The second session of the Conference, on Wednesday morning, was opened by the Rev. W. Grossmann, pastor of the Reformed Church at Hosmer, South Dakota. He introduced the first speaker of the day, the Rev. H. Veldman. In further development of the general theme, “The Church”, Rev. Veldman spoke on: “The Tension of the Church”; which subject had been assigned to him by the Conference Committee.
“The doctrine of the Church is a fascinating subject. We believe her to be a unified whole yet instead of being characterized by unity we see dissension throughout the history of the Church. Instead of One Holy Catholic Church we see an apparently hopeless segmentation. The Doctrine of the Church is also an important subject. Both the Belgic Confession, Article 27, and the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, emphasize this truth.
“The Tension of the Church is, therefore, also an important and fascinating subject. The Church in the world is always under strain; without relief. From her position in the midst of the world there follows a resulting tenseness. We wish to call your attention to “the Tension of the Church” as we speak of:
- The Idea of the Tension.
- The Reality of this Tension.
- The Purpose of this Tension.
1. The Idea: “What is the meaning of the word “tension” in our subject? Webster defines tension as a “stretching or degree of stretch or strain”. Hence, tension is synonymous with strain. Webster further speaks of tension as “mental strain or stress” and “strong intellectual effort”. In our subject it refers to the new life of the Church which seeks the Cause of God and Christ standing always opposed to evil in the world. This struggle is never relaxed. The tension of the Church is, therefore, the tremendous strain to which the Church and her members are always subject; the strain under which the Church labors. She is always in a strait betwixt two. The greatest tension of the Church and of the Child of God is the conscious spiritual strain under which she labors and to which she is constantly exposed.
“The Church is the Body of Christ, as revealed to us in Scripture and the Confessions and expounded in last night’s lecture. The gathering of the Church is presented as the exclusive work of the Son of God by His Word and Spirit. The Church is, therefore, a spiritual entity; reborn from above. By that same Word, the Son also gathers the people of God. They are consciously called into being as having been chosen from eternity. This calling also determines the tension. We can only speak of tension in the Church; there is no tension in the natural man nor in the modern Church.
“Two outstanding phenomena must be borne in mind in considering and understanding this tension. In the first place, the Church of God is a spiritual-heavenly entity. ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’; ‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.’ . The Church of God is born of God and partakes of the Divine nature. She has her source in heaven and as such is a heavenly-spiritual entity. The Child of God receives his life from God. Possessing the life and heart of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church expects a fixed heavenly City. But, in the second place, that Church is such a spiritual entity in the midst of an utterly sinful and corrupt world.
“There is still more, the members of the Church are sojourners on the face of the earth. They are also spiritual only in beginning and are yet in the midst of sin and corruption. They are Children of God but only in principle. They are Saints but also sinners; Light in the midst of darkness; Righteous but also unrighteous. Not only the Church in the world but also we ourselves have conflicting forces.
“We make the following conclusion, therefore, the tension of the Church is caused by, and follows from, the essential spiritual-heavenly identity of the Church, and its members, and her temporal position in the midst of the world. Consequently, her tension is the strain and pressure under which she labors.
2. The Reality: “First of all this tension as experienced in the life of the individual Christian. The Child of God is in a state of tenseness. ‘For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.’ In this passage from Romans 7 the subject is the same: the Child of God in the consciousness of himself as a new man in the old flesh. He rejoices in complete victory, yet groans under the burden of a fearful struggle. The result is a state of tension. We should note here that he is not a dual personality but one person. In the second place, the Christian does not speak the language of a defeatist here. Though it is true that he does not realize the complete and perfect victory, he has that victory in principle. Hence, there is within him a resulting tension. One power draws him heavenward while another power draws in the opposite direction; he stands betwixt both.
“Besides this spiritual tension within him there is also pressure from without, for he is yet of this earth earthy. He is a heavenly citizen dwelling as a stranger on earth; still wandering in a desert land. Though born from above he is yet earthy. He is of flesh and blood and bound below with many earthly relationships; consequently the tension. As he speeds toward the end of his earthly existence the New, Heavenly Life draws him closer, but the tension continues to the end.
