The title of this article is the title of a book which was published in connection with “Key ’73.” Written by Christian Reformed men, it is intended chiefly for the use of the Christian Reformed denomination in its participation in this program.
In our last article we discussed the “Key ’73” program itself; in this present article we intend to discuss this book which was sent to the Standard Bearer for review.
The purpose of the book is more explicitly set forth in the “Foreword:”
The undergirding conviction of these chapters is that every local congregation must be an effective center for God’s redeeming power in the word, and that the church can best put its enormous potential into action by having goals, by knowing who it is and exactly where it is going. Written for the lay church member, Who in the World? is designed as a resource material for Key ’73, the North American movement of more than 100 denominations and religious groups that aims to confront every person in the United States and Canada with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Apart now from the rightness or wrongness of participating in such a broadly ecumenical movement in the cause of evangelism, one would expect that a book intended for use in the Christian Reformed Church would have some elements of distinctive Reformed truths in it to give direction to a Reformed Church in evangelism. One would expect that in such a book one would find sharp distinctions made which chart a course for the Christian Reformed Church which would set that Church apart from all the other denominations and religious groups who are participating in the movement. One would expect to find Scriptural definition given to evangelism and principles of the Reformed faith to pervade the book.
But if such is one’s expectation, he is in for bitter disappointment. There is no essential reason why any denomination, no matter how liberal, could not use this book in its entirety. Even such a group as the Salvation Army (a group participating in Key ’73) could not disagree with anything which is said. One looks in vain for anything Scriptural, Reformed, or Calvinistic. It is not a good book.
There are innumerable points that ought to be criticized, countless errors that ought to be pointed out, and many details so far removed from the Scriptures that one can scarcely recognize Scriptural truths in them. We have chosen to concentrate upon some of the more important points.
Before we enter into some criticism of the book, there is one comment which ought to be made about the book’s use of Scripture. Perhaps this comment is even fundamental, for one’s use of Scripture determines one’s theology. We have in mind the fact that, while there are many references to Scripture found throughout the book, nevertheless, the book takes a very loose view of Scripture and quotes the Scriptures in a very misleading and incorrect way. For one thing, we have not been able to determine what version of the Bible was used, and the authors nowhere tell us. One gets the impression sometimes that the translations belong to the authors themselves. But these translations often do considerable violence to the. Scriptures and teach something all but opposite of what the Scriptures mean to say. Secondly, the book is filled with partial quotes and texts taken completely out of their context, with the result that Scripture is made to say things which are quite different from what the Word of God teaches. Perhaps one example of this will suffice:
Through the myriad voices that came to the men of Isaiah’s time, one voice came to him and said “Cry.” The prophet asked “What shall I cry?” The answer was: “good news.”
Because of this kind of use of Scripture, it is essential for anyone reading the book to check on every Scriptural quotation to find out for himself what the Bible teaches, for the book is quite untrustworthy in this respect.
The Structure Of The Church
In various places throughout the book, the structure of the Church of Christ is discussed.
In connection with this discussion, the offices in the Church are discussed, and an altogether incorrect view of the offices is given.
When the Spirit created structures, He was responding to needs. He gave gifts as they were needed, and the kind of gifts He gave were determined by the needs of the church.
The Spirit gave people to do certain types of work for the church. Since they filled these jobs regularly, we call some of these jobs offices. Note this well: offices are only designated and recognized jobs or duties. . . . pp. 106, 107
There is no mention made of the Reformed teachings concerning the offices in the Church as positions of authority through which Christ is pleased to rule His Church as the only King and Shepherd of His sheep. The offices are spoken of as “jobs.” It is not surprising then that the book advocates radical change in the whole “structure” of the Church to meet modern needs. Thus we read on pp. 108, 109:
One thing is stressed here: structure is given to the church to serve a purpose. For this reason, the organization of the church in the New Testament is fluid. . . .
We notice a kind of vagueness about the way in which each gift was to be used. There was a job that needed to be done, but we do not get the impression that the job description was detailed or set out for all time. . . .
It is not clear as we sometimes think which offices were meant to be permanent and which were only for the time being. The church is probably correct in holding that the tasks of elders, deacons, and pastors are permanent. But are we absolutely sure that there is no place for healing, for prophecy, or for discerners of spirits?
