You will remember that we are examining this proposed new confession of the Reformed Church in America from the viewpoint of what it has to say regarding those characteristic truths of the Reformed faith known as the Five Points of Calvinism. Last time we looked at “Our Song” in comparison with our Reformed faith concerning sovereign predestination. “Our Song” was tried and found sorely wanting.
Next we consider “Our Song of Hope” from the viewpoint of what it has to say or fails to say about the doctrine of sin, and specifically the doctrine of total depravity.
In order to do so, seeing it is several weeks ago that we reproduced this provisional new confession in full, let us take a second look at the specific stanza which speaks of sin, Stanza 2:
We know Christ to be our only hope.
We have enmeshed our world in a realm of sin,
rebelled against God,
accepted man’s oppression of man,
and even crucified His Son.
God’s world has been trapped by our fall,
governments entangled by human pride,
and nature polluted by mankind’s greed.
The only other reference to sin and the fall that might be termed significant is found in line 2 of Stanza 3: “After we refused to live in the image of God. . . .”
Now this, mind you, is supposed to be a re-affirmation of the traditional faith in the contemporary situation. And this new confessional statement is intended for use in public worship and in religious education. In other words, with regard to the doctrine of sin it is the language quoted above which will be drummed into the minds and hearts of the membership of the RCA through recitation in public worship and in classes for religious education. It is this language, in effect, which will become the expression of what the RCA believes and confesses concerning sin. And the language of the old creeds will be neglected and forgotten, left to gather dust in the archives of the church.
Notice, in the first place, the studied attempt to be “contemporary” and to view sin on the horizontal plane, i.e., in terms of man-to-man and man-to-creation relationships. This comes to the fore in such expressions as: “We have enmeshed our world in a realm of sin . . . accepted man’s oppression of man . . . governments entangled by human pride . . . nature polluted by mankind’s greed.” The fact of the matter is that a large part of this stanza is taken up by such matters, while the important aspects of the doctrine of sin are totally neglected. This is, of course, fashionable in our day. To talk about social injustice, about corruption in government, about pollution of the environment—ail this is very “contemporary” and also quite painless and highly impersonal when it comes to the subject of sin.
Notice, in the second place, in close connection with the preceding, that the stanza gives expression to some bland generalities concerning sin—generalities, I dare say, to which almost anyone will subscribe if you allow him the liberty to interpret them as he sees fit. But that, you see, is the trouble with generalities. I would imagine that even a Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, at the extreme liberal end of the spectrum, would subscribe to this stanza of “Our Song.” And I suppose this phraseology is very deliberately chosen to make “Our Song” palatable to all—to all, that is, except those who take sin seriously. For the fact of the matter is that this stanza never comes to grips with the horror of sin. It never comes to grips with the kind of sin which a man knows who confesses that the heart of man is desperately wicked. It never makes any confession of sin which bespeaks tears of sorrow and repentance.
In the third place, the stanza is sorely lacking in some very fundamental specifics concerning sin. Permit me to point out some of the main ones:
1. It utterly fails to view sin as the failure to obey and the inability to obey the Law of God. And, in connection with this, it fails to view sin as a wanton offense against the infinite majesty of God and as being terribly displeasing to the living God, the Holy One.
2. It views sin, in so far as it says anything significant about it, strictly as the act, and says nothing whatsoever about man’s nature, his heart and mind and will.
3. It says nothing about the origin of sin and about the fall. In fact, in his commentary Dr. Heideman makes plain that this is deliberate; and he makes some very strange comments about the fall:
“Thus we do not talk about the fall of the race as if it happened long before we were born. We know that it happened way back at the beginning of our race, but it has been happening and becoming greater in each generation. Even when we can no longer make contact with our ancestors (whatever that may mean! HCH), the doctrine of the fall of man remains true. . . .” (p. 22)
4. It says nothing whatsoever about the truth of man’s total depravity, the truth that we are so corrupt by nature that we are incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
5. It says nothing whatsoever about the doctrine of original sin—either about original guilt or about inherited pollution. And again, in his commentary Dr. Heideman presents his own doctrine of original sin, with which no Reformed man could possibly agree. He writes:
“We are enmeshed in systems of life which embody the sin of our race. That sin reaches into our political, economic, social, educational, and even into our religious institutions. The way we speak our words, frame our thoughts, and eat our food is part of that realm of sin. It not only touches our souls; it reaches into our bodies, causing blindness in some, malnutrition in others, and kills those who do little harm to others. In the words of the Scriptures, we battle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities, against the rulers of this age. We feel ourselves caught in a web of evil even when we cannot locate the sources of that iniquity. This web of sin in which we are trapped is what the theologians in the past called ‘original sin,’ or even ‘inherited sin.’ (I wonder which theologians those were; they surely were not our Reformed fathers. HCH) By this phrase they did not mean that God had created an evil world. On the contrary, they always insisted that God had created the world good; it was man who had invented sin. Neither did they mean to say that sin was some kind of a biological inheritance, due to the fact that we are caught up in a world of matter. What they indicated by this phrase was the fact that so soon as we accept in any way our place in the human race (as if we could possibly decline it! HCH), we willingly participate in the whole nexus of sin in the world. By accepting language, family life, money, clothing, food, etc., we accept the way in which a fallen race does things and begin to participate in that realm of evil ourselves. Modern psychologists and sociologists have traced out in detail the struggles, clashes, and jealousies which take place in families. They have shown how even sexual union, that beautiful gift of God for human love, has been corrupted into a battle ground.”
Now I must profess that I thought I knew what the doctrine of original sin was. I also thought I knew a bit about how theologians in the past explained this doctrine. But if the above is true, then I missed the boat somewhere. I have never before seen such an explanation, and I fail utterly to see even the remotest reason why the above description should even be referred to as what theologians in the past referred to as original sin. Of course, this commentary is not official; and it is not the only possible interpretation of “Our Song.” Perhaps some RCA theologians can outdo Dr. Heideman.
If after this taste of theological poison you feel in need of an antidote or a purgative, I suggest you go back to the tried and true Reformed confessions. Read the Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 3 to 11, the Belgic Confession, Articles 14 and 15, and the Canons of Dordrecht, III, IV, 1-4. For truth, for beauty, for precision, and for God-glorifying confession of faith they are unexcelled. “Our Song of Hope” cannot even compare! And make no mistake about it, “Our Song” is a completely NEW confession, not a confession of the old truths in contemporary form.
Once again the verdict must be: tried and found wanting!