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GOD IS DEAD? 

There have always been men who with an ultimate arrogance pronounced the death sentence upon the living God. Nietsche tried it; so did Voltaire. But these men were generally outside the Church. Again today men are doing the same. The difference is that these “death sentences” are not coming from atheistic Russia, but from theologians within the church. 

The most outspoken advocate of this new movement is Thomas J.J. Altizer, professor of religion in Emory University, a Methodist school. He has been so outspoken with his view that he has shaken the church world badly. 

A few quotations from a recent speech of his will demonstrate how open he is. (The quotations are taken from Christianity Today.)

We are now living in a time when the whole inherited body of our theological language is disappearing into the past and a new history is dawning in our midst before which theology is increasingly becoming speechless. 

(The Christian can no longer) find security in an absolute sovereign God who exercises a beneficent and providential government over the world. 

Theology must resolutely confine the Christian name of God to the past, and wholly refrain from proclaiming his redemptive presence in our historical present. 

Only the death of God can make possible the advent of a new humanity. 

Just as apocalyptic imagery centers upon the defeat of Satan or Antichrist, whose death alone ushers in the victory of the Kingdom of God, so contemporary thought and sensibility is rooted in an absolute negation of God, a negation which already promises to dissolve even the memory of God. 

All America is called to freely accept and will the death of God. 

To refuse the death of God and cling to his primordial image (is to have bad faith).

All this amounts to a very haughty and blasphemous assertion that there is no God. Altizer means to say that true religion must, in order to survive in our times, deny God’s existence and build a religion which is based upon man. To speak of God is pointless in our day; to believe in God is impossible when science has destroyed everything supernatural; to be saved does not require faith in God but only faith in man. We must dispose of all the truth of Scripture and found religion only upon man and this world. 

All this hardly requires comment. Yet it is, I think, important to note that such blasphemy is the end of a rejection of God’s revelation—an inevitable end. When Scripture is abandoned as the written record of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ (either in whole or in part) the end has got to be the arrogant heresy of Altizer. And those who persist in tampering in any respect with Scripture do well to take warning. 

One wonders sometimes how it is possible that the Lord withholds yet for a time His almighty hand of judgment. Here is a man, less than a speck of dust, standing before the face of the God of heaven and earth, living in God’s world, sustained by God’s hand, breathing God’s air, surrounded by countless displays of God’s majesty and glory, shaking his puny fist in the face of the Most High and boastfully pronouncing Jehovah dead. It makes one shudder. But it is the foolwho says in his heart, “There is no God.”

ONCE AGAIN—CHRIST’S RESURRECTION 

Paul spoke in his glorious chapter on the resurrection of the fact that Christ’s resurrection is the cornerstone of the. Christian faith: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. . . . And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins.” I Corinthians 15:14, 17

Those who deny the Christian faith must of necessity deny the resurrection. And those who deny the resurrection must find some plausible explanation for the death of Christ on the cross and for the empty tomb in Joseph’s garden. The empty tomb is the one historical fact which cannot be denied except by the foolishness of unbelief. It cannot be properly explained in any other way than by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 

Yet all this does not mean that many have not tried it. Since the leaders of the Jews ordered the soldiers who had guarded Christ’s grave to spread the lie that the disciples had stolen the body to today there have been many attempts made to give some satisfactory explanation for that empty grave. But all such explanations are fantastic inventions of unbelief more impossible to maintain than the resurrection itself. And they have been buried in history. 

Now another such attempt has been made to explain the empty tomb while yet denying the resurrection. Hugh J. Schonfield, born of Orthodox Jewish parents, has recently written a book published in England in which he propounds what he calls a new theory. The book has been widely hailed. 

In brief, he insists that Christ believed Himself to be the expected Messiah of history; and that He, with a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament prophecies, deliberately set out to fulfill these prophecies and carefully plotted His own suffering and death. He chose Jerusalem as the scene of His death, arranged for Judas to act as betrayer, plotted with Lazarus and Joseph of Arimathea the whole drama of Calvary. Cunningly, He chose the day of His death just prior to the Sabbath so that He would not have to be on the cross too long; arranged. for the vinegar to be given Him because the vinegar was a narcotic which, when taken, induced a state of apparent death, arranged beforehand the binding with linen grave clothes and spices not as preparations for burial, but as medicine for His wounds, and planned to have His disciples aid Him in, His reappearances to claim a resurrection. However, His plans went awry. Ear He did not anticipate the sword thrust of the Roman soldier. The result was that, while He was still alive when taken from the cross, and while He even gained consciousness briefly after being carried away from Calvary, He died nonetheless. His disciples took His body from the tomb in Joseph’s garden and buried it elsewhere in utmost secrecy. 

