What about end times? What are all those “millennialism” words about? Has the Christian Reformed Church officially wrestled with these?
In the Bultema case (1918 1920) the Christian Reformed Church officially decided that some tenets that are central to pre-millenialism are not acceptable in the Church. Generally speaking the Christian Reformed Church is amillennialist in its eschatology and especially in its interpretation of the book of Revelation, although its assemblies have never made a specific pronouncement to that effect.
Evaluate the rationale for the CRC’s coming into existence in 1857.
The CRC seceded from the RCA for four basic reasons.
Masons and Lodges
English speaking worship
In as much as the Government schools were already at that time being run by the Unitarians and since Education is a profoundly religious undertaking I believe that those who seceded were right to do so even if only for this reason. Though the problem with government schools at the time may have been as much cultural as it was theological, still if living these many years later recognize a intimate relationship between culture and theology we would have to conclude that their concerns were valid. Masonry is clearly a different religion and Scripture clearly teaches not to be unequally yoked and so on that score I find their reasoning acceptable. Since they were largely an immigrant Church I can’t fault them for wanting to worship in the language they were familiar. How many of us would attend Churches that worshiped in a second language with which we were barely familiar? And while not an exclusive psalmist myself I can’t fault people who are committed to singing from God’s songbook. The advantages of having Scripture ground into our memories along with verse and meter is itself enough to be sympathetic to anybody who wants to worship in such a fashion.
James Schaap wrote a book called “Family Album” about the CRC. In it, he does what many others have done – describe the CRC membership as having a number of “strands”. Tell about the three strands known as “doctrinalists”, “transformationalists”, and “pietists.”
The ‘doctrinalists’, as the name suggests, are concerned about adhering to the truths of Scriptures and the confessions. They are concerned with the question, ‘What do we believe.’ They would find the genuine stream in the CRC of vigorous Reformed thinking and insist that Reformed thinking is what makes us CRC.
The ‘transformationalists,’ following Abraham Kuyper are concerned with Kuyper’s emphasis of being salt and light to the World with the result that the World is transformed from fall by redemption. ‘Transformationalists’ are concerned about Worldview and cultural issues and believe that Christianity that doesn’t effect cultural, personal and institutional ‘transformation’ is a strange kind of Christianity.
The ‘pietists’ emphasizes the personal, relational, and intimate aspect of the Christian faith in terms of a walk with Jesus. The concern here is to avoid a religion that has the mind but leaves the heart unaffected.
It should go without saying that these three form a kind of three legged stool, that requires the presence of each in order for the stool to stand aright. For example, ‘transformationalists’ without ‘doctrinialists,’ would do incredible damage to the reputation of the Reformed faith by potentially transforming things in a wrong direction. Biblical ‘transformation’ can’t be successful apart from Biblical doctrine. Similarly it would seem that ‘doctrinalists’ can’t survive without the ‘pietist’ reality. Apart from a sincere love of Jesus and a desire to know him, it is difficult to see why anybody would spend their time burrowing into doctrine. Examples could be drawn from this triangle in every direction. Now we should say that the challenge for the Reformed faith is to find a harmony of interests among these different camps as opposed to seeing conflict in these different positions.
Which issue in CRC history do you think is most telling about the nature of the CRC?
I think the CRC claims to support the inspired, infallible, sufficient and authoritative Scripture throughout the life of the denomination has been paramount to its identity. Where the CRC has been at its best it has continued to stand under the authority of God’s Word. Where the CRC has been at its worst it has deviated from that authority. Starting with the Janssen affair where the encroachment of Modernism with its Higher Critical method was excised, continuing through every Synod that has affirmed directly or indirectly that Scripture is God-breathed the CRC has stood in the tradition of its Scriptural based confessions when it has affirmed that it serves and must examine all issues in submission to the King’s Word.
In the 1920s the CRC wrestled with “worldliness” and “common grace”. What was that about? What insights might help us today as we look back on that issue?
The consequence of this debate was the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church under the tutelage of Dr. Herman Hoekesma. The debate seems to have centered upon the kind of disposition that the Church would have towards the ‘World.’ The followers of Hoekesma insisted that common grace did not exist that while God did give good gifts to the reprobate it was not done out of love for the reprobate. They seemed to be reading God’s intent from the end consequent backwards. That is to say that seeing that at the end God intends to damn the reprobate they concluded that everything that happened along the way to that ultimate end must be read in light of that end. If God intended to damn the reprobate then any good gift that God gave the reprobate was given only to make their judgment all the heavier in their judgment, for they were after all always reprobate. The advocates of common grace seemed to read God’s intent as part of a story that is not yet finished. That is to say, they seemed to require that we read the story of men as it is unfolding. If in the unfolding story we see that good comes upon the reprobate then that must be read as a example of common grace.
