The subject may seem somewhat strange—it did to me first too. It was only the first part of the theme that was assigned to me: THE NEW GENERATION OF 1924. The Men’s Society of Oak Lawn had requested another subject; but since I had been invited to speak on this subject on April 30 in Grand Rapids for the Mr. and Mrs. Societies, I suggested that possibly I could stop on the way down there and could speak here on the same subject. I added the last part: A BLUEPRINT FOR ITS FAILURE, because I thought it might be interesting to take somewhat of a different approach.
The subject requested of me did somewhat mystify me. In a way I think the theme is very plain: THE NEW GENERATION OF 1924. Yet it could be rather ambiguous. 1924? What was so special about that date? Obviously the Board, requesting this subject, had in mind the church events of 1924—particularly the formulation of the three points of common grace which led ultimately to the establishment of the Protestant Reformed Churches. At least that is what I take to be the meaning of the theme.
THE NEW GENERATION again could have various meanings. I have taken as its meaning this: it refers to us—to those of us particularly who were not born yet in 1924, or who were very young and consequently unaware then of the events which transpired. We are the new generation that were born and raised by those who went through the struggle of 1924.
I am taking a different approach to the subject tonight. I want to approach it in a negative way. And I want to treat it, not by using the normal three points, but ten points. You are aware, of course, that any good Protestant Reformed speech or sermon usually has three points. That is a convenient way of dividing material, though I don’t know whether there is any special reason why this should be done. (I have heard the explanation that, being good Calvinists, we must emphasize always the Trinity—also in our speeches or sermons: three Persons, three points.)
Tonight I am going to have ten points instead of the usual three. Also, though usually a good sermon or speech is positive and treats a subject from some positive aspect, tonight I want to be negative. I am intending to treat the subject in such a way that what I say is not what I would advocate. What I have to say tonight is a BLUEPRINT FOR FAILURE, so that should we follow what I suggest in this speech, we are headed for certain failure. The subject suggests a reason for concern, and that is easily understood too. A new generation has arisen since 1924. In fact, almost two generations have been born since then. How is this generation behaving itself? Are we living in conformity with those principles which were fought for in 1924? You know that is a very serious question. You had read for you this evening Judges 2. Notice in the history of Israel how they in their second and third generations always departed. When they were brought into the land of Canaan, while Joshua was yet living, they served the Lord; but then the new generation arose which feared not the Lord, which turned their eyes to the idol and worshipped every image of the land. And that has always been history too. It is simply a fact that to a certain degree the second and the third generation depart from the principles that were fought for and laid down by the first generation. And that is true to a certain degree also with us.
In 1924 there was a grievous struggle—something that affected the lives and being of our parents, or possibly our grandparents. But today our attitude and position over against 1924 has somewhat mellowed. I want to call your attention therefore to this subject: THE NEW GENERATION OF 1924—A BLUEPRINT FOR ITS FAILURE.
I want to speak about ten things. I do not mean to imply that these are the only possible ten. We can add many other points to those which I will enumerate, but ten I have used as a good complete figure.
In connection with the theme, I would suggest that if we, as the new (or second and third) generation of 1924 are to fail as churches, then, first of all, we ought to forget about the history of 1924: the events which led to that particular struggle and the results of that struggle. We ought to forget this. It has been some forty years since that happened, has it not? Forty years in the lifetime of one individual is a rather long time. We live in a different age today, an age of super-sonic planes; an age of advancement in science and communications. This age is so utterly different from forty years ago that those who lived then, and have passed away, would feel utterly out of place today. We have our own problems today: morality, morals, and others. Those are things which we confront. There are the struggles of our day in the churches of our land (and other lands) against poverty, against racial discrimination, to enforce voting rights and privileges for every citizen of the land. We have those troubles to confront. The church faces the question of the use of nuclear arms—whether or not these may be used under certain circumstances. Those are problems we face. So we should forget about 1924 and its history. One can not forget it entirely, of course. History is history; one can not erase it. And that history so happens to be part of the history of our own churches. It is understandable then that this history would be mentioned by us and by our children occasionally. But I would suggest that if we are to fail as distinctive Protestant Reformed Churches, then we had better forget about that history: consider it ancient, a matter of personality struggles, possibly some injustices but, nevertheless, ancient history which took place a long time ago. It is then none of our concern nor the concern of our children. I believe that is the first step toward failure as Protestant Reformed Churches. Ignore ’24.
