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Reading Maketh a Full Man

Lying near the edge of my desk is a pile of thirty-seven church history tests covering such errors as Socinianism, Unitarianism, Modernism, and Method­ism. Had I not taken time to read last night and this morning the stack of papers would be graded and would be filed away so that they could be returned to my students. But I took the time to read. Do you take the time to read?

This semester I am teaching Church History 3 at Covenant Christian High School. This is a church history course which attempts to cover the history of the church from the time of the Reformation near the end of the sixteenth century until the present. Much has happened and much continues to happen during the four centuries that a course of this kind is expected to investigate and to evaluate.

One of the goals of this course in church history is that the student develop a concern and interest in the current religious scene. This means that the student of church history must read contemporary writing in the religious journals. They must read “All Around Us” in the Standard Bearer, “Markings” in the Banner, religious news reportings in Christianity Today, The Christian News, a Missouri Lutheran publication, The Outlook, etc. Our young people do not read these magazines. Many of them do not read the Beacon Lights. They are available to them in the library of the school but they lie untouched. Only when special assignments are given which will demand that they consult these maga­zines, will they read this kind of literature.

It is important, however, for our young people to do this kind of reading. Such reading informs one. Reading tells one about his friends and his enemies. Reading helps the young person to know who he is. Reading develops his under­standing of his relationship to other religious groups. Reading assists the young person to know that other Protes­tant denominations struggle with many of the same problems that we fight. There­fore, reading gives the young person a point of contact and a point of comparison. (I recommend Professor Hanko’s article in the April 1, 1977, issue of the Standard Bearer.)

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One of those sets of papers that I neglected this morning was an essay based on “Fundamentalism and Our Reformed Heritage.” This two-part series written by Rev. Arie den Hartog appeared in the January 1 and 15, 1977, issues of the Standard Bearer. I had assigned the reading of these articles and asked that an essay be written by each student. The following questions were to be answered in the essay.

  1. What is fundamentalism?
  2. What are the basic errors of funda­mentalism?
  3. How does fundamentalism compare with our Reformed heritage?

I also asked that the student briefly react or respond to the articles which served as a source for their essays.

Because I have always advocated as much writing as possible by adolescents in the Beacon Lights, I have chosen from the many fine essays on “Fundamentalism and Our Reformed Heritage” one written by Miss Terri Gleason. Terri is a senior at Covenant Christian High School and is a member of the Southeast Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michi­gan.

 

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One of the most rapidly growing movements today is one called funda­mentalism. The ideas of fundamentalism have become prominent in many churches today and are still spreading rapidly. While fundamentalism grows and flour­ishes in many churches, those churches who hold to the truly Reformed faith are often either declining or struggling to maintain an existence.

As members of the true Church of Christ, we must know what fundamental­ism is. The name fundamentalism is usually used in connection with those who hold to the fundamental truths of the scripture, e.g., the infallibility of the Word of God, the truth of creation, the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the atonement of Christ, salvation through faith in Christ alone, the resurrection of the dead, life everlasting, and the personal second coming of Christ. In this sense we agree with the fundamentalists, but we would add many truths to these, such as that of sovereign predestination, the five points of Calvinism, and the truth of the Covenant.

We must, however, also know about the errors of fundamentalism. First of all, they disregard creeds and confessions in the church on the grounds that creeds only serve to cause separations in the churches and obstruct the free interpretation of the scriptures. Secondly, they de-emphasize the importance of the doctrines of the scriptures, deeming them irrelevant and insignificant in the everyday life of a Christian. They say that emphasis on particular doctrines causes unnecessary division in the Church. Thirdly, they place great emphasis on learning isolated texts of scripture, rather than trying to under­stand the scriptures as a whole. They don’t really care what other people believe regarding certain passages of scripture, but they interpret them according to what the texts mean to them as individuals. Fourthly, they emphasize the New Testa­ment and disregard the Old Testament as being for the Jews and as no longer applicable to our dispensation. In the fifth place, they ignore the doctrine of the church as taught in the scriptures and believe that a man may be a separate church in himself, and that he doesn’t really need the rest of the church as an institution and doesn’t feel any responsi­bility or obligation to such a church. In the sixth place, they feel that the preaching of the Word is not the central means of grace, but rather they organize various Bible studies and fellowships which they seek as the source of their spiritual growth. Finally, they place a great emphasis on evangelism, saying that anyone can preach the gospel, thus disregarding the office of the minister in the Church.

In contrast to these erroneous beliefs of fundamentalism, we have other ideas incorporated into our Reformed heritage. We are a confessional church and hold to the three forms of unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Belgic Confession. In our interpretation of the scriptures there is continual reference being made to our confessions. Secondly, we insist very strongly on the great importance of maintaining sound doctrine in our preaching, our catechism classes, our seminaries, and the religious litera­ture which is produced by our churches. Thirdly, in our interpretation of the scriptures we stress the importance of understanding the scriptures as a whole and of developing a complete understand­ing of the doctrines of scripture.

Furthermore, we teach that the Old Testament is just as important as the New Testament and that it truly contains the gospel of salvation. By diligently studying the Old Testament we develop an understanding of and appreciation for the unfolding and realization of God’s cove­nant, as this is very important in the understanding of the Old Testament.

We believe that the earthly and institutional manifestation of the Church is of great importance for the life of the child of God, and that we are duty bound to join ourselves unto that church.

We also teach that the instituted Church is the spiritual mother of the saints of God here on earth and we consider the preaching of the Word to be of central importance as the primary means of grace. In connection with this, we regard evangelistic work as a very important thing, but evangelism must never be placed before the daily spiritual nurture of the Church of Christ that is already gathered. In regard to this church, we believe that it is not simply an aggregate of individuals but an organic whole of the body of Christ, chosen in Him before the foundations of the world.

By writing these articles on funda­mentalism, Rev. den Hartog has supplied us with an invaluable means for distin­guishing fundamentalist beliefs from our own. We should pay close attention to these articles and use them as a means for guarding against fundamentalism. We have an obligation to protect our Re­formed heritage and to instruct our youth in the way that they must go. In order to do this, we must fully understand not only our own beliefs but also the error of false beliefs. In this way, we and our seed will always be equipped to fight against evil until Christ comes on the clouds of glory to gather all His faithful people unto Himself.

Terri Gleason, March 28, 1977