The Standard Bearer and the Next Generation or The Standard Bearer : A Force To Preserve A Heritage

(Note: This is a transcript of the address delivered at the annual meeting of the RFPA on September 30, 1971.) 

In my reply to the RFPA board, I wrote that I accepted this speaking assignment with a bit of trepidation. That trepidation is as of this moment confirmed. I am not at all easy up here. I am far more comfortable in a classroom-type setting where the situation is one of exchange and interchange. My uneasiness stems not only from my inexperience as a speaker, however, but stems as well from the importance of the topic which was suggested to me, a topic which interests me a great deal but certainly is a topic which has very grave and serious connotations. It was suggested to me by the board that I talk a bit about the relationship of the Standard Bearer to young people, to the next generation. I have an immediate problem, however, in this regard. I have trouble defining that word “young people.” Who actually does belong in the next generation? The younger generation is sometimes defined as anyone under age 30. That puts me, you see, still in that category. That makes me feel good but it did not do much for my speechmaking. The quip is often made as well that “young people” do not trust anyone over age 30. In fact, any one over that magical age of 30 is immediately held suspect and is classified as being part of the fuddy-duddy establishment. Well, to put your minds at ease, my still being under 30 does not gain me much respect from those somewhat younger than I nor does it gain me much respect from those who are somewhat older. In sum, I guess I would have to say that the statement that one ought not trust anyone over 30 and conversely should trust everyone under 30, is quite absurd. I think that we can state, however, for our purposes tonight that we will consider the next generation to be those of us who are under 30. This however, you understand, is arbitrary. 

I am not sure what the RFPA board had in mind for me when they asked me to speak on this topic. Consequently I will employ an old speech-making trick which I have learned from listening to some of our ministers give these types of speeches, namely, that if you are not sure about what is expected of you, or, if you really do not like the subject that was assigned, there is only one thing for you to do and that is to make it fit you, to tailor it in such a way that you are comfortable. That is exactly what I did. 

Consequently, I will not try tonight to give suggestions about how to arouse our interest in theStandard Bearer. It will not be my purpose to suggest neat little tricks and gimmicks which can be employed to get me and my generation to read theStandard Bearer. To me, that will never work. Rather, I have decided to take a very personal point of view with respect to this topic. And, I wish you to be aware of this as you patiently listen to the rest of my speech. What I have to say must be viewed in this light: what do I want the Standard Bearer to do for me and my generation? What is its real purpose with respect to me and my generation? I think the idea that I wish to convey tonight is pretty well summed up in my title which is as follows: TheStandard Bearer and the Next Generation, or, TheStandard Bearer: A Force to Preserve a Heritage. This is how I read the situation and this is what I wish to confirm tonight: that what I wish theStandard Bearer to be doing for us is to preserve, to guard, defend, and develop our heritage. 

Now I am going to do another thing which I have learned from listening to ministers giving speeches. I am going to have three points. That certainly ought to make you comfortable. Consider with me then this topic: The Standard Bearer: A Force to Preserve a Heritage. Considering first, what is that heritage which ought to be preserved, considering next that that heritage is presently under attack, and considering finally what we, mutually as Standard Bearer and the next generation, ought to be doing to see that that heritage is preserved. 

First, then, let us take a look at our heritage. It must be obvious from the outset that our heritage includes all history which precedes us. This, of course, encompasses centuries and centuries. It includes the Old Testament and the New Testament Church and all of the subsequent ecclesiastical history. It ought to be obvious, then, that I can not possibly give an outline of that heritage in an exact, minute, detailed manner. 

What I wish to point out, however, is that that heritage has always contained certain general elements. And, these elements are what I wish to have you consider tonight. 

To get at these elements, then, and in particular to get at what I consider to be the central thread, the most general, the most universal, and the most significant element of our heritage, I wish to take a closer look at that term heritage. I wish to distinguish its use and meaning from the terminheritance. Now a heritage is certainly something which is handed down from one generation to the next, as is an inheritance. It denotes an activity of the older generation and a passivity of the younger. Something is given or left by the older to the younger. This is how Webster defines it: “that which is inherited; the lot, condition or status into which one is born.” 

