Whither the RCUS?

Whither the RCUS?

Source: You Shall Be My People. Copyright © 1996 by the Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States.

By Rev. Jim West

THE future of any Church depends upon the animating power of the Spirit of Christ, who inflames our hearts for the Gospel and keeps us faithful to the Word of God. The Reformed Church in the United States must not discount the role of the Holy Spirit, nor assume that the official acknowledgment of the historic creeds is an automatic guarantor of her future orthodoxy. It is not inconsequential that the Reformed Church in Heidelberg that Olevianus shepherded was called The Church of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, the church is God’s holy temple only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:17).

History tells us that there is often a great chasm between a church’s official creed and its working creed, that is, what it actually does believe and practice. Creeds are not interesting fossils or museum pieces that magically connect us to the church militant or triumphant. They contain doctrines that must be believed and believed heartily. The recent adoption of the Three Forms of Unity do not make us more orthodox unless there is a corresponding trust in the doctrines contained in those Creeds. When the Lord prosecuted the Church at Laodicea, He did not do so because the Church had impoverished itself creedally. On the contrary, the church was “rich” with theology. The Church even declared, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). Many commentaries understand this to refer to spiritual wealth instead of mammon. If so, the Church at Laodicea expressed pride in her creedal heritage. Yet, the Lord prosecuted the Laodiceans, saying, you “did not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” Revelation 3:18). Is it possible for a church to bask in the sunshine of its creeds in a prideful way, boasting before the Lord instead of boasting in the Lord? Yes-the lukewarm Church of Laodicea did precisely that! To such churches the Lord said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). Yes, the church is commanded to repent! Repentance is a continual activity for the Church. As Spurgeon once said, “The {214} proof that I repented yesterday is that I am still repenting today.”

The RCUS must not only be doctrinally sound in her official creed, but doctrinally sound in her working creed. The hearts of her members and leaders must be sound too.

CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP OF YOUTH

One of the ways that she can be doctrinally sound is to instruct her youth in the great doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. Catechetical training (a synonym for Christian discipleship) is one of the hallmarks of the RCUS. As one reviews the past, it is clear that this is one of the great strengths of the RCUS. Faithful instruction of the covenant youth in the doctrines of Scripture as summarized by the Heidelberg Catechism, in church history, Bible history, memorization of Scripture, and the singing of Psalms, hymns, and Scripture songs-all these must be inculcated into the spiritual bloodstream of our youth.

The purpose of Christian discipleship is to prepare the youth for covenant confirmation. Sadly, confirmation and the very confirmation process are not well thought of. Perhaps this is due to the word “confirmation,” as it is often thought of as a distinctly Lutheran and Roman Catholic hybrid. Others have criticized confirmation because of a paedo-communion bias, where even undiscerning babies have been forced to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The confirmation process is caricatured as anti-covenantal, as a form of creedal discrimination against our covenant youth. Still others have bought into the “quickie decision” method of child evangelism so that confirmation classes are viewed as both taxing and tedious-some even claiming it places a pharisaic yoke around the neck of Christ’s tender disciples. For them, confirmation is “jumping through the hoops,”-a robotic exercise that deadens rather than edifies.

This caricature is without foundation. The confirmation process of instruction is a rich blessing for the covenant youth. It is Christian discipleship par excellence, and has little counterpart in any church or denomination of which we are aware. Required memorization of the Heidelberg Catechism is for all intended purposes like memorizing large chunks or small slices of Scripture. This is not because the catechism is the Word of God, but because it contains rich veins of 24-karat ore. The Great Commission commands the church to “disciple” all nations. The Apostle Paul sometimes spent three years in one town discipling believers. This stellar commitment to the catechization of the youth should be a sparkling advertisement for the RCUS, in a day of obscurantism and easy believism. Whatever the future of the RCUS, she must not toss this valuable cargo overboard in the interests of a blind ecumenism that may be inspired by merger for the sake of merger. The future of the RCUS is her youth and if her youth are not instructed, there is no {215} future. To diminish the importance of catechetical training in the interests of enhancing acceptability in modern society is to destroy the future of the church.

