Calvinism in the Marketplace

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing (disciplining) us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possessian, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:11–15).

So much of what I am, humanly speaking, is due to the work of the Reformed Fellowship, and for that I am extremely grateful. Of course, all that I am lowe to God Almighty, our heavenly Father through our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Yet we also believe and confess that God is pleased to use us as human instruments for His sovereign purposes. The Lord has used the Reformed Fellowship precisely in such a way in my own life.

As a young boy growing up on a small farm just southeast of Pella, Iowa, I loved to wander over the hills of our farm and to play my youthful games. But there were times when I would think about some of the things that I heard in the discussions of the adults around me. One statement or idea that I often heard was that we Christians had a Reformed “world and life view.” Another statement that was frequently repeated in my home was this, “Life is religion.” I didn’t understand everything that the statement entailed. But as I scanned our fields of corn, looked at our pigs and cows, or fed the chickens and gathered the eggs, I would think to myself, “Somehow all this ties in with God and His Word. This creation comes from God, and we Reformed Christians have a particular view of these things.” All of that I found both curious and exciting. I also found it to be terribly liberating.

As a young boy I grew up in a home committed to the Reformed faith. Our family received The Banner, but we also received the magazine Torch and Trumpet. In junior high and in high school I was always glad when it arrived, because I always looked through it, read some of the articles that attracted my attention, and looked at the occasional ads in the Torch and Trumpet. This was in the turbulent 1960s, a decade in which the United States went through the pain and agony of a war in Southeast Asia as well as through the racial and college turmoil back here in the States. I was impressed with the articles in the Torch and Trumpet that addressed theology and church life, to be sure, but there were also articles on evolution, politics, education, family life. I became acquainted with several names of church leaders who occasionally contributed articles or who were regular writers in those years. It was in one issue in the late 1960s when I read an article, “Is This the Bride Christ Bought?,” that alerted me to things occurring in the Christian Reformed Church that were disturbing, things that were neither Christian nor Reformed.

I was prompted to check out Ned Stonehouse’s biography of Machen from the library of Pella Christian High School and to read a significant portion of that book because of  an ad in The Outlook for Westminster Seminary which mentioned its founder, Dr. John Gresham Machen.

Machen impressed me then as one who was willing to fight for the Reformed faith against the erosion and degeneration of the Reformed faith that was occurring in his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Reading that book also planted in me the desire to study someday, DV, at Westminster Seminary, which the Lord enabled me to do in the years 1976–78. But the seed was planted by an ad I saw as a boy, an ad printed in The Outlook in the late 1960s. At the time, I knew from the masthead of the magazine, that the Reformed Fellowship was behind this magazine, and your stated purpose was the promotion of the Reformed faith as that faith was confessed in the Reformed confessions: the Three Forms of Unity but also the Westminster Standards. This impressed me very much. After all, if Calvinism is truly a world and life view, then it cannot be the private possession of Reformed believers in only one small denomination. Our faith is great and grand precisely because our God is that great and grand. God has used the Reformed Fellowship to help make me what I am today, by God’s grace. I am grateful.

Calvinism is a great and grand faith. I have chosen the title “Calvinism in the Marketplace” as the subject of my brief remarks to entice you somewhat. No, I am not an expert on economics, money management or investing. The marketplace that I have in mind tonight is the marketplace of ideas and beliefs. It is the public square i where religious worldviews meet and interact, where they debate one
another, and where-and this is most important-they claim the loyalties and the hearts of those who come to this public square, those
who come to the marketplace to think about, to reflect upon, to weigh in the balance those competing views of reality that claim the souls of men and grip the lives of people. Paul would call it “the present age” (v.12), the arena where Christians live and work, but also where people who are post-Christian, agnostic, Muslim, socialist, New-Ager, materialist and secularist live and work. No one in this marketplace is neutral, nor can they be neutral regarding the worldviews they encounter. This lack of neutrality stems from the fact that all of them have fallen short of the glory of God; they have all missed the mark; they have all rebelled against the God who made them in His image and whose reality is clearly evident in everything that He has made. And when I say “they” and “them,” I include us as well. “There is none who is righteous, no, not even one.”

