In these days we constantly hear and read of pronouncements that flagrantly contradict the Word of God and gravely menace the evangelical basis of faith. Everywhere we are confronted with ideas, theories, methods, pedagogies, and morals that are dangerous because unbiblical, and that are presented, moreover, in such an imperative manner that to resist them is often difficult and sometimes thought in “bad taste.”
These views are doubtless inspired by an apparent generosity, a measure of sensibility and comprehension concerning man, and an openness to the modern world as well as by the thirst for harmony. But should not our generosity, our sensibility, our understanding of man’s problems and sufferings in the world of today and of tomorrow all remain under the control of Christian faith? Can these recent theories be imagined to surpass those of Christ, the Gospel, and the apostles? Who can say, “My heart is more open for my neighbor and for the world, more understanding, more compassionate” than Christ’s?
Discernment of the spirits is particularly difficult today because of a situation that appears to be quite new. Since the age of the Enlightenment the Christian faith and the Church have been the object of numerous attacks. But these attacks came mostly from outside. Today—and this is the new thing—a kind of civil war is going on at the spiritual level within the Church itself. The blows are dealt by men clothed in pastoral gowns or charged with important functions in the Church. The battle is now within the fort; if the fort falls, it cannot possibly be defended any more!
Indeed, the numerous theories now coming to light are no longer presented as “human opinions.” They are expressed under the cover of Holy Scripture or are represented as legitimate “extensions” of the teaching of the Bible—“extensions” that are affirmed necessary for the “success” of Christianity in the “modern” world. Thus adorned with crypto-biblical clothing, presented with sensibility and intelligence, and diffused by powerful means, these opinions solicit the allegiance of Protestants. The error is made seductive, as Paul says, by “craftiness.”
In wide circles the Scriptures, even where quoted, are despised. Theories are elaborated practically without any serious reference to the Bible, even to the New Testament. The Scriptures are then required to comply by means of quotations having little to do with the subject in hand; even when they have nothing to say on a question, they are made to speak in the sense desired. Biblical vocabulary is frequently altered or diverted from its original meaning. The “violations” done to the texts are innumerable. From the Scriptures men compose a menu of their own choice in the name of a superior intelligence and a new “tradition.” Whole groups of biblical texts are systematically “forgotten” by those to whom it seems old-fashioned to understand the Scriptures according to the principle of the analogy of faith.
Even within the individual churches the same type of sectarian mentality is at work. Men serve themselves with mutilated words and references; they juggle with paradoxes, with allegories. There is no serious, mutual critique of the philosophical or sentimental a prioris that underlie their research.
This wind of adaptation to the conceptions of the modern world blows like a storm, and leads to astonishing and dangerous conceptions of inspiration, divine sovereignty, incarnation, the work of the Holy Spirit, salvation, the world, history—in fact, all fields that concern the Church and its place and mission in the world of today.
We shall have to deal with the relations between revelation and religious knowledge, the Church and the world, Christ and the Church, individual salvation and cosmic redemption, Scripture and ethics, in a way quite different from that of many theologians who arrive in one way or another at (1) a reduction or devaluation of Christ and of God to man or to the world; which leads to (2) a devaluation of moral principles and of ethics; which leads to (3) a devaluation of the Christian faith to a renewal of man. All this amounts to the dilution of the Church in the world and of its place and mission.
Christ And The World
When it is affirmed that “the fact of tying Christ exclusively to the Scriptures has made us incapable of recognizing him where he is at work in the world today, of discerning him there, of accepting his call to follow him, and of recognizing him where he has gone before us”; that “it is in the world and in history that Christ makes himself known according to the Scriptures”; that “we shall have to observe and interpret the world, in order that, through the ‘incognito’ of Christ, we might discern and discover him as Lord and Saviour of all men”—all this quite evidently touches the question of the Church’s place and mission in the world.
When it is affirmed that “the presence of Christ in the world is equivalent to an incarnation of his person in the dynamics of human relations,” that “Christ makes the dynamics of social life sacred in an invisible and non-ecclesiastical way, provided that it has the good of man in view,” are we not here on such a dangerous and thoroughly unbiblical course that we must raise the question of the Church’s place and mission?
