Rev. Terpstra is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
I express my thanks to the Board of the RFPA for the invitation to speak at your annual meeting. I have a deep appreciation for the labors of the Association and for the literature which the RFPA produces. I want you to know that I am a avid reader and promoter of the Standard Bearer and of the books which the RFPA publishes. And as you may know, South Holland PRC is a loyal supporter of this ministry as well, both through the congregation and through its Evangelism Committee.
I rejoice in the merger of last year, bringing the book ministry and the Standard Bearer together under one Board. My prayer is that this may serve the health of both publishing efforts and work to spread the Reformed faith far and wide.
The topic which I chose for this evening speaks to what I believe is the role and responsibility of the RFPA at the present time. That is to serve as an instrument of God for the stimulation of the knowledge of the Reformed faith as we distinctively and faithfully represent it. To stimulate is to arouse to activity, to serve as a stimulus or goad and spur someone to action—in this case we say to the knowledge of the Reformed faith. I say that the RFPA’s calling is to serve as an instrument of God deliberately, since only God can arouse people to know His truth and to give them the spiritual knowledge of the Reformed faith. But He uses means, and that is where the RFPA comes in. Through its sound literature the RFPA can be used of God to stimulate people to know the truth.
This role and responsibility is heightened by the fact that we are living “in an age of spiritual ignorance. It is again a time like that in Israel during the ministry of Hosea. Then God’s people were being destroyed for lack of knowledge; they had forgotten and forsaken the law of God. The priests were not teaching it and the people did not want it. And that rejection of knowledge was destroying them. It was killing them spiritually (cf.).
So it is now in the church on earth. Knowledge of the truth is despised and rejected by both pulpit and pew, by clergy and Christian. And the people are being destroyed for this lack. It is this ignorance of true doctrine and true godliness which calls the RFPA to serve as a stimulator of sound knowledge. As we look at this further, I ask you to notice three things with me: 1. Why this stimulation is needed; 2. How this stimulation of knowledge is to take place; and 3. What attitude this stimulation requires.
Why this Stimulation of Knowledge is Needed
There can be no doubt that the RFPA is needed for the stimulation of sound knowledge precisely because we are living in an age of ignorance. We are not talking in general when we say this. I am referring to the fact that people in the churches are ignorant of the Reformed faith, of the solid truths of God’s Word, of historic Protestant Christianity; there is a dearth of such sound knowledge in the church world. What dominates the church world is not sound knowledge but unsound knowledge. Church members do not desire to receive solid doctrine and grow deep in the truth; instead they desire to be entertained, to be made happy, to feel good about themselves and their lives. What fills the churches’ pulpits and classrooms is the teaching of Arminianism and Pelagianism, Pentacostalism and subjectivism, liberalism and the social gospel, pop psychology and humanism. Interest in the solid doctrines and practices of the Scriptures and of the historic Reformed faith, let alone the basics of the Christian faith, is for the most part lacking.
The publications of the churches demonstrate this too. The magazines and books being produced today are slick in their appearance, but filled with doctrinal and practical mush and error on the inside. Try to find something solid and sound. Where are periodicals and books which promote true knowledge, and that set forth the Reformed faith and historic Christianity?!
The sad thing is that this ignorance of the Reformed faith also prevails in the Reformed church world. We know why this is: the knowledge of the truth has been rejected, just as in Israel’s day; it is again a time of apostasy. The people do not want the truth, do not want doctrine, do not want the narrow path of biblical Christianity. They are seeking a generic brand of Christianity, a non-distinctive evangelicalism. And the so-called Reformed theologians, church leaders, and preachers are given over to falsehood, to heresy in doctrine and practice. They are doing all they can to undermine the historic Reformed-biblical faith. They too have rejected sound knowledge.
But there are also true people of God in these apostatizing churches who need to hear the clear sound of the truth, who need to be called back to the true faith, who need to be awakened and aroused to sound knowledge once again.
