The Article Archives
Topic: Christian Reformed Church
Like Scattered Sheep, Concern for Concerned Members
October 15, 1989
Rev. Steve Schlissel
(89/10/15, CRC in Thornapple Valley, MI) MTR# C0053.
Turn with me to Mat 9.
Itís good to speak to a friendly crowd for once. It was an interesting experience for me this morning. Actually we face more hostile people on the subway than there is mustered up at Calvin Seminary. But there was some concern expressed.
Iíll be reading from verse 35 through chapter 10.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. NIV Matthew 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: (then weíll skip to verse 5) 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! 26 So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 32 Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. 34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40 He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
May the God of grace add his blessing to our discussion of his Word tonight and apply it to our hearts.
If you have come tonight to participate in some liberal smashing Iím afraid Iím going to disappoint you. I had to do that quite often in print, and now in *** inaudible *** today to some extent to bring the sins that you seen in our denomination today to the attention of those who are in large measure responsible for *** inaudible *** stopping them. But I think it would be best if we subtitled this message My Concern for Concerned Members.
Let me preface my remarks by stating the obvious. What I am about to say has different degrees of relevance for different people, and I have no particular individuals in view. I believe it is fair, however, to state that in general concerned members have failed to generate the enthusiasm that must be present among those who plan to win the battle. But do we even recognize the urgency? The plain man in the church has difficulty understanding the nature of the struggle. He does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue, wrote Machen. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the church the modernist preacher affirms or how much or little of the biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession (or the Belgic, for example) and yet be separated by a great gulf from the true reformed faith. It is not that part is denied and the rest is affirmed, but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true. A thing that is useful may be useful for some and not for others. But a thing that is true remains true for all people and until the end of time. Thus, even with the very idea of truth itself on the line, so few people are willing to believe that God will come to the honor of his Word and his people. They are unwilling to believe in victory. *** the Machen quote appears to end here *** I think, then, perhaps my ministry is not much more than trying to persuade people of the truth of the hymns that they sing, when they sing that The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, God will not, he will not desert to his foes. And therefore, they can be confident to enter the battle. They can be confident to speak up for Jesus Christ. But it seems that no matter how desperate our situation, I donít know how to rally people to provoke them to action. We seem to be content to do everything except work constructively. It seems that even the bright heroes in the concerned movement are fighting with the self-conscious intention of losing this battle. But most donít even fight at all.
And perhaps we come at once upon my belief to be the basic problem among the so-called conservative element, i.e., the confessionally believing members of the Christian Reformed Church. In the CRC we have a segment that believes it must conform to the world. We have a larger segment that doesnít care whether we conform to the world or not, they just want to do their thing. And we have the concerned members who believe it shouldnít conform to the world, i.e., the CRC should not, but you never believe it will. Therefore, there is no body standing up to the visionaries saying, No! Weíre this far, and no further, or get out! Thereís nobody saying where it needs to be said, This is insufferable and unacceptable. This will not be tolerated, and we are going to take steps to see that this stops. What we have instead at meetings are hand-wringing ceremonies. O woe is me! Chest-pounders, nit-pickers, backward-glancers, and sometimes plain cowards. Now, of course, there are exceptions, and you know who you are. But where have all the soldiers gone? is the question we must ask in this day and age. It is a very pathetic thing to look to Steve Schlissel for the kind of leadership that he cannot provide. I cannot wage battle even if I was willing and able, all by myself, to bring the denomination where it belongs. There is no superman going to come on the scene. There is no other Savior than Jesus Christ. There will not be a parting of the heavens with Jesus descending to 2850 Kalamazoo to restore the wholeness of the denomination. Jesus Christ will work by his Spirit through wholeness of the denomination. Jesus Christ will work by his Spirit through you, you, and not the party sitting next to you, but you.
Looking sadly and longingly to the past. Now I know how memory of the past tends to become. Such sad longing on the part of concerned members is nothing less than ungodly and a mark of dead faith. Oh the way it used to be in the Christian Reformed Church. Oh the way it used to be. Well, wake up and smell the coffee, because it ainít that way no more! And we have to take a stand to get moving. If we can only be half as committed to the cause of Christ as those flakos are for the cause of the devil, they would have cause to hightail it and leave. But instead we look back and we lament. To be sure we must have a return to truth that we have received as it was given. But the truth is not a buried truth, it is a living truth, and itís to be found every new, and ever widening in its application for our day and the future. The Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism have not lost their relevance for our day, and we should be shouting *** inaudible *** for these documents and these truths, instead of looking back to the *** inaudible *** days in our imaginations. Our faith is a living faith, and more relevant in 1990 than 1857, but how do you show that? It is with the vitality of truth in mind that you must enter into battle for Godís Word today not with a mournful look to the past.