CREATIONISM

Still another important doctrine that will determine the future of the RCUS is her commitment to creationism, and specifically six-day creation. We live in a day when creation is considered relatively unimportant, especially in relationship with the Gospel. This is a false dichotomy at best. Wherever the apostles went, they preached God as the Creator of the universe and Christ as the Redeemer of His people. Creation is not only important in itself, but it is important for evangelism too. When the early church evangelized, she preached a “creational evangelism.” For example, in a day when homosexuality is glorified, it behooves the church to proclaim to the world that the perversity of homosexuality consists in its being anti-Christ and anti-creation. The sodomite rejects the “natural use” of his body that he received when he was created. The same application can be made to feminism, because Paul tells Timothy that the woman is not to “usurp” authority over the man (1 Timothy 2:1). The difference between men and women is not height or strength, but kind and order. God created men men, and women women. And He also created the man “first.” Their roles are determined by creation. Some have asserted that while creation is important, six-day creation is not that important. The important emphasis, it is declared, is that God created everything and that man did not evolve out of the primordial ooze. This thinking is simplistic. In the first place, our view of six day creation directly affects our view of the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath, for if God did not literally rest on a literal sixth day, the sanctity of the Lord’s Day would be violated (Exodus 20:7). What is more, if God did not create in six literal days, if the first six days are saga or a poetic device by Moses, we run into a dangerous hermeneutical problem. Can we really be sure of anything in Genesis if the first six days are not literally true? And if the first six days are a mere poetical device, designed to teach the reader that God is Creator and created everything in an orderly manner, we would be able to apply the same hermeneutic to Genesis 3 and begin to question the historicity of the fall of man into sin.

The Gospel is not the only thing offensive to modern men. Creation is also an offense. Far from being an evangelistic handicap, six-day creation underlines the antithesis between the worldling’s views and the Gospel. Six-day creation is an advantage because it reveals that God created everything in a chronological, thus orderly manner. This leaves no place for the false god “Big Bang” who is fathered by another false god-chance. It also eliminates every mongrel interpretation that vainly tries to retain creation, but at the expense of ditching a literal interpretation of Genesis. Unbelievers who believe in the eternity of matter, the origin of man from sub-human life, and in chaos, can only be reached by a Gospel that glorifies God {216} as the harmonious Creator.

APOLOGETICS

A third leading edge of the RCUS that must be preserved to guarantee a strong church for the future is a fervent, if not fierce jealousy for the apologetics of Dr. Cornelius Van Til. “Presuppositionalism,” as it is called, is merely the belief that every man has certain radical axioms of thought that are in the center of his being. He uses these thoughts both wittingly and unwittingly. The unbeliever’s grid or worldview is based upon the premise of his own autonomy, that he is able to interpret objectively all the facts. This is nothing more than “there is a way which seemeth right unto a man,” but without the acknowledgment that “the end thereof are the ways of death.” Dr. Van Til pointed out that both unbelievers and believers have rudimentary presuppositions that they use to interpret reality. The Christian assumes that God is self-contained and that His word is all-sufficient. No authority is any higher than the Bible’s, not human reasoning, empiricism, utilitarianism, etc. Against the Biblical apologetical worldview stand a host of other apologetical views that are weakened by autonomous viruses which in turn threaten to slay the whole body of Christian truth. In the fourth century Athanasius’ jealousy for the Deity of Christ gained him the aphorism, “Athanasius Against the World.” Accordingly, the RCUS must be ever determined to argue, “Van Til Contra Mundum,” or “Van Til Against the World.” Translated into churchly language, this means “The RCUS Against the World. “

The reason that the future of the church is dependent upon a consistent, Van Tilian apologetic is due to the insidious nature of sin, that seeks to relegate the authority of the Bible to a place of equal authority with human thought systems. For example, Satan’s ploy in the Garden was to convince Adam and Eve to think in terms of neutrality, and thereby abandon their God-centered interpretation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Serpent coaxed Eve to refile God’s interpretation into the file of neutrality. By inspiring them to test God’s interpretation in a supposedly neutral laboratory, they denied the Word of God and exalted themselves as determiners of all things (“good and evil”). Simply put, the Christian faith is totalitarian. It is totalitarian not because “might makes right,” but because God commands us to acknowledge the meaning He has put into things. What is a fact? By definition a fact is what is God-created. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was God’s interpretation of the Tree. Nothing in the entire universe is neutral. God has given meaning to each fact so that the fact and the interpretation of the fact are really one. Psalm 148 and other Scriptures testify that all the facts proclaim the praise of God! {217}

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

Presuppositional apologetics are the basis of Christian education too, which is indeed the only valid kind of education that there is. This does not mean that Christians cannot serve in government schools as unofficial missionaries. But it does mean that education comes into its own when all the facts are acknowledged as God-created facts. Every academic discipline must come under the scepter of Jesus Christ. As one has said, “Every bush is a burning bush.” It is a complete contradiction, even tempting God, for us to disciple our children in the doctrines of the Heidelberg Catechism, and to nullify such instruction by dispatching them to the local Moloch (a false god) school. Although all Christians have blind spots which take time and especially patience to overcome, the mandate for Christian education is a responsibility that cannot wait.