While we are talking about the ignorance that characterizes the Reformed churches about us, we must not neglect to evaluate ourselves. How well do our own people know the truth? How much are we reading the Standard Bearer and RFPA books? How much are we influenced by the trends about us? The threat to our own faith is always present and always great. We need to ensure that sound knowledge is constantly being held before our people, so that we may remain strong in faith and in godliness. And let us not forget another group of people living in ignorance—the unbelieving world! ‘They don’t know the Reformed faith because they are living in the darkness of their unbelief. They don’t know the good news of the gospel of sovereign grace because their hearts and minds are blinded. And if they do hear anything about Christianity, it is the watered down version or the. false gospel of the false church. Indeed, we ought not lose sight of the mission/evangelism calling we have toward those in such ignorance. Our publications ought not just be for .our own people, or even for other Christians. We have a calling even to the world of spiritual ignorance. The ministry of the RFPA is needed for this too.
But now the need of the, RFPA may be considered from another perspective, and we may raise an important question. I have in mind the fact that the printed page has fallen on hard times; we are not only living in an age of ignorance, we are also living in an age of illiteracy. People are not reading as in times past. All publishers are feeling the effects of this and are bewailing the loss of readership. Newspaper, periodical, and book reading are all in decline. Much of this has to do with the influence of our video-crazed society. TV, VCR’s, Game Boy, Nintendo, and computers have all taken away the time and the desire to read. MaryBeth Lubbers, referring to the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, recently had an excellent article on the effects of television on our society and on our Christian homes.
On the one hand, then, we are living in the information age, when access to news and information has never been greater; and yet, on the other hand, people are not getting their information from the printed page. This fact raises the serious question, Is literature still an effective way to reach people with the Reformed faith? Is the RFPA as a publishing ministry needed any longer as a stimulator of sound knowledge? If people not only do not want anything solid anymore, but also are not reading any longer, why continue to produce a periodical and books? Should we abandon this work and put our resources to work in other ways?
I want to go on record as being convinced that the publishing work of the RFPA is still needed. I firmly believe that the printed page is still an important and effective way to communicate the truth and to stimulate sound knowledge of the Reformed faith to our people, to the church world, and to the world. People do still read and we need to promote reading. God’s people do take the time to read and do have an interest in receiving knowledge of the truth through the printed page. God sees to that, I believe. He always has. After all, He communicated His Word to us in written form and He has seen to the publication of this Word throughout the world! In addition, the church has always been involved in using the means of the printed page to make known the truth, and we ought not stop now. The Reformation, for example, was among other things a grand publishing venture to get out the message of the recovered gospel, and we need to continue this. South Holland PRC has been convinced of this means of literature and has used it effectively in its evangelism work from the very beginning.
Besides, we need to remember that the false church and the unbelieving world are still producing and promoting their lies through literature. They have not stopped using the printed page to advance error and evil. For this reason too we ought not quit our publishing efforts. The ministry of literature is still needed. The RFPA must continue to promote the Reformed faith by printing the Standard Bearer and solid books. She must still serve as a stimulator of sound knowledge by means of the printed page.
How this Stimulation is to Take Place
How then can and must the RFPA serve as a stimulator of sound knowledge in this age of ignorance in which we find ourselves? First of all, let it be clear that we stimulate sound knowledge only with the truth, the truth of God’s Word, the truth of the Reformed faith. We must not hide the truth or cover it up with a sugar-coated presentation. We must not compromise the truth and accommodate ourselves to the spirit of the age in order to make the Standard Bearer and the RFPA books more appealing and palatable. We must not avoid the truth and shrink from letting it expose errors and evils in the world and in the church world. We do not need to resort to slick packaging and marketing techniques to try to “sell” the gospel we are presenting, hoping that glossy pages and glitzy pictures will at least grab people’s eye and increase subscriptions.
I do not mean we have to be sloppy or drab in our presentation and in the appearance of our literature. The point is that it is not appearance and technique that stimulate sound knowledge! They may catch one’s attention for a time; they may appeal to a greater number of people. But they will not arouse one to true knowledge of God and grace. Only the truth will stimulate sound knowledge in people! It is the truth of God’s Word—the entire, uncompromising truth of Scripture, the fullorbed gospel of the Reformed faith, which goads God’s people to the knowledge of God and His sovereign grace. That is God’s means to stimulate sound knowledge. Not the lie; not a perverted gospel, not a compromised gospel, but the whole truth of God. That is what He is pleased to use. That is what He blesses.
