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“Freedom” of Religion

The United States of America is known as the land of the free. Prominently mentioned in this regard is the freedom of religion. However, it appears that increasingly that “freedom” has limitation. In thePresbyterian Guardian there is a report from a small Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in San Francisco which is being sued because it “fired” its homosexual organist. The organist was not a member of the congregation, and was released from his position when it became known that he was living in sin. The article states:

We have been sued: Myself as pastor, my congregation, and our presbytery have all been sued by an avowed homosexual because we would not allow him to participate in the worship service by playing the organ. 

Our city of San Francisco passed a city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation—homosexuality. This law was signed on April 11, 1978 by a mayor who was some months later assassinated by the only city supervisor that voted against the ordinance. Justice was not done to the mayor nor was justice done to the assassin. 

. . . The attorney for the plaintiff is fighting for homosexual rights in San Francisco. Technically he represents the interests of 200,000 homosexuals in the city. The organization which he directs, the Gay Rights Advocates, seeks to advance the homosexual cause through civil court action. He is not out for the money, at least not in our case, but for principle. 

We were threatened with lawsuit ten months ago. Who would have thought that immorality would be so bold as to bring suit against a church of Jesus Christ! 

. . . We will fight this affrontery to the church of Christ. Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. Neither the State nor any group of men can dictate to the church which he purchased with his own blood. They are not asking for this man’s job back. They are demanding that the laws of God give way to the laws of sinful men. . . .

And so develops the opposition to God and His Cause. One can imagine that it might not be long before some sue to ensure the protection of women’s “rights,” and minority “rights,” or children’s “rights.” Under laws presently existing, the church might well be held guilty of violating some of these “rights.” One can see already now the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of God concerning the attempts of the antichristian power to silence the church.

“Blue-penciling” the Psalms

Having recently faced the question whether there was a real serpent who spake to Eve in Paradise, and whether there was a real earthquake at Christ’s resurrection, the Christian Reformed people now-face another question: ought some of the Psalms be “blue-penciled”? Some seem to think so. In the Banner of Sept. 14, 1979, Marlin Van Elderen expresses his strong concern about “deficiencies” in the Psalms.

Flipping through the Psalter Hymnal during the offertory one Sunday morning, I happened across the setting of

Psalm 109

in No. 220. Its title is fairly benign: “O God, Whom I Delight to Praise.” Little hint there of the invective soon to rise to the surface. Take the hopes expressed for the wicked in stanza five, for instance: 

“Let sudden death upon him break, 

His office let another take, 

His children and his widowed wife 

Pursue the homeless beggar’s life.” 

A quick check of the Bible showed these intensely unpleasant wishes to be a pretty accurate rendering of the psalmist’s own words (109:8-10, as translated in the New International Version): 

“May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.” 

. . . The exile lament of

Psalm 137

probably expresses the emotion that is hardest for contemporary sensibilities to tolerate: 

“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”

Mercifully, Psalter Hymnal No. 285 does not attempt to reduce that to iambic rhymes. 

A common reaction, I suppose, is to wish that sentiments like these had somehow fallen by the wayside before the psalms had attained their place in the canon. To be sure, the original authors were probably more hard-pressed than most of us will ever be, and so might perhaps be forgiven for asking the Lord to repay their enemies—whom they saw primarily as His enemies—in the same hard currency, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, murder of innocents for murder of innocents. Still, we are tempted to wonder, why couldn’t these who put this book together under serener conditions, and we confess, the Spirit’s guidance, have blue-penciled the thirst for revenge and vindication? 

. . . But no Christian minister may speak thus about sin without also proclaiming the good news of the gospel of grace, the announcement of God’s answer to evil. Of this the psalmists seem to have had no more than a vague and preliminary idea, and that was often eclipsed by the harrowing circumstances in which they found themselves. For Christian congregations to take these ancient curses on our lips would be to leave out “God’s way of righting wrong.”

Rom. 1:17

NEB. Worse yet, to make such prayers our own is to forget that for all of us the most important wrong righted by God’s grace is that in our own heart. 

