The Church must indoctrinate her covenant seed, ‘the man of God’. And to indoctrinate her means ‘to instruct in doctrine’. The Standard Dictionary gives the following description or definition of the word ‘doctrine’. “Doctrine, that which is taught or set forth for acceptance or belief; that which is held to be true by any person, sect, or school, especially in religion.”
From the foregoing it is plain that a doctrine may be false or true, sound or unsound. Naturally, when we say that it is the task of the Church to indoctrinate the man of God, we mean that the Church must indoctrinate the covenant seed in the sound doctrine. And ‘sound doctrine’ is for us doctrine based upon, in harmony with, ‘expounding the truth of Scripture. Still more specifically we may state that indoctrination, means for us instruction in the doctrine of the Protestant Reformed Churches. As Churches the Lord has entrusted to us the precious heritage of the Reformed fathers, the doctrine of the Reformed Church. Hence, we claim and are convinced that the doctrine of our churches is the true doctrine of the Reformed fathers. We are not a departure or deviation from the Reformed truth but we are historically Reformed. Not as though we would subscribe to every statement some Reformed father has made in the past, For example, we believe that John Calvin was a Reformed man who taught Reformed doctrine. However, that does not at all imply that we can agree with every dogmatical statement which was made by this great Reformed theologian, There is also such a thing as development in the truth and’ the doctrine of the Reformed fathers. If this were not true, Reformed doctrine would be stagnate, and consequently every departure in detail would be a departure from the Reformed truth. No, but when we claim to be Reformed, also historically, we mean this in the progressive sense of the word. There is such a thing as development, clearer insight, purer conception, more proper emphasis, better definition, etc. Calvin is further advanced than the fathers of the Reformation. If this were not so it simply would imply that the work of the Holy Spirit was standing still. No, but there is progress, development of dogma and doctrine in, the church. Take e.g. the doctrine of the covenant. We do actually claim that with respect to this doctrine we as Protestant Reformed Churches are historically Reformed, but we do not hesitate one moment to also state that according to our conviction we understand the doctrine of the covenant better and clearer than our fathers ever did. We have built upon their foundation but we certainly believe that we are further advanced than our fathers, and also have eliminated doctrinal conceptions of our fathers in re the covenant which we firmly believe are not Scriptural. Think e.g. of the so-called ‘covenant of works’ taught by many of our fathers, although never incorporated unto our confessional standards, But a repudiation of the wrong conception of our fathers, on the basis of Scripture, is not a repudiation or a deviation from the Reformed truth, but it is a purifying of the Reformed doctrine from errors and wrong conceptions which historically had crept into the church through the teachings of some of her most eminent fathers.
The same holds true for the doctrine of grace. Also in this fundamental doctrine we are further advanced than were our Reformed fathers by and large. And that we are further advanced and have a clearer insight than many of the fathers is due to the development of Reformed doctrine, the continued operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and all this in close connection with the necessity of combating the error of those who depart from the Reformed line of truth. But, you say, suppose that our fathers had room for the doctrine of common grace, and suppose one finds even statements to verify and prove this claim (which might not be too difficult a task), does it follow from this now that we, Protestant Reformed Churches, have departed from this ‘doctrine’ of the fathers ? The latter of course is indeed the claim of the Christian Reformed Church. They tell us that they do acknowledge and have developed this precious truth of the fathers, but we deny it. What must be our answer? In the first place, suppose it is true that our fathers generally taught common grace. That in itself is no reason why we should teach it. If our fathers were wrong in this respect, let us be honest before God and our conscience and repudiate this doctrine, mark it as unsound and false if we are convinced, on the basis of Scripture, that our fathers were wrong in this respect. However, we do not admit, but on the contrary emphatically deny, that the doctrine of common grace finds its historical roots and foundation in the Reformed fathers. To confess the theory of common grace is not a development of the main, Reformed, historic line of the fathers. Historically common grace is not Reformed. The basic line and conception of Reformed: doctrine has no room for common grace. The development of the organic, Reformed line of the fathers must needs lead to the purging of heretical statements by some of the fathers and a very emphatic denial off common grace. The true, basic Reformed line and the doctrine of grace, as taught and confessed by our fathers, does not blossom out in a theory of common grace but particular grace. That is the historic line of Paul, Augustine, Calvin, the fathers of the 16th and the 19th century. It is historically not Reformed to confess common grace, and it certainly is not confessionally Reformed, the very term is of Arminian origin and the word ‘common’ is a much favored word in their dogmatical vocabulary.