And we have that truth in our Protestant Reformed Churches. That is our heritage. That is what has been preserved and developed in our midst. And that is what we need to put out there in our literature—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! It is the solid, content of the truth of Scripture that counts in our publications! Solid biblical exposition, the clear presentation of the historic Reformed doctrine and practice, the faithful description of God’s work in the church throughout history, uncompromising commentary on current trends. These are what make our literature distinctive and unique. It is the truth which must be set forth, for that alone serves to stimulate God’s people to true knowledge in this ignorant age. Let us be encouraged to continue .to do that in the Standard Bearer and the RFPA books.
Allow me to make a few points as to how we can continue to do this and do this better. Most of these will not be new, but can be mentioned for your encouragement.
I believe we need to develop more literature in all areas of Reformed teaching. We need more material that sets forth Reformed doctrine. I realize that this is and has been the strength of our literature; it must continue to be. There is such a woeful ignorance of true Reformed doctrine in the church world. Much of what passes for Reformed teaching is not at all Reformed, and people are confused as to what is really Reformed. We need to continue to give a clear and pure testimony to what Reformed doctrine is. For example, more can be set forth with regard to Scripture, covenant theology; the doctrines of grace, predestination, the church, and eschatology. The area of the history of doctrine and the history of the church needs to be addressed too. That is another realm of ignorance for many people. And what we need are popular presentations of these precious doctrines. I mean literature that is written for the people, for the common man and woman, that reaches them at their level and at the same time brings them up to a higher level of understanding. There are others in the. Reformed community who do this well; we ought to learn from them.
We also need to develop more materials that set forth Reformed practice, i.e., the biblical definition of true Christian living. The Standard Bearer does address this and we do have some excellent books on practical subjects, such as marriage and the role of women. But we need more. More on marriage and home life, more on what it means to live antithetically as a Reformed Christian in this world, more on moral issues we face in this modern age. Practical matters in the area of worship also come to mind. This whole subject of true worship needs to be addressed. Bible study aids also come to mind; our people find these helpful and useful for personal devotions and for society life in the church.
The RFPA is stimulating our Protestant Reformed ministers to submit material or suggest material for publication; this is good. But there are others in our midst who are qualified to write too. We need to encourage our teachers and elders and members who are gifted and interested in writing to do so in the areas mentioned above. There is so much to do! The more the RFPA can produce, the more she can be used to stimulate sound knowledge! And by all means promote the materials we have! Be aggressive in seeking new subscribers and new book club members! Keep up the work and keep finding work!
What Attitude this Stimulation Requires
Finally, I want to say a word about the attitude which is required for this stimulation of sound knowledge. I am not referring to the attitude of those who read our literature. Certainly they must have an attitude of humility and love of the truth if they are going to obtain sound knowledge through our literature. Without this our literature will not profit them at all. And, as we said, only God can give this. The spiritual stimulation is of His grace alone.
But I am concerned about our own attitude toward the truth, our own spiritual mindset toward the sound knowledge of the Reformed faith which we have. My concern is this, do we love the truth? Do we know our faith and heritage, and do we seek to grow in the sound knowledge of it? You see, only this godly attitude toward the truth will keep us faithful to stimulate others to sound knowledge. Only when we are first of all stimulated by the truth will be able to arouse others to its knowledge. If we do not care about the Reformed faith; if we do not love God’s truth given us; if we do not delight in the glorious faith of our fathers; and if we are not seeking to develop the truth and to grow in our knowledge of the truth, then we will lose our desire and our ability to promote the truth through our literature. We will stop writing and producing sound literature that serves as a stimulus for others.
O, we may continue to publish for a while. The past efforts of the RFPA will carry us along for a time. But carelessness with and complacency toward the truth will eventually kill the labors of the RFPA. If we reject the knowledge of God and His Word and truth, then we will be destroyed for lack of knowledge; and along with that our publishing work will be destroyed too.
We have then a solemn calling. We must maintain our love for the truth of the Reformed faith as our churches hold it. We must continue to be stimulated to sound knowledge ourselves, so that we may keep our fervor and commitment to producing solid literature that stimulates others. Are you reading the Standard Bearer and the RFPA books? Are you excited by the truth?
May God continue to goad us to the love of His truth, to the desire of sound knowledge, so that, aroused by that great faith ourselves, we may serve to awaken and arouse others to its greatness and glory.