More than once in these columns we have discussed the so-called “Key ’73” program which, in the Christian Reformed Church, is called “Evangelism Thrust.” We have discussed and criticized the entire program and written a report on the book “Who In The World?” which is intended to serve as guidelines for participation in this program.
In the October, 1972 issue of Outlook, Rev, Heerema discusses a brochure entitled “Called To Serve” which is produced by the Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church and is intended to be used by all the congregations which participate in the Evangelism Thrust Program In his article, Rev. Heerema charges that the book is not simply a “strategy for evangelism” as it claims to be, but is a “strategy for the remaking of the Christian Reformed Church” (The emphasis is his.)
This is a serious charge. We are aware of the fact that the book “Who In The World?” is indeed a call to alter the entire structure of the Church; but that book was an unofficial publication. Here is a pamphlet which is official. It has the backing of and is published by a Synodical Committee. Does this book do this too?
Rev. Heerema asserts in his article that “Called To Serve” is based upon “Who In The World?” and follows the same general pattern. He makes various quotes from the brochure to prove his point and insists that the entire brochure. goes beyond the Synodical decision which brought the Christian Reformed Church into the “Key ’73” program This decision reads: “that ‘each denomination’ conduct the program ‘in keeping with the principles and practices of the denomination.'” It is Heerema’s contention that this brochure violates this Synodical decision.
We obtained the booklet to check up for ourselves whether or not this all was true. We are convinced that it is and that Heerema is completely correct in his allegations. If the Christian Reformed Church follows this booklet, the entire denomination will be completely changed in its structure, so that it will no longer resemble in any essential way the institutional form which it now has.
There are, I think, particularly three areas in which this is true.
Before we enter into them a bit more in detail, it might be wise to make the general observation that, in some respects, this is a crafty book. Nowhere does the brochure explicitly call for radical change of any kind. There is no single passage which one can quote and which can serve as proof that Heerema’s contention is true. The book rather contents itself with asking questions which call into one’s mind doubts about the present form of institutional life in the Church and which suggest radical alternatives. Or, abandoning questions, the book will draw up a list of alternatives to present practices—alternatives which also would require a fundamental change in the Church—and will ask the reader to make a choice between these alternatives. Perhaps some quotes from the book will demonstrate what is meant.
The first area in which the book suggests radical change is in the content of the preaching. This is not really so surprising, for, even apart from the “Evangelism Thrust” program, there have been radical changes in the content of the preaching for many years; and indeed, the Church has discussed various problems in connection with the content of the preaching on different occasions. (Cf. e.g., the controversies over the question of the universal love of God and general atonement.) Nevertheless, this book makes a considerable point of this matter. On page 9 we read:
From Genesis through Revelation, is the central message good news or bad news? . . .
What of condemnation, judgment, hell? Surely the Bible mentions a dark side . . . But is that dark side the message which we are to deliver? . . . 1. Would you agree with this statement? “The bad news isn’t news at all; it is just a description of the mess man is in, of what man has done with himself. The good news is news; it is God’s announcement of what He has done—something lost man would not know if it were not announced by God Himself. Until man hears about a way out, he cannot afford to admit his sin.”
It seems clear that the point here is that the preaching must never speak of judgment and God’s wrath against sin. But what then is to be done with the statement of the Heidelberg Catechism? ” . . . according to the command of Christ, it is declared and publicly testified . . . to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted: according to which testimony of the gospel, God will judge them, both in this, and in the life to come.”
Or again, the cross of Christ is defined in these words:
Jesus died to bring men out of the tombs. He rose and sent His Spirit to bring men out of the prison cells of loneliness into the freedom of life in communion.” (p. 25)
We could quote more. But the point is that this is a very superficial and incorrect presentation of the gospel. There is no mention anywhere in the book of such important doctrines as sovereign predestination, vicarious atonement, the application of the blessings of salvation, etc. In fact, the book is decidedly Arminian when it writes concerning faith:
Faith is believing by opening one’s life to Christ—so that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” (p. 27)
Where in all this are the glorious doctrines of sovereign grace? They simply do not exist.
The second area in which radical change is recommended is in the method of bringing the gospel. It is true that the brochure lists preaching as “one form of teaching”; (p. 21) but it strongly suggests that the Church’s calling is much broader than that, and even talks about more effective ways of “communicating the gospel.” This is partly because an altogether inadequate definition is given of preaching. The Scriptures make it very clear that preaching is the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God by one who is called to be an ambassador of Christ by Christ Himself. The book (p. 21) defines preaching as “solemn, public declaration” and “an urging to change one’s ways, a summons to faith and action.” But the book goes on to say: (p. 23)
1. We remember 20% of what we hear. We remember 40% of what we hear and see illustrated.
We remember 60% of what we hear, see illustrated, discuss, and we remember 80% of what we hear, see illustrated, discuss and do.
