Not long ago (Dec. 15, 1985 issue) Prof. Decker commented rather extensively on “Alive ’85” in All Around Us, criticizing it chiefly because of its Arminianism, but also calling attention positively to what the churches need in order to be “reformed and always reforming.” His comments were pertinent.
Recently the same Dr. John Guest who was the “evangelist” of “Alive ’85” was back in Grand Rapids under the auspices of the Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church. This event became the occasion of some editorial comment under the title, “Reformed Revival,” by Editor A. Kuyvenhoven in The Banner(March 31, ’86, p. 5). After commenting on the fact that this is a relatively new phenomenon in the Christian Reformed Church, as well, as stating that “many of us will continue to observe revival religion from a distance and with suspicion” while “others of us have decided that it is exactly what we need,” he describes the current trend as follows:
All of us can make revival religion’s best products our guests by turning on the television. Perhaps that’s where we first got used to the style. Then we decided that the best way to set young Calvinists afire was to invite popular evangelical speakers to their conventions. And then we gave our youth the opportunity to make a commitment (see News, Sept. 16, 1985). [The reference here is to an altar call at last year’s Young Calvinist Convention. HCH] A number of our churches are heavily involved in revival religion’s style by means of paradenominational organizations: some go on spirituality retreats, Iowa church members have adopted the Cursillo movement (News, March 3), and the other part of old colony’s heartland, western Michigan, is dipping into revival religion using a man whose name is symbolic of the new evangelism tools we are borrowing: Dr. John Guest (News, March 17).
Included in the list might have been extensive participation by three southern California Christian Reformed Churches in Billy Graham’s Anaheim Crusade (News, Mar. 31, 1986, p. 23), although such participation, at least on an unofficial scale, has been going on for almost a generation already.
Under the sub-title “Hang Loose, Brethren,” Editor Kuyvenhoven tells us:
I witnessed the return of Guest to Grand Rapids on a Sunday morning in March, when he led a “commitment service,” sponsored by the Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church, in the gym of Grand Rapids Christian High School. On the previous evening, a young people’s rally had brought Guest, loud music, colorful lights, and the claims of the Lord to the same gym. On Sunday morning about 1,100 people came. I sat on the bleachers. Shawnee Park Church had done much hard work, and I enjoyed the service with a spiritual joy. Of course, we are still a little awkward at a revival-type meeting in a gym. The “service of reconciliation” (or, law) seemed curiously out of place; the choir was excellent but too refined for the setting (so was the organ); and the pastor was trying hard to find the style of this thing. The song leader fit right in, but he could not get the people to say “Amen,” and he did not press harder. But Guest is a pro. He holds his Bible the way Billy Graham does; he is tall, handsome, and speaks with a British accent. He is extremely articulate. He knows and likes Christian Reformed people, and he was out of step only once, when he talked about going to a restaurant after church.
People could respond to Guest’s challenge by marking one of four different choices on a card, or they could go and meet him in a “counseling room.” That’s as close as we came to a sinner’s seat.
I think that every congregation needs to do something now and then that’s different from the ordinary. So does every couple; it is good for every person.
After telling about observing three young women who apparently paid no attention, the editor writes:
How does Jesus come to us? By his Spirit. And how does the Spirit come to us? With the Word. We have always known that.
Sometimes people have to be in a new environment or hear a new preacher, but it’s just another way of meeting the same Jesus. And if we don’t meet him, nothing happens.
The concluding section of the editorial is subtitled “Clarity.” It concentrates on “method.” In the first place, it proposes, referring to “the methods and techniques that other Christians employ to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ,” that “We could learn to introduce such opportunities and confrontations in a way that’s appropriate to methods and manners with which we are familiar.” In the second place, it calls for understanding:
All of us need shaking up from time to time, and I don’t really care how it is done, as long as it is done. But all leaders in the church should know what the connection is between faith and method and between theology and liturgy. The congregation needs clarity about the operation of the Spirit and some understanding of how all this squares with our Reformed confessions.
Notice, the question is not whether it squares, buthow it squares. And, in the third place, Editor Kuyvenhoven cautions that consistories must know “what we’re buying into when we import unfamiliar methods. Some are refreshingly new. But let’s keep far away from the methods of the salvation engineers with which North America is so richly endowed.”
Now there is much that can be said about all this.
One wonders, for example, about the title, “Reformed Revival.” No evidence is adduced, for one thing, to show that any genuine revival is taking place—though revivalism seems to have more and more of a place in the CRC. In the second place, the editorial seems to assume that this revival is Reformed. Little or nothing is said on that score, while all the emphasis appears to fall on the matter of method, not oncontent and message. In the third place, one wonders whether the time has come, from the church political point of view, that “there is no king in Israel, but everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” There was a time when the power of hierarchy was very strong in the CRC, especially when one did not conform to CRC synodical decrees. Now apparently a CRC consistory can officially invite an Episcopal minister to its Sunday morning service with impunity; and even the editor of the denominational magazine refers to “Reformed Revival,” and speaks of having “enjoyed the service with a spiritual joy.” And he speaks in the past tense about the CRC attitude toward revivalism: “We used to describe American-frontier revival religion as emotional, individualistic, and, yes, Arminian.” But then he speaks of the present: “Well, very many of us will continue to observe revival religion from a distance and with suspicion. But others of us have decided that it is exactly what we need.”
What has happened in the CRC?
Very simply put, what has happened is that the doctrine of the general, well-meant offer of the gospel has taken root, grown, and is now bringing forth fruit!
This revivalism is not a sudden, overnight development; but it is the fruit of a long process. The process began in 1924, when the error of the well-meant offer was attached to the First Point of Common Grace. Henry Danhof, Herman Hoeksema, and George M. Ophoff warned then of its incipient Arminianism and prophesied that universal atonement and the denial of sovereign reprobation would be the fruits of it. It took many years, during which the poison of the common grace doctrine was slowly but inexorably injected into the life-stream of the church from pulpit and in catechism class, as well as in seminary. For many years the process was hardly noticed by many. But then, as the late James Daane put it, during the fifties the winds of change began to blow through the CRC. In the 1960s the church was unable to condemn the error of general atonement when clearly confronted by it; it was only “ambiguous and abstract.” Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s the doctrine of sovereign reprobation was radically revamped (even though Dr. Boer’s gravamen apparently—but only apparently—failed).
Is it any wonder, considering the facts of history, that Arminian revivalism has found its way into Christian Reformed evangelism? No, it would have been a wonder if this had not happened. The whole process was inevitable!
And there is no solution—except the only solution which but a few have been willing to consider. That solution is the repudiation of the First Point of Common Grace and its insidious offer-doctrine and a wholehearted return to the truth of sovereign, particular grace.
Would to God that many would see this!