Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
The truth of the antithesis ought to be a doctrine prominent in our thinking. It is a very serious matter. The whole of the Christian life is defined by the antithesis, as we explained that concept in our last article.
After man’s fall into sin, the antithesis took on a very specific form.
The thesis, the revelation of God’s glory, and the antithesis, the contrasting position over against all that which would oppose God’s glory, now stands out even more sharply.
God came to the fallen Adam and Eve, sought them out, called them by name, and assured them that in spite of their unfaithfulness He keeps His covenant forever. He promised them the Savior, to be born as the Seed of the woman, the Head of His elect, who would save His people from their sins.
God, who Himself is Light and in whom is no darkness at all, sovereignly and powerfully calls His people out of darkness into His marvelous light. Against the dark background of disobedience, rebellion, and death in which once we His people were consumed, our great God has revealed His infinite glory and grace, His holiness and righteousness, His life.
The Savior establishes the antithesis in the hearts of His people by His Spirit. He dwells in us in such a way that by His grace we become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, who walk in the light. He implants in our hearts the willing desire to live the life of pilgrims and strangers, who serve God and not Satan.
So God continues to reveal His glory. The principle of the life of regeneration and faith in the redeemed shows forth the glories of God’s mercy and grace and love against the background of sin’s darkness and the rebellion of this world.
And thus is seen the battle of the ages.
But in our day the idea of a battle is not well liked, not even a spiritual battle.
In our day the term antithesis is despised-even within the church. There is another term that has taken its place. Synthesis is the desired doctrine today. Synthesis denotes a putting together, an attempted marriage of yes and no. It is the attempt to merge together light and darkness, Christ and Belial, the truth and the lie, the church and the world. And the attempt has been largely successful – successful, that is, in the devil’s terms.
This rejection of the antithesis is seen rising on several fronts within the church historically.
The Roman Catholic Church rejected the antithesis centuries ago. It did so by adopting Pelagianism as its foundational view of man. Eventually that rejection of the, antithesis took the form of synthesizing religious and pagan practices. If one were to research many of the unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church and find their historical roots, he would find them rooted in paganism. As the church attempted to take under its wing all nations and all peoples, without true conversion, the loss of the antithesis brought synthesis, a horrendous corruption which eventually formed the impetus for the Reformation.
Another form of a rejection of the antithesis is found in Rome’s teaching of a two-level morality. Whereas we maintain the truth that “saints” are all those who are in Christ Jesus (see Rom. 1:7, e.g.), the Roman Catholic Church teaches a separate level, a higher level of morality and consecration to God, necessary for one to attain to sainthood. From this error arises their whole system of monastic orders, with their renunciation of marriage, vows of poverty, and isolationism. In the meantime, the common folk often wallow in spiritual ignorance and immorality. All of them are in desperate need of the gospel!
Another rejection of the antithesis is found closer to our own roots, in the theory of common grace. This was the error that gave rise to the Protestant Reformed Churches, when our spiritual forefathers rejected the idea that had been adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 with their “Three Points.”
One aspect of that three-headed monster maintains that in the world of ungodly and unregenerate men there is a certain operation of the Holy Spirit which results in the ability of the natural man to do good in the sight of God in certain areas of life. The unbeliever does no spiritual good. But he is able, nonetheless, to do that which is pleasing in God’s sight in the “civic sphere,” i.e., in everyday things.
Although Scripture teaches clearly that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23) and reveals again and again that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His standards of righteousness far exceed ours, this theory of common grace maintains that what. Jesus called “an evil tree” can bring forth good fruit. In fact, it says more. This theory teaches that the Holy Spirit hangs good fruits on an evil tree! By the work of the Holy Spirit, the ungodly are not so bad after all!
Herman Hoeksema, in his opposition to this teaching, exposed its error by pointing out the irreconcilable conflict between this teaching and the biblical doctrine of total depravity.
He pointed to the official confession of the Reformed churches which maintains that the natural man is incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil, and that good works are defined only as those that proceed from true faith, are done according to the law of God and to His glory and not those that are based upon the imagination or the institutions of men (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 3 and 33).
“Yet,” he wrote, “although in the abstract and as a matter of their confession the Christian Reformed Churches admit this, in practical life they profess it to be wholly different. In this life, with respect to the things and spheres of this world, there is nowhere a totally depraved man, according to them. All are able to do good. All can live a morally good life.”
His conclusion? “Total depravity has become a mere abstraction in the Christian Reformed Churches.”1
This was only one aspect of the common grace theory as developed by Christian Reformed theologians, and to our mind not even the most vile aspect. But it brought devastating consequences to the life of the antithesis. With this doctrine, there is a certain area of common ground on which the people of God may stand with the wicked. Hoeksema prophesied that the adoption of this doctrine would see the church consumed by the world.
In a futile attempt to prevent that from happening, the Synod of the CRC in 1928 took a stand against worldly amusements. In its report to the Synod, the study committee faced the question of the relationship between the church and the world.
“The question arises, what basis of fellowship there can be between the child of God and the man of this world? What have they in common which makes a degree of communion possible and legitimate?…The solution is found in the doctrine of common grace. Spiritually the believers and unbelievers have nothing in common, but morally they have. The basis of our fellowship should never be the sin which we have in common with them, but the grace (common) which they have in common with us!…This principle can be applied to the sphere of amusements. In his general grace God has (1) given certain joys, diversions, pleasures to men…. By that same general grace He (2) restrains sin in the hearts of the ungodly so that the diversions and amusements which they devise are not always and necessarily tainted with sin…. We do not advise Christians to seek their amusements in mixed company. This is often dangerous. But the mere fact that they meet on common ground is no proof that the Christian is on forbidden ground.”2
The fact is, the Study Committee, though wanting to prevent the body of the Christian Reformed Church from being consumed by the poison of worldliness, had no antidote. The antithesis had been destroyed by the unbiblical doctrine of common grace. And today antithesis has been replaced by synthesis. Worldliness has overwhelmed the churches like a flood. The people of God grieve.
But still other errors have brought about a rejection of the antithesis within the church world.
There is a fierce attack upon the biblical antithesis by various forms of ecumenism, often intertwined with New Age thought. Behind most of the contemporary cry to break down the barriers, and the urgent call for tolerance and spiritual unity, there lurks a rejection of God’s truth and a denial of the antithesis that will eventually bring the church world into fellowship with Antichrist.
Forgotten is what Scripture teaches concerning the central place of God’s truth to all of Christianity. Jesus said (John 8:31, 32), “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” He made clear in His high priestly prayer of John 17 that the only way in which His people will be received into God’s fellowship and be sanctified, is “through the truth” (John 17:17, 19). So important is the truth, that “if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26, 27).
For all its outward striving for unity, the church of our day falls under the sharp condemnation of the the Spirit’s warning in II Thessalonians 2, where He warned of the deceitfulness of that Wicked One, whose coming is “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”
Forgotten in this prevalent rejection of God’s truth in our day and this denial of the antithesis is what James writes in James 4:4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
But having mentioned just a few of the various ways in which the antithesis is rejected in the church of our day, we must not neglect to mention one other way, a way that without question has affected us as Protestant Reformed people and churches.
It is possible that while the doctrine of the antithesis is maintained doctrinally, and while all the above-named errors are rejected, the truth of the antithesis is denied in practice. The antithesis, let us understand, involves a life-style. It involves a very particular world-and- life view. It is this that we must consider in our next article.
1 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1947, p. 381.
2 Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements, To the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, meeting in Holland, Mich., June, 2928, p. 15. (All emphasis is found in the report. SK.)