Christian education is so important because the universe belongs to Christ. This means that all facts are Christ-centered facts. Colossians 1:15-17 teaches that Christ is both the Mediator of creation and the Mediator of redemption. The apostle Paul tells us four things about Christ: (1) He is the Creator of all things; (2) He is the Sustainer of all things; (3) He is before all things, and (4) He governs all things. The implication is that everything and everyone has a relationship with Christ. The reason is that Christ is both the “firstborn” of redemption and the “firstborn” of creation. “Firstborn” is an Old Testament word and signifies both the preeminence and the sovereignty of the firstborn son, who received the inheritance. Since the universe is Christ’s, the work of the artist must reflect the glory of the Creator. History is hindsight of God’s decrees of redemption and providence. Civil Government is ordained by God, and magistrates, as Ursinus instructs us, must “require from their subjects obedience, and external propriety according to both tables of the Decalogue.” Calvinism is a complete worldview. Therefore, Christian education is not a choice; it is a commandment.

WORSHIP

Another paramount area is public worship. Biblical worship is by nature God-centered, not man-centered. This is why it revolves around the Word of God and our response to that Word in prayer. The Heidelberg Catechism endorses the “lively preaching of the Word.” In a day of the consumer church, where the church is seeking to meet the needs of the public by adjusting its message accordingly, the “lively preaching of the Word” has become a casualty. The entertainment craze has so flooded the church that the Acts of the Apostles is sometimes read as if it were really The Acting of the Apostles! God does not call the Church to act, but to preach Christ crucified and resurrected, as Luke himself implies (Acts 1:1). The Acts of the Apostles is really the Acts of the Word of God. {218}

The RCUS must not abandon the regulative principle of worship in order to gratify man’s senses with entertainment or by visual representations of the Second Person of the Godhead. Faith is more important than sense. There is an old Arabian proverb: “He who speaks best must turn men’s ears into eyes.” It is through the “ear-gate” that God has especially promised to bless His word. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Pictures of Jesus, more than anything else, deny the need for faith. We are justified by faith and we are sanctified by faith. This adds up to walking by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Christianity must be heard and then believed-not seen and believed (1 Pet. 1:8). The Lord has given the church only two sensual reminders-the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Pictures of the Second Person of the Godhead are not only deceptions which “varnish the sunlight of God’s worship,” and are a virtual denial of the walk of faith. Doubting Thomas is not dead-he is reincarnated by those who demand sight plus faith.

ECUMENISM

Still another feature of the RCUS is a dynamic ecumenical spirit. A stringent sectarianism which fails to recognize the presence of the Gospel in other communions not only grieves the Holy Spirit, but also fosters a detestable, even demonic pride. The RCUS must continue to extend the right hand of fellowship to other orthodox Christian bodies that have embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. The RCUS must take the flag of the Reformed faith up the mountain and plant it into the soil. But even more, she has the responsibility to take others by hand and lead them to the summit too. Rugged individualism may be good for free enterprise economics, but it is positively injurious for the unity of Christ’s Church.

In recent years the fear of picking up a doctrinal virus from too close an association with other denominations has slackened off. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians is not only personal, but has a denominational application too: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). Yes, let us esteem other orthodox Protestant churches better than ourselves.

Yet, in spite of a strong ecumenical spirit toward other orthodox Protestant churches, the RCUS should not peg its survival upon the orthodoxy of other churches. No union should be forced, lest we engage in what one theologian has nicknamed “amateur providence.” Amateur providence occurs when we force an issue, such as Sarah’s strategy to help out God when she brought Hagar to Abraham.

It is also good to remember that ecumenicism is a two-way street. Not only must we aggressively seek closer ties with fraternal churches, but we should {219} aggressively pursue individual congregations that are Reformed in doctrine offering them the right hand of fellowship within our own pale. Providentially, we are here for a reason. The impact of theological liberalism made its mark upon our forefathers a century ago. In 1934 the chickens came home to roost. Could it be that we crumbled early and then recouped, so that we might become a churchly home to individual congregations that have separated from ailing denominations which are giving up their Reformed heritage. If so, the remaining years of the twentieth century and all of the twenty-first century will be banner years for the RCUS.