Into this marketplace then comes a plethora of viewpoints. Just as nature hates a vacuum, so too the marketplace is never empty of religions and philosophies. There is never a shortage of ideas and worldviews. Christianity also contributes to this marketplace, but it may never present itself as if it were just another sampling in a buffet line. Nor may it offer itself with anything other than what it is: the way, the truth, and the life as spelled out in the Bible, the Word of God.

When I was studying in South Africa, I came to know a Presbyterian student from Brazil. She spoke to me once of her great disappointment in the kind of message that North American evangelical missionaries would bring to the non-Christian peoples of Brazil. She said that the message was often, “Believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, stop smoking and drinking, and be faithful in your marriage.” That was pretty much it. The grand message of the coming of Jesus Christ’s kingdom and the renewal of life in union with Him, was truncated. The good news was reduced to a message of individual salvation and the cleaning up of some bad personal habits. The rest of life remained undefined by the Word of God and thus still open to the competition of other viewpoints and worldviews. This is not Calvinism’s stance.

WHAT CALVINISM IS NOT

What is Calvinism? It is misunderstood if it is defined only as a confessional matter. Of course it certainly is a matter of right and proper confession. Romans 10:9 and 10 point out that we must believe in our heart and confess with our mouths what is true about God, about His Son Jesus Christ, what He has done for us in His crucifixion and in the resurrection, and that in this manner of true faith and open confession we are saved. But Romans lOis followed shortly by Romans 12, and there the faithful Apostle Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, for this is our reasonable service. The exhortation is founded upon the fact that this God has displayed to us wonderfully rich mercy. We offer ourselves: our bodies as well as our souls, in the homes and along the way, when we arise every morning, and when we lie down again at night, and during every moment between arising and retiring. Our bodies and souls we offer to God in the gates of our cities; that must embrace the life of the SChools and communities, our factories and our courtrooms, our drugstores and our farmers' markets. Thus the church as an institution is eager to confess the truth, but the truth remains the truth even outside the walls of the institutional church, in the marketplace.

WHAT CALVINISM IS

Calvinism as it is rightfully defined is nothing more or less than the Christian faith in its fullest description and broadest application. But what does this involve?

The sovereignty of God

When we read Isaiah 40. how can we fail to be impressed with the revelation of God's sovereign greatness? “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers...‘To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal? says the Holy One’” (Isaiah 40:22a,25). Creation and salvation are impossible without a sovereign God.

But this truth can never be understood in an abstract manner. Islam and Communism both have a sovereign deity. Allah is very sovereign. but in classic Islamic theology Allah is not personal. He is not the father of the savior, and his will is sovereign in an arbitrary and capricious way. Communism also believed in a sovereign deity, namely, historical process, inexorable synthesis of history that would, of course lead to the overthrow of the ruling classes and the emergence of the classless society of the workers’ paradise.

The All-Encompassing Reach of His Kingdom and Covenant

Listen to the message and the power of these words:

O clap your hands, all peoples: shout to God with the voice of joy. For the LORD Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth...For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham; for the shields of the earth belong to God (Psalm 47:1.2,7–9).

The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty...Thy throne is established from of old; Thou art from everlasting (Psalm 43:1a, 2).

The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad...The mountains melted like  wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth (Psalm 97: 1,5).

The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! (Psalm 99:1).

I will extol Thee, my God, O King; and I will bless Thy name forever and ever...All Thy works shall give thanks to Thee, O LORD, and Thy godly ones shall bless Thee. They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom, and talk of Thy power; to make known to the sons of men Thy mighty acts, and the glory of the majesty of Thy kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endures throughout all generations (Psalm 145:1,10–13).

This is but a sampling of the Scriptural revelation about the endurance and identity of the kingdom of God. Of course, this kingdom is not of this earth, i.e., it does not have its origins, its power or its drive from anywhere in this earth. It is from above; and as Klaas Schilder reminds us so powerfully in his delightful and thoughtful book, Christ and Culture, it is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who can and does motivate any truly Christian obedience and involvement in the life of this world.

The Pervasive Covenant

But along with the kingdom of God idea there is the Biblical revelation about the pervasiveness of the covenant. We cannot go into depth here. For a working definition of covenant, I think of it as a sovereignly instituted relationship of God with His people, a drawing to Himself of His own beloved people. He administers that relationship through duly appointed officers, bestowing blessings when we love and obey Him; but administers His discipline and covenant curses when there is rebellion and disobedience in His kingdom.

