The Evangelical Movement
The church-question would of necessity have become a "ticklish affair," if the Spirit had worked through.
K. Schilder (De Reformatie, June 3rd, 1932)1
The search for the roadmap of a 'movement'
In this article we would like to pay attention to the so-called 'evangelical movement'. Any attempt to survey a movement and bring it into chart will run into problems. For in this case we are not concerned with a theological system, an association, or a church. If this were so, we could conveniently start by asking for a look at the constitution, statutes, or confession, and then make an inventory and outline of them. And having done this, we would be able to approach the matter 'principally'. But, unfortunately, this method is not going to work here.
As things are, however, a movement possesses no statutes or confessions. Neither does it set up residence in an identifiable house of its own, because its tendency is to drift. It sets up residence for a shorter or longer time with many Christians and Christian organizations, and during its stay there it conducts itself by turns as an amiable family member or a critical boarder. The 'evangelical movement' quite often resembles a 'mood' or 'mentality' rather than a systematized entity.
Besides, it is not a united movement. Differences of opinion run deep between all kinds of evangelistic currents and aspirations, and this does not make things any easier for us. In this connection we could mention, for instance, the difference in the striving and presentation of the Evangelical Academy and the Evangelical Political Party (i.e. in the Netherlands). The names that are used here suggest a closer connection than is warranted in reality. Despite the various internal differences, we will try to delineate some contours, inside of which various common characteristics as well as mutual differences should become comprehensible and intelligible.
The reader may see the importance of an attempt to clarify this matter. He only has to pay attention to the enormous influence of the evangelical movement both in our country and abroad. It appeals to millions of Christians, and they — in turn — carry the movement onward in one form or another.
Besides, evangelicals develop their activities on several battlefields simultaneously, and this is done by choosing to be very much in the public eye and being assertive. Their activities can be seen, for example, in evangelizing, (home) mission, ethics, working among students, social assistance, political and social problems, radio broadcasting and television, scientific and learned societies, book stores, and the distribution of reading materials.
When we take all this together it can be seen that in our society the movement presents itself on a very broad front.
The elderly among us are fascinated by it all. They are attracted by the appeals made to the good old beliefs, and they experience it as a relief in our breathless age that here, at least, powerful words are still spoken in public life to propagate the time-honoured tradition (i.e. in the area of morals and ethics).
But the evangelical movement is certainly not an organization that consists of only the elderly and veterans. Numerous younger people are affected in their experiential world by the appeal of the evangelical movement. Many younger people have become enthusiastic and show in their enthusiasm a great willingness to tackle specific activities, which in our needy world are by no means redundant. An informal, spontaneous atmosphere exists in which the boys and girls of our time readily submerge themselves. The evangelical movement is not a church. Even so, a church that is not blind to the facts will be unable to disregard or ignore it. And though it does not have any specific theological pretensions, anyone who studies this movement will readily notice that he has to turn theology inside out to get a true picture of it. As soon as we try to zero in on the evangelical movement, a great deal of church history and dogmatics will be released.
In this chapter we shall try to identify a few of the movement's characteristics and define them. We think that it would be beneficial if we approached our goal first of all in a historical fashion. Generally, the evangelical movement is not too interested in history. Neither does it undertake serious attempts to justify its activities and objectives by means of historical arguments. This is because it is almost entirely tuned in to present-day actualities.
The more reason for us to approach our subject from a historical angle. We think that within the evangelical movement various reactionary patterns can be found that challenge the Church and the misuses within the Church. If we pay attention to church history and particularly to the incidences that reveal those reactionary patterns, we shall discover that the evangelical movement has appropriated quite a few legacies from the past and has utilized them for its own purpose.
At this moment it is not of crucial importance whether the spokesmen of the movement are themselves aware of these legacies and accept them. Our purpose is to gain insight in the historical clarification of a few dominating motifs in evangelical thinking. We may expect that this approach will for us become more understandable at any rate.