Something then is left to us. But I submit to you that that something with which I am left can not be junk or trinkets. Certainly, when a father dies and passes down his possessions to-his children, he gives them something of value and something of significance, be it material or sentimental. Such is the case in both heritage and inheritance. 

So far, then, the idea of heritage and inheritance are somewhat similar. Something of value is handed down from one generation to the next. But there is more. To me, an inheritance connotes that which is material, that which is tangible. The terminheritance is usually used in reference to those goods which are left by parents for their children. The other term, however, the term heritage, is to me far richer in content and much broader in scope. A heritage does not merely refer to material goods, but rather refers to the intangible. It refers to a tradition, a way of life, a spiritual, moral, intellectual environment. The term heritage carries with it the idea of a perspective of life, a world and life view, a way of looking at and measuring things. It includes a value system and a set of beliefs. This is my idea of heritage. 

In sum, we might say that a heritage in distinction from an inheritance is ideological rather than material. It connotes the spiritual and the philosophical. 

But there is still more. The term inheritance gives the idea that one does not obtain his possessions until after the older generation has passed away. It is not delivered until then. Not so with a heritage. A heritage connotes the idea of instruction and tutelage and, there is a sense of urgency in this regard. The Jewish fathers could not keep to themselves their Sinaitic heritage. They were told in no uncertain terms to instruct their children in God’s precepts. They had to dispense immediately that heritage. So, too, today. That heritage can not be kept in escrow somewhere, but must be dispensed. 

The question, then, is inevitable. What is there about our heritage that makes it valuable? What are those key elements which are reason for our concern tonight? 

It soon becomes evident from reading the Scriptures themselves and from reading the church fathers, and I have in mind tonight particularly three of those fathers, viz., Augustine, Calvin, and Hoeksema, that the motivating force behind this heritage is, in a word, the Scriptures. And that’s not all. These Scriptures were seen to be authoritative. They were considered to be the infallibly inspired Word of God and as such were the only rule of faith and life, the only guide for one’s life. This was the foundation upon which all their works were built. In the final analysis, this was all there was: human reason had to bow before the authority of the Word of God. The Old Testament prophets had come to the people of Israel with these simple yet pregnant words: “Thus saith the Lord.” There were no more questions asked. That Word was final. So, too, with these men. Read Augustine’s Confessions. Certainly one can not leave that work without being impressed with the fact that it was the Word of God which had the primary importance in Augustine’s life after his conversion. The emphasis of the Reformation cannot be denied. Sola Scriptura was the motto of the reformers. The Scriptures alone had authority over doctrine and life. Parenthetically, I would like to call your attention to the most recent issue of the Theological Journal in which Prof. Hanko has an article concerning this very topic. I call your attention to this article because in it Prof. Hanko confirms this attention of the reformers to the idea of the sole authority of the Word of God. I wish that you all would read it, and, by the way, it could be read with a great deal of profit by those of high school age. Certainly, however, without going into a great deal of detail it can be said that this was the emphasis of the reformers. The late Rev. H. Hoeksema has some very pointed remarks on this topic as well. I will quote but one, which is found in the “Introduction” to his Dogmatics (he speaks here of the relation of the church to dogma): “Even though the church sets its seal of authority upon the dogmatic truths elicited from the Scriptures . . . yet their ultimate basis is not the authority of the church, but that of the Scriptures alone.” 

There can be little doubt, I think, that our heritage is rooted in this idea of the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of God. 

This brings us to consider what I believe to be a second important element in our heritage. That heritage is not only pervaded with and founded upon the notion of the authoritative Word, but it is also characterized by a dogmatic stance. In this day of antidogma we might do well to emphasize this and the next generation would do well to accept this as fact. Again, I can not go into great detail in this regard. If I do nothing else, however, I do want to get this point across: our heritage is characterized by a unique dogmatical position and we would do well to see to it that this element of our heritage is not lost. If one wants a capsule view of that dogmatic position, there is one article in particular which comes to my mind and that is the speech which the late Rev. Hoeksema gave to the student body and faculty of Calvin Seminary. It was entitled “Particular Throughout” and appeared in Vol. 40, p. 364 of the Standard Bearer. We ought not to be ashamed of that dogmatical position neither ought we to be afraid of dogmatics. In the final analysis, it will be our dogma which sets us apart from everyone else, The crucial question has always been and will always continue to be: What do you believe? Man likes to change that around a bit today. He does not ask the question: What do you believe? but rather asks the question: How do you feel? Brotherhood and society must be maintained and, if need be, at the expense of dogma. A dogmatic position, however, must be considered to be a vital part of our heritage. 

