...

The above question was evoked by the reading of an article appearing in the March, 1958 issue of The Reformed Journal, entitled Reformed Theology and the First Amendment, written by the Rev. Leonard Verduin. 

We cannot quote all that the writer has to say on this subject, nor is this necessary for our purpose. But that our readers may know a little of the argument Rev. Verduin sets forth in his article, and to meet the charge that we might be quoting him out of context, we feel it necessary to summarize briefly, what the article is about. 

The First Amendment refers to the Constitution of the United States which stipulates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” Concerning this Verduin asks and attempts to answer the question: “What are we to think of this amendment? That is, what are we to think of it as Christians who take the Word of God seriously?”

The questions propounded by Rev. Verduin suggest the problem that he wishes to solve, at least to his own satisfaction. The problem is this. On the one hand, the First Amendment of the Constitution declares that the government of the United States must remain neutral in matters of religion. It must condone all religions, whether true or false, as having equal right of existence under our government. It must sustain the right of our citizenry to worship as they please or not to worship as they please; to be Protestant, Catholic, or Jew, Mohammedan Buddhist or Atheist; without interference. Very simply, the position assumed by our government as expressed in the First Amendment is a hands-off policy as far as the matter of religion is concerned. 

On the other hand, Rev. Verduin foresees the objection of Reformed Christians that all neutrality is wrong, in fact they may conclude that government is even antichristian that does not avowedly acknowledge the kingship of Christ. 

Now Rev. Verduin does not go along with the idea that neutrality is always wrong. He concedes that it may be wrong in certain cases. All depends on the question, “What does God ask? If He asks non-neutrality, it is sinful for us to be neutral; but if He asks neutrality, as we think He sometimes does, then non-neutrality is sinful. The question that needs to be faced is, What does God ask of the State, His creature? If He asks neutrality, then the First Amendment is right in His sight. If He asks non-neutrality, then it is wrong in His sight. And in that eventuality we Christians had better try to do something ‘about it.” 

In regard to the First Amendment’s “neutrality,” Rev. Verduin writes, “It should be pointed out that the ‘neutrality’ of the First Amendment is better called impartiality. The First Amendment was written to prevent favoritism, devised to keep Congress from giving to one religiosity the right-of-way and so put the other religiosities at a disadvantage. The First Amendment does not intend to commit America to religious vacuity, as is sometimes imagined. It does not commit America to secularism, as is sometimes said. It does not seek nor anticipate the cessation of religious commitment on the part of its citizens. In fact, it not only expects them to continue to have such commitments but it seeks to provide a climate where religious commitment is most likely to flourish. It does this by providing that every religious conviction shall have the same status at law, the same protection, the same opportunity. The intention of the First Amendment is not to carve out an anti-Christian or anti-religious State. As far as the Constitution is concerned America is not, and cannot become, a ‘godless America.’ There may be godless people in America—we have our share of them—but there is no ‘godless America.’ A godless State is a non-neutral State. It precludes religion and the free exercise thereof, things which in the American State are guaranteed by constitutional provision. Not only is this the theoretical intent of the First Amendment; it is likewise the practice. Any one who is in position to speak with authority on the matter knows that on the American scene religion and the free ,exercise thereof are not obstructed hut encouraged—within the framework of the First Amendment, of course.” 

Rev. Verduin is convinced that “non-neutrality where neutrality is enjoined is just as vicious as neutrality where non-neutrality is commanded.” 

What is written so far should give the reader some idea as to what the Rev. Verduin is concerned about in his article. Though we did not desire to comment especially on this part of his article, it is difficult to refrain from asking the question: But does not the government have the bounden duty to maintain both tables of the law? And if this is so, can the government be neutral when these commandments of God are transgressed? Can the government keep still when for instance a false religion sets itself up on the basis of principles that deny the very God of Scripture? 

But, as we noted in the title of this article, we are more interested now in the question: is the State a result of common grace? Verduin answers this question affirmatively in the following quotation. 

“If impartiality on the part of the State is not only permissible but actually in keeping with God’s will, then there must be a theology upon which such impartiality rests. Do we have such a theology? We think we do have—in the doctrine of God’s common grace. Although the doctrine of common grace is still largely a tract of virgin territory, one that calls for frontiersmen of great stamina and strength, we feel that the main lines of this doctrine are already visible. The brush has been cleared sufficiently so that we may see the sunlight and the soil. We wish to put forth an exploring foot upon this terrain. 