'Radical' Reformation (16th Century)
Having settled on a historical approach, we can obviously go back into history a long way.2But to keep things in perspective, we have begun our historical approach in the sixteenth century. A time span of four hundred years ought to be ample for coming to the point. Besides, in that century we run into the characteristic composition of churches imprinted by the Great Reformation. Ever since that time these have been called Reformed churches.
Almost everybody knows that in the sixteenth century the Spirit of Christ accomplished a phenomenal restoration of the dilapidated Church. After the Church had for centuries been subjected to hierarchy (inclusive doctrinal authority) of the Roman sacramental church, obedience to the Holy Scripture was restored.
When we study the evangelical movement we discover, unmistakably, the good legacy of the Great Reformation. For then we clearly see a Protestant movement which in its history had most decisively taken up arms against the Roman church.3Furthermore, we recognize the legacy of the sixteenth century because of its strong emphasis on the absolute authority of the Bible and the inspiration and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures.
Yet, these observations are not the final answer. During the sixteenth century many other things happened that are of importance for our investigation. At that time there was a movement known as the 'radical reformation.' Because of the connotations that hide behind this designation, this movement merits attention in our quest. The radical reformation was a reaction not only against Roman Catholicism, but also against the outcome of the reformatorical activities of such men as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. According to many contemporaries their achievements were rather disappointing in that these great men had bogged down at the halfway mark and, allegedly, had accomplished only half of a reformation.
The charge levelled against them was that they (having barely begun with the reformation of church and society) had made compromises with various societal powers, which actions made it impossible for them to make a clean sweep of sundry remaining misuses in church and world.
It is a distinctive feature of this radical reformation that it opposed infant baptism with a vengeance. According to the adherents, infant baptism belonged to surviving popish misuses, which should have been cleared away together with the images, masses, and invocations or worshipping of saints. When Zwingli refused to accommodate these adherents in the year 1525, the so-called Anabaptist movement became a fact in Zurich. We should clearly understand that, ultimately, the cardinal issue was not a doctrinal conflict about the administration of one of the sacraments. The conflict about infant baptism was an exponent of a fundamental difference in perceiving the nature of the congregation of Christ on earth. Putting a finer point to it, we may say that the issue was about the form-of-being or structure (composition) and continuity of the congregation of Christ.
According to Anabaptist thinking the true congregation of Christ is constituted by a conscious faith, for there lies the reason for the congregation's existence as well as its continuity. The hallmark of the congregation is found in the choice made by faith and the decision of faith made by the individual Christian. When it comes to being a church at all, the characteristics of this church can be detected in the sphere of a Christian's sanctification of life.
Those who look at a congregation from this angle will likely draw some conclusions from this relative aspect. They will advocate rigorous disciplinary action (for the benefit and sanctification of the congregation) and rejection of infant baptism (let faith decide). Other consequences show themselves as rejection of the church offices and being powerless to cultivate positive relations with civil authorities.
What happened is that these people saw in the structure of the Church (recognizable by its offices) a remnant of the earlier medieval deformation. The word 'office' summons forth a power structure that sooner or later leads to clerical arrogance. The allegation was that the work of Holy Spirit is sooner thwarted than served by the offices. When the Holy Spirit is truly working in the hearts of God's children, they no longer need any offices. And so anyone can find within himself the words of God, while he is giving 'testimony' to his neighbour.
As far as the secular society and the civil authorities are concerned: the true people of God will never be able to feel at home with them. Reality shows that one is and remains a sojourner on this earth, and as a result he is unable to recognize the kingdom of God (or rediscover it) in the systems of authority among the nations of this world. Injustice, pride, pursuit of financial gain, human wisdom, and compromises have throughout the ages characterized all systems of authority.
When we, with reference to the sixteenth-century reactionary patters, want to summarize what we have found so far, we discover two dominant traits:
- Being a child of God does not depend on birth, but on spontaneous faith and personal conversion. That is why the continuity of the Church, throughout the ages, cannot be guaranteed by something like infant baptism. What infant baptism brings about is the institution of state churches, no more, no less.