So, too, there is a tension in the Church on earth. She is called to reveal herself as the Body of Christ. But within the earthly manifestation the carnal church attacks the Body and puts pressure on her to forsake her calling. The carnal element does not want the pure preaching of the Word and resists the application of Christian Discipline. So the Church of God labors under the attacks of the carnal church and is in tension; realizing her own weakness.
“This Church, too, is in struggle with the world round about her. Outside of the Church is the world; under the influence of, and controlled by the devil— the mass of the world that lieth in darkness. The Church finds conflict everywhere in that world; in social, political and economic spheres, for she and it operate from diametrically opposing principles. This conflict exerts pressure on the Church. In the midst of the world she is called to fight and fighting realizes her state of tension.
3. The Purpose: “This tension of the Church must have a purpose; a divine purpose. Why must the Church of God throughout the ages be always subjected to tension? It is not of the struggle with the world that we here speak. God has willed that His Church shall exist in an evil world. That struggle with the World is according to the sovereign good pleasure of God, for the condemnation of the world and revelation of the fact that the victory is ours; that the Church always has, and did have, the victory. The Lord is King and always was! The question, rather, concerns the Child of God as he must constantly experience tension in his own spiritual life and in the struggle with the old man that is in league with the forces of darkness.
“Once again we would emphasize that there is no dualism in the Child of God. It is not so that there are two forces contending within him, over an issue the outcome of which is in doubt. This is impossible, he has the victory. Nor is this an attempt on the part of God to save what He can; nor even the revelation that God saves His own in spite of opposition. God saves His people through the enemies!
“What then is the purpose? The purpose is that God has willed to call eternal attention to the fact that His grace is imperishable and sovereign, so that the Child of God may sing the praises of God and God alone! This truth must be indelibly marked in his consciousness: ‘He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord’! Salvation is of grace alone! If left to himself the Child of God would never run the course to the end. The purpose is to witness to our proneness to sin and to testify of our Only Deliverer: Jesus Christ our Lord. In Him alone do we have the victory!
The Rev. J. Howerzyl: “Is the tension due only to the evil that is yet present? If the Christian life is from above and his citizenship is in heaven and he lives in a strange land, is everything pertaining to that strange land necessarily evil? How must we conceive of the things of this world-—as all evil?
The Rev. H. Veldman: “The primary cause of the tension is sin. But the earthy character of the Child of God as a heavenly citizen in an evil world aggravates the situation.”
The Rev. D. E. Rosma: “Inwe read, ‘and Twill put enmity between thee and the woman’, enmity is the root of tension. When Eve took of the forbidden fruit there was a resulting tension between herself and Adam. Eve tried to solve this tension, to make peace without tension, but her attempt to solve, in giving to Adam also, resulted only in greater tension. God solves all tension and injected the tension of enmity for Christ’s sake. Christ alone finally solves the tension.”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “Although I did not mention Adam and Eve I did state that there is a Divine purpose. It must be attributed to God alone.”
The Rev. D. E. Bosma: “Isn’t it true that all men are trying to dissolve the tension?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “We speak of the tension of the Church; the strain under which she labors due to her earthly-carnal character while at the same time as the product of the work of the Son of God the Church strives against this pressure of the world.”
The Rev. M. Gritters: “Would it be correct to speak of tension also in the world? Scripture speaks of the ‘perplexity of the nations’. I believe we can speak of tension here and if so what is the relation between this tension in the world and the tension of the Church?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “There is a tension in the world, due to God’s wrath, which it seeks to escape, but no spiritual tension in the world or modern church. If we speak of tension in the sense in which I have, there can be no tension in the world, in that sense. If we mean simply strain it is true that there is strain in the world, but again, that pressure in the world against the wrath of God is not in the Church.”
