Sovereignty Denied (??)

In concluding our answer to the writings of Rev. M. MacKay, we desire to briefly comment upon his last article, appearing in the September, 1957 issue of theContender, and in which he attempts to show that those who maintain the principle of separation between church and state are guilty of denying the Sovereignty of God!

This is a very serious charge! 

If this indictment had any truth in it, a complete revision of our position on church and state would be mandatory and a change of our Confession demanded at the earliest possible moment. Just that serious is the matter! 

However, we hasten to add that the writings in the Contender attempting to prove these charges are far from convincing. They are a big disappointment. McKay writes: 

“Furthermore, those who believe in the separation of church and state (for example the Chr. Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Church(es) whose 1910 statement is chiefly devoted to criticizing the historic Presbyterian and Reformed doctrine of church and state, and then briefly contradicts itself by inserting the remark that it believes that the state bas an obligation to the first table of the Ten Commandments) do not believe in the absolute sovereignty of God for they would limit the acknowledgement which the state is morally bound to render to God.” (italics ours). 

Not only does the author fail to prove this charge but the charge itself is based on a false inference and interpretation of the 1910 statement and, therefore, cannot be proven. For this our readers may refer to our previous article. 

Then, too, the author veers from the main point in question (which is whether the church, by maintaining that church and state are separate institutions, each sovereign in their own sphere and morally responsible in that sphere, denies the absolute sovereignty of God) and devotes the largest share of his article to discussing the question of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. In connection with this discussion he does us serious injustice and places us in an altogether wrong light before the readers of The Contender

Unjustly he charges us with “fatalism” when he writes: “We were not questioning or denying the fact that GOD IS GOD, as Mr. VandenBerg puts it, that is, God’s absoluter sovereignty over men and nations. Now what does this mean if it does not mean that Mr. VandenBerg is veering sharply in the direction of fatalism? If not, why would he make such a statement? As we said before, we do not question the fact of God’s sovereignty,—we are concerned only with mansdenial of the fact. What can be taken out of Mr. VandenBerg’s reasoning hut that he would make man’s experience to be of no significant account? This is the essence of fatalism, whether it be that of Mohammedanism or of a pervision of Christianity.” 

Then again he charges: “The tendency of Mr. VandenBerg to veer off in the direction of fatalism is seen kin still another way. This is in connection with the acknowledged fact that sin has rendered man from the time of Adam onward unable to do what he ought to do, that is, what God commands him to do in His eternal law, the Ten Commandments. Now there is no disagreement between Mr. Vanden Berg and The Contender on the fact of such inability. Mr. VandenBerg’s fatalism is seen—not in stating the fact itself—but in his attitude toward this fact.”

Still later MacKay, although he lacks the courage to do so out rightly, feigns to charge us with, Barthianism. We quote: “We cannot help but see a certain philosophical resemblance between Barthianism and the way Mr. VandenBerg’s position reveals itself. The Bible tells us that it is sin, and sin alone, which has separated man from God, and set up the woeful train of consequences which has plagued this planet since Adam. However, Barthianism, in its professed zeal to maintain God as the Altogether-Other One,—His transcendent greatness—has tried to portray the gulf that separates man from God as a metaphysical gulf rather than a moral (sin-caused) gulf. That is to say, Barthianism tries to make out that the distance between man and God is one of creation or nature rather than of morality. Now Mr. VandenBerg veers off somewhat—though not altogether—in the same direction. This tendency is seen in fatalism as in Barthianism. This is, it would teach that God is so great that what separates Him from man is man’snatural smallness as well as his sin. This is found also in the fatalism of Mohammedanism. Of course, Mr. VandenBerg does not deny at all that sin has separated man from God. But this other ‘angle‘ is also at work in Mr. VandenBerg’s thinking. And it is dangerous toe.”

The author then continues to assert that our position fails “to give due consideration to what the Bible says about the condescension of God” and that it tends “to disparage man, putting him in an unnecessary bondage.” Then he concludes by saying, “It only goes to show that where there is an imbalance in the doctrines of God and man, and their relationships, the net result is a sure loss in that true spiritual freedom wherewith Christ came to set us free.” 

Space does not permit us to quote more of The Contender. For those of our readers who may be interested, a year’s subscription to The Contender can be had for only one dollar. Undersigned will gladly furnish you with the address. 

The allegations contained in the above writings we emphatically deny and we are also convinced that MacKay puts us in a wrong light when he so falsifies our position before the mind of his readers. We are not interested in answering all these charges since that would involve endless repetition of what we have already written in this series. Our former articles speak for themselves and we are satisfied to leave The Standard Bearer readers judge for themselves the validity of these accusations. 

We are interested in bringing this discussion to a conclusion in order that we may proceed with our treatment of the articles of our church order. In doing this we wish to present a brief summation of the issue here: 

1. Both The Contender and we are in agreement with respect to the matter of the fact of the sovereignty of God

2. I believe that we are also basically agreed on the matter of acknowledging that fact and that if MacKay would correctly evaluate our position instead of drawing from it false inferences and conclusions, he would also see that. No where did we ever write that the state, the civil authorities, are not obliged to acknowledge the fact of God’s absolute sovereignty and, this implies of course, to conduct the affairs of the state in harmony with that acknowledgment. We are agreed with The Contender’s criticism of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S.A., which, in substance, asserts that the state is to be neutral in things pertaining to God. Of course there is no Scriptural basis for that position. However, our contention with MacKay does not arise on this point but rather commences when he attempts to read the same interpretation into the Statement of 1910, appended to Art. 36 of our Confession, as he reads in the U.S. Constitution. Our previous article treated this matter and we need not repeat here. The Constitution and the Statement of 1910 are not the same and it is unjust to read them as though they were. Here MacKay is in error!

3. In the main we can agree with MacKay when he write that the “relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is an awesome and insolvable mystery.” We have sent him a copy of a lecture on the subject, delivered by the Rev. R. Veldman, and will await his reaction. For the rest, our particular department in The Standard Bearer is not the proper place to elaborate upon this subject. Much has been said and written about this within our circles in the past and most of our readers, we assume, are familiar with the views we have always taken on the matter. Though it is true, as MacKay writes, that a wrong emphasis on “man’s responsibility” results in Arminianism and a false emphasis on “Divine Sovereignty” leads to fatalism, we deny that our position is either Arminian of fatalistic. That Mac Kay misinterprets our position and then proceeds to ascribe fatalistic conclusions to this interpretation does not make us fatalists! 

4. MacKay’s conclusion that we deny moral obligation on the basis of man’s inability is entirely unwarranted. He argues that we reason away God’s demand upon the sinner from the fact of man’s inability to keep that demand. We refer him to Lord’s Day 4 of our Heidelberg Catechism and also to our article in the November 1, 1957 issue of The Standard Bearer

5. In conclusion, we must say that we hope to hear again from MacKay on this matter and, particularly: (a) of his defense of the position of church and state expressed in the Westminster Confession and, (b) of his admission that he has publicly falsified our position on the subject when he read into it heresies it never expressed. 

Next time then, D.V., we will begin to discuss the 31st Article of our Church Order. 

—G.V.D.B.