Insoluble Marriage Problems
Of this we were reminded by an article in the Banner, an official organ of the Christian Reformed Church. This article appeared in the Banner of December 26, 1975, page 4, and it was written by Melvin D. Hugen, professor of Pastoral Theology at Calvin Seminary. We need not quote all of it. We offer our readers the following:
It finally happened. I heard a wedding liturgy with all the verbs in the present tense. Well . . . not quite all. There were a few references to the past and these were rightly and Christianly done.
The one had been married before. Her mate had left her and was now married to another. The pastor spoke of the pain of the past, of a marriage that had been broken, and of sins that had been forgiven and. purged. He prayed for both of them in the light of the past. It was well that he did, for the past could not be ignored at that wedding. The past was there in the shape of two children who stood by their mother during the ceremony, not as flower girls but as participants in a rite by which a new family was being formed.
I was happy that there were verbs in the past tense and that they were pointed verbs like “broken,” “sinned,” “forgiven,” and “purged.” Christians can use verbs in the past tense because God can and does make the present into the past. When God forgives and cleanses, the past becomes truly the past. Her divorce, even her role in it, no longer shaped and formed and determined the present. This bride and this groom were making a new beginning and we could celebrate that fact because of what Christ had done with the past.
But the rest of the ceremony was in the present tense. The groom spoke movingly about his love for this young woman and her two daughters. She said how she felt about him and what he meant to her. And that was it. No more. No future tenses at all. No one said what they planned to do tomorrow or a year from now, much less until death do them part.
They said they loved each other, and we believed them because it sounded so sincere and it had come through such trial. But they made no promises about loving each other in the future. No one promised love or honor in sickness or in health, in poverty or in riches, for better or for worse. No one promised anything at all. They did not even promise to live together as husband and wife. . . .
In any case, it was a wedding in the present tense. As we walked out I was thinking to myself, “How could a minister, trained in theology, agree to such a liturgy? Or had that pastor not even read the form before he spoke it to us?” Such could have been, for he read it as if he knew it not. But that gave me less comfort. Do we no longer care what wedding liturgies we use or what theologies they embody?
We need not quote more. In the rest of this article, Dr. Hugen sets forth what kind of a liturgy should have been used at this wedding. I, too, was thinking to myself as I read this article in the Banner. This is what I was thinking. Dr. Hugen, it finally happened. You begin your article with these words. Yes, it finally happened. How expressibly sad! First, the wedding should never have occurred.
Dr. Hugen, please do not look for a proper liturgy to be used at such a wedding. The wedding itself is wrong. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matt. 5:32, Matt. 19:9,Luke 16:18, and many other passages tell us this very clearly.
Secondly, Dr. Hugen, you were happy that there were verbs in the past tense, verbs such as “broken,” “sinned,” “forgiven” and “purged.” But, how could this be? The bride had been married before. And her mate, who had left her, was now married to another. And now she, too, married again. And the pastor speaks of the pain of the past, of a marriage that had been broken, and of sins that had been forgiven and purged? But, Dr. Hugen, how can this be? We read inProv. 28:13: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and, forsaketh them shall have mercy.” This bride confessed her sin of a broken marriage, now enters into another, and her sin, being confessed, is now forgiven and purged? That cannot be! Our sins are forgiven when we not only confess them but also forsake them!
Thirdly, it was wedding without vows. Nothing was said about the future. How terrible! But, is this so surprising? Dr. Hugen, this is exactly what one may and can and must expect when a person who has been divorced, whether biblically or unbiblically, is permitted to continue in a second marriage. They cannot promise anything of the future. How do they know whether this second marriage will not also suffer shipwreck? Yes, Dr. Hugen, it finally happened. How inexpressibly sad!
Dr. John Kromminga and the WCC
In the editorial in the Banner, also of Dec. 26, 1975, Prof. John Kromminga tells an audience how the Reformed Church in. America appears to him. That we do not quote extensively from this article must not be construed as if we do not consider it worthy of comments. We direct our readers to the following, the second and third paragraphs in the left column, page 7:
I may add, although here I am speaking as an individual perhaps not representative of my own denomination, that some of the ecumenical memberships of the RCA—such as the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches—are fundamentally sound and provide an—opportunity for the church to be a positive influence in the wider family of churches. . . .
From my own peculiar point of vantage I could wish that the CRC felt more comfortable with the World Council and the World Alliance. But I could wish that the RCA felt somewhat less comfortable there. Perhaps I betray a certain theological bias. But I feel that through its membership in these organizations the RCA has an opportunity to make both of them more authentically Biblical and theological in their outlook and activities, and to make the World Alliance in particular more authentically Reformed, as in its name it claims to be. But if this is happening, I have not seen the evidence of it . . . So we have different conceptions of what it means, ecumenically, to be Reformed. . . .
Indeed, there are other matters in this speech of Dr. Kromminga to which we could call the attention of our readers. Incidentally, this speech was delivered by Prof. Kromminga at a joint RCA and CRC meeting. There have been efforts afoot for some time already to bring about a reunion of the Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church. The speaker declared that it appears sometimes that there are two well-defined opposing minds on matters such as abortion, church union, and the ordination of women to the ministry, and he said that these opposing minds are operating within the RCA. He also declared in this speech that there is little sensitivity to the need of Christian day school education in the RCA, and that this is a screaming demand of the secularity of our times.
Of course, Prof. Kromminga could have said more. He spoke of conditions in the Reformed Church when he referred to such matters as abortion and the ordination of women to the ministry. However, this matter of the ordination of women to the ministry is surely not a dead issue in his own church. That this is a live issue is apparent from what one reads in the Banner. Besides, the professor must be familiar with the causes and conditions which led to the secession of the Christian Reformed Church out of the Reformed Church in 1857. There were issues at that time such as the singing of hymns in the churches, and lodge membership. In addition to this, was not the membership of the Christian Reformed Church at that time sorely troubled because of the Arminianism which was rampant in the Reformed Church of that time? Dr. Kromminga says nothing about this. And this is understandable. The singing of hymns is very common in his own church today. As far as lodge membership is concerned, are there not voices raised these days that these lodge members should be received into the membership of the church and that labor should be bestowed upon them after they have been received into the fellowship of the church? This would be the same as receiving or allowing wolves into the sheepfold of the church and then working with them. What a dangerous procedure this would be! And what could Prof. Kromminga say about the Arminianism that is rampant today? His own church is permeated with it. Do not the Three Points of 1924 speak of a universal love of God which the Lord reveals in the preaching of the gospel which is a universal offer of salvation? And did they not give a life tenure to Prof. H. Dekker, who is openly in conflict with the Canons of Dordt and who believes in universal atonement?
In this quotation, however, the speaker also declares that some of the ecumenical memberships of the RCA—such as the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches—are fundamentally sound. And the professor also states it to be his personal wish that the CRC felt more comfortable with the World Council of Churches. What shall we say? What must one say of a merger of churches when the fundamental truths of the Word of God are either denied or ignored? Well, Dr. Kromminga, you also said that you spoke as an individual, not as representing the CRC. However, I fear that in the future your personal wishes will be shared by more and more in the CRC. This, of course, will not be for the good of the CRC. And I also fear that a merger of the Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church, as envisioned by Prof. Kromminga, will not really serve the well-being of either church.