Final Session. . . .
The Rev. R. Veldman led us in devotionals on Thursday afternoon, the final session of the Conference. He also introduced the speaker, the Rev. L. Doezema, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Bellflower, California. The final aspect of the development of the general theme: “The Church” had been assigned to Rev. Doezema. His topic was “The Reformation of the Church”.
Resume of Lecture. . . .
“Our topic forms a fitting close to our discussions since reformation of the Church has always been considered important. That we so consider it, is evident from the fact that it, as a principle, is incorporated into our very name—we are Reformed Churches. We are Reformed Churches because we maintain and believe in the principle of Reformation.
“The history of the Church, since the beginning, has been of reformation. To be constantly reforming the Church is, in fact, our calling. The history of the Church reveals a continual deformation in the face of which our calling is always to reform. It is through this constant reformation that God calls and preserves His Truth in the hearts of His own.
“We wish to develop our topic as follows:
“What conditions in the Church call for reformation? It is the deformation that constantly demands reformation. The form of the Church becomes defective, not its essence. The essence of the Church cannot and need not be reformed. In its essence the Church is holy, pure and perfect. Since its essence is the life of Christ which cannot sin, we cannot speak of reformation of the essence. However, this essence as it comes to manifestation in the world takes on a form. This form continually becomes deformed and demands reformation. The invisible, essential life of the Church becomes manifest in the form of the Church. To this form belongs the faith and walk of believers, the organization—the institutional form of the Church. We must bear in mind that this form is not the essence of the Church but is yet necessary to the well-being of the essence. If the form becomes defective the essence is in danger. If there is no form, there will be no essence in the future generations of a particular Church. This form becomes defective and demands reformation for the institute exists to maintain the organism. The purpose of the institute is to preach the Gospel and when this is not accomplished it becomes a den of thieves and robbers.
“An interesting question arises in this connection. What is first to deform, the institute or the organic life of the Church? This is difficult to determine. It may be that the organic life deforms first, due to the fact that the flesh of the members always clamors for false preaching. On the other hand, it may also be that the institute first deforms, due to the same fleshly desires in the ministers.
“What is the reason for this deformation and defect? We read in: ‘For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ’. Here the heart of the matter is presented. If we seek to please men, the preaching is defective and becomes instrumental in deforming the Church. On the other hand, if we seek to please Christ, we are true ministers of His. The real corruption—deformation—of the Church, is that condition in which the Church does not walk according to its confession. This may be in defective preaching or a defective walk of the members. It is this condition which calls for reformation.
“We find this situation described among the seven Churches of Revelation. The Church at Ephesus had left its first love. This leaving of first love is the beginning of deformation, for thus the Church has lost its love for the Truth and is susceptible to heresy. The end will be that it gives heretics a place of authority and leadership and the essence will be endangered and finally removed. Sardis was carnal in all its manifestations. Finally, Laodicea has so far deformed that Christ calls the faithful to come out of her. In this connection, we might also point out that not every form of the Church calls for reformation. Two of the Churches mentioned, Smyrna and Philadelphia, need no reformation and receive only commendation. That does not mean that they were perfect but that they maintained the pure preaching and walked according to their confession.
“In comparison, what is the condition of the Church today? Is she in need of reformation or not? I believe that there are none that do not need reformation. No one can say that we compare with Smyrna or Philadelphia, not even we as Protestant Reformed Churches. The Church today is in need of reformation, for even though the preaching be pure the walk and life always need reforming. We should bear in mind that the false Church cannot be reformed. It does not preach the Word and cannot claim the name of Church and be the object of reformation. Where the Word is not maintained there is desire for union. The striving of the false Church is for power and acquisition of material advantages, contrary to the maintenance of the pure preaching and practice of the Word of God. It is quite evident in our day that the organic life of the Church is deformed. The more we look at the Word the more we are aroused to the calling to reformation.
“There are two principles of reformation. In the first place, every reformation is a return to the Word by the true Church. This was the formal principle of the Reformation of the 17th Century. Both in the organic and institutional life of the Church there was a return to the Word. Reformation is a return by the true Church to that Word from which it has departed. This is a return in both preaching and walk. And again, the false Church cannot return. It is a return by the true Church. In the second place, all reformation is the work of God. God causes and accomplishes all reformation. And that absolutely. He does not merely begin and the Church and its leaders continue, it is God’s work from beginning to end.
“Therefore also, the character of reformation is not revolution. Revolution is of man. Man revolts from, the norm and standard and desires something new. Reformation is not revolution. Reformation is God’s call to His own to return to the old. Man’s work is always temporal and fades away. God’s work is spiritual. He begins that work contrary to the desires and ways of man and without the power and might of man. His methods are apparently foolish, yet His power is revealed in the weakness of the instruments He uses. Man always uses methods of the world: campaigns, advertising, etc. God is His own standard and norm since He alone is the standard and norm. Reformation is, therefore, God’s returning His own to His norm. We must understand that reformation is God’s work. It is a return to God by God.
“The pattern which reformation takes can be gathered from history and Scripture. We, especially, can determine it from our own history. Reformation usually takes the following pattern:
“One other pattern can be cited as a rare case in history. It is the exception in which the true Church is in the majority and maintains the truth by expelling the error. This was the rare case at the great Synod of Dordt 1618-19.
“Many problems arise in the attempt to carry out our calling’ toward reformation. Some will maintain that we must have a pure and perfect Church here on earth. That was the teaching of the Donatists. They maintained that the Church must continually separate the wheat and the chaff and that the Church could only be composed of Saints. If we demand that we will always be separating and there will be no unity at all. So our calling becomes difficult as these maintain that we should always split and separate. At the other extreme, are those who maintain that the Church must never be separated or divided. Only if there is absolutely no hope left, which, to their minds, is extremely unlikely a case, is it our calling to separate. Stay in as long as possible and reform from within, so they say. Still more, Church reformation makes enemies and these enemies will hurl accusations at us. Reformers will be called schismatics and separatists and although that is not the issue, it makes our calling difficult for these things are hard for the flesh to bear. Again, our calling is made difficult when the issues are not clear. We must support Church reformation, yet it becomes difficult if the issues are not sharply defined.
“We might bear in mind the following points to guide us in the execution of our calling:
(Discussion to appear next issue).