We look to that past not to dwell there, but to find deposits of wisdom and confidence as we see Godís sovereign outworking of his perfect plan which no one can thwart. Do you think that all the minds in the world together can come together for a second and take their counsel against God and against Godís Word and win? Do honestly believe that the cause of Christ will lose in this world? Where is your faith? The brothers of Joseph threw him into a pit and sold him in the vain hope of binding the Word and arresting the hand of God. Foolish brothers! You cannot thwart that plan of God. They may have thought by selling him they would avoid that day when they would bow down to him. Well, some time later they were found bowing down to him. Paul reminds us that the Word of God does change, though we may, but the one who fights in faith on the side of the Word cannot lose. And I must repeat this over again: When we are in the cause of Christ we are in a cause in which we cannot lose. And therefore we have every reason to fight and to speak up with boldness and authority.
Ahab put the prophet Micaiah in prison, and Ahab even disguised himself in a vain attempt to bind the Word of God concerning his impending doom. But the Scripture says, Someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor, and the Word of God was fulfilled. Jehoiachim sought to do away with Godís world by burning Jeremiahís prophecies three or four columns at a time. But the Word was fulfilled anyway, and so Jehoiachimís body was thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night.
When you throw away the Word of God, you throw away your protection. And that is the case with todayís visionaries. Theyíre protection is gone. The time is right for striking. They have forsaken the Word, and God is with us. How much more do we need than to have God with us? If that is the case, their protection is gone, and now is the opportunity to move in with the Word of God, locally and across the board.
During the wilderness wanderings some Israelites wanted to go back in time and history. In the book of Numbers, chapter 14, there is a recounting of this episode thatís most instructive for us. It says in verse 1:
1 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt? 4 And they said to each other, We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. (As is this denomination) 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them. 10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The LORD said to Moses, How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they. 13 Moses said to the LORD, then the Egyptians will hear about it!
And God relented. The Israelites tried to do away with the message by doing away with the messenger. When they heard that it was up to them, now, to move into the promised land as warriors, they said, Forget it! Weíre going to get eaten up. And they turned on Moses and Aaron ready to stone them. But God judged the murdering unbelievers and rewarded Joshua and Caleb according to their faith which was a future-oriented, God-believing faith. God will swallow them up. If I stand for the cause of Christ nothing can knock me down. And if I am knocked down, Iím knocked down only to be raised up to greater glory in Christ. What boldness belongs to those who believe! God cannot be made to serve in false temples, nor can his Word stay down. He will look out for his honor, just as when the Philistines captured the ark and put it in the temple of Dagon, the next morning those idols were down worshiping in a worship posture before Jehovah.
If we are confident of Godís sovereignty, if we are assured of Godís presence, if we are certain of a righteous cause we cannot fail. 1Sa 14, you find the son of king Saul, Jonathan, saying to his young armor-bearer,
Come, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side. But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, 3 among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod's brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD's priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left. 4 On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez, and the other Seneh. 5 One cliff stood to the north toward Micmash, the other to the south toward Geba. 6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. 7 Do all that you have in mind, his armor-bearer said. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul. 8 Jonathan said, Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, 'Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, 'Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands. 11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. Look! said the Philistines. The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in. 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson. So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel. 13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.
These stories are given to us in Scripture for a reason. They are not there for mere entertainment; they are there to show us that if we are confident of the sovereignty of God, confident of the presence of God, and confident that we are fighting in a righteous cause, we simply cannot lose. God will always honor his Word.
What I need to say then is that we must first decide if our desire is for reformation today and tomorrow we turn to the Word of God, or if our desire is for the halcyon days which may never have really been. What is it that you want? What is it that you expect to accomplish by being a concerned member? To seek peace or rest apart from the Lord and his Kingdom is wrong. We cannot divorce our lives from the will of God. Christís servants are those who do the will of God from the heart.