Some may argue that no song can by itself “represent the full range of the revelation of God,” so that the deficiencies in how the imprecatory psalms talk about evil are no more serious than the ways in which other hymns fail to convey the whole of the truth about anything. I disagree. The way in which the imprecatory psalms—and their versifications in the Psalter Hymnal—fall short of the goal of representing the full range of God’s revelation opens the door to self-righteousness. They are far too dangerous to our spiritual health for us ever to sing them. 

And if these verses ought never to be sung, perhaps they ought to be left out of the new edition of the Psalter Hymnal now being prepared.

The above article is not surprising, of course. There has been the continuing debate in the C.R.C. concerning the idea of “infallibility” of Scripture. There is the adoption by the C.R.C. Synod a number of years ago of “Report 44” which appears to allow for the above kind of interpretation of Scripture. There is the toleration of views expressed by Dr. Verhey. No wonder an article as the above can appear in the official church paper. 

Yet how sad that the article should appear in a Reformed magazine. How sad that the Holy Spirit is presented as such a cruel tyrant or ignorant mover of the psalmist. Sad it is that what the Spirit worked, we “ought never to sing.” 

If the Psalms are the Word of God, then these “imprecatory” parts are His Word too. Would one dare to “blue-pencil” God’s Word? Will any object? 

It is sad but true that one can not meddle with the truth of the absolute infallibility of Scripture without ultimately destroying the trustworthiness of all of the Bible. If one can blue-pencil some of the Psalms because these seem to conflict with God’s “love,” then he can do that with any part of Scripture. Any who know the development of this same heresy in other denominations, can know what will happen soon in the CRC too—unless God change the course of this denomination. Before long, one denies the admonitions of Scripture—because a “loving” and “merciful” God will not so speak to His people. Then one denies the existence of hell—for it is not consistent with God’s love. Soon one finds reason to deny miracles of the Bible—then even the atonement itself. There seems to be no stopping of this sort of reasoning short of a return to the truth of the full inspiration of the Bible.

The AELC and the Trinity

The development of error is seen all about us. TheChristian News of July 23, 1979, comments on differences between the Missouri Synod—Lutheran Church and the break-away group called Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches with their seminary: Seminex. The article points out:

The AELC also differs with the LCMS on the ordination of women and having homosexuals serve as clergymen. 

However, the differences between the AELC and LCMS go far deeper than even abortion, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. The AELC allows its theologians to reject the historic Christian faith itself. Any AELC defender who doubts this should read “Liturgical Piety and the Doctrine of the Trinity” by Dr. Robert L. Wilken in the Spring issue of Dialog. 

Dr. Robert Wilken is an AELC clergyman who teaches at the University of Notre Dame. When he taught at the Jesuit Fordham University in the Bronx, there were some Roman Catholics in the Bronx who were not pleased with the liberalism of an LCMS professor who was teaching at their school. Dr. Wilken told us in 1967 at the LCMS’s New York convention that he did not believe in the virgin birth of Christ. He also said in the presence of his friend, Rabbi Solomon Bernards of the Anti-Defamation League, that Christ was not the only way to heaven. Wilken had already cast doubt upon the virgin birth of Christ in the Pentecost, 1965 Una Sancta. He argued in the March, 1968 Una Sancta that Christianity is just one of the many world religions which have gradually evolved in history. 

The lead article in Seminex’s February, 1979 Currents in Theology in Mission is by Robert Wilken on the Athanasian Creed. The AELC clergyman rejects a real subscription to the Athanasian Creed. The Athanasian Creed teaches that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and that historic Christianity is the only saving faith. Wilken can’t accept this. 

Now he argues in the latest Dialog that the doctrine of the Trinity is another doctrine which has no real scriptural support but is a doctrine which gradually evolved. According to this AELC clergyman, the Arians (early Unitarians who rejected the deity of Christ) actually had more scriptural support than the Trinitarians. . . .

The article continues by quoting more of this heretic clergyman. One must surely be impressed that the heresies which were condemned in the early history of the New Testament church are re-surfacing. Once more, the very fundamentals of Christianity are being denied. Evidence, it is, of the apostasy of which Scripture clearly foretold.