Reflection. . . .
With the hope in our heart that his words may be heard and acted upon we call attention to an address delivered, before a Calvin Alumni gathering, by the Rev. Harry R. Boer, Missionary to Nigeria of the Christian Reformed Churches, and published in the Calvin Forum of January, 1948.
He begins by calling attention to the difference in influence which has been exerted upon the Netherlands and America by their respective Calvinistic groups and finds in this respect a serious shortcoming in this country. “In America the Calvinists are living their life largely without the Encouragement and stimulus that spring from opposition and criticism. . . . I greatly fear that we are gradually being absorbed by the American activistic spirit. . . . the rut of activity, doing, organization, without adequate reflection on ultimate bases and ultimate ends, and on means growing out of the first and suitable to achieve the second. We have built buildings—churches, seminaries, colleges, high schools, grade schools, hospitals—but when we contemplate the writings of the ministers, professors, teachers and doctors who give leadership in these institutions we can register only keen disappointment. . .. There is being discovered in unexpected quarters an alarming ignorance as to what Calvinism really is mid implies.
“How shall the trend be turned and a more vital era in American Calvinism be ushered in? When we reflect on this question thoughts and possibilities multiply themselves. They suggest activity especially on two fronts—fronts on which we have done almost nothing, but with respect to which we think that we are the people and wisdom shall die with us. I refer to the field of Theology and Education.
“American Calvinists of Dutch extraction manifest a sense of theological superiority that would not be so irritating were it not so complacent. . . .” After discussing the absence of a truly theological journal among the Reformed Calvinistic element in this country the author continues by pointing out that such a journal would be a step in the right direction and suggests some of those things which should be discussed and published in it. ‘Four specific questions come to mind, the open discussion of which can be neglected only at the price of making ourselves guilty of sidestepping issues that stand prominently and concretely before us. 1) Is the eschatological question going to die with our esteemed Kromminga? (This refers probably to a protest of Dr. Kromminga to the statement in Art. 37 of our Confession that the number of the elect is complete at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—this is of course denied by Premillennialists and also by Dr. Kromminga. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches decided ‘to drop the matter in view of the demise of Prof. Kromminga’.—J.H.). As a mad world hastens frantically and pell-mell to its dark destiny should we not renew our study concerning God’s message about the eschatos? (the end—J.H). 2) Has the last word been spoken about Common Grace? Leading spirits in and out of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and in America do not think so. The Barthians are grappling with it. Can we claim theological integrity if we avoid it? 3) The covenant question is an issue so burning in the Netherlands that it has split our sister denomination. Can we square it with good theological conscience and with our confession of the communion of saints to withhold from our brethren the benefit of our study and to ignore a matter that so greatly burdens them? 4) Synodical decree forbids discussion about the University question in our church papers. Does this mean that there should be no discussion at all? Many in our circles believe that an aggressive Calvinism will stand or fall with a Reformed University. Should not this matter be considered fully and freely by the reflecting minds of the church?
“The fear has been expressed that discussion of these issues will plunge the church into unhappy controversies. What! Is the prophet’s office and voice to be restricted by such unworthy fears? Are we so weak and timid that the theologian dare no longer be theologian free and unfettered to shed public light on problems that stand in the midst of the church? Will God who would have His revelation unfolded bless with peace in Zion silence in those who are called to explore His Word? Let us study and write. Let us fear only this—that we shall fall short in our duty as free Reformed theologians.”
We do not know Mr. Boer personally, but certainly congratulate him on the above stand. Certainly as Protestant Reformed people we must agree that a thorough and complete study and discussion of every issue on the basis of the Word of God and the Reformed Confessions is the only possible way of dealing with the multitude of problems which confront us in these days. And if we may interpret Mr. Boer’s article as a protest against that ecclesiastical strait-jacket-ism which is so well known to us—once more we heartily agree and applaud his stand. There must be freedom for discussion and debate within the Confessions else we dry up and die!
And thus also we agree with much of which he has to say with regard to the second field—that of Education. In this section he points out that we have been overly concerned with the externals, buildings, organization, etc., without giving ourselves account of the real meaning and purpose of the Christian schools, with the result that “Parents and especially teachers, board members and ministers will begin (if they have not already begun) to regard the Christian School as an average public school in charge of Christian people.” And he pleads for a further study and development of the educational principles underlying our Christian educational system.
And he begins his conclusion of this interesting article with the following observation: “You may say, Physician heal thyself. What have you done, and what right have you to lift up the critical voice? I have done nothing and I am not sure at all that I can do anything. But I have one thing, I possess one quality which justifies me in my own mind in speaking as I do:
I am disturbed, I am intensely concerned about the future of the church I love and about the Reformed life which it represents. What concerns me so deeply is the pervasive lack of concern about the dangers confronting our religious heritage not only among our laity but especially among large sections of our leadership, the being satisfied with a smoothly running ecclesiastical machinery, the much speaking but little thinking about our “Reformed Position”, the complacent resting behind the Maginot Line of our incomparable creeds while an insidious Fifth Column of indifference to it all is developing under our very noses. . .”
Once more we can only applaud these sentiments—regardless for the moment where the author’s intended development would lead him. We are and must never be afraid of discussion, of light, of study, yea, of free and open study and discussion of every question, bound only by the Word of and the Confessions!
Beginning at Jerusalem. . . .
In the recent numbers of “The Banner” the Rev. Harry Blystra, Home Missions Secretary of the Christian Reformed Churches, has been developing the theme of mission work beginning at Jerusalem.
It is not our intention at this time to review his articles as a whole but rather to confine ourselves to the one question, where and what is Jerusalem? Mr. Blystra states in The Banner of Feb. 6, “This Jerusalem as stated previously, is for us none other than the community, the city, and the land of our habitation”. From this he had previously drawn the conclusion that we must begin our work with our neighbors, the unchurched in our own communities and expand it to the foreign mission field. If we understand Mr. Blystra correctly, then he would make Jerusalem a geographic-social concept and interpret it by our immediate neighbors, geographically and socially.
To this conception several difficulties attach themselves immediately, it seems to me. In the first place, why did Christ say Jerusalem? Was it not true that most if not all of the disciples were Galileans? (Was Judas Iscariot perhaps the only exception to this?) Why did Jesus not mention the home town of every one of His disciples? And in the second place why Judea next after Jerusalem when we know that many if not all lived in Galilee? And why Samaria next instead of Arabia or Idumaea or other neighboring regions? And finally the question arises, does this view do justice to the concept Jerusalem?
It seems to me that Jerusalem must be taken in an ecclesiastical sense rather than in the geographic-social sense in which it is taken in these articles. Jerusalem was the center, the heart of the church of that time. There in the heart of the church which had corrupted itself must they begin, their preaching. And from that ecclesiastical center the work must be extended. And this must also be the rule for us today.