I have been deeply disturbed by a recent article (“Standin’ in the Need of Prayer,” June 2006) and the series of letters it has generated. Rita De Jong seems to have some highly unbiblical conceptions of prayer, preaching and mission work, and the relationship between our Protestant Reformed Churches and other denominations. In addition, in her response to a very appropriate letter written by Carmen Griess, Miss De Jong demonstrates a continuation of faulty thinking found in the first article as well as a refusal to listen to some of the points which Mrs. Griess made.
My first concern is with the conception of prayer which is manifest in the original article. Miss De Jong calls us to pray together. This is well and good. Christians ought to pray together; there is no doubt about this fact. This is the reason for the custom of opening and closing a meal with prayer. This is why we open and close meetings, Bible studies, and discussion groups with prayer. This is why twice each Lord’s Day the minister brings the cares of the congregation, as a whole, to the Lord in prayer. We are also told to pray for one another. This is also a very biblical concern. When we sin against a brother or sister in the Lord we must confess our sin to that brother or sister. When we have cares and sorrows, it is appropriate to talk about them with our fellow saints. It is right that we should bring the concerns of our fellow saints to the Lord in prayer.
However, I am very leery of the ideas for carrying this out which Miss De Jong suggests. Jesus warns us of temptations which people can fall into in the name of prayer. He describes the prayers of the Pharisees who loved to pray on the street corners that they might be seen of men. We must be careful to avoid praying our private prayers in public. Jesus exhorts us to enter into our closet and shut the door before coming to the Lord in private prayer (Matt. 6:5, 6). Prayers made for any group of believers must bring the cares of that group as a whole to the Lord. Public prayer is not the time to bring one’s personal confessions of sin to the Lord. It is the time to bring the confessions of that family, church, or school to the Lord. Prayer requests and prayer groups are artificial attempts to encourage mutual care of the brethren which can easily lead to the hypocritical prayers Jesus warns us against.
Miss De Jong, in both her article and letter, also criticized our ministers for a lack of practical application in sermons. Now in the first place, I have never found the sermons of our ministers to be wanting in practical application. The problem here is Miss De Jong’s idea of practical application. Practical application is something that follows naturally from the sound preaching of pure doctrine. When the minister preaches about the holiness of God, Who is too pure of eyes to behold sin, he can almost without saying it make the practical application that we as believers ought to show our thankfulness for the salvation we have received by eschewing evil. Having the minister telling us statistics about the number of people who look at pornography is not practical application. Such man-made stories and statistics have no place in a sermon. In this connection, I would also like to point out, with reference to Jesus’ telling of parables as a means of preaching that because Jesus is God, He has the authority to do things in His preaching that we may not necessarily do. Parables are not man-made stories but rather part of scripture. Man-made stories draw away from the content of the text and focus on man. Stories and examples are already available to our ministers in the scriptures. It is not wrong for ministers to give an example to clarify a point, but the practice of the churches around us of making sermons by stringing together stories, “relevant” examples, and even jokes to make a “practical application” is a foolish man-centered approach to preaching. Preaching is to have God and His glory in Christ at its center, not “do this and don’t do that.” It is to be full of scripture and references to scripture, not man-made stories. It is to be focused on doctrine with practical application, as a result, flowing directly from doctrine, and not practical application with doctrine thrown in to back it up.
In her false and insulting charge that our ministers ignore the evils of today’s society in our churches and in her ideas about mission work, Miss De Jong shows a faulty conception of the purpose of the church in the world and the way in which the church must carry out the commission to preach the gospel to all nations. The church is not here in the world to transform society. The church is here to worship God and to preach the gospel to save the elect. In reference to Miss De Jong’s statement, “the church must be so compelling by its outreach that it draws outsiders to her,” I would remind readers that the key of preaching works two ways. It hardens the reprobate in their unbelief as well as drawing the elect to Christ. We may very well see a complete lack of growth, but this has nothing to do with whether the church is carrying out its commission. The scriptures tell us that there will be a falling away, that men will not always hear, and that the church can expect to be small.