- The attitude towards society is negative in principle. This negative attitude can then be objectified as follows:
- One is completely indifferent concerning society; a child of God is not interested in politics;
- One is aggressively opposed to society, since all the world lies within the grasp of the enemy and must therefore be recaptured for Christ in a militant conquest;
- A complete counter-culture is organized, in which the new life (also called 'kingdom of God') is embodied by the Spirit of God on this earth, in an uncompromising manner.
- One remains imperturbable and seeks recourse in the expectation of a counter-culture that has frequently been called the 'thousand-year realm.'
The reaction of Pietism (seventeenth century)
The age after the Great Reformation is to a high degree characterized by the reactionary movement of pietism. It presented itself in various forms and, as can be expected, took on the shadings of the country in which it functioned. We can speak about:
- Lutheran pietism, in Germany, and refer especially to men like Ph. J. Spener, and somewhat later Graf von Zinzendorf (born 1700) with his well-known Brethren Congregation at Herrnhut;
- Dutch pietism, also known to us as 'Second Reformation' with its prolific 'old writers'. Related to these movements is puritanism, which emerged in England and which from this quarter greatly influenced the 'Second Reformation.'
What these pietistic-oriented movements had in common was a second reformation of the church. There was a great outcry against the evils and half-heartedness in the large Protestant churches. These had become state churches and were characterized by much laxity, great tolerance, and insufferable situations in the administration of the sacraments.
Conspicuous was a worldly style of living, as well as intellectualism, barren orthodoxy in the preaching, a moribund faith, and the sterility of faith within society.
It is therefore understandable that the pietistic reaction strongly emphasized faith experience, sanctification of life, inward life, and personal religiosity. Individual experiences of salvation assumed a central position and began to function as the foundation for assurance of salvation. In addition to this there were other noteworthy matters such as: emphasis on the priesthood of all believers over against the rigidity of the church offices, as well as excessive scrupulousness (not to mention legalism) with reference to Christian life.
As one of the symptoms that accompanied this pietistic reaction, we note that it did not take long before a strong emphasis was put on the (local) congregation as the assembly of true believers over against the 'big church', i.e. the country-wide organization with its hierarchical structures of authority. To express this in terms of church law we may call this reaction independentism or congregationalism.
It can be readily understood that these views can easily slant into the direction of the conventicles (forming the nucleus of the truly converted) or else: mysticism.4
The mobilization of Methodism (Eighteenth century)
The Eighteenth century gives us an introduction to the huge movement of Methodism. Methodism emerged in the Church of England as a reactionary movement, and before long it had spread outside the church and beyond the boundaries of that country. No doubt there exists a tenable historical and objective relationship between Pietism and Methodism. But we find that the distinct differences between these two can be found in Methodism's strong emphasis on the missionary calling of the believers. Methodism has always been known for its missionary zeal, which by virtue of its strong appeal is focused on the (free) will of man: choose for Christ, now, this instant! And you must do it yourself.
In addition, it was notable from the very onset that Methodism was fully aware of the socially crippled and it was eager to come to grips with their lot. Another striking characteristic is its amazing organizational skills, which enabled it to initiate large projects by utilizing modern means of communication. As far as using the available means is concerned, Methodism was never known to be timid or self-conscious about it.
Within a relatively short time this movement developed into a huge reactionary movement that opposed the rigidity of the state church and the wrongs that were associated with it in social life. It coincided with the masses of emigrants that left Europe to seek their fortune in North America. For the American states it meant that they became acquainted with Protestantism mainly in its Puritan and Methodist manifestations, an important piece of information if one wants to know about the history and mentality of the churches in North America.
