Introduction. . . .
The Second Annual Conference between the ministers and students of the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Reformed Churches in the U. S., met in Hull, Iowa, from October 1 through October 3. The Conference was well attended; we noticed especially a goodly number of lay members from both denominations. Rut since this represents only a small portion of the total membership we will extend our space in the next few issues to give a rather detailed review of the proceedings. Our people have shown their interest, if not by attendance, through their financial and moral support and hence, will also be interested in the lectures and discussions.
The Conference was officially opened on Tuesday evening. A capacity audience had gathered in the Hull Church auditorium. Our chairman, the Rev. G. Vos, lead us in opening exercises and spoke a word of welcome to the delegates and large number of visitors present. He expressed joy at seeing such a large group present; feeling that it boded well for the success of our meetings. After stating that the committee had chosen the general theme of “The Church” for our discussion he turned the floor over to the Rev. H. Hoeksema, who was chosen to develop the first aspect: “The Idea of the Church”.
Resume. . . .
“The subject of the Church is of especial importance in our times. On the one hand this subject and truth are ignored and on the other hand, if treated at all, is distorted and corrupted. Many false ideas of the Church are rampant. If one but reads the religious page of our daily press on Saturday evenings, it is apparent that the Church has corrupted itself.
“The subject given to me is ‘The Idea of the Church’. In development of this theme I would call your attention to the following elements:
“By Idea of the Church is meant that which belongs to her essential character, to her being and essence. Not, therefore, as she becomes an object of our experience or as we see her but the Church as she is the object of faith. To the Idea belongs not the visible local manifestation but what we believe her to be according to the confession: I believe an Holy Catholic Church. We do not see her catholicity on earth, for we see several churches and denominations of groups of churches which are mutually exclusive. Rut in spite of this division, we confess ONE Holy Catholic Church. The same is true of the holiness of the Church. This is not an object of our experience but, on the contrary, we see her as very unholy; at times more so than the very world round about her. Yet, in spite of this perception, we believe an Holy Church—a Church without sin and consecrated to God. Again, the Church as we see her is earthy, but in reality she is essentially spiritual and heavenly. That Church is not an object of our experience for she is essentially invisible and never becomes visible. Even though we may notice where she is, her head and members are hid from our eyes. Of that Church, as a matter of faith and not experience, as eternally in God’s counsel and engraved on the palms of His hands, as she shall appear in glory, we speak when we concern ourselves with the Idea of the Church.
“From this it follows that we can say nothing of ourselves concerning that Church; whatever man says of it is sure to be a lie. The empirical method cannot be followed and if it is we would come to the conclusion that the Church is an institution to save souls. Or, if we look about us and consider the Church from our experience, we would come to the broader conclusion that the Church is a social agency instituted to promote the well-being of mankind and the improvement of the world. Nor will a philosophic contemplation of the subject cause us to arrive at the correct answer. The philosophy of the last few centuries in its attempts to describe the Church has only further corrupted her. The Church belongs itself to those things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard and have never entered the heart of men. Hence, only one method can be used to determine what the Church is: we must let God answer through His revelation.
“The names by which the Church is called in the Bible are not of a great deal of help in this connection. Israel of the Old Testament is called: “the gathering”, “the congregation”, “the congregation of Jehovah”. In the New Testament the most common word is ekklesia which again means “gathering”, but with this distinction that it is a “gathering called out of another whole”. The distinctive nature of the Church as a congregation is thereby emphasized.
“Of more importance and shedding more light on the question as to what the Church is are the expressions in Scripture which describe the Church. There are several of these: “a generation”, “a holy nation”, “a people”, “a peculiar people”, “the people of God”, “a holy priesthood”, etc. So too, there are figures in Scripture which express the idea of the Church. These include: “the body of Christ”, “the vine and the branches”, and the “olive tree”. (Hence, the idea of the Church as such is that she is a living entity, a whole, of which Christ is the Head and believers are members. But there is more, Scripture is filled with figures which represent the idea of the Church. Among these are “the Temple” for she is called the “Temple of God” and again “the household of God”, and “Jerusalem—the city of God”.
