When we speak of the Church as a militant church we can refer to it as a fighting church. The word “militant,” reminding us of the word “military,” immediately suggests this thought. A famous passage in the Scriptures which refers to the Church of God as a fighting church is Eph. 6:10-17, in which the people of God are admonished to put on the whole armor of God, and we quote: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” However, we can also speak of the militant church in the sense of a struggling church.
When we therefore speak of the Church as militant and imperfect, we refer to the struggle from the viewpoint of its imperfection, and to the fact that the constant struggle of the Church to hold fast that which it has , and to keep the faith is occasioned exactly by this imperfection.
This, we understand, is true in a twofold sense. Israel is constituted of a twofold people in the midst of the world: the carnal and spiritual Israel. There are always in the Church visible as it reveals itself in the midst of the world those who do not belong to it in the spiritual, true sense of the word. These are Israelites according to the flesh. They belong to the church as it develops organically throughout the ages, must therefore bear the name of the elect kernel: Israel, but are not Israel in the true, spiritual sense of the word. And, secondly, we also know that the true people of the Lord are not perfectly delivered from the old nature of sin while in the earthly house of this tabernacle. We need not elucidate on this observation as such. The Word of God is replete with passages to this effect. Besides, the history of the Church of God, as held before us in the epistles of the New Testament, speak but too clearly of the trouble experienced by the Church of God because of these ever present imperfections.
It is because of the imperfection within the Church that sinful elements enter into the historical development of doctrine. It is certainly true that heresies develop through the influence of the carnal element in the church. One can readily understand that this carnal element, which is earthly and not interested in the things of God’s covenant, will attempt to subvert the truth and conform the preaching to their carnal and sinful desires. It is also true, however, that sinful elements enter in because of the imperfections of the saints. It is simply a fact that personal ambition, hatred, pride, jealousy often wholly or in part determine a certain formulation of the doctrine of the Church. We need not elucidate on these things at this time.
It is not difficult to understand this. The Church’s struggle for the maintenance of the truth is constantly being waged by the enemy from within. This was true in the Israel of God in the Old Dispensation, and it is equally true in the New Dispensation. Israel’s departures from the path of God’s covenant in the Old Testament were always the result of sins and corruptions within. And this carnal Israel is ever on the alert to subvert and corrupt the Word of God. It will always interpret the Scriptures in such a way that it will be able to justify their seeking of the things that are below. Pelagianism and Arminianism are not the fruit of prayerful and earnest study of the Word of God but of the carnal heart and mind. It is very natural for the proud heart and mind of man to distort the Scriptures in such a way that man is able to do something; such a presentation of the truth is pleasing to man. It is very natural for man who loves this world to make the attempt to nullify and destroy the antithesis and proclaim a theory of “Common Grace” which justifies a person in his attempt to seek common cause with those who do not glory in the God of our salvation. Isaiah speaks of those who demand of the prophets that they speak things they wish to hear. The truth of the Word of God is so terribly exacting and severe. It knows of no compromise. It renders man wholly naked and unworthy. It presents salvation as exclusively Divine and man as utterly and hopelessly lost in sin and guilt.
The natural man has no desire to listen to these truths of holy writ. And, because of this carnality, they will always try to silence the severe and uncompromising testimony of the holy Scriptures. Hence, the struggle for the preservation of the truth will continue as long as the Church must continue its existence in the midst of the world that lieth in darkness.
However, this is not all. The saints of the Lord, too, are characterized by imperfections. Jealousy and pride play too often too large a role in the history of the Church. In fact, these things have caused formulations in the past which have been deviations from the truth. How often has it not happened that certain statements regarding the truth have been made because of personal animosities and bitterness, because of the desire to remove one from the fellowship of the Church for reasons of personal bitterness? One’s admiration or dislike for a certain truth is often determined by one’s admiration or dislike for him who is associated with that particular truth. That personal bitterness and jealousies often play a prominent role in the history of doctrine was certainly true in the history of the origin of our Protestant Reformed Churches in connection with the formulation of the Three Points. This applies not only to the history which led to our eviction from the Christian Reformed Churches but also to the proceedings against Professor Jansen which immediately preceded our case and was inseparably connected with it.
This, sad to say, is a consideration which is too often minimized or wholly ignored in our present day. Those churches, which ridicule confessions and creeds as the work of men, certainly do not show due respect for the Church and its history of the past. It can hardly be considered respectful and appreciative when the blood of the martyrs is ignored and one speaks disdainfully of these confessions and creeds which, in many instances, were bought and sealed with the precious blood of the saints.
It is well to consider the truth that the Church of all ages is one whole. There is one Church of God throughout the ages. This is not merely true in the sense that God, when He elected and loved a people, loved a people, a church, and that the Scriptures speak of this people of the Lord as a building or temple. This, too, is true. It can certainly hardly be considered commendable when the struggle of the Church of all ages no longer fascinates and interests us. We belong, with them, to the same elect body of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We share, with them, the same life, have been redeemed by the same Savior, love the same Word, and are enroute to the same city that has foundations. How is it possible, then, to minimize or ignore the struggles of this Church of the living God in the past?! This, however, is not all. We should also consider this oneness of the Church of all ages from another point of view. We are also one in the sense that without them we simply would not be what we are. Their struggle for the truth vitally affects us. Our understanding of the Scriptures is inseparably connected with and related to this struggle. The books that have been written, also the books which our children use for the catechetical instruction, owe their existence to this contending Church of God for the faith. Is not in this sense the Church the mother of us all? Is not our knowledge of the Scriptures dependent upon the instruction we have received from infancy on, and has this instruction not been imparted to us according to the “doctrine as taught in this Christian Church”? And is it not equally true that the doctrine which is “taught in this Christian Church” is dependent upon the declarations concerning the truth by the Church of God in the past? From infancy on our approach to the Word of God has been vitally affected by the instruction we have received. It is clear, therefore, that we are united with the Church of the past and that its struggle for the truths of the holy Scripture vitally affect us. It should, therefore, be of great benefit to us to study this history of doctrine and live in the consciousness of this unity of the Church of God throughout the ages. We should be eager to renew our acquaintance with the struggle of the Church and the people of God, inasmuch as we would not be what we are and know what we know without them.