Major and minor revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries
From the eighteenth century on (more exactly: from 1734) America became the rallying area for the so-called revivalist movements: the Revivals. Each revival is characterized by its missionary zeal, Methodist ways of thinking, behaviour, ideals of sanctification, and an aggressive Christianity with a view to socially unacceptable situations. The spirit of the Revival travelled from America to Europe, and the latter continent witnessed the return, as it were, of exported pietism and Methodism, but now in revivalist garb. This meant that also for Europe the appearance of the revivalist movements had arrived.
These revivalist movements resembled those of the Seventeenth century because of their opposition to dry orthodoxy and rigid structure of the offices. Yet, one more component became visible in this development: a strong stand was taken against the spirit of human autonomy as it was embodied in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Nowadays we would say: they took a stand against the emerging secularization with its idealism of emancipation.
The revivalist movement has actually only one message, which is contained in its very name: sleepers awake! This means specifically: just take a good look at the perilous situation of Christian faith in this world. Open your eyes for the coming judgement of Christ. Get right with God. Improve the social ills. Do not squander your time on internal church quarrels, doctrinal arguments, and office disputes.
This should fairly reflect the general atmosphere surrounding the Revival. It comes near to us and our own history when we pay attention to one of its ramifications: i.e. the Swiss/French Réveil, which formed the context of the Secession and the Second Secession (1886). We think about some of its most prominent and noble representatives such as Groen van Prinsterer, Da Costa, De Clercq, Heldring. Over and again we are struck by the Réveil's opposition to the state church, its warm and spontaneous Christianity, practical Christian charity, missionary dedication and (occasional) chiliastic traits. It is further remarkable that it was not inclined (or barely so) to bring about at an actual reformation of the functions of the church offices.
It was from the international circle of this Reveil that in 1846 the initiative was taken for the foundation of the (first) Evangelical Alliance. Besides the mentioned spokesmen of the Réveil, there were well-known Dutch participants such as J.J. van Oosterzee (Utrecht) and A. Brummelkamp. Since 1854 Brummelkamp lived in Kampen and lectured at the Theological Seminary there. This illustrates the close relationship between the evangelical movement and our own church history.
Summary and survey
Admittedly, the foregoing historical sketch is rather incomplete. Much more could be said, in particular when we concentrate less on the Netherlands and pay closer attention to the typical developments in America. But where should one begin in that event, and where stop?
We could talk about dispensationalism, a distinct way of looking at history which distinguishes between various dispensations and which is linked to a specific future expectation. The anticipated restoration of Israel as a nation and its conversion to God often play a dominant role here.
We could also elaborate on denominationalism, a specific view of the church whereby the 'churches' are seen as religious groups (denominations) which operate independently. Each denomination forms some kind of specialty branch of the great, invisible church.
Further, we could speak about fundamentalism, a specific embodiment of the conviction that the Bible deals with the indisputable authority of God's Word. The great truths of the Bible are inherently fundamental for our faith and knowledge, including scientific knowledge. And thus we must stand in the breach for these truths.
Should we have had the opportunity to discuss all these phenomena (each of them merit a separate treatment) the following movements would still have to be introduced as well: Pentecostalism, the Charismatic movements, apologetics (a formal defence of Christian truths within the framework of evangelicalism), neo-conservatism, which at this time is making big inroads in the United States.
Within the context of our theme, we should especially trace the implication of emerging neo-evangelicalism as a reaction to a fundamentalist rigidity in the years before World War II, namely with reference to the use of the Holy Scriptures. We could enter into a discussion on Billy Graham making his appearance and his political choices, about the great Evangelistic congress of Lausanne (1974), and the rise of radical evangelicalism (i.e. 'radical' concerning the social ills, the armament race, and Third-world problems) with its clear overtures to the World Council of Churches and its strategies.
Yet, despite all this, we should at this moment confine ourselves to these brief descriptions. The intent and purpose of this historical sketch should be evident by now: we ought to see clearly that the evangelical movement of our days has taken along in its arsenal all sorts of elements from the reactionary movements of previous centuries and put them into action.
