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Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

“The Absence of Morality” 

What is moral? What is immoral? Who makes the determination? If one makes the determination, or some group decides, does it necessarily apply to all people? Or only to the people of a specific nation?

Each individual seems to have some idea of what it is for himself. The fact is that society today resembles all too much that in the days of the Judges of Israel of old. Judges 21:25 states, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Every man determined what was moral or immoral for himself. He would not be bound by the rule of any authority.

Some of these thoughts came to mind when I received an e-mail from an individual who spared no strong language to express what he thought about the teaching of the PRC on reprobation. I responded that I would discuss this with him provided we did it on the basis of the infallible Word of God. Specifically I referred him toRomans 9 on the subject.

His response was that he knew well the teaching of Romans 9 and had struggled with that much of his life. He agreed that if Scripture is infallible, then there could be no further debate on the subject of reprobation. But, he concluded, it was immoral on the part of God to reprobate any.

I reminded him of Romans 9:20: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Further, there was the question: Who determines what is moral? Is there an absolute standard? Is it decided by majority vote? Does a Supreme Court give the final decision? Does morality change over the passage of time?

I have not heard from this gentleman since.

One could ask many questions concerning morality and the standard for the same. Is God to be judged as immoral if He determines to reprobate some in the way of their sins? Is abortion, considered once to be a criminal act, now moral because the courts of the land declared this to be a “woman’s choice”? Is gambling, once illegal and declared immoral, now become moral because the State says so and is itself involved in sponsoring and encouraging it? Can marriage, once considered by the State to be dissolved only on the ground of proven adultery, now be dissolved “for any cause” because the State says so?

Marriage has been affected by changing morality. The divorce and remarriage rates seem to climb ever higher. But living in fornication and adultery also becomes an acceptable alternative to marriage— often condoned within churches as well. A report in the Grand Rapids Press, October 15, 2006 stated:

Married couples, whose numbers have been declining for decades as a proportion of American households, finally have slipped into a minority, according to an analysis of new census figures by The New York Times.

The American Community Survey, released this month by the Census Bureau, found 49.7 percent, or 55.2 million, of the nation’s 111.1 million households in 2005 were made up of married couples—with and without children—just shy of a majority and down from more than 52 percent five years earlier.

…While the numbers of single young adults and elderly widows are growing, Coontz said, “We have an anachronistic view as to what extent you can use marriage to organize the distribution and redistribution of benefits.”

And the numbers of unmarried couples are growing. Since 2000, those identifying themselves as unmarried opposite-sex couples rose by about 14 percent, male couples by 24 percent and female couples by 12 percent.

The question must be raised: is morality involved in any way? It appears that today the morality of marriage or alternative lifestyles has come down to the choice of each individual. Whatever is right for him is right. The consequences are inevitable. Those who ignore the morality set forth in God’s Word must expect that.

The consequences of lack of a standard of morality are evident in our “culture of violence.” Many deplore the violence in the schools and in society in general. Articles giving advice concerning solutions are regularly written. But seldom is there raised the question of a standard of morality. The Ten Commandments have been removed from many public institutions. Almost anything is considered acceptable because we have “freedom of speech” and “freedom of choice.” But, as the saying goes, “the chickens have come home to roost.” Cal Thomas, a noted commentator, reflected on this “morality” of our day in the Grand Rapids Press, October 14, 2006:

…We read and hear about kids being shot and killed for a leather jacket or a pair of high-priced sneakers. Why has human life become so cheap and why has moral conduct eroded to the point that many commit murder without a second thought?

Sociologists and culture critics have spent years studying this question and have produced mountains of paperwork analyzing violence and its causes. They have also proposed solutions, none of which appear to be working to stem school shootings.

Elizabeth Thoman, founder of the Center for Media Literacy, contributes one answer. She writes, defensively at first, “for years, like other communicators, I believed that tolerating some things I didn’t like, including depictions of violence, was the price we paid for a free and open public discourse. …The issue, I believe, is no longer one of protecting free speech but protecting human life; it is not a question of censoring ideas but of changing behaviors that are endangering the health and safety of every citizen, young and old.”

The media won’t change and government isn’t about to make them change, other than imposing fines for broadcasting certain vulgar words. So the task falls upon the parents. Get rid of the TV or at least prohibit children from watching violent shows. Don’t allow violent and crude music in your home. Don’t divorce, which causes children to feel abandoned and become angry. Stop aborting babies, because if human life is seen as cheap and disposable at its early stages, we lose a moral argument for preserving it at later stages.

Talking about school violence is not a bad thing. Doing the tough things that will reduce it is better. Abandoning the notion that parents should be “friends” with their children would help, along with the investment of quality time in their lives. But it would require major changes in many households that now put building wealth ahead of building character.

Thomas is correct in many of the things he states. Often in his commentaries he reminds his readers of the requirements of Scripture. Where morality is not based on the testimony of God’s Word, the sad consequences inevitably follow.

The solution, however, is not simply to post the Ten Commandments again on the walls of all of the public schools. One can hold outwardly to all of these commandments—but obedience to the Law of God must be a matter of the heart. All of the proposals to change society to make it more “Christian” will not finally succeed—except there be regeneration and conversion. The signs of this day point rather to the closeness of the end of this age, when man does “what is right in his own eyes” with a vengeance.

150-Year History of the CRC

An interesting review of a book recounting the history of the Christian Reformed Church during the past 150 years appeared in the Grand Rapids Press, September 2, 2006. It was written by Charles Honey, the religion editor of that newspaper. A part of his summary of the book follows:

A CRC vacationer in 1957 could count on attending a church in California or Canada, where everyone sang from the Psalter Hymnal, followed the same order of worship and heard a sermon from a white, male pastor.

Today, a Korean or female pastor might be preaching from a platform rigged with drums and a song-lyrics screen, in a church not even identified as Christian Reformed.

“By and large, the Christian Reformed Church of 1957 was pretty uniform,” Hoezee said. “Now, it’s all over the place.”

Scholarship, service and noisy theological disputes are other recurring themes in Hoezee’s 126-page book.

From divisive dust-ups over the extent of God’s grace and love to the stormy women-in-office debates of recent decades, the CRC tended to be “scrappy,” Hoezee said.

“The first 40 years of Christian Reformed history—it’s amazing we stayed together at all,” he said.

The CRC was born in turmoil, when five West Michigan congregations broke from the Reformed Church in America over theological disagreements. But, from the outset, the CRC contained tensions between pious traditionalists suspicious of the outside culture and more outgoing reformers “willing to engage the world,” Hoezee writes.

“Even today at Synod, if you know what to listen for … those voices are still out there,” he says, referring to the CRC’s top governing body.

The trend toward engaging culture, or “leavening the whole loaf,” has increased during the past 50 years, as has the influence of CRC scholars and affiliated colleges, Hoezee says.

He foresees increasingly diverse worship and worshippers plus increasing challenges to embrace newcomers and keep CRC-raised youth from following other spiritual paths….

Hoezee’s book appears to present accurately the history of the CRC. The great question remains: is this truly a spiritual development of the faithful church of Jesus Christ? Does this represent the proper development of the doctrines of Holy Scripture? There is also the question whether the vacillating character of the youth can be explained by this development in the church. Surely one must not be fixated upon the old ways of conducting services simply because we “always have done it this way”—but there is a real danger that in making changes, one adopts standards and practices of the liberal churches of the day. The youth then see no difference between one denomination and another. Rather, the church must follow the requirements of Scripture and preach Christ crucified—not to provide entertainment to attract the unbeliever and keep their youth. This is what the child of God must expect and demand in the church of Christ.