In our last article we discussed the major difference between the Reformed and Fundamentalist positions. Those differences can best be summed up in that we as Reformed insist on maintaining what we call a Reformed heritage of the doctrine of the scriptures. We insist that we must understand scripture in the fight of that heritage. We insist that this heritage be preserved in the creeds of the church, that it must be passed down from generation to generation. We say that it is a very urgent matter that the purity of the doctrines of the Reformed faith be maintained and that we must grow and develop in those doctrines. Over against this the fundamentalist places very little if any emphasis on doctrine or on any heritage that comes down to them from precedirig generations. Rather he approaches the scriptures as an individual without the need of a heritage of understanding and interpreting scripture. He is satisfied for the most part with dwelling upon the superficial fundamental truths of scripture without seeing the need of going any further to study the more profound truths of scripture. Therefore, for example, the doctrines of Calvinism or of predestination are not much an issue for him for he does not see any real need to know and confess these doctrines.
If we are indeed Reformed people and desire to remain Reformed people then we must thoroughly understand the urgency of maintaining our Reformed doctrinal heritage. The challenge of fundamentalism is this: cannot the Christian be satisfied with the mere fundamentals of scripture? Why does he have to know all those doctrines of scripture? Is it not true as far as the life and witness of God’s people in the world are concerned, that really only the fundamentals of the faith are important? For example, is it not enough for the Christian simply to answer the question, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are you willing to live for Him?” Is not the basic simple Christian life enough? Are not the doctrines that theologians spend much time discussing so far removed from our life that they have no significance, or they are far too difficult for the average person to understand anyway?
Why do we have such a great emphasis on the maintenance of that Reformed heritage, on the instruction in doctrine, and on the discussion of doctrine, on the maintenance of the purity of that doctrine? To understand the answer to that question we must continually understand what doctrine is. The fundamentalist criticizes doctrine as being mere abstract theology. We must thoroughly understand that it is much more than this. Doctrine is the systematic setting forth of the blessed and wonderful knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whom to know is life eternal. Doctrine is the understanding of that knowledge of God and our Lord Jesus Christ which the church possesses through the interpretation of the scriptures as a whole under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Doctrine is maintained when it is set forth in creeds of the church, when it is developed by each generation and when one generation passes on its understanding of the knowledge of God to the succeeding generation through the Holy Spirit Who leads and guides the church into all truth. The truths of scripture are rich and wonderful and very deep and profound. The fundamentalist, if he will admit this at all, simply gives lip service to it. When those profound and rich, wonderful truths of scripture are set forth in a systematic order, so that the child of God can appropriate them and retain them in his consciousness, then we usually call that doctrine. We believe that the whole truth of the scriptures, not only the simple truths but also the more profound and wonderful truths of scripture, must be consciously known and believed and confessed by the Christian.
If doctrine is indeed the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, then surely it is of utmost importance that the Christian know, believe, and confess it. Doctrine is not some sort of abstract science or philosophy of interest to theologians but not necessary for the knowledge of the Christian; for then surely it ought immediately to be abandoned as something that only causes useless wrangling and argumentation and division in the church. But if it is indeed the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, then every Christian must know and understand it, maintain it, and have a deep desire in his heart ever to increase in understanding of doctrine. The Christian surely may not be satisfied with the mere superficial knowledge of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ that so much cheap Christianity in our day is offering and such as is presented in the mass evangelical movements of our day. Any Christian who is satisfied with that is doomed to die. To worship, adore, and love God, to trust in Him with living faith, to confess His name in the world, to serve Him in sincerity and in truth is all dependent on the knowledge of God and our Lord Jesus Christ that comes from an ever increasing appropriation of the wonderful doctrines of scripture.
The scriptures themselves urge upon us the necessity of ever growing and increasing in the knowledge and doctrine of God. God said through the prophet Hosea in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no more priest to me: seeing thou hast forsaken the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” This is surely an indictment against much of modem day Christendom and especially also of the cheap Christianity of the Fundamentalist. In Ephesians 4 the apostle Paul emphasizes that the church must be edified, built up “until we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12-13. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of the need for the strong meat of the Word of God for the Christian. Very often in the epistles to Timothy, in which Paul instructs the minister of the Word of God, he emphasizes the importance of doctrine for the saints of God. The apostle Peter concludes his second epistle with the urgent exhortation, “but grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
God has given the truth of the scriptures to thechurch—not merely to individuals but to the church as a whole. This is surely clear from the fact that the scriptures are addressed to the church. This is very obviously true of the epistles of Paul. For this reason the church is called the pillar and ground of the truth. From the beginning the church has possessed the whole of the truth. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit she grows in her understanding and appropriation of the truth. Therefore there is such a thing as a heritage that is passed on through the history of the church. We cannot agree with the fundamentalist who sees no great need for the church, at least not as an institute. God gives the truth, the doctrines of the faith, not only to the church as organism but also to the church as institute in the world. This does not mean the same thing as the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church that teaches that the church has authority above and independent from the scriptures as far as the knowledge of the doctrines of salvation is concerned. The church possesses the knowledge of the doctrines of God and the Lord Jesus Christ only as she appropriates them from the scriptures. If we may again return to the passage in Ephesians 4 then we surely find that this has reference to the church as institute. That is why there is mention of the various offices in the church. Through these offices, and therefore through the institute church, God causes His saints to be built up in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. As Reformed people we know the truth of scripture that the preaching of the Word is the chief means of grace; it is the chief means through which the saints are instructed in the doctrines of scripture. The child of God surely grows in the knowledge of the truth as he lives in living connection with the church as institute. He does not possess the truth individualistically but as a member of the church.
