From brother N.D., of Byron Center, Mich. I have received two unrelated questions with a request to answer them in the Standard Bearer.
Question No. 1
“Why is the Law read in our churches every Sunday?” The brother adds: “Question No. 1 I ask because when we have a visiting preacher, the Law is read as we find it in Ex. 20 or Deut. 5, but when we have our own minister he says, ‘Let us read the Law as we find it in Question 92 of our Heidelberg Catechism — as being our rule for our life of thankfulness.’ ”
Reply No. 1
First of all, the Law, of course, is no different in the Heidelberg Catechism than in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Our Catechism, in fact, mentions these passages as references in the 92nd Question and Answer.
Secondly, I would suggest that the liturgical practice of the reading of the Decalogue has the same sound reasons behind it as are given in Question and Answer 115 for the preaching of the Law: “First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, the righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.
In the third place, if your minister introduces the reading of the law with the interpretive statement which you mention, he is, of course, in harmony with the second reason given in Catechism above. Moreover, he is in harmony with the liturgical practice of many in the Reformed churches from the time of the Reformation forward. Many others, however, also in the Reformed line, tended to emphasize the first reason given by our Catechism as the reason for the reading of the Law. Besides, there has been variation in the Reformed churches as to when the Law should occur in the service (before or after the sermon) and as to whether the Law should be read by the minister or sung by the congregation, etc. A complete survey of this subject would not be possible here, however interesting and worthwhile it might be.
In the fourth place, for myself I prefer to save any interpretive statements for the preaching of the law and to limit myself as far as liturgical practice is concerned to the simple and always impressive introductory statement: “I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Here the Lord Himself, as the covenant God of our salvation (Jehovah thy God!) addresses His Law to His saved people (redeemed and delivered out of the house of bondage). Although this is old dispensational language, it is clear in its significance for us of the new dispensation.
However, in our churches there is a goodly measure of freedom as to liturgical practice, even though, of course, also the order of worship is subject to the determination and supervision of the consistory. Your pastor is exercising this freedom in his practice and I would assume that this practice has the approval, — or, at least, not the disapproval, — of your consistory. The above, therefore, is not to be interpreted as criticism of either your pastor or your consistory.
Question No. 2
“I read and hear off and on that we must love our enemies, but hate God’s. That being the case, there are very few people I must love, because every unregenerate person is an enemy of God. My question is: suppose now, that my enemy is an unregenerate person, what must I do then, hate him and love him at the same time, or is it altogether wrong to say that we must hate God’s enemies?”
Reply No. 2
I will not give an extensive answer to this question because the Rev. Heys is writing on this subject in “In His Fear.” (cf. the present issue and the Feb. 1 issue) Hence, I will make a few brief remarks, and if brother N.D. has any remaining problems, he is welcome to write in again. My remarks are as follows:
2. We must carefully distinguish between God’s enemies and our own personal enemies. The former are described in terms of Psalm 139 as “bloody men” and men who “speak against thee (God) wickedly” and those who “take thy name in vain,” and “those that rise up against thee.” The latter are described in Matthew 5 as those who “curse you…hate you…despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (vs. 44) In the former case, therefore, it is a matter of God’s law, God’s sovereignty, God’s name, God’s honor; in the latter case it is a matter of our own person, name, honor, etc.
3. The question presents the hypothetical case (but nevertheless a very really possible case) of a man who reveals himself as an enemy of God and as an enemy of me personally at the same time, and the apparent paradox of the necessity of loving and hating the same individual at the same time.
4. I would suggest the following with a view to a solution of this problem:
a. The love of our own enemies required in Matthew 5:44-45cannot be a bond of fellowship between the wicked and the perfect in Christ. This love, therefore, must needs be one-sided; and it will manifest itself in rebuking our enemy and demanding that he forsake his wicked way, walk in the light, and thus have fellowship with us, in the meantime not returning evil for evil, reviling for reviling, but repaying evil with good, etc.
b. This very manifestation of the love of Christ will reveal itself as a holy hatred for God’s sake of that same man as he manifests himself as hating, reviling, and taking God’s name in vain and as trampling God’scommandments under foot. The child of God will not help the ungodly in his wicked purposes and deeds against God and will not make common cause with one who is an enemy of God, as, for instance, Jehoshaphat did with Ahab (II Chronicles 19:2). On the contrary, he will burn with holy wrath against his ungodliness and against his wicked devices against God.
c. This is not only basically a matter of grace (so that only the Christian, who has himself been saved by the power of sovereign love and tasted God’s love can do this), but it also requires much grace to practice this. We are by nature inclined to hate our own enemies and to love God’s enemies; and we as Christians easily follow that inclination of our old nature and easily deceive ourselves that we are hating God’s enemies while actually we are hating our own enemies. Is not this also a prime reason for the prayer which concludes Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting?”
Once more: call again, brother N.D., if, after you have read the above and followed Rev. Heys’s writings, you still have questions.
Thanks, too, for activating our Question Box.
From L.W., of Spokane, Washington, I received a few questions as a result of some earlier, private correspondence. Part of these questions concern the Rev. Harbach’s writings on dispensationalism. I think I know what the Rev. Harbach means and what he would answer; but since each department editor is responsible for his own writings, I shall refer these questions to him. Undoubtedly he will answer in a future issue. One question, however, I can answer immediately. Brother L.W. writes:
“You wrote in your letter that: ‘We hold that any baptism administered by an ordained minister under the authority of a church and administered according to the Trinitarian formula is a valid baptism.’ As you undoubtedly know, the word ‘baptism’ is ambiguous, having different meanings in various denomination (Here follows a quotation from Dr. Thomas Smyth, a Presbyterian, who maintains that sprinkling and pouring are the only proper method of baptism. H.C.H.)
“The logical conclusion to draw from the quotation from Dr. Smyth is that any so-called ‘baptism’ performed by any other mode than sprinkling or pouring is unBiblica1. Since sprinkling and pouring are the only methods of baptism described in the Bible, and as the Bible is of absolute and final authority both as to faith and to practice, therefore, those so-called ‘baptisms by immersion’ administered by such groups as Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Plymouth Brethren are absolutely invalid. Does not the Protestant Reformed Churches have the same view of baptism as that of Dr. Thomas Smyth? If any member of any ‘immersionist’ denomination was converted to the theological position represented by the Protestant Reformed Churches, he or she would have to be ‘baptized for the first time’, since it is one of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformed Churches that ‘immersion’ is not Christian baptism. Is the above your correct theological position?”
Welcome to our Question Box, brother L.W., and thank-you for your interest in our magazine. Undoubtedly many of our readers will be surprised as well as pleased to hear that we have an interested subscriber in Spokane, Washington. As to your question about immersion, the following:
1) It is entirely possible that the original word forbaptism in the Bible signifies “to dip, to immerse.” On the other hand, Reformed churches generally hold that immersion is not the necessary method of baptism, but that sprinkling or pouring are equally as proper.
2) The more common objection is not against immersion, but against sprinkling or pouring. There are many churches who insist upon immersion to the exclusion of sprinkling or pouring, but comparatively few who insist on sprinkling or pouring to the exclusion of immersion.
3) The official position of the Protestant Reformed Churches does not exclude immersion, and our churches would not refuse to recognize as valid a baptism by immersion. That this is indeed our official position is plain from the italicized words in the following sentence from our “Form for the Administration of Baptism”: “This, the dipping in, or sprinkling with water teaches us, whereby the impurity of our souls is signified, and we admonished to loathe, and humble ourselves before God, and seek for our purification and salvation without ourselves.” The practice in our churches, however, is baptism by sprinkling.