The next item which we wish to examine with respect to this proposed new confession of the Reformed Church in America is its teachings, if any, concerning the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Naturally, in connection with the atonement there are also other aspects of the doctrine concerning Christ which are involved.
First of all, we may note that “Our Song of Hope” seems to emphasize strongly the church’s hope—this is the term used, not “faith”—in Jesus Christ. In Stanza 2 we read: “We know Christ to be our only hope.” Stanza 3 opens with the words, “Our only hope is Jesus Christ.” Again, Stanza 4 begins, “Jesus Christ is the hope of God’s world.” And even Stanza 5 sounds a similar note: “Our ascended Lord gives hope for two ages.”
Superficially considered, this sounds rather good, doesn’t it?
However, in the second place, we must not be fooled by the mere use of high-sounding words. We must inquire carefully: precisely who is this Jesus Christ of whom “Our Song” speaks? We may pass by the strange fact that this confession never speaks at all offaith and of believing. This is in itself, to say the least, very odd in a confession; and it renders suspect even the use of the term “hope,” of which this would-be creed seems to be so fond. For, after all, what is hope without faith? But let that be. Who is the Jesus Christ spoken of in this confession? Is He the Christ of the Scriptures? Is He Jesus the complete Savior, in whom we find all things necessary to our salvation? Is He the Savior Who saveth us and delivereth us from our sins? (Heid. Catechism, 29 & 30) Is He our “only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us”? (Heid. Cat. 31) Is He the One Who has redeemed us, both soul and body, from all our sins with His precious blood? (Heid. Cat. 34) Is He the Mediator Who “with His innocence and perfect holiness, covers in the sight of God, my sins, wherein I was conceived and brought forth”? (Heid. Cat. 36) Is He the Savior Who so suffered that He “sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so, by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness and’ eternal life”? (Heid. Cat. 37) Is He the Savior Who humbled himself unto death “Because with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise, than by the death of the Son of God”? (Heid. Cat. 40)
You see, I am asking whether “Our Song” believes in blood atonement, whether it believes in vicarious, that is, substitutionary atonement, whether it believes in atonement through satisfaction of the justice of God, whether it believes in atonement through payment of the debt of our guilt, whether it believes in an atoning death of Christ through which all His own are perfectly righteous before the bar of divine justice. And I am asking these questions purposely, because in Appendix B the point is specifically made that “Our Song” parts ways with the Heidelberg Catechism when it comes to the term “righteousness.” Now anyone who has even passing acquaintance with the Catechism will know that it speaks often of righteousness and that it lays great stress on the necessity of being righteous before God. He will also know that our Catechism speaks of being righteous in the judicial, the legal sense of the word, righteous before the bar of divine justice. With regard to our sin and misery the Catechism is concerned, first of all, with our justification, whether that be our objective justification in the atoning blood of the Mediator or whether it be our justification by faith and before our own consciousness. In other words, what is really at stake here is that great heritage of the Reformation,justification by faith through the meritorious death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But of this kind of righteousness and of the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ which is the basis of such righteousness “Our Song of Hope” wants nothing.
One can sense the direction of “Our Song” already in Stanza 3, when it speaks the following language:
He was born of the virgin Mary,
sharing our genes and our instincts,
entering our culture, speaking our language,
fulfilling the law of our God.
Being united to His humanity,
we know ourselves when we rest in Him.
Don’t be deceived by the reference to His birth of the virgin Mary. Note, rather, that already here “Our Song” misses the point completely and deliberately. That point is that Christ “assumed the flesh and blood of the children”—our human nature; that He became like unto us in all things, sin excepted; that He did so in order that “through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. . . . Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:14-17) That point is that “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal. 4:4, 5) The point is not at all that we are or can be “united to His humanity,” and thus “know ourselves when we rest in Him.” What kind of jargon is that? No, no, He united to Himself our human nature, in order that by His death and resurrection He might raise it out of sin and guilt and death unto righteousness and holiness and life.
