Many within the church — ministers included — have become dissatisfied with the church where they are members. All kinds of battles take place within the church leading to bitterness and often separation between minister and congregation. This appears to be especially true in the URCNA. It took strong-willed leaders to awaken people to the errors that they saw around them. Unfortunately, once the battles were fought and a new federation begun, instead of rejoicing in the newfound peace, some of the strong-willed leaders continued to look for battles to fight. What were once considered small fires were fanned until they consumed the church.
The task of the church is certainly polemic as well as theological. The church must defend the truth and militate against error! This is so for two reasons. First of all, the truth cannot be clearly understood unless it is stated negatively as well as positively. Dr. Machen wrote: “One cannot preach the truth without explaining what the truth is not as well as what it is. One cannot paint white letters on a white board, but one must paint white on black and black on white, if the letters are to stand out.”
Second, polemics is needed because of the ceaseless assaults that are being made on the Gospel and the Church. The Church is called to defend the Gospel. The idea that truth vindicates itself and needs no defense is contradicted by experience and opposed to the plain teaching of the Bible. The Church is summoned by Paul to “refuse the factious man after a first and second admonition” (Titus 3:10). By factious man, Paul meant the heretic and the schismatic whose false teachings lead to division within the church. The church must expose the false teacher and then expel him. Jude exhorts his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Discussion of different issues is not only permissible; it is the solemn duty of the Church. Without controversy there is compromise and through compromise the Church will perish. Debate does not harm the church as long as the truth is spoken in love. Jude summons not only the officers in the Church but all the members of the church to this task. It is only the apostate church or the lukewarm church that avoids doctrinal controversy. If we do not contend for the faith, we shall lose it to our own destruction, and to that of our children.
Having said that, it seems today we are looking for heretics not only under every rock but also behind every pulpit. I am a lurker of several email lists in which different topics are debated. Usually most debates begin with the phrase “in my humble opinion.” It doesn’t take very long before the opinion is no longer all that humble and the writer becomes insistent that his opinion is the only correct one.
Then, because no one ever changes anyone’s minds on these lists, the argument diverts to name-calling and accusing on another of violating the ninth commandment.
It is one thing to defend the faith against someone who denies the Trinity or the virgin birth—that certainly is necessary. But it is quite another to fight to the finish which Bible translation or song book is acceptable in the pews. Unfortunately, too often our battles deal with the latter than the former. We seem to be so afraid of one an-other—lest we disagree on some minor point, that we forget the business of the church.
When we do so, we are no longer defending the faith. Instead, we have become stuck defending our hobby horse, our particular shade of truth, and our opinions of nonessential matters. Maybe it is time for us to remember our true calling and, in light of that calling, the business of the church. In general, the business of the church is to serve and glorify God her Designer and Christ her Founder. God declares as much in Isaiah 43:21 where He says, “The people whom I have formed for Myself will declare My praise.”
The business of the Church, first of all, is the study of the Word of God—especially by those who are called and equipped for this task. Ministers must study the Word of God in order to bring the glorious truth therein to the flock the Lord entrusted to them. Bible Study leaders must open up the Bible and teach the truths contained therein rather than their own opinions.
Paul declares that the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Many church members fail to attach proper significance to this theological phase of the work of the Church. They skip the evening worship service, complain about catechism sermons, and do not attend Bible Studies offered by their church. They forget that without the preaching and teaching of the glorious truths of Scripture, the believer would not have a clear understanding of the Bible. There will be no spiritual growth in the church that does not seek to (and insist upon) the teaching and preaching of the Holy Scriptures.
A second responsibility of the Church is the training of ministers and missionaries. Jesus taught us to pray that the laborers be sent forth into His harvest. This implies the proper preparation of the laborers. Paul wrote to Timothy: “And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” All Christians are to participate in this work. Without the prayers and financial support of the people in the pews, our seminaries would have to close their doors; our children and grandchildren would not be able to say: “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace.”
There must also be a building up of the saints in faith. Even though we confess that we believe in the communion of saints, all too often we find ourselves criticizing members within our own body of believers. This should not be so! The Christian walk in this secular world is difficult enough without brothers and sisters in Christ tearing each other apart. Let us rather, commend one another to Christ, building one another up, encouraging one another in our desire to serve the One who redeemed us with His own precious blood. If the Second Person of the Trinity could stoop down from the glory of heaven to suffer the shame of the cross in order that we might be forgiven, certainly we need to forgive one another.
The spiritual training of the covenant youth is yet a fourth responsibility of the Church. Elders must insist that the doctrines of the reformed faith are being taught to our covenant youth. Parents must insist that their children learn the lessons assigned by their teachers. Many churches today have forsaken the teaching of the doctrines of the church. Parents do not check the homework of their children and even allow their children to skip catechism. And then they wonder why their children do not have a love for the confessions and why they wander away from the church. Jesus instructed Peter not only to tend His sheep, but also to feed His lambs. If we refuse to teach those whom the Lord has entrusted to us, we are neglecting a major task of the church!
When we keep these goals in mind, the church will be able to be a light in the community, a witness to those who are hungering and thirsting for truth. Rather than contending for our position on a certain matter, let us contend for the faith that the Church of Jesus Christ gives testimony of Him. Instead of jumping into a debate about decorations in the church or wine or grape juice, let us first consider if we can say with Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Rev. Wybren Oord is the Pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He also serves as the editor of The Outlook.