From the sixteenth century the movement took along the emphasis on personal choice of faith; no wonder we meet so many Baptists in the evangelical movement. From Pietism of the seventeenth century it borrowed the accentuation on faith experience and sanctification of life. From Methodism and the revivalist movements since the eighteenth century it cashed in on the legacy of missionary zeal, social concern, the massive and modern approaches of the mass rallies.
It should be apparent that these elements do not always occur in the same proportion or combinations. This is why we can see so many smaller and larger nuances within 'the' evangelical movement, not to say 'contradictions', so that it becomes problematic to speak about the evangelical movement.
E.W. van der Poll posits that we are presently able to distinguish between at least six main streams, which he designates with the terms:
- 'New Evangelicals'
- Ecumenical Evangelicals
- Radical Evangelicals.5
We are not so much concerned with the different nuances as we are with the major characteristics they have in common, as well as our position as Reformed people relative to them.
'Evangelical' and 'Reformed' in the Netherlands: recognition and distance
After our historical exploration, which actually consisted of a search for the most prominent Europeans who left us their legacy, we wish next to examine some of the characteristic convictions within the evangelical movement.
All of us have to deal with it, even in a relatively small Dutch society. We run into evangelical activities6wherever we go. And whenever this happens we feel ambivalent about it; both negative and positive feelings well up in us at the same time.
Unquestionably, much appreciation is found when it comes to respect for the Bible, the ongoing battle against the legislation of abortion and euthanasia, the struggle against an autonomous and materialistic world view, the protest against the eclectic cries of indignation in our political relationships, the approach to practical social aids, or taking seriously the issue of the creation doctrine of the Bible with reference to research in the natural sciences (contra-evolutionary theories) et cetera.
At the same time we cannot deny the impression that an awareness of distance does exist. We just mention a few obvious subjects: infant baptism, the church as institute equipped with offices, the position of faith experience in our lives, the method of dealing with Scripture. Then there is the chiliastic trend together with the often-questionable Israel cult, and the peculiar accents found in the doctrine about conversion and rebirth. We see as well unmistakable vagueness in the matter of election, and a still greater vagueness concerning the covenant, a degree of apathy towards the historic-redemptive character of Biblical history, as well as the sacraments of the Church.
At this time it is, of course, quite impossible to treat all these points here separately. At present we are only concerned with pointing out as well as tracking down a few typical lines of thought. One of these considerations we wish to pursue more extensively. What we have in mind is the way a specific doctrinal point concerning the work of the Holy Spirit manifests itself in various characteristic subunits. This seems to be a suitable point of departure for our purpose, which is to create some order in our observations regarding an apparently quite complex subject matter.
In this connection we make three remarks:
The Holy Spirit and creatureliness
In the thinking of evangelical spokesmen one can often notice tension between the Spirit's work of sanctification and God's created reality. During the centuries, this tension has proved to be the characteristic of a spiritualistic and/or Methodist way of thinking. What we mean by 'tension' here is that within the framework of thinking and speaking about the Holy Spirit, the creatureliness of man and world does not really get an opportunity to manifest itself in its created and defined framework The light of the Spirit is so intensive that the created reality does not become readily observable. This intensive light can have a blinding effect on eyes that desire to see creation. (*Transl. note) We would like to illustrate this (negative effect of Adams' theory) by giving two examples.
The model for counselling by the American J. Adams carries quite a bit of weight in evangelical circles, though it is subject to criticism there as well.
This model pays much attention to character faults, illnesses, and negative reaction patterns of people. But, in fact, little room is allowed for letting sickness be for what it is: sickness. Sickness is hastily interpreted as sin and is attributed to it. And so the fail-safe cure for all cases is conversion. Psychology or psychiatry does barely get any diagnostic or therapeutic input. Whoever pays a visit to the psychiatrist runs the dismal risk of being accused of wanting to run away from it all; in fact, he seeks to avoid a confrontation with Christ. The (spiritual) contrast of sin->conversion supplants here the (creaturely) contrast of sickness->healing. The Bible is subsequently turned into a collection of texts that will provide healing powers at all levels.