But the entire trend of “Our Song” to present a doctrine of reconciliation much like that being promoted in the Netherlands by Wiersinga, a doctrine of reconciliation which does not acknowledge a Christ Who bore the judgment of God against our sins, Who did not die an atoning death for the satisfaction of God’s justice—that trend becomes very evident in the first part of Stanza 4:
Jesus Christ is the hope of God’s world.
In His death,
the justice of God is established;
forgiveness of sin is proclaimed.
Note very carefully that it does not say, “In His death, the justice of God is satisfied.” This difference of language is deliberate, not accidental. Proof? I refer you to the commentary on this stanza by Dr. Heideman:
“One can say many things about the significance of His death. For our times, we begin by singing about just two points. One is that in His death, the justice of God rather than any other legal, political, or social system is established as the way the world is to live.” (page 27)
Notice that the reference is to divine justice as a way of life, something altogether different from the way in which our creeds speak of the justice of God, as well as altogether different from the way in which Scripture speaks of the righteousness of God revealed in Christ.
But if there is any doubt as to whether this language of “Our Song” is deliberate, let me call attention to the fact that in the study questions on page 29 this very difference is broached: “Some persons have suggested that lines 3-4 should read: ‘The justice of God is satisfied, the offer of forgiveness is proclaimed.’ What would be implied in the change of wording? Would you prefer such a change?”
It stands to reason, of course, that once having deliberately by-passed the truth of atonement through satisfaction, “Our Song” has to follow by corrupting the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. It could hardly view the resurrection of Christ as the seal of our justification, as the power of a new life, and the pledge of our bodily resurrection, as do Scripture and the Reformed confessions. This is what it states:
On the day of His resurrection;
the tomb was empty; His disciples saw Him;
death was defeated; new life had come.
God’s purpose for His world was sealed.
And if you wondered as you read the above language whether “Our Song” is fully committed to the real and bodily resurrection of Christ, you had a healthy suspicion. Read the following commentary (p. 28):
“The words about the empty tomb are important to us. We know that our modern learning has a good deal of skepticism about these words. The accounts in the Gospels do not fit together as well as we might wish; therefore, modern historians as well as scientists would like to have a little more evidence. When we bear witness to the resurrection, we do not know exactly what we mean in terms of biological or chemical processes. Nevertheless, the words about the empty tomb ring true to us because they are consistent with God’s love for this world in which we live. We are always tempted to try to escape from this material existence into a more spiritual area; we would like to give up life in this world in order to be in heaven. But these words about the empty tomb keep us firmly within our own space and time. If God is concerned about the dead body of Jesus, then we know that He is also concerned about the bodies of men and women living in the world today. His salvation covers our whole existence—body, mind and spirit. Whatever stands in need of saving can receive His salvation.”
How poverty-stricken is “Our Song’s” confession! It does not dare confess forthrightly Christ’s bodily resurrection. How, then, could it find any real significance in that resurrection? It only means that God is concerned about the bodies of men and women living in the world today!
It is, of course, wholly unnecessary after all this to ask whether “Our Song” believes in limited atonement. The truth so succinctly set forth in Canons II, 8 is farthest from the minds of the composers of “Our Song.” Worse than that, however, universalism is not even explicitly rejected. Read the following—and weep:
“The stanza ends by singing about God’s purpose for the world. We cannot comprehend all that is included in this phrase. We know that somehow the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ extends to the whole creation, for His work is greater than the sin of man which touches all that we know. When the church has considered the impact of salvation in Christ, it has always been tempted by what is known as ‘universalism,’ the teaching that in the end all men and all things will be saved. The church has always rejected that teaching because it implies that we need not take the sin of man seriously; Christians then can easily become a complacent people, ignoring God and human need alike. On the other hand, we have been tempted to restrict the impact of that salvation to a few faithful or elect souls who have been plucked from the fire, while the great mass of mankind together with this world is eternally lost. As Our Song goes on, we will become more conscious of how we stand apart from these two extremes. At the same time, we will wait upon the Lord for His judgment; His boundaries are not known to us. We only know that He is filled with righteousness and mercy as that has been revealed and accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
And this is a confession for a Reformed church?