I subscribe to the Banner, the official weekly of the Christian Reformed Church. I have observed the changes occurring in this periodical. The contributions to “Voices,” the open forum of the Banner, are an accurate index of some of the opinions of the readers of the Banner. Some claim the previous editor, Rev. J. Vander Ploeg, “. . . knew how to tell something to ordinary people . . .,” while the current editor, Dr. Lester DeKoster, “. . . is more concerned to show his learned side to our elevated kingdom workers.” Those who appreciate the Banner say things like, “Accept my personal thanks for the responsible job you are doing as editor.”
I quite obviously am not nor ever have been a member of the Christian Reformed Church, but I am disturbed by the contributions to the Banner. Often I find myself disagreeing with an article (that is written for the Banner, but I also find myself enjoying and anticipating the rubric “OF CABBAGES AND KINGS,” edited by Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga, pastor of the LaGrave Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He seems to understand people. He can tell something to ordinary people.
The Banner of March 10, 1972, contained an article in the rubric edited by the Rev. Mr. Eppinga which was most distressing and with which I must register my unreserved dissent. This article entitled, “3 Points of Contact,” was a reprint of the sermon which Rev. Eppinga recently delivered at a Vatican Il-inspired Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity at St. Adalbert’s Roman Catholic Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The main point of the sermon was to show that Roman Catholics and Protestants can, ought, and must express their Christian unity. The Rev. Eppinga writes:
… It would be folly for me to minimize our differences. But it would be evil of me to ignore these three points of contact. May I review thorn once again? Sin: We’re in trouble, and sin separates people from people, and people from God. However, a realization of how great our sins and troubles are can bring us together.
Notice the rather simple solution to the problem of the schism or separation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. We only have to realize how great our sins and troubles are and we can get together again.
A major area of dissent with the article, ”3 Points of Contact,” must rest on the fact that Rev. Eppinga is a minister in a church which is officially committed to the defense of the faith as this is represented and established in the historically Reformed and anti-Roman Catholic theological position which has been carefully articulated in our Reformed Confessions. These Confessions have never been retracted even though they often seem to be under severe attack. With some rather smooth double-talk and with some apt mismanagement of one of the most anti-Roman Catholic confessions of the Reformed Churches, Rev. Eppinga makes what should be forever impossible, a seeming reality. Roman Catholics and Reformed Protestants are really united. There are no real barriers which prevent this unity. Reformed Protestants and Roman Catholics all have the same trouble and the same problems. A realization of this problem will bring us all back together again.
Rev. Eppinga includes in Ills article several humanly-satisfying illustrations. One is of the hand-holding Protestant and Roman Catholic who at first would have nothing to do with each other. They found that their religious differences kept them apart. When the plane was in danger of crashing, they suddenly forgot all their religious differences and even found that their religious differences were of little consequence. They discovered that they were holding hands when they came to the ground. The other was of the seven-foot uncle who was so big that he could put all of the cousins in his arms and squeeze them close together. Rev. Eppinga says: “Dear Friends, Jesus Christ is more than seven feet tall, and if we are His, we are more than cousins, regardless of what church affiliation we may have. In those arms, pressed together b’ Him who owns us, there is again —unity by His embrace.”
Rev. Eppinga reminds the listeners at St. Adalbert’s and the readers of the Banner, some of whom must have been greatly disturbed by this article, that there are theological differences. He says, “I see no prospect for our getting under one ecclesiastical umbrella,” but he seems to suggest that the proble ms of today’s world and today’s communities are so great that the task of the church is to minimize our difference and to talk about our seeming similarities. Aren’t these things true he says essentially?
- We’re all sinners.
- We are delivered from our sins and troubles through Christ.
- We show true thankfulness by following Him who says, “Love God, and love your fellowman.”
We can’t be under the same ecclesiastical roof but we can cooperate. We can have fraternal relations.
This means that, because we’re all in the same predicament, we ought to work together for a happy, tolerant, cohesive kind of life. Let’s say to one another: “We’re all Christians: we’re all going to the same place. We’re together but separate, and
we’re really not so far apart that we can’t work and really be together.”
God has ordained means for the salvation of His Church. The Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves his Church out of the whole human race. He does this in a definite prescribed way. He does this through the preaching of the Gospel, by means of the administration of the sacraments, and by means of Christian discipline. Our Confessions also tell us that it is the calling of every individual Christian to join himself to the Church where there are certain earmarks. Where these earmarks do not exist or where they are dim, the Christian can know that the light on the candlestick is exceedingly dim. Has Rev. Eppinga forgotten this?
The historic position of the Roman Catholic Church has not changed. The anathemas pronounced by the Roman Catholic Church through the “divines” meeting at the 19th Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church at Trent in 1563 have not been retracted. They should still be ringing in our ears. We aren’t insensitive to them are we?
There is, I submit, a great gulf — a necessary gulf between Romanism and Protestantism. Romanism with all its Paganism and idolatry cannot be joined to the historic Reformed Protestantism which we are called to represent. Blood was shed — men and women died for a cause which we are willing to surrender without a fight.
Although it is true that Roman Catholicism has not denied some of the Cardinal Christological doctrines confessed by the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, they have destroyed the unity of the faith by perverting the doctrines of our salvation. Roman Catholics are still Pelagian. Gottschalk died in the defense of the faith that many today are not willing to defend.
Faith for a Roman Catholic is not the same as faith for a Reformed Protestant. Question and answer 21 of the beloved Heidelberg Catechism distinguishes true faith from faith as it is understood by the Roman Catholic Church. Faith according to the Catechism is worked in my heart by the Holy Ghost through the gospel so that I believe that “. . . remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits . . . .” Faith for the Roman Catholic theology expressly says that the act of faith can be meritorious. This is a denial of free sovereign grace. Aquinas in his Summa Theologica says: “Therefore every human act proceeding from free choice, if it be referred to God, can be meritorious. Now the act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God, so that it falls under free choice in relation to God. And consequently the act of faith can be meritorious.” That is Roman Catholic theology. Roman Catholic theology is the basis for Roman Catholic practice. How can there be any unity between Reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and its anti-Biblical work-righteousness?
Must the Church return to the crucible of the early modem period to understand the crucible from which our Confessions were forged? May we sacrifice historic Scriptural doctrines for “ecumenical results”? I sometimes fear we shall if God does not preserve us and cause us to persevere.
Can a Reformed man mean what he says when he promises by signing the Formula of Subscription that he will “. . . diligently teach and faithfully defend the aforesaid doctrine without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching or writing, . . .” and write as the Rev. Mr. Eppinga has written?
I cannot believe that the battle has changed so radically.
Can Rev. Eppinga’s sermon at the ecumenical prayer service stand the touchstone of the Reformed Confessions and this promise which one makes in the Formula of Subscription in the Reformed Churches? “We declare, moreover, that we reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned Synod, but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”
Have we come once again to that turn in history when pastors in the Reformed community can preach and write as they please (Leervrijheid)? Has the Formula of
Subscription been changed to permit these kinds of activities?
Let us not be deceived!
I love the God and the faith of the Reformed Confessions!
Let’s fight to preserve that faith!
If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do?