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Straight Thinking

Out here in the Midwest corn belt, there is an insurance company—its name is not important—which has the rather gruesome custom of marking every fatal highway accident with a sign, which, besides bearing an “X” to mark the spot, also carries in large letters the single word “THINK.” I suppose the sign has merit in so far as it is an admonition not to be thoughtless, not to dream, while you are driving a couple of tons of potential death down the highway at sixty miles per hour, and in so far as it is a grim reminder, with its “X marks the spot,” of the possible consequences of failure to think. But I submit that the admonition is not complete. It ought also to carry some such word as straight or correctly. For if you think, but think wrongly, the consequences will be equally as fatal as when you fail to think at all.

It was not my purpose, however, to write an essay on straight thinking behind the wheel. I’ll leave that to the safety officials. I do want to offer a few thoughts on the subject of Straight Thinking by you young people, and that too, in connection with the subject of the day, the schism in our churches.

You can scarcely avoid thinking about that schism. I cannot, and your consistories cannot, and your parents cannot avoid it. But you cannot either. Nor would I advise you to try to avoid thinking about it. I would rather give you this advice: THINK STRAIGHT! Nor is it difficult to point out the fundamental reason why you should think straight. That schism—and in this connection I think mainly about the doctrinal issue, the issue of the truth, which lies at the root of it—that schism concerns the churches in which you either have already made or are going to make confession of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That means you give an answer to the question: “Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?”

Briefly, I would define straight thinking as that process of mind (and should I, mindful of the fact that we face basically a spiritual issue here, add the words: “and heart?”), whereby upon the basis of the objective facts in a given case (in this case, the schism), and in the light of abiding principles of truth (Scripture and our Confessions), we draw the obviously correct conclusion.

The above is a rather formal definition. But it applies. And any other kind of thinking in the present situation is fatal. And we should ban it.

However, it is very easy to be led astray in this respect. So easily we allow emotion and sentiment to control our thinking. And sometimes it appears equally easy to allure our thoughts out of the straight course marked out by Scripture and the Confessions by other means, by false philosophy, false doctrine, by false witness, false quotation, in short, by all those means which Scripture classifies as “the sleight of men,” and “cunning craftiness.”

I cannot here present the objective facts concerning the schism in our churches. They would probably fill more than a single issue of Beacon Lights. But let us briefly take notice of some instances of wrong thinking, and be warned against them.

“I can’t imagine that Rev. So-and-so would teach such a heresy. I can’t imagine that Rev. Blank is not Protestant Reformed. Why, I had all my catechism instruction from him. He had a reputation for being Protestant Reformed. I never heard him say anything that was not Protestant Reformed when he was my minister.” The above are some examples of wrong thinking, when such thoughts are allowed to carry weight in coming to a conclusion about the present schism. And let me add that they are all real examples. But do you not see the error? This whole schism is, in the first place, not a question of what anyone can imagine, not a question of anyone’s reputation for being Protestant Reformed, and not a question of the past teachings of anyone. And if we allow ourselves sentimentally to be guided by thoughts like the above, we will surely go astray. For schisms are undoubtedly painful; and the smaller and more intimate the church circles which schisms strike, the more painful they become, I suppose. But how about the question whether heresy has been propounded, whether church political rebellion has taken place, and whether or not a certain officebearer, or member, is knowingly and willfully supporting such heresy and rebellion? Think on that, unbiased by your emotions.

“They don’t mean to teach heresy. Rev. De Wolf himself said he never meant to teach that, etc., etc.” This is probably one of the most frequent instances of wrong thinking. Let me answer it very briefly, by saying that in the church and in the pulpit, and when it concerns the truth, the old saying does not apply, “Take a Dutchman for what he means, not for what he says.” Let me answer further by asking, “If it be true that he, or they, do not, or did not, mean what has been said, would it not be the easiest thing in the world to retract it?” And let me warn further: find out what indeed they did mean, if they did not mean what they said!

Another mode by which some are tempted to leave the path of straight thinking is the frequent claim that the whole issue is not important anyway, that it is a quibbling about terms, that it is theological hair-splitting. To think the above thoughts is also wrong thinking. For, in the first place, history should teach us two things on this subject. The first lesson of history is that it is a favorite method of those who depart from the truth to speak in the above manner. And the second lesson is that the occasion has been rare indeed when a case of genuine hair-splitting arose. And in the second place, it could very easily be demonstrated—and it has not been to date—if this were a case of mere terms or a case of hair-splitting. And finally, I would add that the truth is indeed distinctive, down to its finest details.

The above examples could be multiplied. But I lack the space.

Be warned by them.

And exercise yourselves in straight thinking. Ask yourself: what are the facts? What are the issues? What principles of Scripture and the confessions are at stake here? And guide your decision by the answers to these questions.

That requires study. It requires searching of the Scriptures. It requires that you be founded in the full truth.

And let Beacon Lights aid in this. It is well that Beacon Lights should be an “all around” magazine for our Protestant Reformed young people. But let it never lose its fundamental aim of shedding the beacon light of our Protestant Reformed truth, the true and complete doctrine of salvation, upon the path of life. For if that aim should be forgotten, it would become a beacon without any light.