church world. There is an almost universal clamor for peace at any cost. The entire trend is toward ecumenicity. Various denominations seek to unite, regardless of doctrinal differences. One tends to ask, Why not, since there is very little defense of the truth among them anyway? Even the Lutherans are putting forth efforts to take away the breach that has separated them from the Roman Catholics ever since Luther’s strong stand against the Catholics in the days of the Reformation. We can plainly see the false church preparing to unite with the beast of Revelation 13. All this is done under the excuse that Christ pleads in the sacerdotal prayer that they may all be one.
Considering also the growing laxity and spiritual complacency, along with the growing ignorance concerning the truth of God’s Word we can see that Gods people perish because of lack of knowledge. All of this is the more reason for us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. The church is a militant church, the members are soldiers, who are called to fight the battle of faith against all the forces that attack the City of God. The believer must put on the whole armor of God to be able to stand in this evil day.
The word that Jude uses for “contending” means literally “to wrestle.” This makes our contending very personal. It involves each and every one of us. No one can take the attitude that this is the responsibility of the leaders of the congregation, or that he or she is not capable of or inclined to fight. It involves every one.
Moreover, this personal involvement requires putting forth every effort and all our strength. In a wrestling match strength is pitted against strength, skill against skill. It requires complete concentration, our very best efforts. Since this is a spiritual contending we must rely on our God in prayer and supplication.
Finally, in this wrestling match our own salvation is at stake. True, we are fighting to maintain the truth that has been passed on to us from former generations, but it still remains a fact that this truth is of personal importance for each of us. We must fight the good fight, we must be faithful even unto death, in order to receive the crown. With the apostle Paul we must be able to say at the end of our lives, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7).
This must be a contending for the faith. The devil is cunning in his attack on the Scriptures. There are many today who speak the language of the Scriptures, even use the same terms that Scripture uses, but attach an entirely different meaning to them. Infallibility does not always mean verbal inspiration. There are those who speak of the Word of God “in the Scriptures,” rather than the Scriptures being the Word of God. Some speak .of God’s kingdom, but they are looking for the kingdom to be established here on earth. The Arminian likes to speak of salvation by grace, but still refers to a salvation that is dependent upon man. Faith and regeneration from the lips of some have an entirely different connotation than they have in the Word of God. Far too often the glory of man is sought rather than the glory of God.
This contending for the faith is also often absent when people speak of “practical” preaching in distinction from “doctrinal” preaching.* Many today seek a social gospel, world improvement, a better life without conversion and faith. The antithesis between church and world is no longer maintained, but the church joins with the world, expecting, it seems, that a good apple in a peck of rotten ones will improve the bad ones. True, sound doctrine is also practical. It is the truth that makes us free. It is the solid food of the Scriptures whereby we grow spiritually unto perfection.
III. The Necessity.
Jude writes, “It is needful to write and to exhort you!” His Word is preserved in the Scriptures, because it applies today as well as then.
The enemy against whom Jude warns is no different now from the enemy of his day. Jude could very well have written this in 1983.
He speaks, first, of the evil of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. Churches have become social centers. Many have their gymnasiums, which are more often used, and by larger numbers, than the church sanctuary. They have their potlucks, and other social events, often on Sunday. These are expected to keep up the zeal and interest in the church. In many churches the second service on Sunday is not even held, and in many other churches poorly attended. The argument is raised, where do we read in Scripture that we must have two Sunday worship services. But where is the true hunger and thirst for the Bread of Life, where the longing to be in God’s courts in the communion of saints, of which David speaks in Psalm 42 and in Psalm 84?
Jude also speaks of denying the true Lord God and Jesus Christ. That is certainly true when in the Name of God topical preaching takes the place of exposition of the Scriptures. Often a text is used, yet not even interpreted, since the minister is not interested in declaring what God says, but what man says. Surely a God who is desirous, even eager, to save all men, but cannot without their cooperation, is not the sovereign God of the Scriptures. A Jesus who pleads and begs, who offers His wares, but is unable to save unless we are willing, is not the Jesus who is the only, complete Savior, according to the Scriptures.
It is needful that the Word of God remind us of our calling to resist the evil one, to fight the good fight, and to witness of the Name of our God with divinely inspired zeal and confidence. So readily we take the attitude of Israel of old, “The people of the Lord are we.” We are baptized, we attend the public worship, we send our children to a Christian school, and thereby we rest content of having done our duty. In the meantime the church suffers because of lack of knowledge. Those who profess to be Christians are not able to resist the onslaughts of evil round about us.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? Shall we just sit back and let the leaders of the church defend the truth? Shall we support this defense by making use of the Standard Bearer, or shall we leave it unread? Shall we take the attitude, the church doesn’t need me, or shall we put forth every effort on our part to defend the truth according to our calling? Shall we allow ourselves to become spiritually undernourished, or shall we seek to grow strong in the power of God’s might to resist all evil? Shall we make the contending for the faith our personal struggle, our personal calling? Then we need zeal, determination, born out of prayer, devotion, and consecration to our God. May He grant it to us!