Although Miss De Jong primarily intended to exhort us to “unity within our own churches,” she also made some dangerous statements regarding the churches around us. She says, “I do highly recommend fellowship with Christians outside our denomination,” and “there is much to be learned from other churches in their practices.” I must emphatically disagree and hope that such thoughts are not common in our churches. The Bible explicitly says, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10) and “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (II Thess. 3:6). Notice that, in addition to walking disorderly, walking not after the tradition, etc., is mentioned as a reason for withdrawing oneself from someone. Sins of doctrine are just as serious as any sins of outward conduct. False doctrine is idolatry. We may not, we absolutely may not, follow the advice of Miss De Jong and have such fellowship with people from other denominations, especially the so-called evangelical churches around us. We may not look to them as examples of how to conduct mission work. Whether someone in such a church may be saved or not is irrelevant to the issue of how we ought to walk toward them. God can certainly save His elect, though they may walk in dreadful sin, but this does not mean that we may have fellowship with those who are walking in unrepentant sin.
I know that sometimes other churches may seem attractive. They seem to have such a vibrant, caring church life. They sometimes seem to put us to shame by their care for one another. But these impressions are false. I know many of these people. I go to a state university and meet such evangelicals on a daily basis. I hear them talk in the hallways and on the bus. There are undoubtedly children of God mistakenly in these churches, but there are also many hypocrites. I have heard people who speak with what sounds like genuine piety one day and the next are justifying their own divorce and the fact that a friend is walking in fornication. They sound as if they are forever caring for others and at the same time they unashamedly work or do all their own pleasure on the Lord’s Day. The denominations around us are full of such man-centered hypocrites, who love to feel good about themselves because they are such good people and yet have no real respect or love for God. I have lived on the mission field for 12 years. I know people who have come out of these churches. They testify that the evangelical churches around us are not what they seem. They are spiritually bankrupt, filled with all manner of superstition and error. Our calling is to call these churches and their members to repentance, that God may pluck some brands from the burning. We cannot do this by freely making friends of them, acting as if they are not sinning by remaining in these churches, and worst of all, openly trying to learn from their practices.
We must beware of these churches. We must beware of their writings, their music, and their fellowship and friendship. How can we maintain the truth against the lie if we adopt the evangelism, the writings, and the music of the lie? All that will ever come from such practices is heresy among ourselves, a weakening of the truth for which we stand, and the loss of our young people to these false churches. Did the church in the time of the Reformation advocate fellowship with Papists? Did she suggest that perhaps it would be good if we learned from the Mass? Did Paul advocate fellowship with the Jews who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised when he wrote to the Galatians? Did he tell us to learn from what we could find that was good about them? Did Christ suggest that the churches ought to learn from the Nicolaitanes when he spoke to John in Revelation? Ought we to do these things now? God forbid. I pray that our churches may be preserved from the course Miss De Jong has suggested.
God has given us a rich heritage in the Reformed faith and preserved us in the truth of His Word. Let us never forget that. The truth of God’s word is all important. A proper godly life of good works will assuredly flow from a living faith in the truth. Rather than looking to the false church for guidance, let us take heed that the marks of the true church are plainly manifest in our churches. Read the Bible. Read the confessions. Read the good reformed books we have available. Grow in knowledge of true doctrine. Encourage your minister and consistory in the preaching of those truths. Encourage the elders in their sometimes painful task of church discipline. Remind them of how important it is. Take heed to prepare yourselves for the Lord’s Supper that the sacraments may be properly administered. Take heed to bring up your children in the fear of the Lord and have respect to the vows you took at baptism. Young people, prepare yourselves also to walk in these things. Prepare to be elders and deacons. Prepare to teach your own children some day. A walk of godliness will certainly be manifest among us when we do these things. God uses these means to work in us to will and do His good pleasure. Let us pray that God may continue to keep our Protestant Reformed Churches on the straight and narrow path and keep us from all error.