DEFENSE OF THE FORMULA OF SUBSCRIPTION
We have observed in previous issues of the Standard Bearer that the Church, pressing on towards modernism, is making concentrated efforts to dispose of the creeds. Especially in the Reformed Church disposing of the creeds implies also disposing of the Form of Subscription. (Presbyterian Churches also require a promise of their officebearers to uphold the creeds, even though they do not use the Formula.) Hence, attacks are being made upon this Formula in efforts to set it aside. The idea is that, setting aside the Formula, the door will be open to free discussion of all and any doctrine which the Church has confessed, to re-examination of such doctrine, and to the possibility of arriving at different doctrines than those historically maintained. Free discussion with nothing binding upon the consciences and faith of the people of God is the desire of these men. (This became very evident in a recent article in the Reformed Journal written by Henry Stob.)
In The Banner, Rev. Conrad Veenstra, emeritus minister in the Christian Reformed Church, rises to the defense of the Formula and points out that it is being violated in the Church. It is good to hear such a protest.
By way of introduction to this article, Rev. Veenstra offers a brief history of the adoption of the Formula at the Synod of Dordt. From there he proceeds to discuss the fourfold purpose of the Formula. He points out that it demands 1) a declaration of agreement with what is confessed in the Reformed Standards; 2) that it elicits a promise from those who sign it that they will “expound correctly and rise to vindicate these truths when challenged”; 3) that it binds the signer to reject these errors especially the error of Arminianism; 4) that it spells out the way in which an objector to the creeds must walk: the way of gravamen to Consistory, Classis and Synod; the meanwhile keeping silent in public and private, in teaching, preaching and writing these views.
After this introduction, Rev. Veenstra asks the question whether the Church is maintaining her Formula. After pointing out that a growing characteristic of our times is lawlessness in society, politics and even in the Church, he finds these weaknesses beginning to show themselves also in the Christian Reformed Church. He then gives a couple of examples, and we quote from his article.
All of us remember that a few years ago differences of opinion arose regarding the doctrine of infallibility of the Bible. To us, it seems the novel opinions were in conflict with Article 3 of the Belgic Confession, yet the royal road of not writing in public, but revealing our sentiments to consistory, classis and synod was not followed.
At present there is much discussion of theistic evolution as a possible explanation for the origin of all things. But is not Article 12 of the Belgic Confession clear on the doctrine of creation as the origin of all things? . . . In the light of the Confession and Scripture, there seems to be no room for theistic evolution. If it can be harmonized with the doctrine of creation, why not go to consistory, classis, and synod to have such views judged?
The view has been advocated that “God loves all men redemptively.” But how does this fit in with the confession in the Canons of Dordt (2:8) “that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectively redeem . . . all those, and only those, who were from eternity chosen to salvation . . . .” The view advocated seems in complete contradiction with the creed. Can advocating this view be compatible with the subscription to the Form?
To mention but one more illustration, namely, the recent writing on reprobation. The position seems to us to conflict with the Canons (1:15) which declares that “God has decreed to leave some sinners in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion . . . . And this is the decree of reprobation.”
The author concludes this article by asking: “How can brethren justify their public writing and teaching on these subjects in the light of their having subscribed in good conscience before God to the Creed?” And he adds: “We must demand anew that leaders in church and school hold themselves to their promises made when they signed the Form of Subscription or accept the penalty of being suspended from office.”
This position of Rev. Veenstra we heartily endorse. What he writes is so true. And, surely, it is high time that someone rises up in the Christian Reformed Church to call attention to these violations of the promises made by those who signed this document.
But we have a few questions of our own to ask.
First of all, is it not perhaps too late to ask that the penalty of suspension from office be applied to those who violate their own promises? After all the Formula also says “. . . being ready always cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the consistory classis and synod, under the penalty in case of refusal to be, by that very fact, suspended from office.” (Underlining, ours.) Should not that suspension from office have taken place sometime ago when these writing began? It is never too late to undo a wrong, but it does become increasingly difficult. All the more so when Prof. Decker, who is referred to above, was recently reappointed to teach in the seminary.