The Rev. J. Blankespoor: “Is there a tension in Christ? This seems to follow from the fact that Christ is the Head of the Church and the Church means nothing without Him. How can we speak of tension in Christ?
The Rev. H. Veldman: “We can speak of such a tension in Christ as revealed in the Garden of Gethsemane, for example. Christ was not subject to sin but, though absolutely sinless, as far as His human nature was concerned, it recoiled from the prospects of what lay before Him. He was Holy and the contemplation of what lay before Him filled Him with horror, not rebellion. This was not due to any imperfection. Every moment He subjected His will to God’s way. There was no strife between them at all.
The Rev. J. Blankespoor: “The tension of Church is due to the fact that the Church is born from above, which life the believer possesses in the midst of a sinful world and sinful human nature. Is the tension of Christ the same then?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “No, it is not the same; not as in Romans 7. Christ is holy and perfect. They are not identical. The relation between the two is such that because of Christ’s tension the Church is in tension.”
The Rev. A. Petter: “Can we say the tension is expressed in Paradise in words: ‘Ye shall be as God’. This is the striving of sinful men over against God’s Word: ‘I will put enmity’. Men strive to be as God but God maintains the principle that He is God by putting enmity between the two seeds. Christ is brought into that tension. He was perfected through suffering. He learned obedience. He learned obedience that brought salvation to all who obey Him. Even Christ had to learn obedience in a new sense that God is God alone, and through the solving of the tension became the Author of a new redemption.”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “I wish to make it clear that when the subject was assigned to me I stood before the question, to what does it refer? From a grammatical point of view the subject pre-supposes that the Church is the subject of the tension.”
The Rev. L. Vermeer: “Is there tension in the Church Triumphant? We read of the souls under the altar which cry: 1How long Lord’. Is this part of the tension of the Church? Can we speak of a tension in the Church victorious that is related to the tension of the Church in the world?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “Yes, before the judgment day; I think that is correct.”
The Rev. W. Grossmann: “Is the victory in hating evil? What do you understand by evil: sin or sinfulness?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “I would refer to Romans 7. Superficially we judge this to be the talk of a defeatist. Yet, underlying all, the Apostle hates evil. The Child of God continues to have the upper hand. That is the point: he hates evil. That, too, is a work of grace and is the victory.”
The Rev. W. Grossmann: “Is the evil the body of death which we are?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “Paul declares: ‘Who shall deliver me?’. We are not delivered from the body of death until we die. In Romans 8 Paul carries the Christian to the end of time; to the glory of being more than conquerors. We have that victory in Christ. The body of death is sin within me and this body in this life as it is in the service of sin. Our complete and final deliverance from the body of this death is affected in the day of Christ.”
The Chairman, the Rev. G. Vos: The Rev. Grossmann asks if sin is the body of this death. Does the Apostle in Romans 7 identify the word sin and the body of this death?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “The body of this death is sin within me.”
At this point the Rev. H. Hoeksema mounted the platform and turned to Romans 7. He spoke at length on this passage, somewhat as follows: (We would suggest that you follow the text as you go along.—W.H.) “The question is one of exegesis of Romans 7. It is a two-fold question. In the first place, whether in Romans 7 evil is the same as the man of sin.” He then read and commented on verses 15ff. “Note that the Apostle is not talking of the man of sin but of the action of the man of sin. He is not speaking of the man of sin but of the deed which is accomplished and done by the man of sin. The Apostle speaks of the evil act arising from sin dwelling in him. Sin is the power which causes the act. The act is sin. The evil is not the man but the act.”
“In the second place, it is implied in the question, whether this evil is the same as the man of sin that I am. I am not the man of sin in Romans 7. The Apostle makes a plain distinction between himself and the man of sin. ‘I delight in the law of God’, that is me, the Christian, not the man of sin. “But I see another law in my members. . . . who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’. Again a distinction is made here between the me and the body of this death. I will be delivered from the body of this death; the I remains. Hence, the I is evidently the new man in Christ and the man of sin is not identical with the Christian. In Romans 7 the apostle speaks of the act of sin which he commits in the body of death. That the Apostle hates and that is the victory.”
