(Note: The following is an abbreviated and revised, form of an address delivered on February 18, 1971 in the First Christian Reformed Church at Kalamazoo, Michigan under the auspices of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen.)
I am, perhaps, known to most of you only as the writer of the “Father Groppi reports”—reports printed originally in the Standard Bearer, and later reprinted in the Torch and Trumpet and the Bulletin of the ACRL. It was in response to those reports that I also received this invitation to speak.
I would like to state concerning my presence at the Groppi lecture that I attended merely out of curiosity—and not in order to give any sort of report. Later, when I did write the report, it was with a certain amount of hesitation—for it could only be an unfavorable one concerning an activity in a college belonging to a denomination other than my own. Yet I was convinced that what happened the evening that Father Groppi appeared on the stage at Calvin was of: concern not only to me, but to many others of Reformed persuasion.
Very frankly, I was amazed and surprised at the: response to the reports. I have had conversations with; many members of the Christian Reformed Church who expressed complete agreement with my criticisms on Groppi’s appearance. Some wrote letters to declare their approval of the articles. One of these letters came from a Christian Reformed consistory in Grand Rapids.
All, of this has been for me a matter of gratitude and thankfulness. Such response indicates to me that there are yet many in the Christian Reformed Church who are deeply committed to the Word of God. These are, therefore, and rightly, greatly offended when that which is contrary to God’s Word is introduced, welcomed, and applauded.
Only one very serious question has greatly troubled me in connection with the Groppi affair and other similarly disgraceful incidents: what have you been doing about it? You have rightly deplored what happened—but what have you done about it?
My present subject is closely related to that Groppi affair—in fact, I believe it touches upon the root of the problem: it is a question of the antithesis. My theme I have borrowed from an editorial of Dr. Lester De Koster in the Banner of January 15, 1971. In this editorial, Dr. De Koster insists that one must be positive—what is one to be for? And I would agree; the Christian must be positive. At the same time, the editorial (which also refers to Groppi’s appearance at Calvin) slights, minimizes, and deprecates the negative. And very wrongly so.
Therefore it is well for us to remember that the question, “What for?” must necessarily involve the antithesis—both a “for” and an “against.”
The word antithesis is composed of two parts: anti andthesis. The thesis is the positive part. It is the fact or reality. But opposed to the thesis, is the anti-. Anti- is either that which is against the thesis, or that which seeks to be instead of the thesis. These two ideas can be combined. That which is opposed to the thesis, is that which is against it in order to displace it.
The word antithesis is not found in Scripture. The idea, however, is plainly taught there. The Scriptural thesis is God and His holiness. Throughout, this is the emphasis in the Bible. The idea is summarized in I John 1:5, “. . . God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” Against this Thesis, and seeking to displace it, is the darkness of the devil and all wicked ones. We read inJohn 3:19, 20, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
It is this antithesis which can be traced throughout Scripture. One finds at least some preview of it in paradise, where God placed before Adam two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. To the former Adam must respond positively; to the latter, negatively.
From the time of Adam’s fall into sin, the antithesis has been seen here on our earth. God spake, addressing the serpent, in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Always that enmity is revealed—and suggests the fact of antithesis. The enmity of Genesis 3:15 reached its climax on the cross of Christ. There the serpent and his seed sought to crush the seed of the woman. All of his venom was poured out upon the Son of God in our flesh. In opposing Him, Satan desired to displace Him. But precisely there, Christ had the victory over Satan and his seed; over sin and death. There the Thesis, the Light, triumphed.
Yet there remains the distinction between light and darkness. Children of God, who are still in this sinful world, face a world of darkness. They can not be one with that world; they may not join hands with it; they may not idolize it. For does not II Corinthians 6 teach, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Surely, that antithesis clearly remains even unto our very own day.
The Antithesis Displayed
The faithful child of God, who believes necessarily in the truth of antithesis, is first and centrally forsomething. He carefully avoids two terrible errors. On the one hand, he is cautious lest he should be onlyagainst. Some people are that way. No matter what arises, they are against it. The congregation may decide to install green carpeting in the sanctuary—but these are both against the color green and against carpeting. They strenuously oppose it—though they know not why. These are simply against whatever they confront. They have no basis, no positive basis, for their opposition; therefore they can not either be taken seriously. One surely can not be only against. On the other hand, there are some who consider it a virtue to be only and always for. These are often for the church (whether she be right or wrong); for the school (no matter what may be taught there; no matter who may speak there; no matter what may be done there); these may be for their children (no matter what evil deeds they may do). Needless to say, this attitude is not only harmful to those possessing it, but it is also spiritually detrimental to the very organizations or persons that are so upheld!