Isa tells us, That will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in me. Keeping our minds stayed on God means believing, and trusting, and obeying him. It means working for Godís kingdom, and knowing Godís power and peace, even in evil times, because we know the certainty of Godís victory. All this is important, because we live in very unsettled times. And remember, you live Dutton and Grand Rapids; I live in Brooklyn. You donít know what unsettled means until youíve been to Brooklyn. And theyíre likely to get worse. We must reckon with the fact that the times must get worse in order so that Godís judgment on false order may be accomplished. To be upset over the growing unrest and trouble is to say, in effect, that it was better yesterday than God will make it in due time. But if God makes all things work together for good for his Kingdom people, the future only brings us closer to his victory. We have a rest now in Christ and in doing the will of the Father, and weíll have the fullness of rest in time to come.
Donít you realize, brothers and sisters, we have always been in a war for the truth, since the entrance of sin into the world. Jesus Christ himself said, Think not that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Division will follow wherever people follow me. And this has been the case every time a stand for truth is taken. Therefore, no one needs to call for a holy war, one needs only to recognize where the battle is being fought, and then rise to the occasion by answer the call to arms of our Master in heaven who rides the white horse and whose name was Faithful and True, who has on his side this written, King of kings and Lord of lords, and saints follow him into battle. Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and when he saved us, when he saved me by his blood, when he saved you by his blood, he didnít consult you if you wanted to a volunteer in his army, he drafted you into his army. Youíre there! Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the forces of darkness in this present age. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God so that we may take our stand against the devilís schemes. And after we have done everything to stand. He doesnít say you might be in a war; he says, Buddy, wake up, youíre in it. Everyone, therefore, is a soldier. And heís either a courageous and a faithful soldier, or heís a coward or heís absent without leave. But everyone is a called to the struggle, the struggle not for mere tradition, but for biblical truth to have free reign among the people.
I find, parenthetically, that one of the problems that we face is evidenced in our commitment to tradition even above the Scriptures. I think this is seen in some of the arguments over the new Psalter Hymnal. The new Psalter Hymnal has many good features to it. It has many things that disturb many people. But of all the things that are true about the Psalter Hymnal the one that should disturb us the most is that the language of Scripture was altered to meet the feminist agenda. That is really the only point that we need to be concerned with aside from the changes in the confessions in the back. But in the psalter section, some people spend so much time, they waste some much time, saying, Well, I donít like the arrangement of this hymn, and I donít like the changing of that hymn. Thatís irrelevant! These are mere matters of taste and opinion. Look at what they altered! The Scriptures have been changed when they were set to song. And this is not appropriate and not acceptable. We should not be fighting for tradition for itís own sake, but for the Word of God. Then we can have Godís blessing.
Now in our text from Matthew, Christ inducts and ordains his apostles into his call. You see, once again the Word of God is apparently bound. At the time Jesus Christ came to the earth, the Jewish leaders of the covenant people had built what was called a fence around the Torah. And this fence was an oral tradition, and additional set of commandments that they said if people obey these, then theyíll never get a chance to disobey the central commandments which were considered to be 613. But the effect of this fence around the Torah was to seal off the common people from the waters of life. It served to keep the Word *** inaudible *** from the common people. They said you had to be an expert to understand the Scripture, and hopeless for you to think that you can. And so many common people gave up in despair and knew very little of the Bible. As Jesus went about preaching he looked at the spiritual condition of the people of Israel and he had compassion on them. And here is where I strongly disagree with those who are getting ready to jump ship. Now, each of us will have to give an account of himself to God, and you may answer to God in your conscience, and I will have to answer in mine. But when I look at the condition of the Christian Reformed Church spiritually and I see that itís in the doldrums, itís in a spiritual decline, itís in a blandness in many places. There are so many unregenerate people up occupying the pews, and the pulpits. And I say to myself, This is a place for ministering the Word of God. This is a place that needs Christ. They need to hear the truth. And from what I hear from the strongest people in the Christian Reformed Church, they say *** inaudible ***. Jesusí answer to the spiritual decline of the common people was not flight, it was work. When he looked around and he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Only a man with sawdust above his shoulders could miss the fact that the CRC is in a spiritual tailspin, but so was that nation at the time of our Lord. Jesus Christ looked at that crowd and said, Look at all the work we need to do! The conservative element in the CRC, well, sometimes, frankly, I think they donít even see the problem. I think that many live in ivory towers of their own. And so the weak little fallacy that theyíve built in their own imaginations about what the Christian Reformed Church is and it doesnít resemble the ministry of Christ in those points.
