To ask and answer the question, “Whither the Protestant Reformed Churches?” is not, and may never become, a matter of boasting. God’s church goes on her way in history in the humility of her heartfelt conviction that all that she is she owes to God and that her way “was ordered ere (her) days began,” as we sing in Psalm 139. Hers is, and must be, the humility of living, working, and considering her way in the future in dependency upon the grace of God only.

Nor may the question, “Whither?” be the occasion for proposing some grandiose program for the denomination in the coming year, or years. The church does not make up her own agenda. Her Lord has given her her marching orders. His commission is not that she see to it that she be successful. Rather, it is that she be faithful even though faithfulness means hatred, ridicule, persecution, scattering, and death, i.e., supreme failure as men count success and failure. We must have nothing of synodically adopted goals for church growth. The reason is not that we despise numerical growth. Every time a minister is installed in office among us, the congregation prays that God will bless his ministry “to the end that Thy Church under his administration and by his good example, may increase in number and in virtue”—not only in virtue, but also in number. But if the church decides that her business is to grow, she will make herself grow, inevitably at the expense of faithfulness, when she ought to be concerning herself with the task Christ sets her, trusting that the Lord will add to her such as should be saved (Acts 2:47). The church does not decide to grow, but prays that she may grow—there is a difference. Even then, G.K. Chesterton has far better insight into the mind of a Reformed church than do the gurus of church growth in southern California when he writes of “the thought of the Calvinist that the host of God should be thinned rather than thronged; that Gideon must reject soldiers rather than recruit them.”

But “Whither?” may be a reminder of the calling we have from our Lord, who will meet us at the end of the way as our Judge; and it may serve as the occasion for renewal of the resolution to be faithful to our calling, based on the promise of God to go with us on the way.

Whither the PRC?

We will not take one step on the way of theological modernism. This is the way marked out by the denial of the infallible inspiration of Holy Scripture, by the doubt of the cardinal doctrines of the Bible and of the historic Christian faith (e.g., creation and providence), and by the approval of lawlessness and immorality (e.g., feminism and homosexuality) for the life of churches and of professing Christians. This is the way of death. This way is littered with the corpses of men and churches.

We repudiate out of hand the mystical, emotional, and subjectivistic way of the charismatic movement. It is fraudulent. It is destructive of the peace and assurance of its devotees. It is prone to gross sensuality. It is another religion than the faith of the Word of God, which Christianity is. It is the religion of feeling; and we have learned far too well from Martin Luther than to fall for such a religion:

Faith is such that it feeleth not but droppeth reason, shutteth the eyes and simply surrendereth to the Word, and followeth the same through death and life. But feeling goeth not beyond what can be grasped by reason and the senses . . . Therefore feeling is counter to faith, faith to feeling . . . . Whoso then pursueth feeling, he is destroyed, but whoso counter to feeling dependeth heartily upon the Word, he will be brought through. (Sermon on

Mark 15:1

ff., 1526)

The way of a broad evangelicalism and of fundamentalism holds no attraction for us. This way, although it claims to recognize the authority of the Bible and professes to preach the gospel of salvation by the blood of Jesus, is generally Arminian (man saves himself by his free will), uncovenantal (opposes God’s inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant and church), millennial (Christ will come at any moment to establish an earthly kingdom of Jews for a thousand years in Palestine), and legalistic (“thou shalt not drink alcoholic beverages, or eat red meat, or drink coffee,” etc.).

We are resolved to continue to be what God has made us: Reformed according to the confessions, “The Three Forms of Unity,” because they are in all points of doctrine in full agreement with the Word of God, Holy Scripture, and because the Christian life set forth in them is the narrow way to eternal life described in the Bible. This way, the way Reformed, is the way of sound doctrine, expository preaching, thorough teaching of the Scriptures and the confessions to the children, faith that holds for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, and disciplined obedience to the law of God in thankfulness. Whoever suggests that this way is without feeling, experience, and life, only betrays his own ignorance. The way of the Word and doctrine is the way of the Spirit, and therefore rich in experience and life, for He is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13).

The way, therefore, will be well defined. There will be difficulties aplenty on the way; but we are spared the impossible hardship of not knowing where we are to go on our ecclesiastical journey towards the Lord. The future is not a trackless waste. We do not stand before the supposedly exciting possibilities of unknown, new leadings of “the Spirit.” We are guided by the Lord of the church by means of Reformed confessions, a Reformed church order, and a rich, helpful Reformed tradition, always subject to Scripture, the church’s only “infallible rule.”

For the PRC, this must mean living and developing out of their own history and tradition, specifically as regards sovereign, particular grace; the sheer, free graciousness of the covenant; and the antithesis (the spiritual separation of church and believer—and believer’s child!—from the world that knows not the Lord Jesus). The churches may not live in the past, content to mouth old phrases as against long-dead opponents; but in the contemporary situation, fully aware of the opportunities, dangers, foes, and struggle of the present, they are called to live, confess, and fight in knowledge of and fidelity to this doctrinal and ethical heritage. The reason is not that a denomination is required to maintain its tradition come what may, for also the church’s history and tradition must be tested by the Word of God and the creeds. It may be necessary that a church repents and turns, because its tradition has become the giving up of the truth rather than the handing down of the truth. But the reason is that sovereign, particular grace; the unconditionality of the covenant (which is truly the covenant of grace); and the separation of the church and her members from the world, when tested by the confessions, are proved to be genuine Reformed truth, Gods own Word.

Whither the PRC? On the way of Reformed orthodoxy.

Before them are battle and struggle. The church in the world cannot maintain purity of doctrine and life without struggle. She must contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. She must resist the pervasive pressure of the world. She must be vigilant against the world’s seduction of her children and young people; she must learn again to pray with fervency the old prayer, “Lord, do not cut us off in our generations.” The PRC must not be blind to the internal threat of division and strife born of pride, fanned by wicked tongues, and justified by a zeal that ignores Christian liberty in the area of the adiaphora (I Cor. 8); the demand of the gospel that stronger and weaker brothers live together in peace (Rom. 14, 15); and the apostle’s tribute to “charity” (I Cor. 13).

Their strength will be the preaching from the local pulpits; the teaching in the local catechism rooms; the wisdom of the local consistory meetings; the firmness and love of the local bodies of elders; the mercy of the local diaconates; and the worship and fellowship of the local congregations.

There is no reason for pessimism. The Lamb is opening the book and loosing the seals. True, the darkness deepens, not only in the depraved world, but also in the apostatizing churches. But the deeper the darkness of the lie and of filthiness of life, the brighter shines the light of truth and holiness. Besides, the Reformed faith and church are the cause, the precious cause, of the Son of God. Why then should we be nervous, fearful, suspicious?

The good hope of the PRC for the future is encouraged by Gods keeping of them as churches in the way of the truth in the past. There has been no doctrinal deviation, no weakening of the commitment to the Reformed faith. There is no agitation to remove the ancient landmarks. Sometimes, men outside the fellowship (troubled usually by a bad conscience concerning their own disobedience to the Lord in the matter of church membership) charge that the PRC are “only twenty-five years behind (this or that departing church).” One is tempted to respond that twenty-five more years of faithfulness is no small blessing. Our Lord may return by then! But there is no proof for the charge. Probably, the wish is father to the thought. We stand ecclesiastically where we have always stood—in the way marked out by the Reformed standards. In this way, we are determined to persevere, God being gracious.

—DJE