I am afraid we have drifted away a little from the original intention and purpose off this article, although it is a very small matter to come back on the right track. What we have written so far certainly must have made it crystal clear to any Protestant Reformed person who reads these lines that as churches we have a very particular task with respect to the indoctrination of the ‘man of God’ in the midst of our church. As churches we must indoctrinate our children in specific Protestant Reformed doctrine. The latter does not mean that there is no room for teaching Bible history. There certainly is. But even so the teaching of Bible history is based upon and rooted in doctrine. Teaching Bible history, which is very important, is not a teaching of bare facts but the facts are interpreted, explained, and they cannot be disassociated from Scripture as a whole and from doctrine. Any teacher who teaches Bible history but has no definite doctrinal conception, has no foundation to stand on and must of necessity be a poor Bible history teacher. And especially is this true off the church. The church cannot be satisfied with mere ‘facts’ of history. It must teach its seed the contents of Scripture, the doctrine of Scripture. And your particular doctrinal conception of the Word of God determines the kind of doctrine you teach ‘the man of God’. And our children need Protestant Reformed doctrine because we believe that our doctrine is the doctrine of Scripture and that as churches we have the purest knowledge and conception of the truth of the Word of God. To impart to ‘the man of God’ that truth, our truth, God’s truth, the doctrine of our church, is the task of the church. It is her God-given task which she may not shirk. And it is also absolutely necessary for the very existence and future of our churches. If as churches we neglect to indoctrinate our children in our specific Reformed doctrine we are definitely lost.
There are a good many people, and, alas, we have them in our own circles, who are afraid of ‘doctrine’. The complaint is often made, although not always audible: “Doctrine is too deep, too heavy, too solid, youthful minds cannot understand it, assimilate it, grasp it, why bother the children with doctrine.” Such reasoning is very foolish. In the first place you always indoctrinate no matter what you teach. There is not such a thing as instruction in the Word of God, the truth of Scripture without at the same time indoctrinating. The church always indoctrinates, but that indoctrination may be false, unsound’, shallow, superficial etc. But indoctrination it is. And we must insist that as churches we indoctrinate sound, true, specific Protestant Reformed doctrine. And Protestant Reformed doctrine is never superficial, it is not shallow because the Word of God is not shallow. Hence, whenever our people complain about too much doctrine it often means, whether this is realized or not is a different matter, it often means, I said, that they complain against Protestant Reformed doctrine as such. Of course, I don’t mean to say that we must indoctrinate the ‘man of God’ without any regard to sound laws of pedagogics. We certainly must reckon with age, mental capacities, etc. etc., of the pupil, but we must by all means indoctrinate in the Protestant Reformed doctrine. Besides, we should start at an early age.
Of course in this work the church needs above all the wholehearted cooperation of the home, but the church does the indoctrination, it is her very solemn calling and task. And it is only through the indoctrination that the church can remain doctrinally, but also spiritually strong, maintain and preserve her specific characteristics and1 soundness. For the child of today is the man of tomorrow and the youth of today is the mature member, elder, deacon, minister, professor of dogmatics tomorrow.
Now the church indoctrinates and must indoctrinate ‘the man of God’ through the office of the ministry of the Word. This leads us to the subject of the preaching of the Word and the catechizing of the covenant youth. But our space for today is about filled, hence, in a following article we hope to say a few more things about the subject matter we touched upon in this last paragraph.