In this part of our critique we shall consider what “Our Song of Hope” has to say about certain key doctrines of the Reformed faith. In doing this, we shall compare the statements of “Our Song” with the statements of our Three Forms of Unity; and we shall make this comparison by consulting the index provided in Appendix B of Dr. Heideman’s commentary on “Our Song.”
First we turn our attention to the Reformed doctrine of predestination. We already noted last time that “Our Song” admittedly presents a different doctrine in this regard than our Canons of Dordrecht present—and thus, also different from that presented by the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. We remind you of the statement, quoted last time, “As a result, one can feel considerable tension between ‘Our Song’ and the Canons of Dordt in the understanding of ‘election’ . . .”
The only reference to election in “Our Song of Hope” is found in Stanza 15, where we read:
Christ elects His church
to proclaim His Word and celebrate the sacraments,
to worship His name,
and to live as His disciples.
He creates His community
to be a place of prayer,
to provide rest for the weary,
and to lead people to share in service.
In connection with this stanza Appendix B refers us to the pertinent portions of our confessions which speak of election.
In explanation of this stanza, the following comments are made, pp. 59, 60:
The first line of stanza 15 uses the word “elects.” This is a word which is used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s relationship to his covenant community. During the history of the West, the word “election” has more often been used to indicate God’s relationship to particular individuals within the covenant community than it has to the covenant community itself. This shift has occurred because in the situation of Christendom, when everyone was baptized, there came to be a preoccupation with the problem of the hypocrite and the necessity of distinguishing within the covenant community between the true believer and the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The church and its preachers felt it to be essential to direct its words of warning to the hypocrites and the enemies of God and to warn the faithful not to assume that as members of the elect community they were automatically saved for all eternity.
In our time when Christendom has broken down, we now recognize that the church has been elected by God to be in the world as Israel was in the days of the Old Testament. The Biblical words which speak to that situation thereby gain new significance for us. We hear again all of those words of the prophets which warn Israel that election does not confer special safety or privileges. It does lay upon the people special responsibilities, for they are elected to participate in God’s great mission of salvation in the world. Israel was to be the great mediator of God’s Law or Torah in the world; her task is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the True Mediator from God. Stanza 15, lines 24, accepts what the Belgic Confession set forth as the three marks of the true church and indicates how these function as the characteristics of the church elected to confess and live the faith of Christ in the world.
Because the church is elected to proclaim Christ’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, worship in the name of the Lord, and live as His disciples, it is not possible for us to accept a distinction made by theologians of an earlier day between the “visible” and the “invisible” church. That distinction, which was intended within Christendom to indicate the possibility of enemies of God in the church on earth, makes it all too easy for the church to think of itself as an otherworldly institution, somewhat separate from life in this world. An invisible church simply cannot have the marks of the church indicated in the Belgic Confession or in stanza 15; the church must stand for Christ at the heart of God’s world.
Any Reformed believer with only a cursory acquaintance with the Canons of Dordrecht will readily recognize that Stanza 15 and the accompanying explanation are a far cry from our Reformed confession of predestination. One could fill many a page with criticism of the paragraphs we have just quoted. A basic criticism, for example, would be the underlying presupposition that truth is not permanent and that a doctrine like the doctrine of election changes. Another, closely related, is the fact that there is absolutely no appeal to Scripture; the appeal is to what the term election formerly meant, what it supposedly came to mean “during the history of the West,” and what its “new significance” in our present situation should be. But let us by-pass all this, and confine our attention to the doctrine itself. What is wrong? The following:
1. The stanza speaks only of an elect community. Do not be fooled into thinking that “Our Song” has in mind the election of the holy catholic church and all of its erect membership. No, this is the rather common heresy of a national election of Israel in the Old Testament and of a similar community election of the church in the world in the New Testament age.
2. The stanza obviously knows only of an election untoservice, not an election unto salvation, not of a being chosen from before the foundation of the world both to salvation and the way of salvation, both to grace and to glory.
3. Stanza 15 is totally silent about the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, Canons I, A, 6, 15. This is extremely. serious. It means that “Our Song of Hope” does not teach a doctrine of predestination, but only a perverted doctrine of election. And this means, in turn, that it cannot lay claim to being a Reformed creed.
4. Stanza 15 speaks of Christ as electing. True, the explanation offered by Dr. Heideman speaks of God as the author of election; but this does not change the fact that “Our Song” itself speaks of Christ. Our Canons, on the other hand, speak of God as the author of election and speak of Christ as being elected: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.” (Canons I, A, 7, italics added).
5. Stanza 15 knows only of a present-time election, not an election from eternity. Notice that it says, “Christ elects . . .,” using the present tense.
6. In Appendix B the boast is made, p. 86, that “‘Our Song of Hope’ can be seen as vigorously reaffirming traditional Reformed themes such as,” among others, “the Sovereignty of God.” I ask: where would one expect the sovereignty of God to be more vigorously re-affirmed than in connection with the doctrine of election? And I ask: but where is the sovereignty of God in Stanza 15, the only stanza which so much as mentions election in the entire proposed creed? The truths that election is unconditional, that the good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election, that it is an election of “some certain persons” (Canons I, A, 10), that election is infallible and can neither be interrupted, changed, recalled, or annulled—all truths intimately bound up with divine sovereignty—these truths do not receive so much as a how-do-you-do in “Our Song of Hope.”
More could be said, much more. But let these most obvious criticisms be sufficient, especially in the light of the fact that it is admitted that there is considerable tension (i.e., pulling in opposite directions) between “Our Song” and the Canons of Dordrecht.
All of this is crucial, and it should be considered to be of crucial importance in the consideration of “Our Song of Hope” as a proposed creed of the Reformed Church in America. Consider:
1. That the doctrine of sovereign predestination has always been admitted to be one of the most characteristic doctrines of the Reformed faith. In fact, election has been called “the heart of the church.”
2. That “Our Song of Hope” admits to presenting an altogether different doctrine of election than do the Three Forms of Unity and especially the Canons.
3. That no attempt is made by way of due process (a gravamen) to dislodge from the confession of the church the doctrine of election taught by the Canons of Dordrecht.
4. That nevertheless the effect will be that the doctrine taught by the Canons will be invalid in the RCA, while the doctrine taught by “Our Song” will be de facto the creed of the RCA.
5. That still—even though the heart is cut out of the Canons—it is claimed that “Our Song” is intended as an additional creed, not a replacement of the old creeds. And, I take it, the RCA will still want to be known as a Reformed denomination even though they will have abandoned the historic Reformed faith.
A question: should “Our Song” be adopted, what will those in the RCA who wish to remain truly Reformed do? Subscription to this new creed is obviously impossible. What will they do? They must prepare to face this serious question.
Another question: what will those who desire to have ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCA do? Will they be willing to swallow this new, but un-Reformed, creed and exercise a fellowship based on the lie? They also must prepare to face this serious question.