More Sin and Ecclesiastical Censure

It is quite impossible to compose a complete list of concrete sins that require the application of Christian discipline by the church. We have already discussed the matter of membership in worldly organizations and we intend to mention a few other things yet before leaving this subject. In this connection The Church Order Commentary by Monsma and Van Dellen mention the evil of worldliness as expressed in the sphere of amusements. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1928 passed a series of resolutions regarding worldliness, which also concern the matter of discipline. The Synod had dealt with this problem already in 1926 but the decisions were not made until two years later. Significant it is that the broadest gathering of the church was confronted with this amusement question just two and four years after the same church had officially adopted the doctrine of common grace. This is not strange but rather a perfectly logical sequence. The adoption of the doctrine of common grace is an invitation to worldliness since it obliterates the antithesis and bridges the gap between the church and the world.

This has been clearly shown in The Triple Breachby Rev. H. Hoeksema. On page 76 he wrote: “Against this view [the third point) we have many objections of a general doctrinal nature. First of all it may be observed that this view certainly lowers the moral, ethical standard of life, of what is good and evil. The attempt to maintain, on the one hand, that man is wholly depraved and, on the other, that he is able to perform good works leads to the view that good may be evil and evil may be good at the same time. It leads to the conception of the relativity of good and evil. Prof. Berkhof speaks of a good that is at the same time sinful and of sin that is relatively good. He speaks of good in the full sense of the word and ‘what is truly good,’ implying naturally that an ethical act may also be half good and half evil. And he even considers the view that maintains that the natural man can only sin, an absolutism that is to be condemned. I consider this introduction of the notion of relativity into the sphere of ethics and morality positively pernicious, and the evil effects of this view are observed but too plainly in the actual life of the people of God in the world. All lines of distinction are being obliterated on the basis of this philosophy. A sphere of transition, a common sphere of life is created by it, a domain where the righteous and the ungodly have fellowship with one another and live the same life.”

On page 77, “But the third point lowers the ethical standard of life, amalgamates light and darkness, causes the Church to be swallowed up by the world. It is detrimental to the fear of God in life. And the effects of this common grace theory are already plainly visible in the life of the Church.”

Once more we quote from page 79. “The real view of this third point, in connection with the second, may be briefly and correctly expressed by saying, that man would have been wholly depraved and incapable of doing any good if time were no influence of common grace. Now, however, he is not wholly corrupt. One may, then, still maintain that this view is not Pelagian because it clearly teaches that the natural man is incapable of doing anyspiritual good, the fact remains, that according to this theory he lives a good world-life before God, just as good as that of the unregenerate, if not better. The antithesis is obliterated and the chasm between the Church and the world is removed, and the former is justified in making common cause with the latter in the things of this present life. Even as in principle the first point denies the truth that grace is particular, so the last two points deny the Reformed truth that man by nature is wholly depraved, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. And it is only by a good deal of sophistry that this real implication of the third point can be denied.”

The point we want to make here, first of all, is that in spite of the pronouncements of the Synod of 1928, the leaders of the Christian Reformed Church have no moral right to impose discipline upon their members who, participating in worldly amusements, logically pursue the tenets of the doctrine adopted in 1924. On the basis of the doctrine of common grace all attempts to stem the influx of worldliness into the church are doomed to end in failure. Likewise it ought to be evident that any attempt to build a principally sound structure of Christian education on this basis is futile. Consistency demands that practice be in accord with the doctrinal basis from which it ensues and where the latter is unsound the former inevitably reveals itself in various forms of worldliness.

In the second place, it is deplorable that the church is coerced to legislate in matters of this kind. This should not have to be. The question as to whether or not members of the church may participate in worldly pleasures is not debatable. Should we even have to ask whether children of God may participate in card-playing, dancing, the theatre, etc.? Yet, the fact is that we are living in an age that has gone pleasure mad and the church has not been left unaffected. This crippling malady that stifles spiritual life and hampers the organic functions of the church is one with which youth alone is not infested but parents and children together are smitten by this deadly epidemic without seeming to realize its destructive potential.

The cure to this evil in the church cannot be found in the church assuming an indifferent attitude toward the conduct of its members. Neither is the oft heard plea of members legitimate that this is a sphere of personal Christian liberty in which the church has no right to legislate. Such argument is using liberty as “a cloak of maliciousness” and “an occasion for the flesh” which Scripture emphatically forbids (Gal. 5:13, I Peter 2:16). With Monsma and Van Dellen we can agree when they point out that “it certainly would be unwise and unbiblical for our Churches and Consistories to single out sins of worldliness and apply discipline regarding these, while passing by other evils, greater perhaps in some instances than those singled out. No Consistory should raise the familiar trio of theatre-attendance, dancing, and card-playing to shibboleths for membership in good and regular standing in its Church while passing by many other forms of sin, such as dishonesty; road-house or night-club attendance; Sabbath desecration; the reading of harmful, impure, lustful literature; drunkenness, profanity; the practice of unbiblical birth-control; etc. etc.”

Consistories, in other words, are not to arbitrarily select certain sins of worldliness and punish these with discipline but are to exercise the God-given power of discipline with respect to worldliness in whatsoever form it may manifest itself. The Synod of 1928 (Chr. Reformed) instructed Consistories “to inquire of those who ask to be examined previous to their making public profession of faith and partaking of the Lord’s Supper as to their stand and conduct in the matter of worldly amusements, and, if it appears that they are not minded to lead the life of Christian separation and consecration, not to permit their public profession.” Concerning the enforcement of this decision Monsma and Van Dellen write: “Let us be thorough and unafraid, but let us also avoid legalistic externalism. And as to discipline, let us not hesitate to do our full duty, but neither let us set up legalistic, partial standards.” If only the church today had the courage to enforce this position, she would stand in a different spiritual light. But the fact is that worldliness in a most glaring form (membership in worldly organizations) has been condoned so that the result of any attempt to combat it in other forms proves futile and the church is left standing “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” (II Tim. 3:5). If strong and uncompromising discipline is not maintained against the evils of worldliness, this end is inevitable.

Another sin that demands the application of discipline by the church is that of parental refusal to have the children of the covenant catechized. This has always been the Reformed position although today, in many would-be Reformed circles, it is no longer deemed necessary to catechize children until they are almost of the age that Calvin said they should be: about ready to make confession of faith. But the Synod of 1588 already ruled that in case parents refuse to send their children to the catechism classes they shall be admonished, and if need be, disciplined to excommunication. This is proper for more than one reason. First of all, catechism is a means of grace and, therefore, parents who refuse to have their children instructed through these appointed channels of the church thereby sin as grievously as if they themselves abstained from the worship services and participation in the sacraments. Such a walk is a repudiation of the Christian faith and must be characterized as ungodly conduct.

In the second place, it is obviously a repudiation of the sacred vows assumed before God in connection with the baptism of these children. God is not mocked. When, therefore, parents are reminded that baptism is not a custom or superstition and in that consciousness they are called to answersincerely before God and His church to various questions, they cannot play with such vows with impunity. One of these questions asks whether “you promise and intend to see this child instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine (the doctrine of this Christian church in which the child is baptized) to the utmost of your power?” Can any parent answer that affirmatively and then withhold their children from catechism without making a mockery of a most sacred vow? Such sin may not go unpunished and the church is duty bound to exercise the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven against such as persist in this evil.

In this connection we also want to discuss the question whether parents are duty bound to send their children to the Christian schools? Whether Protestant Reformed parents are to be disciplined if they refuse to use the facilities of Protestant Reformed education when these are available to them? How does the baptism promise stand related to the instruction of the children in the school? This matter we will discuss, D.V., in the next issue.