“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”
Of these words of Romans 1:28 I was reminded recently by a front-page article in The Grand Rapids Pressentitled “Census Finds Unwedded Bliss Rising,” with the sub-title, “Experts Believe Nearly Half of Today’s Newborns Will Be Raised by Only One Parent.” Here are some of the statistics cited by the article :
—”The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the number of couples living together outside of marriage has more than doubled during the first eight years of this decade, and increased more than eight-fold among people under 25.”
—”The Census Bureau found that as of March 1978 one of every five American households consisted of just one person, up 42 percent just since 1970. Moreover, census experts have estimated that nearly half of all children born today will spend a ‘meaningful’ portion of their childhood with only one parent.”
—”The study shows that cohabitation, or ‘households which contain two unrelated adults of opposite sexes had increased by 117 percent since 1970. It found about 1.1 million such households in the country. . . .”
—”In seven of every 10 of the unmarried households, both partners were under the age of 45 in 1978. One fourth of the households had one or more children living with them.”
—”The trend toward living together without legal sanction was largely a youth phenomenon. There was almost no change between 1970 and 1978 in the number of unmarried households headed by persons 45 or older. However, there was a six-fold increase among those headed by persons under 45 and an eight-fold increase in those headed by someone under 25.”
—”The 1970 census found only 29,000 of the under 25 couples, compared with 236,000 in the 1978 survey.” A note is added that “Some of this rise might be due to greater willingness today to disclose such arrangements to census takers.” A note might also have been added that no one knows the number of such fornicating couples who do not disclose such arrangements to census takers or who cannot be traced.
—”The number of families in which no man is present rose from 5.6 million in 1970 to 8 million in 1978. In 1978, a third of these women were divorced, 29 percent widowed and 15 percent single.”
—”The Census Bureau estimates that last year 12 million of the country’s 63 million children were living with only one parent. This represented an increase of nearly half over the proportion in 1970. The number of children living with unmarried mothers more than tripled over the period.”
A cursory consideration of frightening statistics like these makes it plain that in a so-called Christian nation such as ours there is, even from an outward point of view, an alarming breakdown of morality in our society, and that, too, in the crucial areas of marriage and the home. What we are seeing is the practical results of the “situation ethics” which men began increasingly to promote in the name of the “church” a couple of decades ago.
In terms of our Reformed confession concerning total depravity and the corruption of mankind, there is in these statistics an object lesson illustrating the truth taught in Canons III-IV, Article 4. According to that article, there remain in man since the fall “the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” The very fact that the Census Bureau pays attention to matters like the above and gathers statistics about them is evidence of such “natural light.” And the fact that sociologists and educators are perturbed and deeply concerned about such things as the proliferation of “single parent homes,” illegitimacy, teen-age pregnancies, couples who “shack up” (the Dutch call it“hokken“) without benefit of law, etc. — this very fact, I say, though these same sociologists and educators never propose the right solution to these problems, is also evidence of “natural light” in a depraved society.
At the same time, there is here an object lesson illustrating the Canons’ evaluation of fallen man’s natural light and its abuse: “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.” Those who perpetrate the above described evils in our modern society are certainly an illustration of this truth. But the leaders in the field of sociology and education who are forever treating or trying to treat the effects of sin, rather than sin itself and the cause, are also illustrations of the fact that natural man renders his “natural light” wholly polluted — and becomes inexcusable before God. Incidentally, how even from an empirical point of view — let alone Scriptural — anyone can believe in a restraint of sin in man and society by virtue of common grace in today’s world is difficult to understand.
Meanwhile, there is a warning that needs to be sounded. Our covenant homes are established in the midst of a world full of such corruptions as are described in the statistics cited. Our children and our young people grow up, begin their courtships, are married and establish their homes in the midst of such a society. Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us come into contact with that society and its corruptions. Almost unconsciously we can be influenced by the world’s life-style and thinking and language. Gradually that which was first mentioned with blushing and as shocking can become so commonplace that it begins to be deemed acceptable. Do you remember when coed dormitories at colleges and universities first made the news? Shocking, wasn’t it? Today they have the status of acceptability. Do you remember when couples living together in fornication first began to become a public thing? Probably it has not yet reached the status of acceptability, but it no longer creates the shock waves that it once did. It is becoming accepted. It is made the butt of ribald jokes. It is discussed as possibly having quasi-legal status in connection with what have been dubbed as “palimony” lawsuits. But do you ever hear it seriously described as living in sin and debauchery?