If the structure is given in order to meet the needs of the church—if this is the New Testament pattern—does it not make sense for us to let needs shape the structure today? Needs change. . . . Perhaps we ought to consider the whole structure of the church in terms of whether it answers the changing needs of the people—the people of the church and the people we are summoned to reach in the world. If we think more of needs than of keeping the organization running smoothly, we will be ready to respond more swiftly to the Spirit’s gifts.
With such a view of the offices in the Church the authors take less than a Reformed view of the means of grace as well. While the book insists that the preaching is the Church’s most important calling (p. 41), nevertheless, the authors mean something quite different by preaching than do the Scriptures. In the first place, the work of preaching is assigned to the Church, but not to the called ministry. For another thing, the book says nothing about the official calling of ministers of the gospel as ambassadors of Christ. (cf. pp. 44, 45) And, in connection with this, preaching is considered in terms of the use of modern communications and technology, overhead projectors, cassettes, pictures, etc.
In like manner, radical changes are suggested in the celebration of communion, changes which alter completely the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament instituted by Christ for the strengthening of the faith of His people, and as a sign and seal added to the preaching to confirm the truth of the gospel.
Listening to sermons while looking at each other’s backs is one thing; taking communion without looking at each other is something else. Can we break with the tradition of passing the elements of the sacrament through the pews? We might do this by serving communion twice every Sunday in small circles. Perhaps this could take place in the church fellowship hall (communion in a fellowship hall sounds right). Let a loaf of bread be passed around the circle, each person breaking off a piece. (There is nothing sacred about the neat cubes of crustless bread to which we are accustomed.) Let a cup be passed around, each person taking a sip. After this comes the hard part: each person expresses one personal concern that he asks the others to share with him—not the “missionaries on foreign fields,” but something out of his own life. And then (it gets harder) let each person make one personal confession—a weakness or a sin that he needs forgiveness for from God and his brothers and sisters. Could it work? Do we have enough communion now to risk it?
Do we limit our spiritual community to “our kind of people?” If so, our communion is not of the Spirit or of faith, but perhaps of blood or color. Maybe we should plan some sort of regular meeting with the congregation nearest ours, not merely a pulpit exchange or listening meeting, but a sharing meeting, in which each group shares what the other group looks like to them. . . . If we are going to discover whether communion can cross the borders of congregations, we will have to gather together and share together. (pp. 81, 82)
With almost total disregard for the Confessions of the Church and with an attitude of “We know better than God how to operate the Church,” the book advocates abandoning everything Scriptural and historically Reformed.
The Content Of The Gospel
A section of this report must deal with what the book has to say about the content of the gospel. This is not to leave the impression that the book actually discusses this subject; it does not. But from various references in the book, one can gain a certain impression of what the authors consider the content of the gospel to be.
Before we go into this matter, it is well to note that the lack of definition on this point is a critical one. If the book is to be an aid in evangelism, one would expect that a large part of the book would be devoted to the subject of the content of the gospel and the truth which must be brought to the unconverted. But there is almost nothing of this. And, indeed, even the little that is said, is so vague and general that it can very well be accepted by any church or denomination in the whole country.
Yet we must pay attention to some items which fall under this general subject. The first of these is the fact that the book is thoroughly Arminian. A few quotes will demonstrate this.
God is for the world. He brings Himself to the world. This is what we confess when we call Jesus Imnanuel—God with us! God lets the world know who and what He is, and He does for the world what needs to be done. (p. 19)
In connection with this, the book breathes throughout a spirit of universalism. Perhaps this is only hinted at in what is said; it is much more clearly evident from what .is not said. Never is the gospel or its contents defined in terms of election and reprobation. Never is the gospel discussed as God’s power to save His people. Never is the hardening power of the gospel mentioned. There is scarcely any oblique reference even to the antithesis—especially of the truth over against the lie. If not explicitly stated, always the impression of universalism is left.
What the gospel offers is not a self-centered dream for each individual that he will survive death. To be sure, life after death is part of it: nothing is worth anything without this. The gospel does point to a life of tearless joy, no more death, no more pain, no more destructiveness. But that is far from the whole of it. The church’s message does not merely satisfy the survival instinct of every man. The church’s message is hope for the world, the whole of it.
“We look forward to new heavens and a new earth, the home of justice.”