Look at the people. A time of spiritual decline means a time for reformation. And reformation never comes through hand-wringing and moaning. It comes through work. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers, laborers, not mourners and hand-wringersóworkers into his harvest field. There is nothing that prevents me from teaching freely all that I believe to be true in the Christian Reformed Church today, all I believe to be biblical and confessional. If there is such a spiritual decline in the CRC, if we maintain there is, doesnít that make this a time of unprecedented opportunity for scriptural ministry, for publication, for education? Shouldnít we be lighting candles far more often than we are found muttering against the darkness? Donít tell me, please, what we canít do. Tell me what we can do, but we are not doing. Have you ever notices the world-famous passage that we read from Mat 9 which is used at how many missions conferences: Pray of the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest fields.? Have you ever noticed that has absolutely nothing to do with foreign missions, that the context in which it was uttered regarded the work to be done among the covenant people? Pray that God would raise up men of God to work with the covenant people who have been robbed of the Scriptures, robbed of salvation by the people who have made the flock twice as much the sons of heaven that they were. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the Christian Reformed Church. The harvest he spoke of was from among the covenant people. He had plenty to say against the corrupt leaders, Iíll tell you. In Mat 23 Jesus was never shy about that.
But you may not become so consumed with their false teaching so as to pull back on your own calling. Remember what happened in Mat 15 as people gave Jesus a certain report. In verse 12 he says, ĎDo you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?í Ha, ha. Thatís why I tell you itís so funny when we hear the visionaries today say that Paul and Jesus really wanted the liberation of women, he wanted them ordained to office, but they didnít want to upset the apple cart. Can anything be further from the scriptural account than Jesus afraid of the opinions of men? That is hysterical! Or the apostles afraid to preach the truth because of what the social order might say? Itís ludicrous! The scribes and Pharisees were offended when they heard this. Jesus just said, ĎEvery plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.í
This is a very important passage for us. And it brings us to the point where we need to understand what our actions must always have in view. I want you to understand tonight what it means to be a Christian. What is the goal of Christian witness? It is not always the salvation of people or the salvation of the denomination necessarily. Although thatís what we intend. It may be that our Christian witness actually accelerates and hardens unbelief, so that it may be seen to be truly unbelief. Any time you take a stand for Christ, any time you witness the Word of Christ, one of two effects will come if you are faithful. Either the person or the institution to which you are witnessing will become softer and more conformed to the image of God, or itíll become harder and more opposed to God. And weíre not always going to get the one, weíll sometimes get the other. But that is truly service to Christ. And he will sustain us in that service as well. The holy apostle said that this was the self-conscious ministry in 2Co at the 2nd chapter. Paul uses these words in verse 14: 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Who is sufficient in themselves? No one. I canít count the number of folks who have communicated to me their disgust with goings-on in their local church, but have not communicated the same to their council. Be very careful now, Iím not saying that it has not been communicated by someone in their church, Iím saying they themselves have not done it. And if the council is intractable and will not be spoken to why arenít you pursuing Classis, why arenít you pursuing Synod? It simply will not do to say, It wonít work. Even some activists have confessed to me that they are only going through the motions to clear their conscience before they schedule their departure. But you must do your share. If every single person here tonight really believed that we are in a crisis and acted accordingly, was given guidance and help to write an overture, how to make an appeal, every single person, you would soon find great change.
Messiahís has made definite progress in bringing our Classis to an awareness of Howard Van Tilís errors. Many people would say, Why bother? Itís hopeless. But I donít believe that. I believe itís hopeful. And we are not naÔve. Nevertheless we found out the mind of Classis, and we wouldnít have found it out unless we asked for advice. We came to the Classis this way: We said, This is what Howard Van Til has said. This is what the Bible says. What does the Classis think we should do? And the issue was discussed, and Classis adopted a position regarding some statement by Van Til. We wrote a four page document and submitted it, and got it on the agenda, and it was read by all the delegates, and they adopted a statement that said that we affirm that Noah and his family, all except Noah and his family perished in the flood. In other words, itís necessary to believe this to be considered orthodox or Christian Reformed. And then they said to me, You can write to Howard Van Til and tell him that this is the position of the Classis, and ask him if he agrees with this statement. But the letter will come from you, Steve Schlissel and your council. And I said, Fine. And I wrote to Van Til, and he wrote us a four page letter in response, but he didnít have the courtesy to mail it to me, he sent it to the Stated Clerk, which was just fine. Now, everyone in Classis received it, and everyone in Classis sees that Howard Van Til said, Not I will reconsider my opinion, but he said to Classis, You reconsider your opinion, and butt out of science because itís not your business. But of course, he didnít agree to butt out of theology.
