What does it mean to be specific?
Rather than spell this out in a formal definition, let me use the method of concrete illustration.
I could say: it is 1 P.M. on my timepiece. In that case you receive no information-unless you happen to know that Grandville, Michigan is in the Eastern Time Zone—whether I mean 1 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, or 1 P.M. in New Zealand, or 1 P.M. in London. Furthermore, you have no idea whether by “timepiece” I am referring to a sun-dial in my back yard or to a clock in my house or to my wristwatch. I can become more specific and say: “It is 1 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time on my clock.” Even then you have no information as to which of nine different clocks in my house I mean. But if I specify by saying, “It is 1 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time on the Seiko International Clock on the shelf in my office,” then you receive specific information.
Another example. The term “Christian Church” is very general; under its umbrella may be included Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and many others. More specific is the name “Reformed.” And if I want to be very specific, I will say “Protestant Reformed.”
Specific language involves the use of words which express the truth exactly, which define the truth distinctively, which distinguish it and set it off from the lie, which set it forth clearly and unmistakably.
To use another illustration, when one wishes to condemn the sin of unionism, he can speak of the danger of association with the world. That is general and therefore vague. No one actually knows what he means, because his thought is hidden in his words rather than expressed. To be specific means to be clear and to the point.
Further, to be specific means that one expresses himself in language which is not ambiguous. If one is to be specific, his language must not be open to a double interpretation, so that his meaning is left to the hearer. Specific language is language which has a single meaning. Thus, for example, I might say: “All who believe are elect.” That statement is perfectly true in itself. But it is a statement to which any Arminian could also subscribe. The statement is ambiguous. It is open to a double interpretation. It could mean: all who believe are elect, because faith is the condition of election. If I want to be specific, and therefore unambiguous, I will say: “All who believe are elect, because faith is the sure fruit of sovereign election.”
This is what I have in mind with that term specific when I content that our Protestant Reformed Churches have a calling to be specific.
We may ask the question: in what sense are we called to be specific?
If our age has been characterized by anything, ecclesiastically speaking, it has been characterized by the ecumenical movement. Whether that ecumenism has taken the form of specific attempts on the part of various churches toward organic unity—and there have been and still are many such attempts—or whether it has taken the form of attempting to associate with one another in organizations such as the World Council of Churches, the striving has been toward unity and toward a united front and united action, the latter especially in the sphere of the social and political. The appeal has been that churches must set aside their differences in creed and doctrine and must present a common front. And this striving has been under the banner of the beautiful ideal, ‘”That they all may be one!”
But the unity which has been the goal of so many is a false unity. In its broadest aspects it would unite moderns and orthodox, would deny the blood of Christ and all the fundamentals of the Christian faith. In its more limited aspect it would bring together into one camp all kinds of creeds—Arminians, Baptists, Calvinists, Premillennials and Amillennials.
But we must remember that the strength of the church is the truth of the Word of God. That strength does not lie in outward unity; it does not lie in large numbers; it does not lie in an outward show of power. But the definite truth of the Word of God is the strength of the church. Only that definite truth of the Word of God may be the basis of union. For Christ alone is the unity of the church.
Hence, my answer is, in the first place, that we are called to be specific in distinction from all modernism and the modernistic church. And by modernism I mean that entire ecclesiastical movement which still refers to itself as church, but denies all the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. It denies that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It denies the vicarious atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. It denies Christ’s Godhead. It denies His incarnation. It denies His resurrection. It denies His second coming. There are hundreds and thousands of such churches today, churches where it has become impossible to hear the Word of the Gospel proclaimed any longer.
Now it may seem that there is no need of emphasizing that our Protestant Reformed Churches must be specific in distinction from these liberal, modernistic churches. After all, they represent the false church, and that, too, very obviously. And they represent the spirit of Antichrist. After all, we are as divergent from them as east is from west, as black from white. There is no danger that we would ever feel at home with them and their message, nor they with us.
And yet, upon second thought, such emphasis may not prove to be completely unnecessary after all.
For, in the first place, do not overlook the fact that this process of becoming modernistic did not happen overnight. It is indeed a process. There was a time in history—relatively speaking, not so very long ago—when these huge modernistic churches were orthodox, even strictly Calvinistic. And they did not simply jump directly out of the camp of Calvinism into the camp of rank modernism. That took place gradually, little by little. And by the way, if you study church history, you will discover that the beginnings of this modernism were in Arminianism and in the fact that these churches began to let go of the distinctives of the Reformed faith. Have you ever been at a large international airport? All the planes of a given airline—let us say United Airlines—have their loading ramps in the same area, from the same corridor. They are together, very close to one another. Presently several planes will travel down the taxiway toward the same runway. Sometimes nine or ten planes may be lined up, waiting for the opportunity to take off. As their turns come, they all take off, one after the other, down the same runway. And when they are first in the air, they may all initially have the same flight pattern. It might almost seem to an uninitiated observer that it makes no difference which one of those many planes he boards. And yet it makes a world of difference. One plane turns toward Los Angeles, another toward New York City, another toward Montreal, and still another toward Miami. So it is with the church. The divergence in doctrine and confession and preaching may seem almost insignificantly small at first. Someone will surely describe it as theological hairsplitting initially. Yet in the course of history and development, that initially small divergence ends in a radical and fundamental difference. Be warned! Be specific! For very rarely, if ever, has such a divergence turned out to be a small one in the course of history and its concomitant development in doctrine.
In the second place, there is something inherently attractive to the flesh in being big, in being in the news, in having a voice in the affairs of men, in “counting” in this world. Besides, there is something inherently appealing to the flesh especially in programs which these large churches have, programs for political justice, programs for the elimination of various kinds of discrimination, programs for social improvement, for feeding the hungry, etc. It can almost make you feel guilty when your church is not engaged in such a program, especially when it comes to such a matter as world relief and the feeding of the hungry and the medical care of the deprived nations. In fact, more than one so-called evangelical church has tried to enter the competition and to engage in what are commonly referred to as social gospel projects. There is a temptation here to be less than distinctive and to imitate. But again: remember where all these movements have their roots, that is, in an initially small compromise or departure from the truth of the Word of God.
We must take care, therefore, to be specific, even to be specifically specific!