Particularly the older members of our churches must have noticed that a gradual change has come about in the contents of the preaching from our pulpits.
It must be understood that I am not writing about the quality of the sermons. If I were to compare the quality of the sermons delivered from our pulpits in the Past and now I would readily admit that today the students have had more training and are better equipped when they enter into the ministry than years ago when they were hastily sent out because of the demand for supply in the newly organized churches.
In times past, especially in the early years of our existence, a strong emphasis was laid upon doctrine. Some sermons that were preached were strictly doctrinal. In its defense, it was said that doctrinal preaching is practical, and if the preaching is sound, the application must naturally follow.
As a result, the congregation could give evidence of their knowledge of the truth. When I was teaching a class in essentials I told the young people to ask their parents which was a better view of God’s counsel, the supra-lapsarian or the infra-lapsarian view? The next week they all without exception had an answer. In those days members of the church could get themselves involved in a discussion on mediate and immediate regeneration. Another topic that came up for discussion at times was whether our justification before God is from eternity or is strictly limited to time. In fact, a very heated discussion could arise on the question whether the basis for baptizing infants lies in a conditional promise or in presumptive regeneration. Not to mention that fact that a great controversy was waged on the subjects of common grace and the general, well-meant offer of salvation.
When I entered the ministry a very considerate elder urged me not to preach on God’s covenant until I was sure that I understood the truth of the covenant, since, in his opinion, there were almost as many covenant views as there were theologians. Let me add, how thankful we can be for the covenant view that has been developed in our churches in the past.
In many homes were found books of theologians like Calvin, Comrie, Brakel, Smytegeld, Kuyper, Bavinck, Ten Hoor, Berkhof and Hoeksema. There were men and women who were also well acquainted with the writings of some of these men. From my own experience, I know that they could refer to book, chapter and page of a certain author when some question had come up about his teachings.
Much of this must be ascribed to the type of preaching that was heard in those days.
You will all agree with me, that times have changed, and along with the times the preaching also has changed. Today, even in treating the Heidelberg Catechism (in which virtually every point of doctrine is referred to), the preaching is not as doctrinal as in times past. Far more emphasis is laid upon practical living, and particularly on family life.
The question arises, is this advancement or retrogression?
To a great extent this difference can be ascribed to the times in which we live.
In the early years of our existence the members of our churches were almost entirely first or second generation Dutch, who carried along with them the differences that still existed between the sons and daughters of the Secession (1834), and those of the Doleantie (1836) (Separation under Dr. A. Kuyper).
These issues no longer hold great importance for us.
Besides that, the radio and television have made inroads into our homes and lives. It is so much easier to hear the news and seek our entertainment from the radio or see it on the television screen. Moreover, our lives have become much more involved. We are so busy. Even with all our modern conveniences we are busier than ever. Even our children complain of being too busy to study their catechism lessons. Family life is on the way out. We hardly find a quiet time to read our church papers, much less to make a study of doctrinal matters.
Add to that the fact that our scope of life has expanded tremendously. Our forefathers sought isolation when they arrived in this new country. And to an extent they also attained it. Besides, life was much simpler. Now world affairs have their influence upon our country, but also the affairs of our country press in upon our lives. Even the church world is confronted with serious problems concerning daily living. Questions like divorce and remarriage, abortion, the “rights” of homosexuals, women in office, and the constant threat to our Christian Schools demand our attention. We as Christians live in threatening times even in the business world.
All of this is bound to have its effect upon the pulpit. As we are confronted with all the problems round about us we seek the guidance of the Scriptures, so that the pulpit naturally becomes involved in our daily affairs.
Yet the question may well be raised, has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction? Are we becoming so involved in our daily living that we are losing sight of the fundamentals, the sound doctrine upon which our lives must be founded? Have we lost our appetite for the Truth whereby we grow into spiritually strong saints in Christ? Have we become anemic Christians who can no longer digest solid foods, but must content ourselves with milk fed to babes?
Well may we ask ourselves in how far are we as individuals weaned away from sound doctrine. Are we still eager to know more about the fundamental truths revealed to us in the Scriptures? Do we attend church with a hunger for the Word, that we may grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Are we eager to become stalwart soldiers of Christ, to fight the battle of faith in an evil world even unto the end? How much time do we devote in reading sound, edifying literature? Do we put forth a serious effort to be instructed in sound doctrine from the pulpit? Do we instruct our children in the Truth that is most precious to us?
As young people we must realize that our worship on Sunday is not a time to sit down and relax. You probably see persons who settled down as if they are all ready to take a much needed nap. But that is nothing short of dishonoring to our God. That is sin. In our public worship we are not passive, but intensely, even eagerly active. We come to glorify God by singing His praises, worshiping in prayer and supplication and listening to His instruction from His holy Word. Only by active participation can we expect to receive His blessing.
The apostle Paul warns, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Eph. 4:14,15)
Let us maintain sound doctrinal preaching along with the practical application to our daily lives.
(to be continued)