In the third place, as we consider the third element of our heritage, let me bring this whole idea of our heritage still closer to home. Our heritage has as its focal point, its foundation, the Scriptures, and it certainly is characterized by a dogmatic position, but it also includes our own unique local, ecclesiastical history. We have a history as Protestant Reformed Churches which may not be excluded from our heritage. That, too, might well be emphasized in our day and might well be clearlyunderstood by the next generation. 1924, 1953, 1962, 1970 are all part of our heritage. We ought not to wish them out of existence. 

Three things, then, three essential elements, I have asked you to consider as vital parts of our heritage, the authoritative scriptures, our dogmatic stance, and our own local ecclesiastical history. And, it is this heritage which I wish to have preserved. 

We must proceed, then, to our second main point, viz., the idea that this heritage is presently under attack. This is not to say, however, that that heritage has not always been under attack. That would be foolishness. The history of the church shows that her heritage is never left alone. Each era, however, has its own unique problems and situations to face. 

Now I have stressed so far that our heritage is something which is ideological rather than material, and it would follow, then, that our battle is primarily ideological as well. This does fit, does it not? Paul told us long ago that our battle was not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against spiritual hosts. And, it becomes very clear as he describes the Christians’ armor, that this is the case. Augustine’s battles and Calvin’s battles and Hoeksema’s battles were of this nature. So will ours be. Let me quote for you an introductory statement from Charles Reich’s book,The Greening of America. I guess I could have gone to other works, but this one is especially significant in light of our topic concerning the next generation. This book has been read primarily by young people; it is dedicated to them by the author. In addition, it has already sold over a million copies and has been a No. 1 bestseller. It has had an impact. Let me quote: “There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. It is now spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions and social structure are changing in consequence. It promises a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual. Its ultimate creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty—a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land. This is the revolution of the new generation. Their protest and rebellion, their culture, clothes, music, drugs, ways of thought, and liberated life-style are not a passing fad or a form of dissent and refusal, nor are they in any sense irrational. The whole emerging pattern, from ideals to campus demonstrations, to beads and bell bottoms to the Woodstock Festival, makes sense and is part of a consistent philosophy. It is both necessary and inevitable, and in time it will include not only youth, but all people in America.” There is no doubt in your mind, is there, that the emphasis is ideological. And, it takes little imagination as one continues to read this book that this movement is diametrically op posed to our heritage. They are not concerned, you see, with establishing the Word of God as their base, nor are they concerned with a dogmatic position, and they are practically a-historical and traditionless. 

This is one example of today’s thinking, but one could cite many more. It has become evident to me, however, that we observe a major trend in today’s thinking and that trend is the thinking of the existenitialist. 

Now, I have no intention of bombarding you with philosophical jargon regarding the philosophy of existentialism, nor can I delineate carefully its major tenets, but let me nevertheless point out a few things which cause me to reject its teachings. In the fast place, the existentialist is a creature of the “now,” of the “moment.” Tradition, heritage, history, do not have much meaning for the existentialist. Secondly, the rational, logical way of determining truth does not have a great deal of meaning for them either. Their emphasis is on the innerlichkeit, the intuitive and the experiential. Something inside me tells me whether or not what I perceive is real. It becomes obvious, furthermore, as you read the works of the existentialist that the direct result of his philosophy is that he becomes a relativist of the baldest sort. Having dumped tradition and the rational, he becomes very subjective. All things, consequently, become relative: morality, values, ethics, you name it. And, finally, you can easily see that if all is relative, there is no authority left other than the individual himself. The existentialist has destroyed every ounce of objective authority. 

This philosophy, of course, has its practical results. We need not look far in today’s society to determine that. But I am not primarily interested in what is commonly labeled as “the world.” My feeling is, and consequently my emphasis will be, that this type of thinking has had an effect upon us as well. Let’s bring this matter a little closer to home.