“Taking note of these descriptions we may deduce the following notions. In the first place, according to Scripture the Church is a completeness. She is a whole representing one idea and designed to serve one purpose. And a whole of such a nature that every member in the whole takes his own place to serve the whole. In other words, the Church is not just an arbitrary number of saved people without any relation to one another and the whole, no more than a pile of building materials are a building, but a finished whole to which nothing can be added or detracted without marring the idea of the whole. In a temple, for example, each part occupies its own place. Nothing can be added or taken from the completed form without disturbing the beauty and harmony of the whole. The same is true of the human body. A body is not a number of member parts without relation to one another, but together they make up the one body which all the members serve. So also the Church is not a multitude of individuals without form but a union of a certain number of members all of whom serve the purpose of the whole.
“In the second place, the purpose of that whole is to serve as the dwelling place of God. God dwells there. There He establishes His covenant, reveals to her His secrets, she tastes that He is good and reflects the glory of His grace in the beloved. The Church must serve as the dwelling place of the one God through the one Christ in the one body. That is the purpose of the Church and another purpose there is not. That purpose, to be the dwelling place of God and the reflection of the fullness of His glory in the beloved, is reached because God in His Son dwells there.
“From this it follows that the Church is an organic whole, not a mechanical whole. A watch, for example, is a mechanical whole while a tree is an organic whole. In a mechanical whole the parts are there before the whole, and the whole is an assembling or putting together of the parts. An organism, on the other hand, grows from and is controlled by a living principle within. The Church is an organic whole of which Christ is the dominating living principle. And though we speak of gathering the Church, men never do, for she only comes into existence when Christ grafts her members into Himself and maintains her life. His life and mind and resurrection and glory are hers. She only lives in spiritual fellowship with Him as branches of the vine.
“We conclude, therefore, that the Church is the body of Christ, i.e., she is one harmonious, beautiful whole, of which whole, Christ is the Head and dominating principle of all the redeemed elect members whose purpose is to show forth that they are members of Christ and partakers of His grace to the praises of Him that called them out of darkness into His marvelous light and thus a reflection of God’s glorious virtues.
“This Church consists of saints, not men. The members are redeemed individuals gathered out of the whole human race. This means that there is another whole from which the whole of the Church is taken—the whole of the human race. This implies that temporarily there is the one organism of the human race. The race is one organism as the wheat and the chaff are one organism. Historically speaking, the race was first and the Church is gathered out of that race. The first organism became wholly corrupt and out of it God calls the other whole—the Church.
“Two questions present themselves here: who determines who, and how many, of the old organism become members of the new and, in the second place, in God’s counsel what is the relation between the old human race and the new Church? The first question concerns the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. The second deals with the distinction between supra and infra-lapsarianism.
“The first question is answered in the Heidelberg Catechism which declares that the Son of God gathers His Church. God determines who and how many shall be members and no one else. It is not determined by the will of man. Arminianism is always humanism and implies that man determines whom God shall choose. Because that is the case the Church of Arminianism can never be an organic whole. Arminianism is humanistic and individualistic. It can never become organic. Arminianism will never get to a body but the gathering will be a crowd; never a Church—a Temple. Scripture, however, reveals that the Church is a whole and that the whole exists before the parts, in the mind of God. And that not vaguely or ideally but forever—eternally the Church is there. She stands before God eternally as righteous, called, justified, sanctified and glorified. According to His own plan God calls out of the whole race those whom He has eternally chosen to be members of that Church. Nothing of man ever enters into the calling and formation of that Church of Christ. It is of God alone!
“The second question deals with the relation of the old organism of the human race and the new organism of the Church. The new organism of the Church is called out of the old human race. Historically the race is first, the Church second. History is infra.
“But what is the relation in the counsel of God? Various figures may be used to present various answers. Is it thus that it is as of a vase that is broken and some of the pieces are gathered and saved? Was the original creation the vase which was broken and the Church the pieces which are gathered and saved? This is rank Arminianism and denies the sovereignty of God. Or is the relation like to a burning house from which some of the furnishing and as much as can be salvaged from the ruins are the redeemed Church? The scriptural idea that the Church is an organism condemns this view, as also the fact that this gives the victory to the devil. Can it then be likened unto a tailor who desires to make a beautiful suit of clothes from a certain amount of cloth that he has, but now an enemy comes and cuts up the cloth so that the tailor can only make a pair of trousers and must be content with that? Then the fall was an accident. God had purposed something else and is now repairing a ruined work the best He can. Thus the Church is repair work, the original plan was marred and again the enemy wins. Nor can the relation even be likened unto a broken vase which is completely and perfectly restored so that the damage is not even perceptible. There is still no answer to the question of why sin and the fall at all and the Devil still determines God’s work. The only possible answer is, that in the counsel of God, the Church is the original and all the rest is a means to the formation of that Church. God never meant anything else! Sin is no accident! We are talking of GOD!