If the church wanted to make communication of the gospel more effective, how could the above findings of psychology be applied to such activities of the church as:
b. societies, study groups?
c. catechism, Sunday School?
2. The idea of building each other up suggests a lot of dialogue—of sharing personal experiences and problems—of listening to others, etc. Do you think that your church community provides opportunity where people can share honestly their problems and questions?
3. If I had to choose an experience for a person whom I wanted to strongly influence, I would choose the following:
a. Have him hear a good sermon or lecture on the subject.
b. Have him hear a good sermon or lecture on the subject and then have a discussion about it.
c. Have him sit down with a small group of people who all believe the way I want him to be influenced to believe.
d. Have a private talk with him.
e. A combination of the above.
So, according to this book, psychology is going to tell us how to “communicate the gospel,” and the Word of God has nothing any more to say about this.
In the third area of change the booklet talks especially about the changes which are necessary in the institutional life of the Church to make the gospel effective in the community.
It asks first of all what worship is. It answers this by using two key words: “celebration” and “edification.” Now while these are no doubt important parts of worship, why is it that the book presents these as an exhaustive list? Surely, all Scripture speaks of the purpose of the worship services as being above all thepraise of God. Nothing is as important as this.
But with this kind of explanation of worship, one gets conclusions which are also bound to be wrong. The booklet says: (p. 39)
Summary. Our concern has been to answer the question: What is the assembly for? .Our answer is: for celebration and edification. Now we may anticipate the next question: What activities in the assembly will best accomplish those purposes? If the best activities are engaged in to accomplish these purposes, then we may be confident that the church will be made ready for a life of obedient and joyful worship.
So you have this:
c. Evaluate the following possibilities for planning our assemblies: (by which is meant worship services)
1) A one-hour assembly for celebration and edification for everyone.
2) An assembly for everyone except the very young who do not understand what is happening and are often hard to control for an hour in the pew.
3) A nursery for the very young, an assembly for children through age twelve, and another assembly for all others.
4) Everyone attends all the assemblies, but the first Sunday of each month is designed for children, the second for youth, the third for the middle-aged, and the fourth for the elderly.
After a discussion of the important place the sermon has occupied in the worship service since the time of the Reformation, a long series of questions is asked all of which are particularly geared to cast doubts on the importance and effectiveness of the sermon in modern worship services. Obviously, in this book, the sermon is suspect.
Turning to the institute itself in its offices, etc. the following paragraphs are quoted almost at random:
Based on your study of how things went in the early church, decide which of the following statements would most likely have been made by one of its members:
a. “‘Well, now, let’s see. Where can we fit him into our present structure and organization? We should be able to find a job for him somewhere. Are there any vacancies?”
b. “The Holy Spirit is using George to bring neighbors into the church. How can we serve George and others who have this gift? How can we change our structure to better respond to this working of the Spirit?” (p. 50)
Notice first what God did not give us. He, did not give us: a chart for the administrative setup of the church. Although he gave offices in the church, He did not give us detailed job descriptions. For instance, nowhere in the New Testament is the office of deacon described; but there are strict requirements for the people who are to hold this office. (p. 51)
What would your church do if one of your lay members was found to be doing effective preaching in a “storefront church”?
Many strange things are happening these days. The Holy Spirit seems to be using unusual methods. Give some examples which you have read about. How do you judge them? By where they meet? By how they are dressed? By their order of worship? By the beat of their music? (p. 52)
What about your church? Are its structures continually being revised to meet the needs of the church and the world? What are the needs? (p. 54)
An artist was commissioned to capture on one canvas a contemporary picture which best communicated what the church was meant to be in this world. He painted six pictures, all of which were very good, and he now presents them to you for your choice:
1. A family, neatly dressed, walking up the steps of a church, with its high steeple pointing to the heavens.
2. A soldier in shining armor, carrying a cross, leading a charge against evil-looking men, striking them down with his flashing sword.
3. A high pulpit upon which is lying an open Bible, gold-edged, with a red marker lying in it. Behind the pulpit is a stained-glass window.
4. Against the background of people hurrying by on the sidewalk, a man, towel over his shoulder, cleaning the wounds and sores on the feet of a poorly-clad person.
5. A congregation made up of young and old, singing enthusiastically as the sun’s rays slant in to the auditorium.
6. A young man on a busy street corner, open Bible in hand, earnestly talking to several individuals who appear to be listening attentively to his words. Now you choose one . . . (p. 58)
And so we could go on. Rev. Heerema writes that if this booklet is followed, the Christian Reformed Church will go in an entirely different direction. We agree. It will go in a direction entirely opposite the direction which the Scriptures mark out. It will cease to be the Church of Christ. It will no longer manifest Christ’s body in any respect in the world. This is serious. But one gets the impression that the authors and publishers of this booklet know this very well. What we cannot understand is that Heerema concludes his article with the words: “In a final word let it be said that the congregation of which the writer is pastor is participating in Evangelism Thrust and is using “Called To Serve, with emendations.”