Rev. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
In the continuing unrest in the Christian Reformed Church, some harsh words have been spoken. One man, Rev. Steve Schlissel of Messiah Christian Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York, has been particularly outspoken. His background is Jewish and he himself is a convert from Judaism. He and his small congregation were received into the Christian Reformed Church a few years ago. This man indicates his strong love for the Reformed faith and shows a desire to maintain that faith as historically confessed. He strongly opposes the inroads of liberalism which he sees in the C.R.C. In his paper, “Messiah’s Mandate,” Summer, 1988, he reports on the reaction to a speech he gave in South Holland, Illinois:
A recent article in The Banner reported on a speech I had given at a conference in South Holland, Illinois. In the one hour and twenty minute speech I had, at one point, during a parable, used the following .phrases: “whores at the seminary, stinking heretics at the college, double talkers at the boards and agencies.” It is most interesting to see what The Banner considered important to report, even more so when one sees how the words, like victims of Assyrian domination, were violently wrenched from their true context and resettled in another . . . .
. . . Can strong language, such as I used about my own denomination in South Holland, ever be justified, apart from “‘regional” considerations . . . ?
To help answer that question, let me ask you a couple of others. How would you react to the knowledge that your milk was being watered down by your grocer, or that your money was dwindling while in the “care” of your local banker? I can hear some of your choice words in my imagination.
The theft we are facing in the CRC goes beyond the question of milk and money. At stake is the milk and honey of our confessional heritage, our doctrine of the Word of Almighty God. Is strong language inappropriate when the truthfulness of Jehovah and His Christ is called into doubt? Is strong language in our predicament “divisive”? Is it wrong to cry “Rape!”?
According to the Rible, the use of strong language may not simply be appropriate, but obligatory . . . .
The writer continues by pointing out some of the strong language the prophets of the Old Testament used when Israel and Judah departed from the faith. He considers it no less imperative today that strong language be used to gain attention to the seriousness of the situation which exists within his denomination.
Though Schlissel refused to apologize for the strong language he had used in his speech at South Holland, he did present one word of apology to our own churches:
. . . At one point during my speech I was out of line. But it wasn’t the “whore” section . . . .
What I’m sorry I said was in regard to the Protestant Reformed Church’s doctrine of “common grace.” I referred to it as “dead wrong.” Upon reflection, I’d like to change that to plain “wrong.” I have much respect for our PR brethren and their argument. Nevertheless, I believe the charge of “rationalism” that has been attached to their view of this subject is valid.
I assume that Schlissel wrote a bit carelessly when he speaks of our (P.R.) doctrine of “common grace.” He knows, of course, that the doctrine of “common grace” is that of the Christian Reformed Church. We have no such doctrine—for our opposition to that doctrine resulted in our being put out of the C.R.C. in 1924-5. There is reason for encouragement, though, that Schlissel recognizes that “dead wrong” is too strong a language to describe our opposition to “common grace.” He would merely call it “wrong.” Coming from Schlissel, that is very mild language indeed. Perhaps after further consideration he will come to recognize that our position is not so “wrong” even. As for the charge of “rationalism” with respect to our opposition to “common grace,” possibly he could explain this further. Where is the “rationalism” in maintaining without compromise the sovereign grace of our great God? Is it not his own concern to maintain God’s holy Name and His infallible Word which leads him to his present struggle? And does he not recognize that some of the present-day positions within the C.R. Churches are logical developments from positions taken in 1924-5? Is the hierarchism, this “rule from top down,” against which the “conservatives” strongly and rightly complain today, so strange in view of the fact that in 1925 the classes of the C.R.C. suspended and deposed officebearers of the local churches? Is it so strange when the worldly “women’s lib” movement finds great sympathy within the church—given the conclusion that God’s (common) grace is the origin of this imagined “good work” within the world?
Incidently, those who would desire a free subscription to Messiah’s Mandate, can write: Messiah’s Mandate, 2662 East 24th St., Brooklyn, NY 11235. This small church, of course, would appreciate donations covering the cost of printing and mailing.