Dr. K. J. Steube: “I am under the impression that the speaker explained tension as something between the Church and the world. The theme speaks not of tension between the Church, but of the Church. The idea being that the Church has tension. The question is how to account for it. The Church is the Body of Christ. He is the Head and we are the members. Hence, the tension of the Church is the tension of Christ, because, we as His members have tension. This is true from the beginning on, and the question is, where does it arise. It arises from the enmity expressed in Gen. 3:15.
The Rev. G. Lubbers: “It seems to me that the tension is not an outgrowth of something else. Tension is a formal term. There will be no tension in heaven. There all tears shall be wiped away, the enemy shall be gone and we shall be free to express a perfect covenant life. Is not the tension of the Church the life of heaven expressing itself and meeting the foe in this world? The speaker spoke of the Church standing betwixt the two. Is this due, to her present position in the world?”
The Rev. W. Korn: “Regarding the exegesis of Romans 7: if the I of Romans 7 and the body of death are the same and the body of death is everlastingly destroyed than I pass away too.”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: ‘”I understand that Korn agrees with me. I have a few questions, Mr. Chairman: Is the cause of the tension negative or positive? Is it due to sin or due to my position in Christ? In the second place, What is the calling of the Church in view of the tension? Must she simply suffer, be apologetic, polemic, or what? And finally, is tension something in between?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “The cause is positive-Christ. I did not face the question of our calling.”
The Rev. R. Veldman: “What is the tension of the Church Triumphant? Is there tension in the Church Triumphant in the same sense as presented in the paper? Is anticipation tension? It there tension in God?”
The Rev. H. Veldman: “The Church looks for deliverance-complete and final-in the judgment day,”
The Rev. Prof. G. M. Ophoff: “”I would like to return to Romans 7. Isn’t the ego responsible for what he does in the body of this death. Are there not two egos here from an ethical point of view, the new creature in Christ and the old man of sin? The I that sins and the I that hates what it does? If we do not maintain this then we are no longer responsible for what we do.”
Here a discussion followed between the Rev. G. M. Ophoff and Rev. H. Hoeksema regarding definition of terms, especially of the term: responsibility. It was agreed that responsibility meant accountability and liability of the individual rational-moral creature.
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “In the ultimate sense all the responsibility for our sins has been borne by Christ. The Christian does not answer in the final judgment nor in time except by that act of faith whereby he confesses his sins and becomes a justified sinner. The justified saints cast their responsibility on Christ. Individually we are not accountable before God’s judgment seat. The very fact that as soon as the Christian discovers sin, he hates and confesses it changes his whole attitude in respect to sin and responsibility. Paradoxically speaking, he is not sinning when he sins because he hates what he does. The I-ego—the new man in Christ—certainly overcomes even his responsibility. He is justified. The act of faith whereby he hates his sins and confesses and repents of them makes him all new, even in respect to his sin. The Christian does not sin like the natural man but hates his sin and is no longer responsible for it. That is Lord’s Day 23. That is the paradox: even though he commits sin as a responsible being yet he is justified in Christ.”
The Rev. G. M. Ophoff: “We must guard against antinomianism.”
The Rev. Hoeksema: “Then we do not hate sin. I have quoted the example before of the drunkard who lies in the ditch. Some men come along with a wheelbarrow and while they put him in it the drunk says: “Be careful I am a Christian’. That is not Christianity. In Romans 7 the I that sins is the same I that hates sin. The Christian is one ego in two natures: the old body of death and the new man in Christ. The new man has the victory and does not say: ‘I will have nothing to do with my sin’, but he hates his own sin. That act of hatred and repentance and longing for deliverance makes him a new creature even in sin. The new man in Christ makes him a constant enemy even of his own sin.”
Note: In connection with our review of the Conference proceedings we would urge our readers to read the two splendid articles on the Conference which appear in the October 17, issue of Concordia. Hany of the practical questions and values are treated there.