At Mount Sinai God gave the children of Israel, newly liberated slaves from Egypt, His covenant. So much of what is given to us in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and especially Deuteronomy in the words of this covenant, impresses us. The totality of life gets some address there. Proper worship, your language in every day life, rising in the presence of the elderly, treatment of widows and the fatherless, kindness to the strangers and aliens, just weights and measures, swearing honestly under oath, and so much more. Deuteronomy even addresses the question of the treatment of trees in time of war and what to do when you discover a bird’s nest fallen out of the tree! Is this not amazing? This is life in covenant with the King of the universe! Let us then not limit our vision about the covenant only to covenant children making their way to a local Christian schoo!. The covenant covers every area of life because the King of the creation wills it this way, for His greater glory and for our pleasure.

But all of this gets overshadowed if we abbreviate our Calvinism, if we truncate the message of Jesus Christ's lordship. Ephesians 2:8,9 shatters any temptation to follow the dead end route of Arminianism. But then Ephesians 2:10 reminds us why we have received grace. We are His workmanship, created for good works, zealous for good works, the kinds of thinking and doing that God prepared for us beforehand.

All of this is under attack in our world and even in our churches. For we are all, in this western world, the children of 1789. Abraham Kuyper calls this year, 1789, the turning point because of the cry of the French Revolution, “No God, no master!” Explicitly and implicitly in that cry was the rejection of Christianity and its beacon of light, the Word of God. Once again the King of the creation, God’s Son, was held up to scorn by the mobs, and to ridicule by the “cultured despisers of religion.” But creation hates vacuums, and if God and His Word are rejected, then the siren songs of other religions are heard. They may have a pleasant sound to the ear, but the musicians who sing and play these non-Christian melodies are utilizing a message that comes from the evil one himself. We cannot mute the message of the Gospel’s melody, for then the world will continue to sing in the devil’s choir, and our young people will start to hum their tunes.
All worldviews are imperial in the sense that they think of all of life, and they take in all of life. In Communism (Marxism), for example, there was the explicit desire to remodel the whole of societal and private life according to its principles. Soviet school children were taught that “Lenin is always with me.” How interesting it is that even in atheistic materialism there is the desire for someone greater than ourselves to be with us. In Islam as well, the goal is to have everyone and everything submit to Islamic law. Why should the mosque and the state be separate, say many Muslims. Worldviews, in the nature of the case, seek to permeate the whole universe of human life. Is this also true for the Reformed faith?

WHAT CALVINISM DOES

It was, I should like to think, a solid and hearty Calvinism that caused our parents and grandparents to sacrifice and work very hard to have Christian education available in day schools in so many communities. To be sure, many people are supporting Christian education for less than adequate reasons. In the area where I live, one person told me that the local Christian school is getting increasing numbers of requests for their children-non-Reformed, some even non-Christian-to attend the Christian school. Well, that can pose a problem, can it not? Whatever a school may say about admitting such children, the Christian school, if founded on Reformed principles, does such children no service ifthe Reformed character is stripped away, hidden, abbreviated or diluted. It is precisely through a robust Calvinism that we are equipping our children and young people to live in a world that hears the siren songs of so much that is cheap, tawdry, disgusting and increasingly antiChristian in a very blatant way.

I am more and more impressed with the insights of Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its implications for developing a rich Reformed worldview. Christ receives this title (Christ) because of His appointment by God and His anointing from the Spirit. Therefore He is uniquely our Prophet, High Priest and King. But all Christians share this office with Him wherever we are in this creation. The entire universe of life is the setting where we confess the truth about Christ and His gospel. We are always to offer up our lives zealously for good works. We are always called upon to battle against sin personally and communally, in the sure hope of reigning with Him forever. In Christ we regain the position that Adam held in Paradise, but with a difference: God’s good work, now begun in us, will be brought to completion on the day of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil. 1:6). This is no small message! But a truncated message cannot have any lasting influence.

WHAT CALVINISM DEMANDS

The burden I have is a concern, even a fear. I know that many of us have come through a period of time-certainly the last decade, but even longer for many-a period of great attention to matters of the institutional church. Of course, the struggle for the life and wellbeing of the church must be close to all of us. It was for people like John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper. If we claim that God is our Father, then we must have the church as our mother. Integrity of confession, faithfulness in practice and discipline-these may never be neglected by any person who says that he loves the Reformed faith.

