It is striking to note that this was written in 1921, just shortly before this “Thinking Cap” spoken of was needed by so many in a most significant way in 1924. Now 70 years later, with added temptations such as unprecedented material wealth, television, and entertainment, this is again a reminder to be diligent.
The article ended last time where it was shown that the loss of the Thinking Cap involves a loss of doctrinal knowledge, this being the first reason why it is a deplorable loss.
But there is more. This becoming estranged from sound Reformed doctrine among our young people, will ultimately have to reflect upon the church as such. It will lower its doctrinal standard. It will cause a condition in which doctrinal instruction and doctrinal preaching will become gradually more difficult, ultimately impossible. For with the loss of the thinking-cap the element will be growing in the church that have lost their hold upon doctrine. It is not only that they dislike doctrine but they actually understand no more. When the preaching is doctrinal they fail to grasp it. They have no hold upon a doctrinal sermon. They leave the church without having been edified, for the simple reason that they have not understood the preaching of the Word. Their cry is for a different type of preaching. They like, they gradually demand topical rather than doctrinal and exegetical sermons. When the minister preaches on a live topic they can grasp it. When he expounds the Word to them they neither understand nor enjoy it. They begin to characterize the preaching as dry, intellectual, dead, impractical. And the minister will ultimately have to fall for this demand, for the simple reason that he must come down to the level of his audience. You may see the beginning of this tendency today, even in our own church. And, therefore, not only will doctrinal knowledge be lost among an ever-growing element in the church, but the preaching itself, the doctrinal standard of the church will have to be lowered to meet the wants of the people. The loss of the thing-cap is, indeed, a deplorable loss.
In the third place, this loss will lead us back into the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism, in which the clergy know it all, and rule with undisputed sway, and the laity are the accursed mass that know not the law. This may seem strange at first, for it is exactly what we do not want. We are rather democratic in spirit. But the hard fact is no different. If our people wean away, too, from even a general knowledge of church government, the only element in the church that can judge about things ecclesiastical and doctrinal is the educated clergy. Even now you may hear it every once in a while that the people cannot judge about a certain matter. They are told that they must be silent. And this condition will grow upon us according as it becomes actually more true that the common laity have no knowledge of doctrine. If, however, they would have knowledge, so that they can take an active part and not let others do all the thinking and judging for them, they will need the thinking-cap. The loss of the thinking-cap leads to ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even as education is deemed indispensable for the democratic form of government, so sound knowledge is an indispensable requisite for the maintenance of the Presbyterian form of government in the church. The loss of the thinking-cap is indeed deplorable.
And, lastly, this loss of the thinking-cap will weaken us in our fight against downright unbelief in the world. And we may expect that this fight is coming upon us more and more in the future. There was a time that the battle was one between protagonists of different doctrines within the church itself. It was a battle between Arminianism and Calvinism, between supra and infra. But the more the lines are drawn distinctly and sharply, the more these little battles will give way to the great battle that is coming between the world and God’s people, between faith and infidelity, between light and darkness. It will be a battle, not for this or that minor principle, but for the Word of God, for the very faith itself. But a mistake he makes who would now draw the conclusion that for this very reason we must cease to emphasize distinctive and minor principles, and only keep the large principles of Christianity in the broad sense. On the contrary, it is more than ever necessary that we emphasize and keep the truth in all its specific nature. We must not become less Reformed and more Christian, but more Reformed and stronger Christians. Otherwise we will be but poorly prepared and armored to defend ourselves against the oncoming tide of unbelief and before we know it we will be swept off our feet by it. The loss of the thinking-cap is deplorable, because it will weaken the church in its battle with the forces of darkness.
III. But the question that is of prime importance is still to be answered. It is: What can be done to restore that valuable thinking cap?
In answer to this question, I would say in the first place: our young men must simply put that cap on again. In connection with this first point, the remark must be repeated which Prof. Kuiper made in “The Banner” years ago, when he discussed the necessity of Americanizing our churches: The only way to do it is to do it. And to urge you to do it, I have attempted to show you the importance of the thinking-cap and the deplorableness of its absence. You must fight the battle against the desire and tendency to spend all your spare time in seeking enjoyment rather than education. You must begin to read, to read more than novels, to study books of a more substantial nature. You must patronize with your presence programs of an intellectual and educational character rather than socials and banquets. They must become possible again. And they will become possible once more if you show your interest. This may, at first, be a difficult battle to fight. The lost interest will naturally only gradually return. But the longer you fight the battle, the more the old interest will be quickened. The more you study, the more intimately you will become acquainted with the doctrine of the church, the finer your hold will become upon that doctrine, the deeper and livelier your interest will be. And, therefore, if you must admit the importance of the thinking-cap, put it on again. The only way to do it is to do it!
In the second place, our leaders, ministers and otherwise, that would lead our young men in the right direction, must not too easily lend their ear to the cry for less doctrine. Rather must they emphasize the necessity of doctrine, and, therefore, the necessity of the thinking- cap. We must have doctrinal preaching. We must continue to emphasize the necessity of catechetical instruction. We must continue to emphasize the necessity of preparing for catechism. We must urge our young people to read, to investigate. In short, they that would lead our young men must not be carried away with the stream and follow the line of least resistance. But they must lead them in the direction of sound and full doctrinal knowledge.
In the third place, our societies and leagues must not be allured to follow the tendency of the time. Too often this is done. In order to increase or maintain the membership of the society the programs are often spoiled. Members that are not prepared when they should be, and when they have no legal excuse to offer, are excused and tolerated nevertheless. The result is, that the programs are frequently not carried out or are carried out very defectively. This must not be done. It is for this interest of the very life of the society that every member takes an active interest. It is better to have a smaller and stronger society in which every member is prepared in time, than to have the entire society degenerate because of the negligence of some members. The same is true of the League. The course pursued last winter is detrimemtal. Because lectures and educational programs attracted no crowd, it was decided to change the programs and offer programs chiefly of an entertaining nature. This catering to a wrong tendency is fatal. For those that do like something more substantial receive nothing, and those that absolutely refuse to put on the thinking-cap were followed. If our young people are to regain the thinking- cap, if they are to set themselves to serious study and investigation once more, it is necessary that we offer them something that necessitates its use.
There are other things that might be mentioned in this connection. But my time is more than taken. I will close with returning to my first remark: the only way to do it is to do it. Ultimately, all will depend upon the attitude of our young men themselves. Read, study, investigate, get away from that craving for amusement and nothing but enjoyment. For, your position in the church the position of the church itself in the world, the establishment of God’s covenant, the glory of our covenant God are at stake! Let us wake up to the importance of sound doctrine, to the realization of putting on our thinking-caps again, and let us stand shoulder to shoulder in our battle for clear, definite, strong and full Reformed truth! ❖