The above topic describes a subject which pertains to a life “in His fear”, about which we desire to say a few words and to issue a warning to our readers.
When we speak in this connection of “journalistic ethics”, we refer not to the ethics of individual writers and contributors to a paper or magazine. About this, too, much could be written. He who appears in print must observe the simple and plain rules of ethical behavior which govern all our life. But I refer rather to the moral obligation(s) which devolve upon any society or organization which publishes a paper or magazine, and which devolve especially upon those directly responsible for the contents of such a publication, the editors and the editorial staff. And more particularly do I have in mind the ethical code which should govern a religious periodical. And still more particularly, I refer to our own religious periodicals. That anyone or any group that breaks out into print assumes a tremendous responsibility with respect to the readers who will peruse that which is published is self-evident. Those who publish anything arrogate to themselves the position of leaders, of teachers, of instructors. And they make use of one of the most powerful means of influencing men’s minds, the printed word. In some respects it is even more powerful than the spoken word.
Often the aim, or the claimed intention,—and therefore, at the same time, its moral obligation,—of a paper is proclaimed in its very name. Thus, for example, the name Standard Bearer immediately tells its readers that this is a paper which claims to bear the standard, the flag, of the truth. The name Beacon Lights depicts that this magazine intends to focus the light rays of God’s Word upon various aspects of life for our Protestant Reformed Young People. And the name Concordia sets forth that this paper aims to foster concord, harmony, agreement, unity. Thus we find that the latter paper has also adopted a Scriptural motto: “Behold, how good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity.”. When, therefore, papers such as these violate the announced very spiritual aims presented in their respective names, they become guilty of a gross breach of journalistic ethics, namely, deceit, false pretense. If the Standard Bearer, for example, prints on its own responsibility the lie, under the flag of the truth, it is no longer actually the bearer of the standard, though it still claims the name; it is guilty of one of the worst forms of lying, deceit. If the Beacon Lights no longer focuses the light rays of God’s Word, as maintained in our Protestant Reformed Churches, upon the path of our covenant youth’s life, it is guilty of the same sin. And if Concordia, claiming to foster unity and Christian brotherhood in our Protestant Reformed circles, no longer does so, but fosters discord in place of concord, it has fallen into the same error.
This breach of ethics may be committed in more than one way. On the one hand, this may be done by openly publishing the lie, whether through the medium of its regular editors, or through contributions which are allowed in its columns without comment. On the other hand, a paper may publish neither the truth nor the lie on any given count, but maintain silence. This is equally unethical. Or still another form this breach of ethics may assume, namely, that of opening its columns to one side in any controversy, but closing them to those who wish to reply.
Of this breach the Christian Reformed Banner made itself guilty in 1923-’24.
But in recent months one of our own papers, Concordia, has committed the same breach of journalistic ethics in more than one form. This grieves me, because it is contrary to the fear of the Lord. And I do not like to see Protestant Reformed brethren walk contrary to the fear of the Lord. And therefore, I shall try to point out the error and admonish them in the love of Christ to forsake it. But since from the very nature of the case I could not do this in Concordia’s columns, I shall do it, quite properly, in my last article as editor of “In His Fear”. For the references in this case you may turn to the editorial columns of Concordia for Oct. 9 and Dec. 18, 1952.
I ask not merely our readers in general, but Concordia, to consider these undeniable facts.
In the first place, Concordia, through one of its regular departmental editors, the Rev. A. Petter, in the rubric, ironically, “Among Our Treasures,” began to foster not concord, but discord, by presenting a conditional theology. Indeed it was maintained that only on the basis of “conditions” could the responsibility of man be maintained. And it was claimed that if we failed to maintain conditions, we could not proclaim a “full-orbed gospel”. Being one of those who insist on an unconditional theology as of the very essence in our Protestant Reformed doctrine (and I am only one among many who still rally round that standard!) I claim that seeds of discord, not concord, were sown by a paper which had as its avowed intention to foster concordia. This is in my opinion the fundamental breach of ethics which Concordia committed. And if only, which may God graciously grant, these brethren would recant their conditional theology and return to the old paths, real harmony would once more reign. Until that happens, or until we come to a parting of ways, I am convinced that there will never be harmony, concordia, in our churches again. There is no room in Protestant Reformed doctrine for conditions.