But my concern centers around the fact that in our ecclesiastical battles, we may ever so subtly slip into a parochialism about the grand faith we confess; that we may turn so much inward that we forget that the Reformed faith addresses the totality of life with answers that arise out of God’s inspired and authoritative revelation. Each generation must claim the positive challenge that Calvinism can answer. Our youth must hear the positive challenge that is embodied in a statement that “life is religion.” They must see the vision of life that is daily lived coram Deo, “before the face of God.” They must sense the excitement of trying to apply Biblical principles in their homes, their schools, their places of business, and even in the politics of this nation. If we do not keep placing these things before the younger members of our churches, we will lose them.

To live in the mode of the antithesis—and that is something we do not fear—means that we will have to hold stubbornly to the Calvinist principles of God’s sovereignty, the pervasiveness of His kingdom, and the life-embracing nature of the covenant. Over a century and a half ago Groen van Prinsterer said it well in regards to the stubbornness of the Reformed standpoint, “In ons isolement ligt onze kracht” (in our isolation lies our strength). But he did not mean that we assume a ghetto mentality, a closeted approach to life, a flight away from the marketplace. What he meant by isolation was that we preserve pure and unstained the Reformed doctrines, principles and teachings. This alone will retain the saltiness of the salt. Otherwise it is good only to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Compromise of the Biblical truths or a watering down of them is not the way we may speak or think. Hendrik van Riessen writes the following in his marvelous book, The Society of the Future (p. 29):

The Christian ought to have the courage of his convictions and dare to affirm that a trusnmrthy conception of the past. present, and future can arise only within a Christian framework. The signs of the times are veritably discerned only by ‘a spiritual man’ (I Cor. 2). His discernment is not due to superior knowledge and wisdom....The difference is simply that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and nurtures unto wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 15:33). The Christian looks in the right direction because Christ has placed him in a position to see correctly. In spite of his own shortsightedness and reluctance, Christ continues to give him a proper perspective
The risk is that our recent history within the church struggle may cause us to live in negation. But one may never live in negation. We live first of all Pro Rege, “for the King,” and then against all that is wrong in church and society. Let me say that more sharply: it is precisely because we live “for the King," i.e., for King Jesus, that we address ourselves to the problems and the degeneration that has afflicted the churches, schools and other societal institutions around us But it is not the negation that consumes us, for at the end of the day, after we have denounced everything that is wrong, the question arises-and the younger people will ask it—“what else is there? Is Christianity only about criticism and being against things? What are we for?” How shall we answer this?

We are for a thoroughly Reformed church life. We make no apologies for our confessional stance. Schilder writes (Christ and Culture, p. 79):

...the administration of God’s Word does put the whole of life under promises and norms. And God has closely connected great promises with the official ministry of the Word, which is the administration of “the seed of regeneration” (Romans 10:17) ...From the Church, where the Spirit of Christ distributes the treasure of grace obtained by Him, the people of God have to pour out over the earth in all directions and unto all human activities, in order to proclaim over all this, and also to show in their own actions, the dominion of God, the Kingdom of heaven. From the Church the fire of obedience, the pure cultural glow included, must blaze forth all over the world. Take the Church away and the Kingdom of God becomes a nebulous affair. Put the Kingdom of God in the mist and the Christ is renounced, also in matters of culture. It is in the Church that Christ lets the Spirit procreate children of God. Only the Church, as the mother of believers, brings forth the “new” men who, also as far as cultural life is concerned, bear the burdens of the whole world.

Let us then keep working and writing out of love and concern for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot underestimate the importance of printing and leaving behind good written material. A book, an article, a magazine are the kinds of things that “keep on giving.” We never know where this printed material will land or who will pick it up and read it. May, by the grace of God, what we do now at the end of 20th century also serve to claim the minds of young. May all those who observe our efforts, receive the instruction and stimulation that will fire a “zeal for good works,” a devotion to genuine reformation in the church and in the marketplaces of the world.

This was an address given by the author to the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship, September 1998. Rev. Vander Hart teaches Old Testament at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, and writes our monthly Bible studies on Genesis.


 

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