- With a view to political activities there is frequently a lack of real interest regarding the individual nature of political issues and problems. Although one does not wholly isolate oneself from what is happening, it is nonetheless an evil world out there where we have to voice our 'testimony' as loud as we possibly can.
The Holy Spirit and the Church
The work of the Holy Spirit and the institute of the Church are often at odds in the thinking of the evangelical movement. At the Lausanne Congress of 1974 the pronouncement was made that the Church is more the communion of God's people rather than an institute. Should such institutional factors as liturgy and offices play a role at all, then the explanation and legitimization of these factors are found exclusively in their expediency. For the criterion is ultimately the priesthood of all believers.
The offices are not respected as gifts from the exalted Christ or as instruments of the Holy Spirit. The work carried out in the church offices is not primarily the way of the Holy Spirit, so it is held. Why should the storm and fire of Pentecost be tamed by the structures of the Church? In this way of thinking neither are the sacraments of such overriding importance for the Christian community that this community cannot be thought of without them. Even without communion at the same Lord's Table we are able to find communion in faith with one another. The true people of God are able to find their way through our times even without infant baptism, or so the reasoning goes.
According to the view of these adherents, the Church is not constituted and continued by the covenant of God. Salvation is not determined by God's election. Grace is not distributed by the regular administration of the Word and the sacraments. Once the Spirit has entered into your life, you have salvation. And then you have everything you will need to pass on salvation and distribute it around you. Apparently, the service of God is not primarily a liturgical service (worshipping, praising, listening to the Word and the use of the sacraments).
The religious energy is discharged in faith activities. It is therefore not surprising that in the Constitution of the (second) Evangelical Alliance any article referring to the Church is missing. Even this denotes a striking difference between the prevailing views of 1846 and 1979.
The Holy Spirit and sanctification
There is on earth a communion of saints. But, as adherents of the evangelical movements have it, this communion is not the church, let alone a visible church. The communion of saints is the communion of those who find and recognize one another in their communal love for God and in their communal experience of faith. The communion is built up by means of religious persons. The central issue is here the religious experience of faith.
This faith experience is (for the adherents) the decisive factor in their taking on of small-scale or large-scale projects. All activities are ultimately carried out by this conviction. The way taken by the Holy Spirit is here the way of individually focused work. Even when there is a mass rally, the individual stands central. Communion of saints is generated by the individual.
It is further held that it is not the Church of the centuries, as a communion of saints that preceded your and my life histories (infant baptism). It is the Holy Spirit who must give us the joy and the faith experience, and by virtue of this will count us as added to the communion. In the testimony of faith the blessings of a Christian life will be extolled, supported by the wondrous joy of the faith experience.
The concept of 'church' is for the adherents useful in as far as it does not stand in the way of these issues but, rather, serves them. It should be noted that those who like to give their testimony about what God can do to man, do not begin with Abraham or Easter or the Reformation or with their baptism. They begin where their own experience started and then try to convey that rich experience to others.
We confine ourselves to these three illustrations. It would be tempting to reflect with one another on the relationship between Spirit and Bible (the coming into being, the comprehension, the use, and the defence of the Bible), but for the sake of clarity we limit ourselves to the three examples above.
The Reformed legacy and the evangelical appeal
We have now looked from several different angles at the evangelical movement. We made a speedy voyage through history and oriented ourselves concerning the thinking patterns that typify the evangelical movement. We have done this as people who stand in the Reformed tradition, as the saying goes. The next question is now directed to ourselves: What does it really mean "standing in the Reformed tradition"?
To make a long story short, a few instances should be highlighted.
- "Standing in the Reformed tradition" signifies that we thank God for the Reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. This Reformation meant the reinstatement of respect for the Bible as the Word of God. A new obedience emerged under the power of the Word of God.