From there we can take a second step. We can become more specific: not only ignore the history of 1924, but also ignore those three points—that is, if we want to fail. You know that much has been made of those three points of common grace in the past. But they are not mentioned so much any more today. It is true that today in the Christian Reformed Church there is a little more revival of discussion on the subject in connection with the Dekker controversy, and yet possibly the majority, or at least the large minority, in the Christian Reformed Church do not even know any more what those three points are. And they are theirthree points, not ours. If they do know about those three points of common grace, this is often made a joking matter. I recall quite distinctly in fact, that when I was in Calvin College, we had one professor that enjoyed “riding” us concerning common grace. It was a matter of joke between him, the class, and us—some P.R.’s who were in his class. When we finished tests on which the class received very poor grades, he would come to class with a grin on his face and say that he had to add ten points of “common grace” to every score in order that most of the students might pass, except that he could not give those to the P.R.’s since they did not believe in common grace. You see, it was a matter of joke, a humorous situation that made everyone in class smile a bit, including the P.R.’s.
I want to suggest that we too as churches, if we are to fail in our calling, forget those three points of 1924. They are not ours. They belong to the Christian Reformed Church. Forget about what they teach. How many, for instance, here, can enumerate right now the first point, the second, and the third? Do you think you can? If you can not, that is a good start—a good start toward failure. Can you give proof texts for those three points of common grace, and against them? What texts were used by that synod of 1924 to support its adopted doctrine? What texts are used by our churches to refute the idea of the three points? Do you know what they are? If we are to fail as churches, as distinctive Protestant Reformed Churches, I’d suggest that this is the best way to go about it. Forget about the three points and the proof to counteract or deny them.
In the third place, (and maybe that is more important yet ifwe are to fail) we should ignore the practical significance of the three points of common grace. It is one thing, of course, to know that there are those three points. It is one thing to point out the proof because of which we deny them. But it is another thing to live according to our denial of those three points. I would suggest that even though we would take into account the history of the three points, and even though we should know what they are and what is wrong with them; if we do not live day by day practically according to our denial of those three points, we are exactly on that road to failure. This is what I mean. The three points, in a very general way, maintain that God is gracious to the wicked. Although the wicked are totally depraved, nevertheless the grace of God still so works in their hearts that they are able to do certain elements of good. We deny that as a doctrine, and refuse to have anything to do with the instruction of such a doctrine. I nevertheless suggest that, as a blueprint for failure, we ignore the practical implication of that denial.
We can say that our denial of the doctrine involves the truth that the wicked can do no good. Yet in our daily walk and life we can confront the world as though, after all, it is good in certain respects. After all, it presents its entertainment on television, does it not? You can watch its movies on television at home (though our churches do not allow theatre attendance). You see and enjoy the “good” that the world produces—and you can comment to one another about the “good” story you saw. Or we might dress like the world. Pretend that the world knows how to dress and that the least thing that the world initiates must be imitated by us. Then you assume that the world knows how to dress. There is an element of “goodness” as far as their taste is concerned in natural things—and we go along with their taste. That is denying our denial of common grace. Or there is our speech. The world speaks, and we hear them speak. And so often times we too can take its speech upon our lips—which suggests that we assume that the speech of the world can be “good” and worthy of our imitation. Now that is a long step toward failure as far as we, Protestant Reformed Churches, are concerned. We deny thedoctrine of common grace, but often follow it in practice: the world can yet do certain good.
Now I want to broaden out. Not only is there the question of common grace and its denial, but if we are to fail, we must minimize the importance and significance of the church and its confessions. That is a very important step too. The church is a nice place in which to have membership papers. One must belong somewhere. And it is nice to have a church to run to when one has sorrow and grief. There is a certain amount of comfort found there. At the same time, if we are to fail, we must minimize the significance of that church. Let church attendance decline. It is popular in our age to attend church but once on Sunday—and even less. Ignore the necessity of the preaching of the Word. And when you hear the preaching of the Word, pretend that it is merely the opinion of man, and not Christ Who speaks through the ministry of the Word.
Also, then, minimize the confessions of the church. We have the three: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Netherlands or Belgic Confession. We hear the truths of the Catechism expounded every Sunday. But what about those other two: the Canons of Dordt and the Netherlands Confession? We have already to a certain extent forgotten what they are, have we not? Can you sit down right now, without looking in the back of the Psalter, and explain exactly what is contained in those other two confessions? The Canons? The Netherlands Confession? What do they refute? What doctrines do they set forth? If we are to fail, we ought to remind ourselves that these Confessions were adopted (as they were) some four hundred years ago. They were suitable for a church that lived four hundred years ago, but they are a little out-of-date today. (If you keep up with the controversies going on in the Christian Reformed Church, you know that this subject has reached a very critical point there. Ordained ministers are publicly there denying what the confessions plainly teach.) If we are to fail, that is precisely the way we must go. Simply set up our own standards and ignore what the church has done in the past.