MISSIONS AND EVANGELISM

A final consideration relates to missions and evangelism. We can speak about ecumenism all we want, but there is no substitute for an aggressive missions strategy. The old phrase, “evangelize or fossilize,” continues to be true. It is true for several reasons, not the least being that the promise of the presence of Christ in His Church depends upon the faithfulness of each church to disseminate the Gospel. Jesus’ command, “Go ye therefore, discipling all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is the basis of Christ’s promise, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The meaning is not merely that Christ will be with the Church when the Church goes, but that Christ will not be with the church at all if the Church does not carry out the Great Commission! What is more, in the past mind-set of the RCUS, missions has been a responsibility that is best carried out by the Synod. In recent years, especially since the church divided into individual classes, that reliance has in part been transferred to the classis. However, the individual churches need to view themselves as mission centers too! In fact, the key to missions is the local church, for only the local church can achieve the sort of hands-on policy that is required. The best way to conduct warfare is to place the general staff on the battlefield with the troops, instead of conducting the war from thousands of miles away. A church that tries to evangelize itself out of existence will be blessed mightily.

While it is true that the RCUS must be receptive to wherever she hears the Macedonian call (“Come over and help us”), particular emphasis should be placed upon the cities. One of our primary goals should be to launch a missions campaign in the cities. Satan’s booty in the heavily peopled areas must be plundered. New York, Philadelphia, Washington D. C., Los Angeles, Chicago, etc., must be brought under the scepter of Christ. This is perhaps the greatest challenge facing us.

The Bible teaches that we are not here for ourselves. Our purpose is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. R. B. Kuiper’s analogy about a living church is always appropriate. He compares a dead church to the Dead Sea that is the depository of the waters of the Jordan. It has an inlet, but no outlet. Therefore, it is dead. But a living church is like the Sea of Galilee which receives the waters of the {220} Jordan and then channels those waters south. It is a sea that is thriving with life. This happens when the church both receives the grace of God and dispenses that grace through the preaching of the Gospel. The RCUS must be like Abraham whom God blessed and then made a blessing to the world. Even better, we should be like the man Jesus described in John 7, when He spoke about the cataract that flows from faith. He said, “He that believes on Me as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (verse 38).

Sin is not only transgression of the law of God, but also “any want of conformity” unto the Law of God. This means that we tend to think highly of ourselves for the things that we do, but forget that the things that we do not do (and that we should be doing) are just as important. James wrote, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). We can boast about being faithful, but if we are not faithful witnesses, we are not faithful.

The whole period between the first coming of Christ and His Second Coming is the interim period. Why are we here? Why is there a church in the world in the first place? Why hasn’t Christ returned? A paramount function of the church in this age is missions. The elect must be brought into the kingdom. If we feel purposeless, then it is because we are not fulfilling our evangelistic duties. This is true both on a personal and church level.

HOLINESS

Finally, we must not lose sight of something even more important than ecumenicism and missions. The cardinal mark of the church is holiness. We not only confess our belief in the Catholic church, but in “the holy catholic Church.” The church is not first of all a missionary society. Her primary mark is the holiness of God. The church is the “glorious body of Christ” because Christ died so that He might “sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). This means that we must display the marks of the church. Our emphasis should not be putting out brush fires, establishing a Reformed Vatican city where decisions are made from top to bottom, micro-managing the affairs of each congregation, creating a church bureaucracy with professional “ecclesiocrats,” or endless adjudications at a classical or synodical level. Rather, we must emphasize holy living to the glory of God for every member of the church.

There is nothing mysterious about a prosperous, thriving Christianity. It is when the church is faithful to the basics that she prospers. A famous football coach once told his players, “Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.” He recognized the importance of faithfulness to the fundamentals. The RCUS must continue to {221} proclaim the rudimentary truths of the Christian Faith. However, we must not stop there. For the same football coach also said, “If you’re not fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.” Yes, both faithfulness and fire are necessary! David Martyn-Lloyd Jones once described preaching as “the proclamation of the Word of God by a man who is on fire.” Our leaders need to be faithful and fiery men who cherish the Reformed doctrines!

We do not look into a crystal ball or to the witch of Endor to learn about the future of the RCUS. The future of the RCUS is as bright as the promises of God! We have an unique product that we must “sell” to the world. How do we do this? Not by emulating Tetzel and the world, but by a faithful and fiery proclamation of the Word of God. When we do this, God will bless us because God always blesses His Word. This continuing reformation by the Word of God can only occur if the RCUS is energized by the same spirited fire that caused our father Calvin to proclaim, “Even a dog barks when its master is attacked, should I not raise my voice when the majesty of God is attacked?” And, “O Lord, as an oblation, I offer thee my heart, sacrificed for Thee!”

“I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me,
and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:
for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

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