This attempt to explain the empty tomb is really nothing new and not even as clever as other attempts which have been made in the past. Yet it shows that Satan never wearies of trying to undermine the glorious truth of the resurrection upon which the faith of the Church rests. Over against all these silly attempts of unbelief, the Church still shouts victoriously with Paul: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” 

VATICAN II (Continued) 

Much has already been written on the Second Vatican Council, and we may, no doubt, expect much more now that the Council has finished its work. For our own readers, Rev. VanBaren will continue his excellent series on the activities of the council in future issues of the Standard Bearer. We will not enter into any detail therefore on a discussion of these decisions. We offer here only a brief summary of some of the more important decisions which were made towards the end of the sessions—especially those which speak of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and other religions. 

Perhaps the most debated issue before the council was the issue of Christian liberty. This decision was to define the relation between the Roman Catholic Church and other religions in the light of the claim of the Church of Rome to be the only true Church. Rome has always insisted that no one had a right to believe any other faith but that which Rome herself taught; and that it was the Church’s obligation to enforce this religion at the point of the sword if necessary. The result is that the Church of Rome possesses a long history of intolerance and overt persecution. 

This issue was faced by the Council since it has become ecclesiastically fashionable to promote freedom of religion. The new decision softened the old stand somewhat, although not as much as some, wanted. It declared that all men have the right to freedom of conscience in matters of worship (Which was quite a concession); but at the same time it also insisted that all men have the duty to embrace Catholicism once they recognize its truthful claims. In this same decision, the Council boldly ignored centuries of persecution and piously stated that the Church has always professed the principle of liberty of conscience. The graves of a thousand martyrs mock this assertion. 

Another declaration entitled “On Non-Christian Religions” condemned anti-Semitism and asserted that the Jewish people as a whole cannot be accounted guilty for the crucifixion of Christ. Although many were disappointed that the decision did not include a statement acknowledging the Church’s role in the past in anti-Semitism, this was enough to satisfy the Jews—and arouse the anger of the Arabs.

While the council made some decisions concerning internal reform (particularly the introduction of vernacular languages into the liturgy, and the increased role of the bishops. in the rule of the Church) no essential changes were made in Romish doctrine. The Church remained fixed in its heretical dogmas which inspired and necessitated the Protestant Reformation. 

This omission, while expected, will no doubt be overlooked by today’s protestant theologians who are so eager to nestle closer to Rome. One went so far as to say that were Martin Luther living today he would have been sufficiently satisfied with these decisions to remain within the Romish Church. Others speak of the favorable change in the “climate” of the Church, of the obvious fact that the Church “has become a people on the march—or at least a people which is packing its bags for a pilgrimage” and that we can assuredly look for more changes in the future. 

But Rome remains Rome; and the need for maintaining the principles of the Reformation is as urgent today as it was 450 years ago. 

A NEEDED REPRIMAND 

As has been reported previously in the Standard Bearer, the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands are considering the advisability of joining the World Council of Churches. There is considerable sentiment within that Church favoring this venture. 

At the 32nd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church a communication was adopted to send to the Gereformeerde Kerken in which the General Assembly sharply criticizes this action. 

The letter, unanimously adopted by the assembly, is a thorough piece of work: It discusses and analyzes the structure of the World Council of Churches, examines the whole question of ecumenicity, develops the calling of the Church to seek the unity of the body of Christ as this calling is found in Scripture, and presents cogent reasons why fellowship with the World Council of Churches is impossible for those who wish to preserve the truth of God’s Word. 

The reason why the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church addresses, itself to this problem of the Gereformeerde Kerken is that the two denominations are sister Churches. The implication is therefore very strongly made that should the Gereformeerde Kerken nevertheless join the WCC, it will be impossible to continue these sisterly relationships since the witness of the two Churches will no longer be identical. Thus the letter concludes with the words: 

The Reformed Churches are respectfully urged to reject membership in the World Council of Churches and to maintain common witness with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to the unity of the body of Christ.” 

We cannot quote the letter here; but those pursuing their ecumenical dreams could profitably read it and the Gereformeerde Kerken would do well to pay attention to it.