Those who denied ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that the embrace of ‘common grace’ by the Church would lead towards a ‘worldliness’ that was inconsistent with what it meant to be the set apart people of God. Those who embraced ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that without a doctrine of ‘common grace,’ the consequence would be a church that was isolated in its mission and witness.
It seems that the debate has taught us that both concerns were right and both concerns were wrong. Surely those who feared about a compromised Church may have reason to believe that their worst fears have come to pass as the Church begins to trespass into realms and on issues its members of earlier generations could never have imagined. On the other hand those who feared that a denial of common grace would lead to an isolated Church might look upon Churches that have a strong teaching on the anti-thesis and see very little missional impact in the World.
One insight from this issue might be the necessity of well thought out engagement. One way the McAtee family has done this is by holding vociferously to the anti-thesis when it comes to the training of our children. We have done so out of our desire to see our children equipped so that as they engage the World it is the World that they are transforming and not them that are being transformed by the World. We have sought to be very doctrinalist in our training so that out of a well formed love for Jesus they desire to see every area of life transformed in the direction of Jesus.
Another insight might be is that doctrine of common grace can be held in such a way as to be destructive to the crown rights of King Jesus and the body of Christ. There is and should ever remain a distinction between the people of Christ and the people of anti-Christ.
My preaching on this has been the necessity to build parallel but not isolated communities. As a witness to the World Christians should be building covenant communities that are definitive, distinct, and deliberate in their Christian faith and expression. At the same time we must not, in an Amish like fashion, completely isolate ourselves. We must take the distinctive Christian thinking and living that we are cultivating in our Christian covenant communities (which ideally should include more then just attending Church on Sunday) and seek to spread that virus into all the careers and fields in which as God’s people we are called. This will lead to conflict as the World doesn’t want to be infected with the virus of God centered thinking but this conflict may be indicative that we are making progress.
Andrew Kuyvenhoven, a former editor of The Banner, said upon his retirement that the greatest challenges to the CRC were materialism and fundamentalism. What do you think of his assessment? Are these still challenges? What other challenges might the CRC be facing?
Well, certainly anybody living in the incredible wealth of These United States, certainly must be aware of the dangers of materialism. It is fallen human nature to try to love both God and mammon. The fact that the Church has to often stumbled in that regard is seen in the late Francis Schaeffer’s lament about the Church’s desire for personal peace and affluence above all other considerations. Calvin taught us that the heart is an idol factory and materialism is certainly one of the idols of our age. Materialism has made all of fat, dumb, and happy and unwilling to do anything that might threaten any source that feeds our daily materialism fix. How many of us have thought when preparing for a sermon, “I better not say this or that because it might tick Joe Moneybags off and so dry up the revenue in the Church and thus jeopardize my job.” Materialism has made us obese and it is an open question whether or not we will die from the obesity with which we suffer.
As it pertains to fundamentalism, I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Kuyvenhoven is getting at, as often the perjorative of ‘fundamentalist’ is one of those epitaphs hurled at people in order to stop the conversation before going. Often liberals will hurl that label at the orthodox all because they are being challenged on some contentious point. In the end, the charge, in certain instances, may say more about the person making the charge then the person being charged.
Having given that caveat I would offer that I see very little fundamentalism in the CRC. Now, I readily admit this may be due to the fact that I don’t get out very often. Maybe they are out there and I don’t run in the right CRC circles in order to be exposed to them.
Let me say though with all earnestness that I am as opposed as possible to the kind of fundamentalism that allows for a man to tyrannize his wife because the Bible says he is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. I’ve seen to much of that in my life to stomach it. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that mistakes loyalty to Christ for loyalty to the state all because the bible says that we must subject to the governing authorities. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that thinks certain behaviors quite apart from love of Christ, is automatically pleasing to God. I grew up in that kind of fundamentalism and all I saw it breed was hypocrisy.
For what little I know of the great big ocean that is the CRC I would say that the greatest danger to the CRC right now is forgetting the anti-thesis. From where I sit I think there is a danger that the denomination is going to be finally swallowed by the whale of modernity. From what little I know of the CRC it seems to me that the denomination is in danger of losing its Reformed identity for a mess of pottage called ‘being relevant.’ I think that can only be avoided by re-discovering the idea of the anti-thesis. I think this is the danger not only for the CRC but also for most Reformed denominations with which I am familiar.