Now, let me tell you, this interaction had done a lot to help the people in our Classis understand the issue that wouldnít have happened if we had done nothing. The Banner received a mere handful of letters about the February 6 infidel issue. Did you write anything to The Banner? Did you tell them how dare you publish a story that the Bible is not the Word of God? How dare you! How many hundreds of people are here tonight? How many said anything about it? And youíre concerned members.
But more, Iím not looking to get bogged down in machinations with ecclesiastical politics at this point. Iím more interested in exploring the truth expressed by Cassius and shaped by Julius Caesar when he said, The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Therefore we must ask, What are we doing? If we do nothing, our concern may be less in the cause of truth than using the Christian Reformed Church as a whipping boy for our own personal failures. If your concern for truth like Christís begins with God Word and reaches to the sheep, what are you doing to feed them and rescue them? Begin at home. Are your children trained by you in the way that they should go? They are your children. Do you share your living faith with your children? Do you warn your children, explain to them the circumstances of this perilous age in which we live?
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Take them through the Scripture and open up the Word of God, not just read it, but explain it to them. As their parents do you do this at home? Do you protect them from the pernicious effects of television? Do you make clear to them their place in the Kingdom, our present struggles, Christís certain victory? Do you inculcate the sense of victory and warriorship that they have been drafted into in the covenant? Or, do you leave that to the church? Do you leave that to the Christian school? The family is the first and the most important church and school. And in my experience in the CRC, I have been hurt time and again, been visiting the homes of elders whose children speak with shocking disrespect. Yet they are met with no loving guidance or discipline. I see men who have given up. Plainly, there are conservative people who have bought the basic lie of centralization. They have given heed to the seduction by imagining that their Christian responsibility is limited to handing their children over to Christian institutions. But the answer to a liberal bureaucracy cannot be a conservative bureaucracy. It must be family-centeredness. There is nothing in the Christian Reformed Church preventing you from instructing your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But many who have failed to do that rally up to the conservative bandwagon to blame the Christian Reformed Church. If they look at their children, and their failure to their children is their responsibility and not that of the CRC. Thereís a standing indictment of most concerned membersí meetings: Where are your children at these meetings? Why are they not here? If they have moved away, are they concerned where they are? Have you instructed them? Now, Iím not looking to lay more guilt on you, and the Lord knows there are many circumstances that are just grievous when weíve done everything we can. But certainly we can detect a general trend of irresponsibility for our own families, giving them up to the local Christian school and the church and say, Here you are, I give my kids to you, you educate them. No way! Youíre responsible. I see this in the Christian school problems that are occurring in Grand Rapids, where theyíre teaching evolution in the schools, and one woman in particular canít get more than five parents interested to go over there and say anything.
Further, there is nothing preventing you from starting small study groups to examine, to learn the gorgeous scriptural doctrines contained in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, or the Canons of Dort. Little groups like this springing up around the denomination will have a greater impact in the long run than perhaps any other single ministry.