God preserves the true church in institutional manifestation here on earth where the three marks of the true church are manifest. The child of God must be a member of that church in order that he may grow in the knowledge of the true doctrine of salvation, that he may as a member of that true church give testimony of the true doctrine of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is it so important then to maintain the purity of doctrine? The fundamentalist would say that all that is really important is to maintain the so-called fundamentals of the scriptures. All the rest is not so important and the insistence on maintaining the doctrine of scripture only brings division and strife in the church. The church is better off merely to give testimony to the fundamentals and not to worry so much about all that doctrine. Surely it is the calling of the church and of every individual member of that church to know the whole of the doctrine of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to believe it and to give testimony concerning all that doctrine in the midst of the world. The true worship of God and the glorification of God in the world is dependent upon the preservation of the true doctrine of God in the church and by the saints of God. To reject any doctrine, to consider it of little or no importance, is to limit and to deny the glory of God. As soon as the church or the saints of God hold to a false doctrine, they are essentially confessing another God than the true God Who reveals Himself in the scriptures.
The church is built on the foundation of the true doctrine of God. The church has the obligation to know, believe, and confess the whole counsel of God, all of the doctrines of salvation. By confessing the doctrine of God, the church glorifies the God to Whom she belongs. The church as a whole can be preserved only when she maintains the true doctrine. The Christian who is a member of the church has the obligation corporately with all the other members to see that the doctrine of the church to which he belongs is pure and true according to the scriptures. When he does not do that, he becomes guilty of the false doctrines to which that church holds in reproach of the glory of God.
The fundamentalist is wrong when he thinks that both the Christian and the church can continue in the world by just maintaining the fundamentals and not being concerned about doctrine. The result of such a position is as Paul says in Ephesians 4 again, that the saints of God are cast about by every wind of doctrine by the slight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive. The devil and wicked men do not usually attack directly the fundamentals of the faith. They come in a much more subtle way, pretending to hold to all the fundamentals of the faith as they are taught in scripture while in reality denying God and the Lord Jesus Christ. No church or individual who thinks that only what he calls the fundamentals are important shall be able to stand against those who attack the church and the Christian. Without the knowledge of sound doctrine he will very easily be led astray with the error of the wicked and, as Peter says, he shall fall from his steadfastness. History has abundant testimony of this.
Without exception false doctrine will lead to corruption in life. The fundamentalist may deny this, but it is always true that all those who hold to false doctrine will reveal it in the corruption of their life before God.
In conclusion we ought yet to say something about how we are to maintain that Reformed heritage over against the challenge of Fundamentalism in our day. It is maintained centrally by the truly Reformed preaching of the Word; preaching that is based on very careful and painstaking exegesis of the scriptures. That Reformed heritage is maintained when the preaching is doctrinal and when it is the exposition of the historic Reformed creeds. Surely most basic to maintaining that Reformed heritage is the careful study of the scriptures by every Reformed Christian. The Christian may not be satisfied with the very superficial and subjectivistic study of the scriptures which characterizes Fundamentalism. He must study the whole of the scriptures. He must study not only the New Testament, as is so often characteristic of Fundamentalism, but also the Old Testament. He must study the Old Testament not merely as Jewish history with perhaps a little moralism for our day, but he must study it as the history of the realization of God’s covenant with His people and as an integral part of the gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus. We maintain that Reformed heritage when we study the doctrines of scripture as they are formulated in our creeds. We maintain that Reformed heritage when we study what the leaders of the Reformed faith from the past have said. For this is part of the heritage that God has given us. How much time do we spend reading the, Reformed fathers? If that Reformed doctrinal heritage is to be maintained we must consciously know it; and that is the duty not only of the theologian or minister but also of every member of the church. Are we in danger of losing our Reformed heritage because of the ignorance of so many of our people? We maintain that Reformed heritage when we zealously instruct our children in the doctrines of the Reformed faith.
If we are to maintain our Reformed heritage we must be thoroughly convinced that the doctrines of our Reformed faith are indeed the scriptures. We may not be satisfied that these doctrines were held and are held by our leaders and that therefore they must be the scriptures. Every member of the church is under the obligation to know that our Reformed heritage is truly the scriptures. He must consciously know that for himself and be able to give testimony concerning that in his confession.
That Reformed heritage will be maintained only when it is a living spiritual reality to Reformed Christians. There is always a great danger of making doctrine merely a matter of the intellect. We must confess that this has sometimes happened among us. Whenever that happens, then we have lost the challenge of Fundamentalism that doctrine is mere abstract theology, for then it indeed has become that. The Reformed Christian must make the doctrines of the Reformed heritage a living reality in all his life, in his confession and his walk. We must in our instruction of our children be sure that we teach by word and example that the Reformed heritage is indeed a living spiritual reality in our life. In that connection, think for instance of the beautiful Reformed truth of the covenant. This ought surely to be a living spiritual reality in our life and confession. How could it possibly be otherwise? Our testimony concerning the Reformed: heritage ought to be such that it provokes others to jealousy.