The child of God, therefore, must be properly for God and His Word, Who is Jesus Christ—or, as Dr. De Koster stated in his editorial, pro Rege (for the King). He is for God and His truth as God has revealed Himself infallibly in His Word. The Christian will not compromise with that Word. Whatever that Word declares concerning God and His Son Jesus Christ is authoritative. The child of God will maintain that.
I might add, the Christian will be for the King as He has been historically confessed by the Church in its creeds. He does not join the multitudes who would do away with all those creeds of the past (multitudes who claim that the creeds are outdated, ancient, unsuitable for our times, etc.). He believes that the creeds express precisely what Scripture sets forth concerning the King. The child of God is FOR.
Therefore, he must also be against. Whatever is opposed to that King, whether in the evil world or in the church itself, he will oppose. He must oppose it. When one is properly for the King, he can not avoid being against all that which opposes his King. Does not Scripture itself serve as a guide in this? Are not eight of the ten commandments negative (Thou shalt not . . .)? Do not the prophets and the apostles often address the church in a negative way? Psalm 97:10 summarizes it: “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.” As long as members of the body of Christ live on this earth, they must be negative—but always negative on the basis of what they believe positively.
An Absolute Antithesis
There was a statement printed in the Bulletin of the ACRL of January 1971 which declared, “The antithesis is absolute, or it is not an anti-thesis.” With that statement I fully agree. However, the denial of the absolute antithesis is the root of many of the deviations evident in the church today. As soon as the absolute antithesis is denied, the way has been opened to have fellowship with unrighteousness and to be yoked with unbelievers (contrary to the instruction of II Cor. 6). The three professors (Greydanus, Marsden, Mouw) who sat with Father Groppi on the stage in the Fine Arts Center at Calvin College are a case in point. In their second letter in which they attempt to explain their part in the Groppi affair (Standard Bearer, Vol. 47, No. 4), they state:
As perhaps we should have recognized the first time we wrote to you, the real difference between us is the question of common grace. This became clear from your reply to our letter. You see the antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate as so absolute that you preclude giving any hearing to any of their views. Thus you state that “hearing both sides of a question” is a “very basic error.” Consistent with your view of absolute antithesis you readily equate Groppi, agnostics, and similar speakers with “the devil and his followers,” and twice you condemn us even for praying for such men and for asking God’s blessing on them. Clearly you are judging such men to be beyond the help of God’s grace—that is that they are already irrevocably followers of the devil so that there is no good in them and that we can safely judge them to be beyond hope.
We, of course, do not share your view that the antithesis is so absolute. We believe that God by his grace allows the unregenerate to continue to live and to do and say some relatively good things, including works of “civic righteousness,” even, though these may be inconsistent with their ultimate God-denying presuppositions. Hence we feel that it is proper to converse seriously with those who may be unregenerate (as well as to read and study their works in the light of God’s Word) and we do not expect that everything they say will be absolutely wrong.
Now I pointed out to them in my answer to their letter, that they do not fairly nor accurately present my position in these paragraphs. But they do make plain that they themselves do not want an “absolute antithesis,” at least not so absolute that one can not “converse seriously” with the unregenerate. I am not certain what they mean by “conversing seriously,” but I presume that the Groppi affair would be an instance of such conversation. I would suggest that their action was a denial of the antithesis and a violation of II Cor. 6:14-17.
Though Dr. De Koster in his editorial of January 15 does not mention “antithesis,” and therefore does not either openly deny the existence of “antithesis,” he nevertheless makes the antithesis to appear utterly absurd. He insists one must be “for,” arid concedes the possibility that occasionally one must be “against,” but in a concrete instance he tries to show that those who were “against” Groppi were somehow imbeciles—illogically and irrationally condemning his presence at Calvin. He writes:
All right., then, some among us deplored the appearance of Groppi, and let that be known. Now let’s go on from there: what, in such matters, are we for?