If I am not mistaken, the starting point of this objectionable train of thought is the denial of the principle that guarantees the sovereignty of God and his transcendence—namely, “The finite is never capable of being infinite” (finitum non est capax infiniti).
The stages of this course of thinking are these:
1. The affirmation of fusion between the two natures of Christ: his human nature is made divine and his divine nature is made human. This unbiblical view, rejected by all Reformed confessions of faith, has disastrous consequences.
2. The assertion of an almost identical fusion between Christ and the Church, resulting in the famous Roman Catholic theory of the Christ-Church (cf. Vitloris Subilia, The Problem of Catholicism, 1964) and in the abuses of this theory.
3. A further fusion between the Church and the world; for in its turn, the world, according to an expression now becoming fashionable, is “christified.”
Some Protestant theologians are moving in this third stage much faster than the Catholics, whether Roman or Orthodox. On this approach, the Church’s “center of gravity” is to be found in the world, “the human situation outside the Church, where Christ leads it and calls it”; or again, the Church is only a little circle within the larger circle of the world, and there is no fundamental difference at all between it and the world. Is not this a devaluation of Christ to man and the world? Is it not biblically unacceptable? And what, in this case, is the meaning and the mission of the Church?
Bishop John Robinson of Woolwich goes still further in reducing God to man. In the time of Gagarin and Titov we cannot talk any longer, he tells us, of a “God out there.” For the sake of the world’s remaining “Christian” (in the sense he gives to the word), he suggests we stop talking about “God” and instead talk about “that which is deepest in all being” (cf. Honest to God).
With this reduction of God to man we are very near Marxist atheism. Indeed, within the very bosom of the Church today we find the over-evaluation of atheism by a number of people, some of whom even make atheism and atheists sacred. Through the voice of atheists resounds the voice of God, they say! God is reduced to man, even to the atheist! Such language no longer astonishes the Christian.
Devaluation Of Christian Morals
All this leads to universalism, and, by a close connection, to a devaluation of moral principles and of Christian ethics. For morality is currently a second front of attack even within the Church. The devaluation of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, as a consequence of a devaluation of revelation as brought to us in Holy Scripture, ends in a devaluation of Christian morals. There can no longer be any question of commandments from “above” or of absolute precepts. They would be too rigid to satisfy the “differentiated” moral needs of modern man, who of course is quite different from the man of the time of Jesus Christ! The Ten Commandments are out of date. Modern man needs a modern ethic, one that takes into account “individual needs, particular situations,” and defines “what in reason could be asked of him.”
It should be noticed that the rejection of the Ten Commandments, and in a more general way of every absolute moral criterion, of every law, was initiated at the very beginning of modern Protestant theology by one of its most important representatives, Friedrich Schleiermacher. He already had much in common with the present Bishop of Woolwich, inasmuch as he, as a theologian, publicly defended the Lady Chatterley of his generation, Schlegel’s Lucinde, the most lascivious book of the first half of the nineteenth century.
As a result of the deceptive modern pursuit of a “new ethic” that can no longer be located in Scripture, we can ascertain a general moral decline. That decline becomes manifest in every aspect of ethics: in ecclesiastical morals, the “morals” of our synods, the policy of the churches; in the attitude of parents toward their children and of educators and professors toward their responsibilities; in the consent to a great number of distractions for our children and in the use of their spare time; in the attitude of “Christian” journals toward the theater and cinema; in the undisciplined hold of radio and television upon many and in the bad examples these media often propagate; in the liberty recommended with regard to sexual relations.
The overthrow of Christian sexual morality is the final stage of this general moral decline. These are some recent facts: According to SOEPI (May 6, 1964), “the Lutheran Church of Sweden has appointed a special committee to reconsider the position which she has taken in 1951, when she condemned all premarital sexual relations. The Committee has to study whether that attitude should be modified and should take into account the public opinion as it has been generally accepted.” “Mr. Carl Gustav Boetius, editor of the Swedish weekly Our Church, thinks it absurd that the Church forbids premarital relations, while they are practiced by at least eighty per cent of the young Swedish engaged couples. He has quoted statistics which demonstrate that more than a third of the married Swedish mothers, who got a first child in 1960, were pregnant at the moment of their marriage.”
