Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
In the past couple years there has been a stirring controversy in the Reformed Church of America concerning one of its ministers. Richard Rhem, a pastor in Spring Lake, Michigan, has taught publicly that faith in Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation, and that Jews, Muslims, and those from other religious backgrounds may be as likely to enter heaven as those who profess faith in Christ.
The periodical Christian Renewal reported in September of 1996 that the case had even drawn the attention of the New York Times. What struck me as interesting was that the Times reported that Rhem, who supposedly began his ministry as a theological conservative, changed his outlook “after he studied during the late 1960s at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, where he became a disciple of Hendrikus Berkhof, a Dutch Reformed theologian.”
That report was telling to me.
Hendrikus Berkhof has been a very influential contemporary theologian in the Hervormde Kerk (the Reformed Church or State Church) in the Netherlands, where he served for many years as the Professor of Theology at the University of Leiden. But through his writings Berkhof’s influence has reached into an even wider circle in the Reformed church world on the continent and in the United States.
That he has had such an influence only shows how apostate the broader Reformed church world has become, and how the lack of true spiritual knowledge has left many in Reformed churches throughout the world aimlessly tossed about with every wind of doctrine.
Hendrikus Berkhof is a theologian whose teachings are contrary to the truth of the historic Christian faith.
But because his teachings have gained a fairly broad influence, especially by Eerdmans’ publication of the English translation of Berkhof’s dogmatics, Christian Faith, we do well to consider briefly what this man taught. Then perhaps we can begin to understand how it is that a minister in the Reformed Church of America can teach that Christ is not the only way to salvation.
Berkhof’s stated aim in his dogmatics was “to present a restatement of the gospel.” It soon becomes evident that the reason Berkhof needed such a “restatement of the gospel” is that he rejected the very foundation of the faith, namely, the inspired Scriptures. He needed a “restatement of the gospel” because the gospel unveiled in Holy Scripture is a gospel he found repulsive and unacceptable.
We believe, as our Belgic Confession puts it in Article 7, that the doctrine of the Scriptures “is most perfect and complete in all respects.” We believe, further, that the Bible is the infallible and complete written record of God’s revelation in Christ to His people.
Every portion of the Word of God reveals Christ to us. To lose the Scriptures, therefore, or to reject them as the Word of truth that they are, is to lose the entire foundation of Christianity and the gospel itself! It is to lose Christ!
Hendrikus Berkhof was very critical of the traditional view of the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible to him was something other than the infallible, organically inspired, and authoritative Word of God.
For that reason he was left to search for the historical Jesus, turning to higher criticism and ultimately denying the very deity of Christ. In Berkhof’s words, “The New Testament shows us a history in which the man Jesus, because of his total obedience even to death, may share in the life and rule of God.”
The virgin birth of Christ was, to Berkhof’s mind, a myth. He viewed it as regrettable that the virgin birth received a central place in such confessions as the Apostles’ Creed, thus making it a touchstone of orthodoxy. This gives you but a taste of Berkhof’s doctrine of Christ. One thing is sure: Hendrikus Berkhof’s doctrine left him without the Savior revealed in Scripture. Jesus as Jehovah salvation, Immanuel, God with us, was lost to him. His “Lord” is not the Lord God. His “Lord” is a man — more powerful than all other men, but a man. While the Christian church throughout the ages has confessed with Thomas (John 20:28), “My Lord and my God,” Berkhof refused to confess this, nor could he. He was blinded to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures.
One more thing: In his treatment of the ascension, which he also considered a regrettable article of the Apostles’ Creed, Berkhof denied that heaven is a place. He called it instead “one form of existence.”
Take these things into account, and you can begin to understand how a Reformed minister, enamored with the teachings of the professor he esteemed so highly, would deny Jesus as the only Savior.
This denial of God’s Christ and the biblical doctrine of salvation in Christ alone is no new thing.
It is a denial that began from Christ’s very birth and has continued throughout the ages.
A number of heresies arose in the early New Testament church, from the first to the fourth centuries. And by the time the church fathers had dealt with them and set forth the truth over against them, those heresies had occupied much time and controversy.
Finally, at the Council of Chalcedon, in the year 451, the Christian church faced the Scriptures and declared that Christ is the Person of the Son of God in human nature, and that these two natures — human and divine — are without change, without mixture, without separation, and without division. The doctrine of Christ was fixed, and the measure of biblical orthodoxy was clearly understood.
What is frightening, however, is not that such attacks upon the biblical doctrine of Christ would continue; but that they have now reached into the Reformed church world. In fulfillment of the Bible’s warning, certain men have crept in unawares, denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who sees the seriousness of this error?
There is no new thing under the sun.
Just as Satan from the beginning of history labored bitterly to prevent the coming of Jesus Christ, and just as in the apostolic era and the years of the early New Testament church Satan labored with bitter hatred to rob the church of Jesus Christ, so he does today!
And if Satan and his false teachers were to succeed in any way to rob the church of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, of God’s Christ, they would rob the church of everything.
Our salvation cannot be accomplished except by the Mediator who is revealed in Holy Scripture!
Deny that Christ is eternal God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, and you have no salvation left! Deny that Christ is very man, born of the virgin Mary, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, and you lose the Christ of God and all possibility of your salvation!
If the church is robbed of the Christ of God, the church has nothing left, absolutely nothing!
The philosophies of men may teach all kinds of ways to everlasting happiness and peace, all kinds of ways to “salvation,” whatever that means. They may lay claim to a Jesus of their own imaginations, and even confess to be “Christian.” But the end of those who reject the Christ revealed in Scripture will be everlasting damnation, as all the deceitfulness of man’s depraved heart is revealed for the abomination that it is in God’s sight.
The lesson? We must know the truth of the Word of God. And we may not assume a sympathetic attitude toward those who would introduce false doctrine into the church of Christ.
What says the Scripture?
It is either God’s way, or no way.
There is absolutely no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is not a figment of man’s imagination, but the Christ of God, God become flesh, that we might be saved.
Jesus Christ is the Mediator of God’s providing.
He is the only Mediator.
Salvation is God’s way … or no way.