This may be termed, in a sense, a sequel to my editorial in the September 15 issue entitled “Diagnosis From The Young West.” In this article, however, I will not continue my criticism of “Doctor” Jan Karel Van Baalen’s series of articles in De Wachter, but rather call attention to a recent issue of The Banner (Sept. 11, 1964) which gives ample evidence that the Christian Reformed Church is seriously afflicted with what I would term “common grace” sickness.
In the, above mentioned issue of The Banner there are no less than three distinct references to “common grace,” all of which point to the symptoms of this mortal illness that afflicts the CRC.
The first of these is in an article entitled “Doctrine” (Word a Week, Rev. Rolf L. Veenstra, p.3), from which I quote the following:
“There are a dozen different definitions of the worddoctrine, but most unfortunate is the one that tries to identify it with the use of a few familiar theological expressions. All Christians should strive to know the meaning of such words as trinity, vicarious, incarnation, common grace, active and passive obedience—even though none of these is found in the Bible-but failure to use such expressions does not mean that a person does not know doctrine. There are plenty of simpler equivalents.”
It is not my purpose to criticize the thrust of the above article, but merely to call attention to the glib mention ofcommon grace in one breath with such cardinal truths as that of the trinity, the incarnation, the vicariousness of atonement, and the active and passive obedience of Christ. Willy-nilly, Mr. Veenstra leaves the impression that common grace is in a class, in his Christian Reformed thinking, with doctrines like the trinity and the incarnation. A symptom?
The second instance in the same issue of The Banneris from the feature article by the Rev. Wm. Vander Hoven, “Seedtime and harvest.” In this article, while making a comparison between natural and spiritual sowing and reaping, he simply adopts and states uncritically the view that the covenant with Noah and his seed was a covenant of common grace: “It (the statement of God to Noah concerning seedtime and harvest, H.C.H.) was made in a covenant context, with God and nature being the parties. It was made with a covenant sign, the rainbow. It was a covenant of common grace. And it showed God’s interest in the laws of seeding and harvesting. . . .”
Again it is not my purpose to criticize Rev. Vander Hoven’s entire article, nor even to treat the subject of the covenant with Noah. Besides, Vander Hoven’s idea here is by this time rather traditional in Christian Reformed circles. I heard this story already when I was a boy in grade school. But I do want to point to the fact of this persistent interpretation of the covenant with Noah as one of common grace. And I do want emphasize what a corruption it is of the truth of God’s eternal covenant of grace with His people. What an impoverished conception one gets by substituting the notion of a covenant of common grace for the Scriptural conception of God’s covenant with His people as it embraces all “nature.” Another symptom this is of the sickness that afflicts the life’s root of the CRC; and it is a symptom of long standing too.
The third instance is found in “A voice for the people,” written by Joseph Gritter and its “Reply” by Dr. Wm. Spoelhof. Mr. Gritter complains of “an over-emphasis upon, and mistaken evaluation of, the effects of common grace upon the unbelievers” and of a denial of the antithesis and the building of bridges between the believers and the world. And he directs his criticism at Calvin College! Dr. Spoelhof, on the other hand, terms common grace “a glorious and invaluable teaching,” but also assents to the idea of the antithesis, both for himself and for the rest of the faculty. Space does not permit a quotation of the pertinent paragraphs; besides, this is not necessary for my present purpose.
But here is the third symptom; and it has two aspects. Mr. Gritter represents the one aspect. He seems to be afraid of the results of 1924, but is unwilling to face the fact that unless the entire theory of common grace is discarded and destroyed, root and branch, Christian Reformed theology will never again be healthy. He only fears an “overemphasis” and a “mistaken evaluation.” Dr. Spoelhof (and, I fear, the faculty of Calvin College, for the most part) represent the other aspect of this same symptom. They term common grace a “glorious and invaluable teaching,” and give a certain lip-service to the idea of the antithesis,—the idea that Van Baalen so detests.
This also, is, of course, a symptom of long standing. And it is a direct result of the contradictory stand of the Synod of 1924. That Synod adopted the Three Points of Common Grace, elevating these points to the position of dogma. And in an altogether weak “Testimony,” which was never sent to the churches, the CRC in 1924 insisted that the church “vindicates the spiritual-ethical antithesis tooth and nail.” But the two are contradictory. And the trouble is that common grace became the dogma of the Christian Reformed Church, and thus, in the nature of the case, came to be hailed as a glorious and invaluable doctrine. And to any who still foster any desire to vindicate the spiritual-ethical antithesis that was fundamentally destroyed in 1924, the proponents of common grace need only say (and rightly so, from their viewpoint), “Yes, yes; but common grace is a glorious and invaluable doctrine!”
And the whole CRC must say “Amen!”
Moreover, apparently they fear to say otherwise. Could it be for fear of the big stick of hierarchy that was so successfully wielded in 1924?
Nevertheless, the CRC is sick: afflicted with common grace sickness, not with Anabaptism or pietism, as Van Baalen suggests.