And elders, may I speak to you a word tonight? Have you ever prepared or obtained a detailed Bible study about todayís issues and gone house-to-house to instruct your flock in the truth? Do you think itís enough for you to come to a concerned members meeting once or twice or three times a year when the real business of eldership is on a day-to-day basis? I say this not with division in mind toward the flock, but with edification and fortification. This was Paulís method, that he tells us in Act 20:26, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Heís speaking to elders. You keep watch over that flock. Do they understand the issues? Whoís going to teach them? Not me! Iím in Brooklyn. And I tell you, Iím teaching my people these issues. I go over them, and I open up the Bible, and I say, This is what the Bible means. And the other elders in our church are teaching them, This is what the Bible says, and this the issue that we face today. Are you doing that? Are you going house-to-house? Mrs. Van Dyke, Iím here tonight to speak to your family about these issues. I appreciate that you let me come over. And you sit down, and you open up the Scriptures and you say, This is what weíre facing. And teach them one-on-one. Oh, thereís nothing we can do! Thereís nothing we can do! Thereís too much going on. Iíve gone house-to-house proclaiming the whole will of God. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Do you warn your congregation night and day with tears? You must never stop warning, you elders. Sure itís easier to complain, but why not try fulfilling your office? Whoís preventing you from fulfilling your calling? There is no rule in the Christian Reformed Church that keeps you from this. Yet I fear that despite the fact that God requires all elders to be apt to teach, you find it more convenient to leave all that to the minister. Is not such home-to-home visitation consistent with the charge that was given to you in Godís name at your ordination to be faithful watchmen over the house of God, taking heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained? Elders, donít wait for the sheep to come to you; shepherds must go to the sheep, and you are the shepherds. You must teach them. Everyone can do something. Everyone is able to do something. We can get together and sponsor speakers. We can compile reading lists for people. We can give gift subscriptions to The Renewal, The Outlook, or The Mandate. The circulation of these papers is shamefully low. Is there no one who will underwrite a distribution to consistories, not for The Mandate, because thatís given out anyway, but one of these other two. Everyone can disciple new believers, which brings up the subject of outreach. And again we find it easier to exert all our efforts in trying to rebuild the past rather than building for the future.
Why donít you, all of us, tonight pray to God and ask him to use you in the conversion of souls? Letís do something really revolutionary. Letís seek to bring people to Christ. Then disciple them in the true reformed faith. Nothing prevents us from doing thisóand much more. But hand-wringing is easier than spawning new churches. But I would much rather see a conservative church instead of jumping ship, seek to start eleven new churches themselves, twenty new churches. Start a new Classis. Start any new Classis. There arenít enough conservative ministers? Call a few more. By hook or by hook (I canít say, by crook) there are ways to do it.
Well, perhaps by the grace of God weíll be less prone to rest in mere lugubrious lament if would occasionally meditate upon the words of our Savior in our text tonight, Mat 10. Weíve already noted that the concern is for the covenant people. Now, in our ministry to them I suggest that we must follow his plan for reformation. You want a reformation? Then follow what Jesus Christ says in Mat 10.
Number one, he gave them authority. Recognize your authority as a Christian. Recognize that under God as heirs of the promises you have authority to speak to people in the name of Christ, not in your own name, and not for your own glory, but for the glory of God. And so Paul could say, We have authority not for tearing you down but for building you up. Are you using your authority to build anyone up directly?
Number two, in verse 11, Jesus tells us to seek peace. He says, 11 ĎWhatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person thereÖ. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting.í He says, Donít look for trouble. Try to find peace, try to find people who will cooperate with you. As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. But sometimes youíll have to offend people. Try to remember that you represent the cause of Godís truth. And as you represent the cause of Godís truth the insults that fall upon you are really intended for God, and so you must not take them personally.
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Öand you say, People hate me. And I donít want to be hated. Well, no one wants to be hated. But remember, itís not you they hate, itís your master, if youíre being faithful. And so you should pray for them, and pity them, that theyíre so blind that they canít see the truth of God that you represent. Seek peace, but donít be naÔve. In verse 17, Jesus said, 17 ĎBe on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councilsí and seminaries, I mean and flog you in their synagogues. Öyou will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.í, etc.
Jesus says, Be on your guard, and we must recognize that confrontation is inevitable, and therefore I urge you, I think maybe for the umpteenth time, that we must strategize as conservatives. We must take the time to come together and say, What is our plan? What is our goal? Itís getting to the point where what little hair I have left is going to be pulled out if we canít say, Letís have a plan of action! We believe the truth, we believe God, but we still, Woe is me, is more constructive in our minds. I tell you, those guys at Eastern Ave. are on the dime every chance they get. Letís have another meeting of how weíre going to get women elders. Thatís our goal, thatís our objective, letís see how weíre going to do it. They plan and they strategize. And what do conservatives do? Oh, theyíre planning how to have women elders! Letís have a meeting to talk about that theyíre planning to have women elders. Letís have a meeting to about when weíre going to have a meeting to talk about their meeting about having women elders. And so years go by, and we accomplish absolutely nothing. I say that we must have meetings before Classis of all people who are even possibly those who would be considered in the cause of Godís truth, that they may figure out a way to strategize on the floor and coordinate their efforts. This is the fourth in all. It can be done. At Classis thereís one minister whoís a good man, but he doesnít like to speak up, so I said, If you speak up Iíll give you $10. He spoke up. Bribery in the cause of truth is no vice. *** inaudible *** I didnít give him the money. But he did speak.