Can we be for an educational institution hermetically sealed against the views of Groppi and the like? Then we must be for shutting off radio, television, newspapers and magazines, and books from the college campuses. In no other way can the Groppi’s, or rock music, or whatever is alive in the mind of the day, be shut out from the schools to which we commit our children. And this, in fact, we know to be impossible. But what, then, having been opposed to Groppi, is one to be for?
Now such a formulation, I contend, is really unworthy of a man of Dr. L. De Koster’s stature and ability. It is not even logical—and certainly not Scriptural. If I were opposed to feeding my children poison, does it logically follow that I am for “hermetically sealing” my children against every reference to poison: whether in books, magazines, or over television? Of course, not. If I am opposed to adultery, does it logically follow that I must “hermetically seal” members of the church from every reference to sex or to instruction concerning sex? Of course, not. Then why does opposition to Groppi’s appearance imply a being for hermetically sealing the college against every reference to Groppi? De Koster obviously would make the antithesis to appear utterly absurb—in order to allow for the “Groppi’s, or rock music, or whatever is alive in the mind of the day” (I presume he means the “Bonnie and Clyde” type movies) within the college. In fact, he even suggests what appears to be a good reason why all this sort of thing is essential. He states:
Ask yourself: how would I go about producing graduates who will not wilt under the harsh winds of modernity the moment they leave the campus? How would I give our fine young people the trust and freedom essential to responsible development? How would I deal creatively with the mistakes all human beings make?
So De Koster would bring the “Groppi’s, or rock music, or whatever is alive in the mind of the day. . . ” into the college in order to produce “graduates who will not wilt under the harsh winds of modernity the moment they leave the campus?” It seems to me that such procedure would not prepare graduates to face such harsh winds, but would prepare them to join with these evil winds. One does not need a Christian school or college for this purpose. A secular school can accomplish this purpose as well—and far more cheaply for the student and his parents. Yet this is the ultimate result of denying an absolute antithesis.
When I speak of an absolute antithesis, I want you to understand clearly what I have in mind. I do not want any to create a misunderstanding on this score. An “absolute antithesis” is not identical or even similar to a “hermetical sealing” from the world. Practical experience shows that this is truly impossible. Even were one to retire to a Pacific island, he could still not be “hermetically sealed” from the world. The fact is, one would take the world right with him in his own flesh. Jesus Himself, while on earth, prayed not that we be taken from the world—but that we be kept from the evil (John 15:19; John 17:14-16).
It is also to be understood that an absolute antithesis does not mean that there are not any things produced in the world and by wicked men which the Christian can use. Wicked men may be bakers of good bread which I can eat to the glory of God. Wicked men may manufacture good cars which I can use to God’s glory. Wicked men may compose music, following God’s laws of harmony, which I can use to God’s glory. The wicked often (for they are not imbeciles or fools) recognize that when certain laws which God established are followed, there is outward success. These wicked men sin even when they follow outwardly certain of God’s laws for their own advantage—for whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). The child of God can surely make use of such things, which in themselves are not inherently corrupt, in the service of God’s Name. (Obviously, the “new morality” presented by Groppi at Calvin is inherently corrupt and ought not to be applauded or termed “one of the best sermons” one has heard.)
I would suggest that Jesus presents the absolute antithesis in Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” You will notice in this text that Jesus does not present a “both-and” situation. One can not serve God and mammon. Nor does Jesus present an “either-or” situation. One can not serve God or mammon; he can not serve God, but ignore mammon. Rather. Jesus insists that when one loves the one, he must hate the other; when one holds to the one, he must despise the other. This is the idea of an absolute antithesis. One who truly loves God and His Word necessarily hates all evil doers and all of their corrupt deeds. He can not properly love God—and embrace a Groppi who espouses theories obviously contrary to God’s law. We read in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
It follows too that one who hates God’s law may not be allowed even within the household of faith. It is not a question of keeping out television or magazines. It is rather a question of keeping out those who would desire to teach me or my children what I know is opposed to God’s law. This is the idea of II John 10, 11, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
Yes, we are FOR . . .
Some suggest that one cannot, in practice, live antithetically—so why even try? It would appear almost impossible, in this modern world, to have any distinctions anymore. There can be no real separation from the world’s corruptions. Rather, one must of necessity join the world in every sphere: in their labor organizations; in their movies; in their lodge membership; in their Sunday desecration. But such a situation presents a sad commentary on the state of affairs within the church!