“Thus we also come to the answer of the relation of the Church to all things. It is not as humanistic modernism would have it that the Church shall inherit this world. This world is not the inheritance of the Church. This world cannot be an inheritance. The curse of death is here. Rather, the relation is such, that temporarily they are organically one. As the chaff and the wheat are temporarily one organism so the Church and this world. The chaff serves the wheat as the world serves the Church. That is the present relation of the Church to all things.
“Be not afraid! The chaff may cause the Church tribulation at times but when both are ripe, in the day of Christ, they shall be separated forever; the wicked shall perish and God’s elect shall be presented, unto Him. The Church is heir of all things for Christ has been appointed Heir of all things. Unto Him all things are made and the Church is heir with Him of the glorious inheritance; so that the One Heir through many Heirs shall be able to possess all things! But that inheritance lies on the other side; it is prepared through the great and final catastrophe!”
Discussion. . . .
The Rev. W. Korn: “I was greatly edified by this splendid lecture. In connection with the remark that for the present the Church and the race are one organism a question arises in my mind. What about the words of Christ: Ye are in the world but not of the world? We know that the Church is in the flesh but God upholds the Church from eternity as the 144,000 of Israel in Revelation—a complete and separate Church.”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “The Church is in the world but not of the world. She is in the world and organically one with that world from a natural point of view, and at the same time spiritually out of and not of the world. Strictly speaking, the Church is not of the world at all. In time she is of the world for she has her origin in the one human race. That accounts for the antithesis. Believers and the world are one. They dwell on the same earth and have many things commonly but even while that is so the Church is not of the world. She is essentially different and if she is not there is no antithesis.”
The Rev. G. Lubbers: “The speaker said that the fashion of this world perishes and that nothing of it enters the new creation. What does he have in mind when he speaks of world ? Are not the reprobate element a part of the world of creation and is not then something of creation destroyed?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “The question means whether all of the world perishes or does some belong to the inheritance. By this world I mean the fallen world of mankind. The terrain on which mankind lives; this cursed creation. That which belongs to this cursed and sinful creation shall be taken away that the essence may remain.”
The Rev. G. Lubbers: “Then the reprobate world doesn’t mean much, absolutely, except as a means to the glorification of the Church. How can we say then that this world is my Father’s? What is the meaning of this world?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “The chaff has meaning but it does not inherit anything.”
The Rev. A. Petter: “The speaker said that the Church was not visible at all. The Bible declares that the Church has works whereby she is known and exhorts her to let her light shine. She has a holy walk which is a manifestation of the Church.”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “The Rev. Petter forgets that we are speaking of the Idea of the Church. The Church becomes manifest, but we do not see her as the body of Christ. We do not see the connection and spiritual operation between that Head and the members. The time will come, in perfection, when we shall see Christ face to face and everywhere. As to the idea, the Church is invisible”.
From the Audience: “What is the relation between the Church and the Kingdom of God ? Is the Kingdom of God broader?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “As far as the scope and membership and subjects are concerned they are identical. The members of the Church are the subjects of the Kingdom. The head of the Church is the King of the Kingdom. The viewpoint is different. The term Church refers to the organism while a kingdom is a commonwealth. In the organism of the Church all the spiritual blessings of the Kingdom of God are bestowed upon her members; the blessings of faith, righteousness, and all those mentioned in the sermon on the mount, in other words, all the blessings which are in Christ. When we receive these spiritual blessings we become citizens of the Kingdom and serve God. Hence, although the scope is the same the viewpoint is different.”
From the Audience: “Would it be wrong to say that the Church is the proclaimer of the Kingdom of God?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema: “No, provided the statement is not meant as exhaustive of the task of the Church.”
Since the hour was late the discussion was terminated at this point. The Rev. D. E. Bosma closed the meeting with prayer.
NOTE: If we misquote any of the brethren in this or the following articles we would be pleased to hear from them to make corrections and apologies.