Take, for example, the news dispatch from which I quoted above. Did you notice the euphemisms employed in the article to refer to what is sin, to what is a vile transgression of the law of God? The article speaks of “cohabitation,” of “households which contain two unrelated adults of opposite sexes,” of “unmarried households.” About the closest it comes to any kind of mention of breaking the law is the mention of “living together without legal sanction.” And you and I can easily become accustomed to such euphemistic language; begin to adopt it into our thinking and into our own speech.
And then I have not mentioned the movies, the stage plays, the television shows, the magazine articles which deliberately flout the law of God and which flaunt the sinful life-style under discussion. These should not even need to be mentioned. To expose one’s self to them is deliberately to expose one’s self to hell fuel!
No, I am referring merely to simple, everyday, unavoidable contacts with the world and its thinking and its life-style.
Beware that sin and its defilement do not become commonplace in your Christian thinking and outlook.
Beware that sin is no longer viewed as sin in your thinking and in your home life. Beware that the world’s way of thinking and speaking does not become yours and mine. For when it does, it is but one more step to the point that the world’s life-style also becomes, ours.
In a recent issue of Clarion, the Canadian Reformed magazine, Prof. J. Faber takes sharp exception to my criticism of his statement that in connection with the Baptism Form one can think of either “two parties” or “two elements or aspects” when the Form says, “Thirdly, since in all covenants there are contained two parts. . . .” Prof. Faber goes back to the roots of our Baptism Form and quotes from the Church Order of the Palatinate (1563) and from Datheen’s translation of the former in 1566 in an attempt to show that he is correct in his claim. He then states in a concluding paragraph that I should answer his reference to the original Baptism Form. This I gladly do.
My reply is as follows:
1. I was well aware of the language of the Form of the Palatinate and of the alleged language of the translation of 1566 by Petrus Dathenus, having done my research on this question in some of the same sources (and others), which Prof. Faber consulted. I even have an edition of Datheen’s translation which uses the term “partijen (parties)” in place of the expression, “Maer naedien dai in alle verbonden, beyde deelen sich met malkanderen verbinden….”
2. I was also well aware of the very common practice on the part of various Reformed writers of understanding the above expression as referring to parties.
3. However: a) There is not even absolute certainty as to the text of the edition of 1566. b) There is, to say the least, grave doubt as to the meaning of the expression in the edition of 1566. c) The edition of 1566 was not the synodically adopted edition of the Dutch churches. The language found in the abbreviated edition of 1578-1580 is the language. which prevailed in every officially adopted version of the Baptism Form ever since 1578, the Synod of Dqrdrecht 1618-19 included: d) There is very good reason for the grave doubt to which I referred in “b” above, as well as very good reason to prohibit understanding the present language of our Form as referring after all to “parties” rather than “parts.” That reason is that the Form could very well have used the word “parties” if that had been what was intended; this would have been very simple. Secondly, as I wrote before, the Form never mentions who these supposed parties are, while it does spell out in what the parts consist.
Finally, I would point in this connection that I have the Synod of Arnhem 1930 (and thus the official decision of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in the pre-Liberation days) on my side; and in connection with the decision of the Synod of Arnhem I have also the support of the late Klaas Schilder and Herman Hoeksema, both of whom applauded the decision of Arnhem. This appears from an article in the Standard Bearer, Volume 14, pp. 249-250, in which De Reformatie of Feb. 4, 1938 is quoted. I have taken the trouble to produce a free translation of this brief article by H. Hoeksema. It was entitled “Parties or Parts?” and ran as follows:
“In connection with the discussion about the covenant, in particular about the question concerning the unilateral or bilateral character of the covenant, they have also been writing in the Netherlands, recently about the question how the expression in our Baptism Form is to be understood, ‘Since in all covenants there are contained two parts, therefore are we by God through baptism also admonished. . . .’ The question is not only how this expression must be understood, but also which is the correct reading.
“Also for us this question is of very great interest. Therefore I think that I do our readers a service if I keep them a bit informed concerning the progress of this discussion in the old country. The brief article from the pen of Dr. Schilder which appeared in De Reformatie of Feb. 4 can serve this purpose, and I quote it here:
Our readers remember what I remarked over against Dr. A. Kuyper Jr. concerning the expression in the Baptism Form, that “in all covenants there are contained two parts.” Dr. Kuyper understood “parts” as “parties”; I found his (already long known) argument the opposite of convincing.
At present we point, in continuation of what we already wrote, to what has been observed concerning this matter in our ecclesiastical life; one of our readers, whom we thank for this, has also called our attention to this.
