It would seem as if it were very foolish to be a member of our Protestant Reformed Churches. I can well understand why the world about us and even many of the denominations which to a greater or lesser extent have strayed from the truth would come to such a conclusion. There is certainly not much future in having one’s membership papers in any of our congregations – not much future from a natural point of view.
Consider that we are very small in number. We were not very large to begin with, and our numbers have been greatly reduced in the recent controversy of our churches. The result is that there are very few denominations, if any at all, who are as small as we are. It is not very pleasant to belong to such a small church group. Besides, the result of being so small is that we have very little financial power and material possessions. The existing churches of today are rich in material wealth. With their people contributing far less than our people contribute, they nevertheless have sufficient to engage in vast building projects to erect beautiful church edifices, hospitals, schools, institutions for the aged, etc. They have the means to engage in large and extensive missionary campaigns and supply the funds necessary to send men and women into all parts of the globe. But it is a constant struggle for us to support our schools, help our needy churches, and pay the expenses of ordinary and necessary denominational life. There is also the fact that our churches are not liberally minded with respect to all the problems of life which daily confront the saints. They are not given to approval of union membership, divorce, approval of every means of entertainment which the world and the church world so readily condones and approves. The result is that the circle of the activities of the saints becomes very small. We are deprived of many jobs, often the best; we are not ready to grow numerically by letting into the church all kinds of people who defy and deny the principles of Christian conduct; we insist on a godly walk of life as a criterion of church membership. The result of all this is that we grow smaller as churches; we become materially poorer; we are more and more isolated in our church
life. We are very firm in insisting that the one indispensable condition of relationships with other denominations is a pure confession of the truth. We are not ready to compromise and soften the confession which we have made for the sake of broader and more diversified contact with others. We insist that such relationships must be on the basis of the Word of God only. And the outcome is that we remain small and our isolation grows, for there are not many who like to hear the truth any more in our day and age. A pure confession is branded as bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Toleration and compromise are the watch words of the church world today.
This all tends to make us a very odd group of people in the eyes of those outside our fellowship. It is no wonder, to my mind, that men look askance at us. It is the height of folly to be a member of this denomination – the height of folly from s natural point of view. It is foolishness in the extreme to he constantly fighting against all the current of modern life in business, social life, and the church world. And it is no wonder that many complain that to belong to such a denomination as ours is certainly asking too much sacrifice, and placing too heavy demands upon them. We ought not to be surprised therefore, that membership
in our churches for those who are outside does not appear to he very attractive. And we ought not to be filled with amazement when some of those who are in our churches decide to leave and join other groups who are more liberal and openminded, more tolerant and like other churches, and who hold in their hands a great deal more influence in all of our complex life in this day and age.
If we are inclined to take an earthly and natural viewpoint, this is bound to he the conclusion. If our perspective is life here below, I do not doubt hut that we will arrive at no other conclusion.
But this is not the viewpoint which we ought to take. For it is decidedly limited. Standing in this creation and looking at all things from tile aspect of this present time is a very limited perspective. We cannot see all things from the point of view of this earth. We cannot observe the reality of matters only in this way. Our eyes and ears may very well deceive us and give us a distorted picture of things. Our natural perception of things is not the true perception and not in keeping with the true nature of reality. Our impressions from this vantage point will certainly he all wrong.
There is a higher, a more sublime viewpoint which we must take if we are to understand the true value of belonging to the Protestant Reformed Churches. There is a higher plane upon which we must stand if we are to determine the true answer to our question and find the object of our quest. There is another perspective that we must take, another observation point from which we must cast our eye upon these problems. This viewpoint is the viewpoint of faith. If we take this viewpoint, then we will certainly gain quite another conception of things. For all that faith sees is quite contrary to what we perceive with our natural sense. The conclusions of faith are quite different from any conclusions we may try to form in any other way.
When we observe our churches, and consider tile question of membership in them from this high and lofty vantage point, what is it that we see? The first thing that we see is a church that has remained faithful to the truth of the Word of God. Always in the past, God has led His church into the truth by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And as this church has been led into the truth, the heritage of the truth has grown richer anti richer. We stand in that same line of the church of all ages. We need not doubt this. It is simply a fact. From the time of the apostles, the line of the true church has run through Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the fathers of Dordrecht and countless others until the present day. And although others may claim to stand also in that line, it can very easily he shown that this is not the case at all. Our spiritual genealogy contains the names of the great fathers of the Reformed truth. And others have denied their genealogy in fact if they cling to it in word. I do not say this to boast in any accomplishment which we have made apart from God, for the simple fact of the matter is that God has graciously seen fit to preserve us thus far in this way. For this we ought to he daily grateful.
But it is this fact that makes the entire difference. Some of the implications of this are worth mentioning, but this will have to wait for a future article.
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 2 March 1958