The ecclesiastical world certainly has been affected. Report 36 of the 1971 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church certainly is no cause for joy. For all practical purposes, they have dumped the authority of the Scriptures out the window. Is there little wonder, then, why men can talk freely of The Scripture as sitz im leben, the new hermeneutic, and situational ethics? The Dooyeweerdians are no cause for joy either. In many instances they appear to be conservative, orthodox and Reformed, but certainly the recent writings of De Graff, Seerveld, and Hart on the Scriptures are no cause for jubilation. This is not to mention the modern ecumenical movement with its stress on brotherhood and tolerance at the expense of dogma and confessions and an absolute, authoritative Word of God. The educational world is not immune. The authority of the teacher, both in discipline and in pedagogy, has been questioned. Behaviorism, with its blatant denial of the depravity of man, has become the philosophical backdrop of the educational scene. What about the home? Marriage doesn’t mean much these days. And, in the face of an unbridgeable generation gap, parents have retreated to the level of their children. 

But, you say, that’s all out there. Somehow or other we always remain immune. But I wish to submit that the attack on that heritage does not always come from without. The history of the church ought to teach us that the most serious attacks come from within. We hear rumblings, do we not, about being bored by doctrine and the subsequent need to be fired up by so-called practical preaching. We want a short course in how-to-do-it theology. We hear talk, do we not, that our devotional lives at home are slipping. We hear talk, do we not, that we ought to forget about 1924 and the whole issue of common grace. I can recall from my own experience a paper in a young people’s meeting to this effect. We ought to talk more, this young person said, about what is happening in today’s society; we ought to talk about today’s problems; we ought to talk more about culture. Strange, isn’t it, that this is what 1924 was all about. Probably the quickest way to kill a heritage is to neglect it. That’s the point I wish to emphasize. We have not been untouched, you see, by the philosophy of relevancy and relativity. 

It should be quite evident, then, that we have a job to do. We ought never to convince ourselves that the enemy has put down its military equipment, that somehow he has gone to beating his swords into plow shares. Not so. The battle is very real, and we must mutually fight side by side as older and younger, as former and next generations. Our heritage must be preserved. 

This is, of course, where the Standard Bearercomes in. I intimated in my title that I conceive theStandard Bearer to be doing exactly this; it is a force to preserve a heritage. It has a responsibility in this regard and that responsibility has not been negated. It is my contention further tonight and I believe that the Standard Bearer has more than adequately met this responsibility. Rehearse for a moment the central characteristics of our heritage and then review in your mind some of the articles in just this last year’s issues of the Standard Bearer. Certainly no lack of emphasis or lack of effort was exhibited there. 

The responsibility, however, to preserve our heritage does not lie solely with the Standard Bearer. That responsibility also lies with us, the reader. That perhaps is the biggest problem when one views the relationship of the Standard Bearerand the next generation. Our fears are that theStandard Bearer is not being read by that next generation. It appears as if the next generation is not interested. It appears further, that perhaps the older generation did not use the Standard Bearer as an important medium to help them in the preservation of our heritage. Certainly, the material was there. 

The problem, then, as I see it, is not with theStandard Bearer, but rather with the attitude of the reader. From my viewpoint, I can only say, “Go to it,Standard Bearer. Continue to defend that precious heritage. If you need a vote of confidence, you have mine.” 

To the next generation, and as far as that goes, to the older generation as well, I can only say, “Get with it, you had best assume your responsibility for the preservation of our heritage before it is too late. Use the Standard Bearer; it has proven to be a mighty force in that preservation.” 

In conclusion, let me relate to you what I heard recently from a man called William Ewald. Ewald is a city planner and as such has become very concerned about the future of mankind in the next fifty years. In the course of his speech he made a statement which came home to me. He said: “If man is to survive in the next fifty years, he will be forced to choose between an existential, relativistic, float-with-the times mentality in which he will have to accept changing mores, changing values, changing everything; or, he will be forced to cling to a system of absolutes, he will be forced to exercise his faith in them as never before.” God give us grace and the spiritual courage to make the latter choice.