As appears in the volume “Reports,” belonging with the Acts of the Arnhem Synod 1930, and then more precisely in the “Liturgy-report,” p. 6, the pertinent committee proposed the following:
“In the 4th paragraph (of the Baptism Form) to replace the expression ‘there are contained two parts,’ (‘twee delen begrepen zijn’) an expression not understandable for all, by the expression ‘two parts enter into a bond.’ ” (or: ‘two parts combine.’ This is the Dutch expression, “twee delen zich met elkander verbinden,” to which Prof. Faber referred in connection with the Forms of 1563 and 1566. HCH).
This harmonizes, as you will recall, with the view in Biesterveld’s “Gerefotieerde Kerkboek,” a view which in my opinion is unsatisfactorily supported.
According to the Acts of the Synod of Arnhem (p.18), however, the Particular Synod of Drente advised this Synod something else: ” ‘In the concept-Form’ of infant baptism to drop the words ‘two parts enter into a bond’ (‘twee delen zich met elkander verbinden’) and to read instead: ‘are contained two parties’ (‘twee partijen begrepen zijn’).”
Something similar was proposed by Classis Enkhuizen (Acts, 21); they wanted to read, “two parties enter into a bond” (“twee partijen zich verbinden”).
Moreover, the church of Velsenproposed as a third idea (Acts, 21): “… to take under consideration whether it would not be better to change the word ‘parts’ to the word ‘parties’ in the proposed change ‘two parts enter into a bond’ (‘twee delen zich met elkander verbinden’). The lack of clarity in the presently used edition, ‘are contained two parts,’ resides precisely in the word ‘parts.’ That lack of clarity would disappear if this word were replaced by ‘parties.’ ”
Concerning all those proposals a committee reported (Acts, 397). This committee was of the judgment that the various proposals to replace the word “parts” by the word “parties” in the Form could not be accepted, “seeing that these rest on an incorrect interpretation of the pertinent passage” (398). On this ground the committee advised to remain with the old edition (400). This also happened (Art. 166A, 20, p.100).
It appears therefore that Dr. Kuyper Jr. thinks differently than I, and also differently than the reporting committee of Arnhem. I will gladly justify him over against the committee and myself if he can convince me. But on the ground of what I myself remarked, I continue to consider my own view correct for the present: “parts” — not “parties,” but: promise and demand.
“I believe that we may be glad about the advice of the committee and the decision of the Synod of Arnhem. Apart now from the question which is the correct reading of the Baptism Form in this regard, it would certainly lead us in the wrong direction if we would read ‘parties’ instead of ‘parts.’ ”
Thus far the Hoeksema-Schilder article in 1938.
I maintain my position, therefore, that it is pure fiction that we may think of either parts or parties in connection with this expression in our Baptism Form.
Nor is this a matter of minor importance. Dr. Faber suggests in his article that for him this question concerning the Baptism Form was simply a matter of Symbolics, while for me the truth of the Reformed doctrine of God’s covenant is at stake. Perhaps this is true with regard to him. Yet he himself makes it abundantly clear that the matter of “parties” in God’s covenant is tremendously important to him. And he brings into focus some very crucial matters in connection with the whole subject of the covenant. For he now maintains:
1) That it is not Reformed and not Scriptural to state that man is never a party in relation to the Most High and that there are no parties (plural) in His covenant.
2) That I forget that God established His covenant afterHis act of creation or rather that the act of the establishing of the covenant is distinct from the act of creation.
3) That in His favor God made man to become a party in relation to His Creator.
On all three of these matters I am in disagreement with Prof. Faber. To enter into these matters at this time is beyond the scope of this editorial. However, I must point out two things: 1) In this light, the whole question of “parts” or “parties” is much more than a question of Symbolics, even in connection with the Baptism Form; and I am thankful that the Baptism Form’s use of “parts” rather than “parties” has been maintained in Reformed churches over the years. 2) Even as I stated in my earlier editorial comment about Prof. Faber’s articles on this subject, I am more than ever convinced that our differences with the Canadian Reformed run deep; they concern the very definition of the covenant of grace.
In conclusion, I remind Prof. Faber that he left a question unanswered. In his earlier article he spoke of the covenant as “the mutual relationship or agreement between God and His people.” I posed the question: what does Prof. Faber understand by the expression — a Biblical one — “His people”? Does it refer to the elect, or not? It would be worthwhile to hear from the professor on this subject.