I think that itís imperative that before the Synod of 1990 and every Synod thereafter there be a sponsorship of a breakfast or a luncheon for elders, forget the ministers. Have all the elder delegates and give them a good time and acquaint them with the issues before they go on the floor. They are the hope at this point in the Christian Reformed Church. They have avoided four years of indoctrination into anti-dogmatics. They have been raised very often in homes that truly believe and continue to believe, and they say that whatís right is right, whatís wrong is wrong, and there is no gray, thereís black and white in this antithetical world that sin has entered into. And we ought to get them and instruct them as to how they should proceed on the floor. Instead the elders come from around North America, they donít know what to do, theyíre scared, many of them have never been there before, and they just follow whatever the closest dominie does. Well, youíre concernedódo something! Do something. Coordinate, plan, strategize, be on your guard, Jesus says. Then Jesus Christ said that sometimes the opposition will be intense. He said at verse 21, 21 ĎBrother will betray brother to death, and a father his child;í A manís enemies will be those of his own household, he says, on occasion. And thatís extremely painful.
Brothers and sisters, Iím not asking you to be involved in this fight so that you can close your eyes to the realities of being committed to the cause of Christ, but that your eyes be opened to this, and you will suffer. Inevitably you will suffer. In a church thatís as tight family-wise as the Christian Reformed Church, it is impossible for you to take a stand without hurting someone close to you. Someone somewhere along the line is going to disagree with you and perhaps violently. And you may be iced. You may lose your job. There may be a cost to your commitment. There was a cost to Christís commitment on our behalf. The opposition will be intense and be very painful. You must be prepared for it, but you must not be afraid of it. Jesus said in verse 23, Ď be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be í. God has covenanted to care for his soldiers.
Some day if this message finds its mark, and by the grace of God may it do so, and you stand up for the truth, and you suffer for the truth, you will find new meaning in Heidelberg question 26 and 28 that perhaps youíve only known theoretically, but you will know it experientially when you say, I believe that God controls all things. As the Creator I trust him so much that I donít doubt that heíll turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this veil of tears. Youíll be able to say with a true experience that we can be patient when things go against us, and have confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved. And therefore speak up at council meetings. Speak up at Classis. Speak up at Synodówith the Bible in your hand. Donít be intimidated by these arrogant elitists who say that you canít use the Scriptures, that you donít understand the Scriptures. God gave you the Scriptures; theyíre yours. Donít let them steal them from you by default. They donít *** inaudible ***, the Bible needs no defense. The Bible defends itself; the Bible explains itself. I do not dread the pagans, I do not dread the infidels, I do not dread skepticsóI dread the false compromising and conciliatory modern teaching in our churches. Thatís the only thing that is to be dreaded. Let the Bible only be kept separate. As it is, it needs no defense. Britannia needs no bulwarks. And why? Because God has separated her by the sea. That is her strength and her defense. The Scripture needs no bulwarks.
The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and whoever heard of defending the sword? Itís the enemy who will advise you to put the sword into the sheath, a beautiful sheath with all kinds of metaphysical and artistic ornamentation. The sword must be unsheathed, for the sword is aggressive. Oh, that we may know the Scripture, not merely as the sword of the Spirit, but that sword, although it may inflict pain, is meant for healing. Oh, that we may know it as the gentle dew and rain that comes down from heaven and returns not thither, but prospereth in the things which God pleases. My wish for each one of you and for myself is this: that when the time comes if we must part, even from this mere book, we may be able to say, This has been Godís message to me in the Scripture: I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you. Take the Scripture out of its sheath and use it. Insist that meetings be biblical. Insist that the issues before be addressed, and be specific about them. We must, therefore be bold as Christ said in verse 32, 32 ĎWhoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.í Always acknowledge Christ in his Word, and remember verse 33 in your next consistory meeting when youíre hesitation whether you should say something. Remember at Classis when an issue comes up. If you deny me, I will deny you. These are the words of your Lord.