However, this latter claim we can no longer discuss with Concordia. They have closed their columns to the condition debate. They refuse to discuss the matter publicly, the matter which they themselves publicly introduced. Until, of course, that cloture is removed, the fundamental issue is beyond discussion. Of course, the Standard Bearer, true to its calling, is still open; and yet more true to its calling, it does and will bear the standard, and continue to maintain an unconditional gospel, and will discuss it and debate it with any and all. You may depend on that.
But let us view the matter from Concordia’s viewpoint. This matter of conditions was not only important to us who opposed it. It was admittedly a matter of extreme importance to those who maintained conditions. Was it not claimed that conditions constituted an indispensable element in a full orbed gospel? If a man in good faith makes such a claim, and if a paper in the name of harmony allows such a claim, what then is the obligation incumbent upon the claimant? Does the time ever arrive when he must cease striving with all that is in him to convince those who deny that claim of their error? Might Concordia, viewing the matter from their own viewpoint, ever keep silence about this indispensable element in a full orbed gospel? Would they not be keeping silence about the truth? And worse yet, would they not be committing a gross breach of Christian love by no more attempting to convince the “erring” brethren?
But what has happened? First the Rev. Petter, who championed conditions, dropped the matter. He of all men should be busy even today trying to convince our ministers and people, the entire readership of Concordia, that if they deny conditions, they deny an important element of the gospel. But he has turned his attention to eschatology, rather than to this precious treasure of conditions. Others continued to write about the matter for a time. But now the ban has been imposed! No more of the condition debate is allowed in Concordia’s columns.
Concordia has said in effect: “Conditions are an indispensable element in a full orbed gospel. But in spite of the fact that there are many who deny this, and who therefore seriously err, we shall henceforth keep silence about it. We will not even mention it. We will not even allow it to be discussed.”
Brethren, even on your basis, such action can never foster harmony, concord. You are not true to the name emblazoned on the front page of your paper. If your original stand was wrong, acknowledge it. If it is still right today, defend it. But silence is absolutely wrong. For remember the goodness and pleasantness of brethren dwelling together in unity can be experienced only upon the basis of the truth, and where there is truth too in the inward parts! Elsewhere there is no real harmony.
However, Concordia attempted an explanation of its action. And in that explanation too there are some very wrong elements. First of all, while it is true that Concordia closed its columns to both sides of the debate, it is not at all true that this was done impartially. Fact is, that this action took place before one of those whose teachings and writings were attacked and placed in a wrong light was given opportunity to defend himself. I refer to Concordia’s refusal to place the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s reply to the Rev. Kok. By no stretch of the imagination can this be called impartial.
More sinister, however, do I find one of the motivations for this action, that it is psychologically tiring and that our people weary of this continued debate. That it is tiring, I do not deny. In fact, I would go one step further, and say that it is also spiritually tiring. But that this is a reason to break off a debate, and refuse all discussion about an issue that is admittedly an important one, an issue that concerns the pure preaching of the Word,—that I deny. Supposing such an attitude was assumed all along the line, where would we end? Would there ever be any healthy controversy? Would our people ever be instructed concerning truth and error? Is Concordia’s obligation to be considered as this, that it must furnish at all times what is pleasing to the people, without regard to the question what is right or wrong, true or false? If a minister would take that course in his pulpit, there would soon be no pure preaching of the Word left.
And therefore I would admonish Concordia to retract its action. Do not hamper the freedom of the press. Seek the truth without qualification or limitation. In such a course you will have the confidence of all our people. But if you continue in your present course, your paper does not merit any confidence. You may have outward peace and harmony. But it will be the peace of the grave. And your paper will lose all vitality.