The day previous to the publication of this issue was Reformation Day.
Various bulletin announcements in our churches which came to my attention in the past few weeks made it plain that the day was not passing by unnoticed, but was, in fact, receiving considerable attention. And this is good, provided that our commemoration of this date—connected with the occasion of Luther’s nailing his theses to the door of the castle-church at Wittenberg in 1517—is more than a kind of nostalgic remembrance of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. A proper commemoration certainly includes a rededication of ourselves to the great truths of the Reformation—the truths of the gospel according to the Scriptures and our Reformed creeds. It includes a rededication to the purpose and the sacred calling to proclaim those truths. And it includes a renewed dedication to strive for reformation in the churches today.
And all of these, you understand, are matters not for one day out of the year, when perhaps we remember to pause and give some thought to the matter; but they are matters for constant attention on the part of God’s people individually and on the part of the church in the midst of the world. In fact, it is safe to say that unless they are indeed the object of our constant attention and striving, we will lose our Reformation heritage, the call for reformation will have a hollow sound, the claim to be children of the Reformation will become mockery, and the work of reformation (as far as we are concerned) will be a failure.
If Reformation Day, therefore, may serve as an occasion to remind, us of our on-going calling and task, its observance will be salutary. To help it serve as such a reminder these few lines are dedicated.
Certain first of all, no one who has his eyes open to the ecclesiastical situation today can doubt the need of Reformation. Whether one looks at the Reformed community or the Presbyterian circle, let alone looking at the ecclesiastical scene at large, whether one looks at the North American scene or looks across the sea to the countries where the Reformation had its origin, the picture is not encouraging. It is not a picture of return to the fundamental truths to which the Reformers were used of God to call the church back to the old paths. The opposite is true. Turn where you will, whether in the immediate Reformed community or outside of it, the picture is one of DE-formation, of decline in both doctrine and life. Anyone who reads the religious magazines and journals of today will have to testify to that fact. There is little love of the Re formed faith, still less knowledge of it, and still less adherence to it, as well as almost no willingness to fight for it and to sacrifice for it. Even among so-called “concerned” people and forces within various denominations, most often the battle lines—if they are drawn up at all—are drawn up not over specifically Reformed truths, but about rather vaguely evangelical and fundamentalist issues. In most instances one has to “search with a candle” for the Reformed truth.
Occasionally there may be some half-hearted and half-way measures toward reformation. There may be here and there an attempt to emphasize the so-called Five Points of Calvinism without embracing the whole of the Reformed faith. And even the latter attempt is frequently weak, and often compromised by a hedging with respect to particular atonement or by an adherence to the principally Arminian notion of a well-meant and general offer.
And there are those who are even sometimes optimistic that eventually the truth of the gospel will triumph and that there will be a great revival and return to the faith. But this is whistling in the dark.
What is our calling as Protestant Reformed people and churches in that situation? What is the calling of any truly Reformed church?
Shall we give up? Shall we say, “What’s the use? The situation is hopeless”?
God forbid! For then we are not true sons and daughters of the Reformation. Did a Luther or a Calvin give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds?
No, we shall labor wherever the Lord opens a door, to the end that the ever-abiding remnant may be gathered.
But to do that we must be constantly vigilant that we ourselves remain Reformed, in the first place. The temptation is always present to compromise with respect to the truth, to file down the sharp points and edges for the sake of being more popular, more palatable, for the sake of getting a reception. But we must remember that to the extent that we give up and lose our Reformed distinctiveness, to that same extent we lose both the right and the ability to call people and churches to reformation. We must by all means and at all costs keep our distinctive Protestant Reformed heritage.
In the second place, we may well remind ourselves of our calling to maintain that heritage antithetically, that is, with rejection of all heresies repugnant thereto. Is it not striking that in the Formula of Subscription, which all officebearers must sign, you find not only the positive vow “diligently, to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine,” but also a solemn promise to militate against error? It reads as follows: “We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine, and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned synod (the Synod of Dordt), but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”
These notes must be heard constantly in the preaching on the Lord’s day and in the catechism room where the children and young people of the church are instructed.
Otherwise we cannot remain “Reformed, and always reforming.”