Introducing this rubric.
It was in the summer of 1947 that the undersigned was asked to fill the rubric “Our Doctrine” in our Standard Bearer. Our readers will undoubtedly recall the circumstances which occasioned this request: the sudden and wholly unexpected incapacitation of our editor, the Rev. H. Hoeksema. How thankful we were and should be that the Lord has restored him so that he again might resume his labors among us to a large extent! Little did the undersigned suspect that he would still be contributing to this rubric as of this moment. I can honestly say that this work has given me a great amount of pleasure and satisfaction. Of pleasure because I have always considered it a privilege to contribute articles to the periodical through which we may give public utterance to our unique calling, as Protestant Reformed Churches, not only in the midst of the world, but also amongst the many churches of our present day and age, among whom our only safety lies in an uncompromising uniqueness lest we be swallowed up and be no more. This calling, to emit a clear and no uncertain sound, also over against the many deviations from the truth which characterize our present day, is also the calling of the Standard Bearer. We, therefore, fail to understand how anyone, who professes to be Protestant Reformed, can withdraw his or her support of this periodical. This writing for our Standard Bearer has also given me a great amount of satisfaction. This is not due to a feeling of satisfaction because of the articles I have contributed, but because of the benefits which I have received in the performance of this work.
Asked to fill this new rubric, “The History of Dogma”, I gladly comply with the request. Not, I assure you, without considerable trepidation. I do not claim familiarity with the field of the history of dogma. However, it is a very attractive field. The Lord willing, I will do the best I can, and trust that these contributions may serve the interests of our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Its fascinating feature.
The history of dogma will fascinate us if doctrine fascinates us. Doctrine and the history of doctrine are, of course, inseparably related. Our interest in doctrine will be determined by our interest in doctrine itself. It lies in the nature of the case that our love for the truth determines our interest in its historical development.
To this we may add—and, incidentally, this should fill us with true and genuine concern—that our modern age, as far as the church world is concerned, cannot be labeled as a truth-loving and seeking age. Neither need we travel far from home to discern those signs which ought to alarm and distress us. If it be true that our modern lukewarmness toward the truth is often attributed to the spirit of our age, this may never serve as an excuse to condone and tolerate a general attitude of indifference to doctrinal fundamentals which is undeniably characteristic of the time and age in which we live. On the contrary, it should be for us an added incentive to watch and pray and be spiritually sober in the midst of a church world which is rapidly apostatizing. And we must never cater to a desire to be less doctrinal and more practical (incidentally, although we can distinguish between “doctrinal” and “practical” we must never separate them).
Unbelievable as it may sound, there are churches and peoples who are openly disdainful of the history of doctrine. The struggle of the Church of God throughout the ages holds very little interest for them. It was especially not too many years ago that this attitude was proudly manifested and a banner was defiantly hurled aloft which read: “No creed but Christ.” The Scriptures alone were their guide and they spoke very disdainfully of creeds and confessions as the works and productions of men. They refused to become involved in any discussion or controversy about the truth which would revolve about these creeds or confessions. We may add the observation that their “Scriptural” discussions of fundamental truths were hardly worthy of the name and not characterized by thoroughness and profundity. Their appeals to Holy Writ consisted largely, almost exclusively, of mass quotations and unsupported by sound interpretation of the quoted passages or by the honest attempt to interpret Scripture with Scripture. And, they openly revealed their disdain of creeds or confessions. This, we should understand, does not reveal a great desire to understand the truth. Of course, we do not wish to leave the impression that Scripture is not our only criterion of what is true or false. The Word of God is the sole standard of the truth, the only infallible rule of faith and life. But, in the first place, it is simply a fact that we are not instructed in the truths of Holy Writ directly from the holy Scriptures. We will say more of this, the Lord willing, in due time. Each member of the body of Christ is instructed in the truth of God’s Word by the Church, and the Church instructs us through the confessions. In fact, our earliest instruction was given us in our homes by our parents and according to the doctrine as taught “in this local Christian church.” Secondly, the slogan: “No creed but Christ,” simply ignores the blood of the saints, the struggle of the ages, the bloody efforts by the Church of God to defend the truths of the sacred Word as embodied in our creeds and confessions. The Church of God has been led by the Spirit of Christ Jesus to see and grasp the fundamentals of the Word of God, and we are enabled to study the Word exactly in the light of these sacrifices of the saints of God in ages past. Hence, the slogan: “No creed but Christ” is not nearly as innocent as it sounds. We do well to be on our guard against it. History verifies that a church that loves the truth loves its confessions and its creeds. Such a truth-loving Church does not ignore the history of the development of doctrine.
This leads us to another observation. Anyone acquainted with the history of doctrine will readily acquiesce with the undersigned when he makes the remark that an outstanding feature of this history has been and is that of struggle. The Church of God has been compelled to fight every inch and step of the way. Never was it permitted to relax its vigilance. The enemy of the truth was continually on the alert to undermine the fundamentals of Scripture. The divine record itself is full of such notices. In the Old Dispensation the Israel of God was continually harassed by these enemies from within who demanded that a word be preached which would be more acceptable to the flesh. A passage such asstrikingly illustrates this truth. The Old Testament is replete with the efforts of carnal Israel to silence the testimony of the Lord and to shut the mouths of the prophets who proclaimed unto them the word of Jehovah. The Church’s greatest danger, also then, did not threaten from without but from within. This struggle of the church for the preservation of true and sound doctrine becomes more acute and intense with the coming of the New Dispensation. In the Lord warns His disciples against the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and we quote: “Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Well-known to us is the word of the Savior in : “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” In the apostle warns the Church of God to be on the alert against every wind of doctrine, and ascribes these deviations from the truth to the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, and I quote: “That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” In Acts 20:28-30 we hear the same apostle utter these solemn words in his farewell address to the elders of Ephesus, and we quote: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” And in the apostle, John, delivers this uncompromising admonition, and again we quote: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds.”—it is well to bear in mind that the apostle identifies in these words the bringing of another doctrine with an evil deed.
Indeed, the history of doctrine throughout the New Dispensation has vindicated these warnings of Christ and His apostles. Unrelentingly the enemy has hurled his forces against the bulwarks of the truth. And the Church of the living God has been compelled to maintain a sharp and constant vigilance. It has been forced to maintain its watchmen upon the walls of Zion day and night. The world knows no compromise in its savage opposition to the truths of the Word of the Lord and the Church must ever be on the alert that the sound of its trumpet is continuously clear and certain. That trumpet must not emit a vague, indefinite sound. The sound of that trumpet must not be of such a nature that it can be welcomed by friend and enemy alike. It must be such that it attracts only those who love the truth of God’s Word as it once has been delivered to the saints and to the church of the living God. The sound of that trumpet must not confuse but strengthen and enlighten. And this receives all the more emphasis if we continually bear in mind that the enemy is ever lying in wait to deceive and to lead the people of the Lord astray. Hence, it lies in the very nature of the case that the history of doctrine should be of the greatest importance and interest to us. The word of the Lord inis surely applicable today, and we quote: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” And we do well, in our fighting of the good fight of faith, ever to retain in view the struggle of those who have appeared in this arena before us. It will sharpen us in our ability to discern the lie from the truth. It will quicken our appreciation of the tremendous efforts put forth by the people of God in their defense and maintaining of the fundamentals of holy writ. It will gladden our hearts to know that the
Lord has also privileged us with a name and place among the ranks of those who, throughout the ages, have engaged in the struggle for the preservation of the Word of God, which, being fought uncompromisingly throughout the ages, is sure of victory because of Him Who leads His Church into all truth, and will be with her even unto the end of the world.