The so-called new “relational sexual ethic” dares to affirm that “the traditional sexual morality is a serious mistake of contemporary Christianity, and prevents its expansion elsewhere than in the western bourgeoisie”!
Someone will answer that such conditions have existed in every age. Doubtless, but not as at the present time! There is a cleavage between remaining in the Church while practicing what the Bible condemns, knowing it is wrong, thus running a risk of being a hypocrite; and the teaching, as we now see it in the Church—by pastors, professors, and doctors who want to be practicing Christians—that intends, under the pretext of public opinion, to give the approval of conscience to manifest sins, with a view to the “opening” of the human personality!
In these examples we discover a devaluation of the moral principles of the Bible as well as the denial of the regeneration and power of the Holy Spirit. We observe a conformity of the teaching of the Church to the world, and to unregenerate public opinion. The theologians become the “idealogians” of the spirit of their time; they express the ideas of their time and provide them with a theoretical justification. What makes it so serious is that this happens precisely in the Church, in the name of Christianity and its future, in the name of love and understanding for men. The theologians work not to christianize humanity but to humanize Christendom.
If the world is present in the Church, how then will the Church be present in the world? The witness of the Church is under threat.
With a mediocre God, a mediocre Christ, a mediocre revelation, a mediocre morality, will the Church no more have a mission of “grandeur”? Christianity without the Cross—can it bring something to the world?
The new ethic is not different from the old paganism; it is an atheism under the mask of Christianity, a dissolution of the Christian morality under the color of piety, a renascence of ancient sects that we recognize well. In reality people live here without God, without his norms and his power. God appears only at the end of the line of concession and compromise; his part is only to overlook man’s mistakes and weaknesses. The belief in the renewal of man also has been devaluated and destroyed. Christianity becomes a miserable religion without decision. “Pardon is given to all, even to those who do not know God or who oppose him.” The only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that one knows of his salvation and the other does not. The Church does not distinguish itself from the world as far as it has its place in the secret of God. At the center of such a theology lies this notion: that “knowledge” supplants justification or “remission of sins” by repentance and faith, with all its consequences. Justification by faith becomes justification of the world by the faithfulness of Christ to the world. Is this what the world desires? Is this what the Church must desire for the world?
Searching The Scriptures
In my opinion these ideas—though they come from within the Church—have no intrinsic right in the Christian Church. But they have made such fast progress that it is necessary, on the one hand, to know their points of attack in order to stop their march and, on the other hand, to search the Scriptures continuously in order to know answers to the problems of the present age; and if the Scriptures do not answer directly to certain questions, we should find solutions in harmony with the scriptural premises.
From all sides we Calvinistic Christians are accused of failing to think deeply on behalf of the Church. Yet we have never been without reflection upon and on behalf of the Church, upon and on behalf of the world. In the present as in the past our reflection can and must preserve our churches from lies and errors, from false solutions and easy excuses, in order that men might, as the Apostle desired, be “no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ” (Eph. 4:14, 15, ASV). For this is the will of the Lord.
Modern society defies the Church. Because society is affluent, she requires from theologians understanding of her emotional needs. She is anxious for pleasure and delight, and if she encounters social and psychological difficulties, she asks the Church to comfort her. The world, as it goes its way, asks the Church for its own justification.
Modern society is also in search of “a new type of man, disinterested, honest, and pure,” neither master nor slave, inspired by a living and creative spirit, possessing a “fully developed” personality, in order to pursue his own affairs spontaneously (without imposed norms and without law) in the interest of humanity.
Is it not more the Church’s duty, however, to question the world than to be questioned by the world? to challenge the world than to be challenged by the world? Is not the task of each of us—in obeying the Word of God and in studying it with renewed mind and heart—to discover in the Word the task that Christ entrusts to us, while he places us at the disposal of God for the true revolution in the Church, in our families, and in society? May God give us his light upon the Church and its mission in the contemporary world.
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