Five. To fail we must not insist upon any more distinctiveness. You know how we have done that in the past. Our churches have always been pointed out as those who were distinctive. Who maintain the truth of the sovereignty of God, and that too, over against all other heresy? The Protestant Reformed. Who maintained the truth of the sovereign, free grace of God—denying that there were any other forms of grace? The Protestant Reformed. Who emphasized in the preaching in the past the ideas of election and reprobation so strongly? The Protestant Reformed. We are always set out as those who were separate and distinct from all others. And it is not always very pleasant and nice for one in this day to be distinctive or set apart from everyone else. We too, if we are to fail, must try to rid ourselves of such distinctiveness. You know how that can be done. We should only emphasize the CROSS, and point out that there are so many others who also preach the crucified Christ, the cross—and stop there. Then we are taking a big step toward getting everyone, including ourselves, together. If we forget about all these, sometimes called “minor variations”: election and reprobation, limited atonement, a denial of common grace, and emphasize only that one point that we all speak of a crucified Christ, then before long we will not be pointed out as distinctive anymore. It will not be long and none will point the finger at us and accuse us of emphasizing certain doctrines at the expense of human responsibility and other doctrines. And our children can grow up without that matter of doctrine disturbing their conscience when they might want to go out with, and marry, those of another faith. After all, we all preach Christ crucified; we are all basically one; we all have fellowship and communion together. If we are to fail, that is another big step in the right direction.
Six. I would suggest that to fail we should give only nominal support to the church of Christ. You know how that can be done. We must continue to remember the church, of course. Come to church on Sunday. (You must do this in the Protestant Reformed Churches or the consistory might get after you.) But as far as extra-curricular activities, church activities, are concerned, ignore them: special meetings, programs, etc. Pretend that they are not so important. And societies! Pretend that you have so many other meetings, maybe bowling or some other sports, that you have not any additional time to attend societies. In that way minimize the activities that go on in the church, and emphasize such activities that rather satisfies your own flesh. I say that this is another important step toward failure. The same is true regarding our financial support of the church. Years ago our parents had to sacrifice for the church—but we do not do that very much any more today. Of course, they did not have cars to pay for, mortgages to pay off, and vacations to save for. At the same time, I suggest that if we are going to fail, then we must consider the church somewhat of a luxury. In the Old Testament, it is true, there was this ten percent deal: tithing, even of Israelites who were far poorer than any of us may ever have been. But tithing was in the Old Testament before liberty was given to the church through Jesus Christ. Today, if we are going to fail, we should consider the church not as that which we must support faithfully and first of all, but as a luxury. After we pay for our cars, our homes, all of our furniture, our amusements, then, if there is anything left over, we will see to it that the church also has somewhat of that. Then not only we, but also our children, grow up with this idea that the church is not so important and significant after all. Our own imagined necessities may be placed before the needs of the church.
Seven. I suggest that if we are to fail, we ought to neglect careful, systematic study of God’s Word. That is a very important step. We already hear the Word of God in the- preaching twice every Sunday. We hear the Word maybe two hours every Sabbath; if we are members in societies, we do have a discussion of God’s Word there; and our children have it in catechism and in school. But why set aside time as a family at home to study that Word? Why do that when all the other time is spent on it already? Why discuss, as a family, the principles of that Word? We must pretend that as a family we should be concerned with our daily cares; see to it that our children are provided with their daily necessities; and help entertain them. Play with them when they are small, and do things with them when they are older. But forget about this sitting down and studying and discussing God’s Word together. And connected with that, do not try to learn Scripture. If we are going to fail, we must not learn Scripture. Someone says, “You believe in election, don’t you?” You answer, “Yes;” and they respond, Why?” Then just tell them, “I believe it, but I can’t point out right now where in Scripture that this is taught.” Do not learn any proof texts for election or reprobation, for the sovereignty of God, for justification by faith—so that if anyone asks you the reason of the hope that is inyou, you can stand there with your tongue tied. This is surely a good way to fail. Jehovah Witnesses, and sects similar to them, can quote you Scripture. They can give you Scriptural proof for their false doctrines (though they surely distort Scripture), but we can not do that. To fail, we must continue along that way.