Others are not in a position to live antithetically—simply because they are spiritual ignoramuses. Concerning this situation, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness hereby they lie in wait to deceive.” People in this position will quickly follow any leader—no matter what he believes or teaches. Such are ready to applaud even the immoral suggestions of wicked men.
But you must know what you are for. One knows this by hearing the pure preaching of the Word of God. He knows this by studying diligently the Word of God. One must know and be able to quote Scripture to show what are the positive truths concerning God and His work. And one must instruct his children in these same truths. Our children are going to face greater evils, greater apostasy, than we have had to face. They must be. thoroughly equipped to stand fast. Together with a knowledge of God’s Word must also go a knowledge of the creeds of the church. These creeds are not out-dated, though they are over 400 years old. The old errors which they condemn continue to arise in our own day—though the error comes under new guises. One must, then, not simply be for denominations, forbuildings, for schools—but rather always for the truth of God’s holy Word. One who is for the truth, can not be moved from it by the devil himself.
. . . therefore we are also AGAINST
Because you are for the truth, you must unhesitatingly condemn the wrong. Attempts have often been made to silence proper criticism or make such criticism almost impossible. Dr. L. De Koster evidently also tries to scare the critic into silence when he writes in his editorial:
I am not much impressed, I must say, by those who point out, as examples for us, that Amos and Jeremiah and Isaiah prophetically denounced the sins of Israel, as did Moses, and St. Paul, and indeed our Lord Himself. I say I am not much impressed by the excuse for pelting the Church with verbal brickbats. In the fast place, none of us belongs to that select, and closed, company of divinely and infallibly inspired spokesmen. Our task, in the second place, is to strive mightily that the biblical denunciations do not rightfully fall upon us, rather than self-anointing ourselves prophets to denounce our brethren.
Now it is indeed true that no one is entitled to set himself up as an infallible prophet along side of Amos, Jeremiah, and the others, and present his own word as an infallible statement of condemnation upon others. But one not only may, but must, use the very words of Amos and the others to condemn the evils which exist in our day within world and church. It is not a question of throwing “verbal brickbats,” but one must condemn what God’s Word condemns—thus must base his condemnation on Holy Scripture itself. De Koster adds:
Only the Church appoints those entitled to criticize it; they usurp this right who willfully take it upon themselves, and in consequence only sow discord and division!
Where De Koster obtains this proposition, I do not know. Does the Church only appoint those entitled to criticize it? I would agree that the ministers of God’s Word are called only through the Church. Their task is, to proclaim the pure Word of God without compromise. In proclaiming that Word, they are duty-bound to condemn the error too. But surely they are not the only ones entitled to criticize. Nor is such a privilege entrusted only to elders. God’s people, the laity, are not only entitled, but obligated, to criticize properly when the need arises. Fact is, Scripture strongly condemns the laity when they fail in their duties in this regard. In Hosea 4:6 the prophet deplores, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And, perhaps more strongly yet, Jeremiah says (Jer. 5:31), “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so . . .” Would you want that condemning Word of God directed against you?
As those properly founded on the positive truths of God’s Word, you must criticize everything opposed to that Word. We are approaching the end of time. The signs about us indicate this clearly. This means there will be more and more attempts also to present to you the “poison” of the lie. Perhaps this will be presented under the guise of preparing students to face the “harsh winds of modernity the moment they leave the campus.” Perhaps these poisons will be presented under the guise of enjoying “film arts.” (But Jesus strongly condemned the church in Thyatira for allowing in their midst those who, under the color of Christianity, “enjoyed the depths of Satan, as they speak”— Rev. 2:24)
You must be opposed to all such corruption. This is not the time to “sit on your hands.” This is not either the time to “wring your hands” in despair and discouragement—but do nothing. It is your duty and calling to point out sin wherever it might exist. You do that by showing from Scripture and our confessionswhy a thing is sin. You do that by following the orderly way of removing the sin—even though you might sometimes feel that such a process is hopeless. Do not be of those who, through their action (or lack of it) show that they “love to have it so.” Corruption must be removed for your sakes, for the sakes of your children, for the sake of those who commit sin, and above all, for the sake of the glory of our God.
Let us together remember well the warning Christ gives to the church of Ephesus in Rev. 2:5, “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”