At the same time we are thankful for the fact that during the century of the Great Reformation the new obedience became visible in the rehabilitation of the services rendered by the offices in the Church. We believe that at this very point the 'Reformed' and 'evangelical' roads started to diverge.
The great spokesmen of the Reformation refused to abandon church offices and infant baptism as though they would constitute some popish innovation. Together the people were growing in their united efforts for a restored doctrine of the offices. Rediscovered was God's will concerning the continued service of preaching, supervision and diaconate.
Once more they learned to listen to the language of the Scriptures regarding the covenant of God, and it was there that the defence was found against aggressive and rigorous Anabaptism, which demanded a totally different style of congregation, and therefore also rejected infant baptism.
They also confronted the humanists of those days, people who had many objections to the pretensions of the Roman Catholic authorities. Notwithstanding this, the Reformers did not make an affiance with them, for deep-running and fundamental differences persisted between the Reformed and the humanists. These differences related to the religious foundations of human life before God's face.
It is, in fact, the doctrine of election which causes the separation in this instance. This was apparent in Luther's conflict with Erasmus about so-called 'free' will, in Calvin's conflict with the humanists and libertines (Perrinists) in Geneva, as well as the Dutch conflict with Arminius and his predecessors.
The Reformed confessions give an extensive account of all these issues, and during the following centuries they upheld the doctrinal insights of the Reformed Churches in conformity with the Scriptures. Faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments (The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 7, 25-31). Assurance of faith is founded on the trustworthiness of God's covenantal promises and is not dependent on our experience of faith.
Sanctification is the work of Christ through His Holy Spirit (Lord's Day 32), and conversion is not a once-only happening but a lifelong struggle (Lord's Day 33).The office of ministry is a service instituted by Christ inasmuch as salvation comes to us always anew (i.e. must be administered). In the proclamation of the Word we are justified (Lord's Day 23, 31), but salvation is always in Christ and is never found in ourselves.
Grace is and remains 'free' grace: it is not stored within us as an asset that is available, but its continuity lies in God's faithfulness. Thus, man will always have to fall back onto God. Although justified by faith, we remain sinners in ourselves. That is why the work of Christ is accompanied by the church structures (office, administration of the Word and the sacraments), evidences of Christ's loving concern for us. The doctrine of free grace forms the background of the Reformed doctrine of the offices. We recognize therefore that Christ Himself instituted the apostolate, and by His Spirit established certain ordinances in the congregation, bestowed charismata, and had the apostles continually institute and propagate offices (The Belgic Confession, Article 30).
It is unthinkable that the Spirit of Christ would ever neglect the structure of offices. Every day again He builds the congregation, the 'body of Christ', and directs all His Spiritual gifts to that particular purpose, as Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 teach us. All this and much more besides has been returned to us in the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century.
- "Standing in the Reformed tradition" signifies for us as well that we are truly thankful for the return to the doctrine of the Reformed Church in the sixteenth century. In it we discern God's merciful hand stretched out over our ancestors and ourselves. Limiting ourselves to our Dutch history, we are thankful for the Secession of 1834. This was a return to good doctrine and church organization, despite all remaining weaknesses, shortcomings, narrow-mindedness, and parochialism.
The Secession was a strong protest against the tolerance of the state church and its arrogance. At the same time it broke away from the curative (or therapeutic) approach of the Réveil, the evangelical movement of those days. And so the Netherlands witnessed a restoration of the preaching (inclusive missionary preaching), catechism instruction, and the pastoral office.
In addition we are thankful for the restoration and rehabilitation of the services of office in the Second Secession (1886). Here we witness the struggle of Abraham Kuyper against the evangelical movement of his time: the men and women of home mission.