And then, Love Christ above all as he says in verse 34ff, 37 ĎAnyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of meí. Now, thatís what it really comes down to, and thatís what we have to ask ourselves: Is this self-consciously in each of us, a call to God in truth, the concern for our Masterís honor? If it is, what price could you pay thatís too much? If your mother and father turn you out, sobeit. If that which is dearest to you in this life, so what? The missionary Jim Elliot said, He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. You give up nothing for Christ that he will not give you back a hundred-fold in this life and in the life to come eternally. Thereís nothing *** inaudible *** that he does not notice. And this commitment has always been the cost of covenant love. From the time of the giving of the law when Moses said, Whoever is on the Lordís side, come to me. And the Levites rallied to him and went to and fro throughout the camp and killed their own families because they were idolaters. And God in Deu 33 blesses the families of the Levites, and says, Because they guarded his covenant I will set them apart as my tribe and my people.
Christ must be our first love, always our first love. Consider carefully sometime this week his message to the first church that he spoke to in Revelation, chap 2:1-5. Consider that in your own private devotions. The obedience of the apostles to Christís command given here in this chapter, and later expanded to go beyond Israelís boarders resulted in the greatest reformation in history. The gospel began to convert the nations. This was done largely through the work of a man who called himself the chief of sinners. You know, it may be here that we find another reason for our lethargy. Do we all understand how profoundly wicked we are in ourselves? Do we understand how sinful we are in the sight of our holy God? Have we come to know the grace of Jesus Christ, the cost of our salvation, the bloody death of the Son of God, in which God crushed, it says in Isa 53, crushed his Son. It pleased the Lord to bruise him, to put him to grief, in order that we might be saved. Why? Because the sins that we bore were so great that nothing but that death could save us. In view of his salvation, what could Jesus Christ require of us that we could say is too much?
You see, Paul said, My very life means nothing to me. Donít cry and try to hold me back from going to Jerusalem. Iím not only ready to suffer, but to die if Christ demands that of me. Are you of the same mind? I think that you need also to have that sense of being the chief of sinners. Since the time of his great work there has been a struggle and a battle for truth nearly every step of the way.
During the Middle Ages the people were again harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus Christ in his great compassion raised up a man who did more than wring his hands and say, Arenít things terrible?óthough they were. He raised up a man who once again had a profound sense of his own sin. And through that sense of sin that the Word of God made a more profound and thoroughly liberating experience of the Saviorís grace, and the deepest conviction that the truth of the gospel must be broadcast and the sheep must be fedóon the eve of All Souls Day in 1517, Martin Luther, professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg earnestly proposed a disputation on the theology of indulgences in the form of 95 theses nailed to the north door of the Catholic Church. Within two weeks every academic center was stirred by the action of an obscure Augustinian monk. Luther desired to make clear to everyone three simple truths. One, that justification is by grace through faith alone. Revolutionary teaching! Number two, that every believer had direct access to God. Again, shocking! And thirdly, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for faith and life. And for all his attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, the false church, and there were manyóand my strong language pales before Lutherísófor all his attacks on the Roman church, Lutherís success came about because of his concern to build up and feed the sheep. I am for all things for the sake of the elect. For 25 years he translated Scripture, he wrote books, he debated, he authored catechisms, he approved confessions with a heartfelt desire to put the ordinary Christian on his theological feet. In other words, what Martin Luther did was work the field of his master. Someone was praying for, Send workers into your harvest field, and Martin Luther was raised up, and he brought others to work the harvest field, to work it, to work it, to work it, to teach, to preach, to help, to carry burdens.
This is the direction, this is the direction which the concerned members must take. How desperately we need the strength of Lutherís convictions in our day, his experience of grace, his selfless holy boldness. Now is the time. So you want a reformation. Have you counted the cost? I tell you this: that the struggle we are engaged in is in fact a winnable war. We are in only one segment of the Christian Reformed Church with one obscure fellow from Brooklyn speaking to you, and hundreds of people have come out to hear what we might do. You are not alone. There are hundreds and thousands of people around North America who are also in the same cause, but we need direction, we need planning, we need commitment. This is a winnable war, but it will not be won by moaning. It will be won through concerted pleading prayer to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into the harvest field. Just a few workers who can in truth sing the words of Lutherís great hymn. Give us just a few workers who really believe A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doeth seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide our striving would be losing. Were not the right man on our side, the man of Godís own choosing. Dost ask who that may be. Christ Jesus it is he, Lord Sabbaoth his name. From age to age the same, and he must win the battle. Though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us. We will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him. That word above earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth. The Spirit and its gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill. Godís truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.
I only want to teach people to believe what this means.