“It will perhaps be granted by all that the State results from God’s common grace. ‘Now if that be granted then it follows that the rule-right that comes to expression in the State is not of a piece with the rule-right that expresses itself in the area of God’s special or redeeming grace. We may put this in mathematical formula. The rule-right of the State is to the rule-right on the redemptive level what common grace is to special grace. Just as it is a serious fault to deal with common grace and special grace without further distinction, so is it quite erroneous to talk about rule-right without further differentiation.” 

Verduin further develops his philosophy (for philosophy it is, pure and simple, without Scriptural or Confessional context) in the remaining part of his article. However, we are concerned now only with the statement “It will perhaps be granted by all that the State results from God’s common grace.” 

Now we are not ready to grant this at all. We repeat, this is pure philosophy. We know the presentation of those who teach the theory of a certain common grace of God. Their contention is that government was instituted as a blessing of common grace for the restraint of sin. Accordingly, so we are told, this is especially emphasized in the establishment of the covenant with Noah. Here, so it is said, God gives the government the power of the sword in His common grace for the restraint of sin. 

Though we also believe that the government bears the sword, and that the sword is given to the government for the punishment of evildoers, this does not imply, as is the contention of the common grace theorists, that government itself is instituted because of sin, and for the restraint of sin. It should be very plain to the student of Scripture that government is not instituted because of sin at all, hut it rises organically and directly from the family. Sin and the restraint of sin had nothing to do with the institution of government. And what was-true in the creation of man and of the world, is true also in heaven among the angels where there are principalities and powers, and this is true also in the kingdom of Christ where there is government, authority and obedience to authority apart from any consideration of sin. It must be plain also to all who are acquainted with our Reformed Standards that this is the view expressed by our fathers and is clearly the principle set forth in the exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 39 relative to its treatment of the 5th Commandment. Let Rev. Verduin prove the contrary, if he can. 

But if Verduin will grant that our contention is right, it seems to me that all the rest of his argument becomes exceedingly faulty. And he will have to answer negatively the question we raised above, namely, Can the government be neutral when the commandments of God are transgressed? 

In conclusion, we call attention to a footnote which Rev. Verduin attached to his article which is very interesting not only, but which may lead to some serious debate within the Christian Reformed constituency itself. The footnote reads as follows: 

“The writer of these lines has always felt that it is not good schematization to treat (as did the Synod in the now famous Three Points) of the ‘well-meant offer of salvation’ under the heading of ‘common grace.’ The problem of the bona fide offer of salvation to all who hear is a problem concerning the administration of special grace rather than a problem of common grace. One of the first points made by Dr. Abraham Kuyper in his monumental work on De Gemeene Gratie is that common grace ‘does not have so much as the germ of salvation in it and for that reason is of a totally different nature (italics are Kuyper’s) than is the case in both particular grace and Covenant grace.’ It would therefore be better to discuss the question of the well-meant offer of salvation not when non-redemptive grace is in focus but when redemptive grace is being treated.” 

It is quite gratifying, at least to the undersigned, to learn from the above footnote that at least the schematization of the Three Points is not above criticism in the Christian Reformed Church. After thirty or more long years this is the first public criticism offered against the formulation of the First Point, at least to our knowledge. 

We realize, of course, that Verduin in the above footnote is not critical of the “well-meant offer of salvation” to all who hear the Gospel. All that he is insisting upon is that this conception does not belong in the context of the Three Points of Common Grace. To him it is merely a matter of schema& nation. To us, however, it is a matter of principle and of truth, as has been clearly enunciated throughout the last thirty or more years in The Standard Bearer, which incidentally has been the cause for The Standard Bearer’s very existence. We have denied the theory of common grace not only, but, relative to the “well-meant offer of salvation” to all who hear the Gospel, as stipulated in the First Point, we insist that this is the doctrine of Arminius. 

At any rate, it will be very interesting to see whether there will be any repercussions to Verduin’s footnote. If there are, and these are made public, our readers will be kept informed. 

M.S.