Eight. I suggest that if we are going to fail, we talk only about what we consider important subjects with our families and friends. Remember, not too many years ago when you were small and your parents (or maybe grandparents) would sit around and talk about a sermon for a long time? They could read articles in theStandard Bearer (and they read it from cover to cover) and discuss them as though these were really something important. And maybe they spent hours and hours at that. It was rather boring, wasn’t it? For us as children anyway. We had to listen for hours to that as though there were not anything more important in the world than discussing such things. I would say that if we are to fail, we should pretend that there are more important things to talk about today. In our families, in our visitations one with another, we can talk about the world situation, maybe. It is rather serious, is it not? What is the latest from Vietnam? What is the president doing in the so-called escalation of war there? We can spend hours today talking about something like that. That is important, isn’t it? Or we can discuss the president himself; whether we like him or do not like him; whether we approve his ~policies that he is initiating. And when we get tired of talking about the president and the world situation, we can talk about the events in our own nation: for instance, what is going on in Selma, Alabama with its racial strifes; and if we tire of that, we can talk about the weather or even the latest gossip that we have heard. But to fail as a second and third generation, we must simply regard those matters which are spiritual to be of little significance—not worthy of special discussion once we leave the doors of the church; not worthy of discussion when we meet together in our homes. I say that is a very, very significant step towards failure.
Nine. I would suggest that we neglect or ignore authority: the authority of the government, and also the authority of the church. You know the attitude of our day. If the law is not satisfactory to you, if it seems to be contrary to what your conscience tells you it ought to be, then you may go out and break it. Just go out and break the law. That is what has been going on in this country. There is an ignoring of law with the idea that because these might be bad or partially bad, therefore, they can be deliberately disregarded. Ministers of the Word, or those who call themselves such, have taken their positions in the forefront of those who seek to break such laws which they believe in their conscience to be wrong; they set themselves up to be a law unto themselves. More and more that is coming to be the situation in the churches too. The church has no more authority. It can speak. It can present some nice themes to which we might be willing to listen if they are agreeable to us, but we pretend that the authority of the church is not so real or important that we have to listen. We too, if we are to fail, must be ready to set up our own standards and say, “This is right. This is what I am going to do—and I do not care what anyone else says.” Very soon we will be as those Israelites of old: everyone will be doing what is right in his own eyes. Then we have a church in name but not in reality.
Finally, ten. I would suggest that we do not see to the proper instruction of our children in the home. Pretend that we have no responsibility, outside of sending them to school and to catechism, for instructing them further. We pay good money to educate them. We provide a minister to teach them catechism. Then, when they are at home, we should not take upon ourselves the responsibility to further teach them in what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word. Then when they grow up, they will surely have that idea in mind too that the Word and Truth of God are not of such vital importance, since obviously they are not a part of the fabric of the home. That is our blueprint for failure.
That is all negative. I wanted it to be that way, so that you can think about the negative and in your own mind set forth that which is positive. When we consider this blueprint for failure, we must immediately note that to a very large extent we have already walked along this path. Oh, we can say that we have the flesh—and we do. We can say that we have such a small beginning—and we do. But we can not excuse ourselves. The fact is that we must see that within us too is that desire to walk in the broad way which leads to destruction rather than seeking that straight and narrow way which leads to life.
You would wonder, wouldn’t you, how there could ever be any more church of Jesus Christ in the midst of the earth when you see in self the seeds of failure on every hand? And yet there is hope, hope for the church. The hope for the church is solely the grace of God through Jesus Christ. If the Word of God as applied by His Spirit does anything to the child of God, it does this: it casts him down to the dust so that he cries out in deepest agony with the publican of old: “O Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner—to me, who also transgress Thy laws in so many ways every day.” There is hope because by that same grace of God He preserves and keeps His Church, so that though they be sinners with sins as scarlet; yet, they are preserved and directed, purged through the blood of the Lamb, and kept even from their own sinful flesh until finally God brings His Church to glory. When we see the very sinfulness of our own flesh, then we as children of God, too, by that same grace, pray fervently that our Lord Jesus Christ may, return on the clouds of heaven to take us to that place of perfection and glory where there will be no more temptation, no more sinfulness of the flesh, and the evil of this present world will be gone. There will be found the perfect and complete Church, enjoying the wondrous glory of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, time without end.