Secondly, what about those who have been guilty of this violation? What do they think about this? In the official church paper of the Christian Reformed Church they have been accused of violating this important document and of breaking their promise. Will they simply overlook this? Can they overlook it? I am sure that a minister of the gospel or professor who has been publicly accused of breaking his oath of office and becoming worthy of suspension, if he is at all serious about his calling, will rise in righteous anger in his own defense. It seems to me that the sacredness of the promise demands this.
Surely, things cannot continue in this way.
THE OBSCENITY ISSUE
The issue of pornography has been before the Supreme Court of the United States in several cases within the recent past. In an earlier decision, the Supreme Court had seemed to many to go too far in approving pornographic material which is at present flooding the mails and polluting countless newsstands throughout the country. The Court had made the test of pornography to be whether “to the average person, applying contemporary standards, the dominant theme taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.” On the basis of this standard, material which was considered by many to be obscene had been approved. In fact, one judge of the court in particular wrote an opinion which expressed the view that even this standard was too strong and that the principle of “freedom of speech” permitted anyone to write or to say anything which he pleased without limitations by the court. While his view did not prevail on the bench, nevertheless, prophets of gloom predicted that the Court was opening the gates to yet greater streams of filth. The fact was that the court had not yet condemned any one publication.
In a more recent decision, the court ruled that Ralph Ginzburg, a noted publisher of filth, was guilty of disobeying the laws and that he should be sent to jail. The decision was complex: although it was made by a 5-4 majority, nine justices, in three decisions, wrote fourteen different opinions on the matter.
The court has therefore committed itself to the position that some material is indeed pornography and should be banned, while its publishers penalized. But the material has to be pretty bad before this can be done.
The issue goes considerably deeper than any court decision, however.
It is surely evident that the decisions of the court reflect a growing immorality among the citizens of this country. Much lower moral standards (or none at all) are being accepted. One need only do cursory reading in news media to become aware of how deeply the filth of obscenity has penetrated the lives of the citizenry. No legislation, even though it would be far stronger than that made by the Supreme Court, can change the foul heart of man.
But all of this is due to fact that the objective law of God has been abandoned. This is the great problem facing the Supreme Court: they have no standard of what constitutes obscenity. They search for such a standard here and there, but always outside God’s law, and come up with the standard of whether “to the average person, applying contemporary standards, the dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.” Even this makes the standard of obscenity some kind of majority vote of the populace. And, if the morals of the populace decay, the standards decline along with them. There is then at last nothing left of all sin which can be called obscene.
But God’s law is very explicit about these things. The seventh commandment forms the basis; and its interpretation is given throughout Scripture. Paul writes to the Ephesians: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints: Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient . . . .And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Eph. 5:3, 4, 11, 12.
When the law of God is rejected as the standard for our life, moral chaos results.
It is certainly the calling of the saints, more urgent than ever, to keep her garments unspotted from the world.
THE PRAYER ISSUE
Many have not been happy with the decisions of the Supreme Court which forbade prayers of any kind in the public schools. Many bills were introduced into both houses of Congress to restore such devotional exercises. Up until recently these efforts were unsuccessful—their sponsors could not even get the bills on the floor of Congress for consideration and debate.
But Senator Everett Dirksen, minority leader in the Senate, recently introduced a constitutional amendment which would provide for voluntary prayers within the schools. It reads: (I quote from Christianity Today):
Nothing contained in this Constitution shall prohibit the authority administering any school, school system, educational institution or other public building supported in whole or in part through the expenditure of public funds from providing for or permitting the voluntary participation by students or others in prayer. Nothing contained in this article shall authorize any such authority to prescribe the form or content of any prayer.
While Dirksen does not want prescribed prayers to be foisted upon the students, nor that those who do not want to pray be forced to pray, nevertheless, his amendment provides for voluntary prayers to be made by those who wish to make them. This proposed amendment has gained considerable support in the country.
It would be well, it seems to me, to abandon all these efforts permanently. It seems sacrilegious to make such a holy exercise as prayer (an exercise which is the peculiar privilege of the people of God anyway) some sort of legislative football. It is much better to let the issue die.
And, after all, there is no real solution to the problem. The schools are public institutions. And the basic wrong lies here. The responsibility of education belongs to parents, not to the state. As long as this is not followed, no solution to the problem exists. One cannot build a straight house on a crooked foundation