(The underlining in the quote from Peter’s epistle is that of the authors.) Christianity is also earthly. God became flesh, and in becoming flesh He created the beginnings of a new earth. Good news! The whole earth is going to join the Hallelujah to God the Creator, and men will dwell in brotherhood and peace. (p. 35)
It is not difficult to detect in the above quotation the universalism, and even post-millennial overtones of modernism.
We might also point to failings in the doctrine of Scripture: the authors fail to speak of Scripture as the infallible record of God’s revelation (p. 18); of an unacceptable definition of saving faith: “Faith is surely a belief that certain things are true. But faith is more: it is the life of a man opened up to Jesus Christ. It is a matter of the open heart as well as of the convinced mind.” (p. 72); of a definition of election in terms of service—a relatively ancient heresy: “Israel was called to be God’s servant to the world, the witness to the freedom of God’s grace and the goodness of God’s will. . . . .That is the idea of election that prevails in the New Testament. . . .” (p. 111). But what is eminently sad is the discussion of the meaning of Christ’s atonement. This passage is so thoroughly modern that it is difficult to imagine people who claim membership in a Reformed Church writing this way.
Since we must suffer with Jesus, we must ask what Jesus’ style of suffering was. His whole life, from birth to death, was styled by suffering. What made Him suffer? The answer is people. The needs, the tragedies, the pains, the suffering, as well as the resistance of people made Him suffer.
Jesus was involved. He was God’s own way of getting at our sin and misery. We were caught as captives of the law of sin and death, and Jesus got inside our life on earth—not as a tourist sightseeing, but as a citizen of our world. This is what incarnation means. Once He was totally involved, He was vulnerable, open to hurts. And since He was really involved when suffering is epidemic, He was hurt.
Jesus did not hurt only when people savagely struck Him or when they reviled Him. He hurt with people. He wept when others suffered. He suffered because He was involved, deeply and personally, in their suffering lives. (pp. 136, 137)
Even when, in the next paragraph, the book talks of the fact that Christ suffered for people, there is no mention made of a particular atonement and no mention made that this suffering was bearing the burden of God’s wrath.
But Jesus did not only suffer with people; He suffered for them. His was the work of atonement. “On himself he bore our sufferings, our torments he endured. . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities . . . stricken to the death for my people’s transgression.”
He suffered for us as well as with us. This is our last and only recourse. What He did for us need never and can never be done again. In this His suffering is finished. “We have been consecrated, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
With this subject of the Church’s calling the book is, of course, primarily concerned. We have not the time or space to go into detail on all that the book has to say about this. In general it is important that we mention that the book is almost exclusively concerned about person-to-person relationships, about societies’ problems. It is totally lacking in any discussion of man’s calling in relationship to God. This is a false and dangerous position which leads inevitably to a serious horizontalism (which is essentially humanism) and a social gospel.
The Word of God takes hold of souls and turns them about. To take hold of a human soul is to take hold of a life, and to take hold of a human life is to take hold of the whole of society. . . .
God’s Word must speak, therefore, to the sins and the needs of society. “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
This is God’s Word—not a comforting word to a private soul, but a gauntlet laid down to a people. All of God’s Word zeroes in on the injustices that afflict the people—not of Israel, but of your town and mine. If a church does not hear this, it has no right to claim that it honors the Word of God and allows it to cut like a sharp sword through the sins and to the needs of our time. (pp. 43, 44)
God’s purpose is plain: to create a new humanity in Christ, The church is called to be the front-runner in His program. . . . (p. 113)
It is especially in chapter 3 that this whole matter is discussed. With a reference to the foot washing by Jesus of the disciples on the night of Christ’s betrayal, the book speaks of the “sign of the towel” which the Church must bear. This is interpreted to mean that the whole Church must be servants to all men. The mission of the Church is chiefly one of allaying social problems. The deacons must lead the way in caring for needs, especially those of the blacks.
God’s compassion for the violent city, born of a vision of the city as people, souls, human beings, led Him to hold the city in His arms. . . .
What about compassion for our city? Do we have compassion for the children of the city? p. 152.
Many similar quotations could be quoted almost at random in this third section of the book.
This is then the kind of evangelism which the authors of this book have in mind as the Christian Reformed Church participates in Key ’73. Can any blessing of God be expected on anything which departs so completely from God’s Word? How can anyone who knows the Scriptures harbor even the passing thought that good will come of this?