Though the temptation was great to keep on functioning within these sympathetic groups of Christians, Kuyper did see the necessity for the restoration of the services of the offices.7In the present century, too, and in the midst of all kinds of confusion and human weaknesses, we have received many good gifts from our Lord and Master. We were given the opportunity to defend the irrefutable authority of the Holy Scripture (1926), the doctrine of covenant and baptism (1944), and we opposed the anti-confessional and independentistic endeavours of 1967-1969.
This is what is meant by 'Reformed tradition'. Thus we can tell what God has done for us (cf. Ps 66:16 NIV). Thankfulness for this tradition is carried by the faith that Christ wants to build His Church through the Holy Spirit, and for that reason has given us offices, preaching, and sacraments.
- If what we have said so far can stand the test of truth, our Reformed tradition carries within itself a strong opposition to religious independentism, fragmentary and biblicistic use of the Bible, and a simplification of the world round about us. Anyone who is truly thankful for the gift of Christ in the work of such persons as: S.van Velzen, A. Kuyper, S. Greijdanus, K. Schilder, and P. Jongeling (just to limit ourselves to a few prominent leaders) will not be able to contradict the Reformed tradition. This will mean, in effect, that joining the track of the evangelical movement will bring about estrangement in regard to this Reformed tradition. If there is one thing that parents will have to explain to their children, it is the danger of estrangement.
We appreciate and share in the opposition of the evangelicals to a petrified state church mentality and the (literally) lethal powers of autonomous ideologies in society. But, apparently, the Reformed and the evangelicals are deeply divided about the way Christ wants to go in our present-day world.
We believe that Christ builds the institute of the Church as a building in the midst of this world, a house of the Spirit for the benefit of the parents and their children. Now, a house is not in motion. Acknowledging this, we do not believe that Christ makes His people run wild through this evil world, as impatient and militant action groups of ecstatic born-again people. In essence we stand here before the contradiction between the repose that the doctrine of grace offers and the restlessness of Methodism with its alluring appeal to the free, pious soul.
Yet, we do not wish to bid farewell to the evangelical movement on this note. We observed that in the evangelical movement itself can be found combined reactionary forces against a petrified church. This means as well that the evangelical movement, in different branches, holds up a mirror before the Church. Characteristic attributes of the evangelicals are quite frequently antagonistic to the typical defects of the Church.
In this connection we think about observable shortcomings in the area of a joyful faith life, missionary ardour, social concern, giving shape to Christian living, warmth in preaching and worship services. While evangelicals are in the forefront of coming to terms with modern phenomena and making use of high-tech developments, church members often waste their time by being involved in problems that stem from conservatism, fear, or plain rigidity.
What this can bring about is the threat of polarization and a self-perpetuating process involving the evangelical movement and the Church. This action gathers strength by pointing out evident shortcomings in the Church, and the Church reinforces her standpoint by launching principally founded polemics against this reaction. What happens is that an interaction occurs between 'activism' and 'ultra-dogmatism', impatience and laxity, superficial fundamentalism and fundamentalist bravado which, because of its protective armour, readily turns into conservative rigidity.
It is not an insurmountable challenge to prove that the evangelical movement and the Reformed confession do conflict on several points. But it is an altogether different matter trying to prove that the praxis of confessional-Reformed living would make any evangelical reaction redundant.
During the Middle-Ages the monks often functioned as the watchdogs of the Church. When they 'gave tongue' they put the accent on aspects that had been neglected by the established clergy. It is understandable, though, that this emphasis often led to one-sidedness or over-emphasis.
The Reformation no longer supported any monastic orders. In its place it proclaimed that the Reformed Church should constantly reform. When in this process of continuous reformation the will, the courage, the persistence, the insight, and the energy are failing and faltering, sooner or later the 'orders' will make their appearance again, albeit in protestant garb. How to disarm those orders and render them superfluous, can only be accomplished by those who are able to recognize their partial claim to truth and how to integrate it in the life of the Church. This makes a lot more sense, both inside and outside, than all kinds of high-flown polemics, which are just that.
That is why we end with a wise word (from the previous century): "Take away reality from the error and so take away its power."