In the first article on the antithesis we defined it and explained what it means. In the second article we pointed out that it exists between the church and the world, but especially within the church, and we explained that the deepest reason for the existence of the antithesis is God’s divine decree of sovereign, double predestination.
We now turn to the practical reality and the working out of the antithesis both in the church and regarding the world. Where does the antithesis come from? Why is it found in the church? How does it work? These questions we will answer in the light of 1 Corinthians 1, especially verses 22–24: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
What is the source of the antithesis? Paul in verse 23 teaches that it is Christ crucified. This answer embodies the entire gospel as taught in Scripture. Implied in the gospel is the fact of universal sin, both original and actual, as transgression of God’s law; implied is the guilt of sin, which makes all men liable to eternal punishment; implied is the deadness of sin, which means that all are hopelessly lost. Implied in the gospel is everything connected with who Christ is—the Son of God in human nature, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the perfectly sinless one. Implied is the entire work of Christ as the mediator sent by God to accomplish redemption through his substitutionary atonement for sin. Centrally his work was realized on the cross, on which he suffered to pay for the sins of his people and by which he earned their complete redemption. This is why Paul speaks of “Christ crucified.”
We hasten to add that Christ is an antithetical savior. Contrary to what most people believe and to what is taught in most churches today, Christ did not die for all people and earn salvation for everyone. The truth that Scripture clearly teaches is that he died only for some, which means that he did not die for others.
This Christ “we preach,” says Paul. The meaning of “preach” is to act as a herald or an announcer for someone else; we are all familiar with a press secretary who speaks for the president of the United States. Christ does not personally preach the gospel, for he is now in heaven, and does not deal directly with mankind. Rather, he speaks the word of the gospel through those whom he calls as his representatives. The content of the message is Christ’s and the authority and power of that message is Christ’s, but he speaks through the church, which he has commissioned to preach his word. This he does specifically through the office of the ministry, by which he proclaims his truth to the ends of the earth. He announces that in Christ crucified is full salvation, and in him only.
He does this so that wherever the preaching goes, all men, elect and reprobate, may be confronted with Christ crucified as the word of God. That the proclamation of the gospel goes to two kinds of people means that the preaching is a twofold word. It is not two different words, one for the elect and one for the reprobate, for the preaching cannot itself distinguish between the two. But there is one word of God with two aspects. The preaching is the call of God unto salvation through the command to repent and believe, which command comes to all who hear the gospel. The preaching is also the proclamation of the offense of the cross, which for those who refuse to obey the call of God means the word of condemnation and everlasting death.
This is why the preaching is so important, whether in the established church or on the mission field. Young people, you have almost surely encountered opposition to this idea from your friends who attend churches other than Protestant Reformed. Many churches do everything except preach the gospel. They have dramatic presentations, liturgical dancing, testimonies from members, praise bands, choirs, soloists, and any other form of entertainment they can think of. Faced with declining membership, even churches that have been historically Reformed increasingly do everything except preach in an effort to stem the tide of desertion. The more they attempt to fix the problem with bigger and more elaborate entertainment instead of the preaching, the worse it becomes. When their efforts only make the problem worse, they tinker with the little preaching—if it can even be called preaching—they have left. They speak a word of do-goodism, a social gospel that addresses and attempts to solve the problems of mankind; the church must turn the world upside down, healing all social and physical evils to form a universal organization that will sweep the world before it. Perhaps they resort to a health and wealth gospel, or to any of the other errors floating around today. They have the wisdom of the Greeks and want the signs of the Jews.
When none of their efforts are successful, they wonder why. The answer is simple, but they just don’t get it. More accurately, they do not want the real answer, the solution that God gives. You know that the answer is the preaching of his word. Perhaps you are criticized or even mocked as being old-fashioned in your worship practices. Who wants to sing a few psalms, have a really long prayer, and then listen to a dry and boring speech from a minister for an hour? Nap time!
Paul calls this “the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1: 20–21). In verse 22 he speaks of the wisdom of the Greeks. More than any other civilization in history, the Greeks were noted for their pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. In their highly developed culture they sought systems of truth and philosophy that would save the world and produce the true meaning of life and happiness. Theirs was the wisdom of man, to be gained through man’s understanding and ability and efforts. They exalted the power of reason, not the power of faith. To them the gospel was foolishness. The meaning of life is in Christ crucified? This is not rational. Through one man’s death the world is saved? Ridiculous!
The Jews are a bit different in that they look for a sign (v. 22). They expected Christ to do great and wonderful signs. They would have been happy if Christ would have moved mountains into the sea and made the moon and stars play hide and go seek, turning heaven and earth upside down. They would have been impressed and grateful if Christ would have broken the power of the hated Romans, fed the multitudes daily, healed every disease, and created a heaven on earth.
Yet the Greeks and the Jews were essentially the same. In different ways both exalted and glorified man, not God. Both sought self-salvation and self-gratification, the only option other than God’s salvation, for the principle of the antithesis is God or man, not both. They rejected Christ as he was preached, for the preaching brings into sharp focus the truth of God and confronts man with the question, What will you do with Christ? In rejecting him and his gospel, the Greeks rejected the foolishness of preaching, which is actually the wisdom of God, and the Jews stumbled over that gospel and fell headlong into destruction.
Today the situation is no different. The faithful church still preaches the same Christ crucified. The same antithetical operation of the word preached is at work, and the alternatives are the same. The same word as the wisdom and power of God (v. 24) is still active. The thesis still produces the antithesis. Thus we may say that the source of the antithesis, though it ultimately lies in sovereign, double predestination, is from the viewpoint of historical reality the twofold preaching of the wisdom of God. Because the word is preached there first, the antithesis is the sharpest and clearest in the church.
And it comes to manifestation wherever men come into contact with the foolishness of preaching. I once worked for a brilliant doctor, the inventor of the artificial joint replacements commonly used today. When one day the subject of religion arose, he told me point blank to my face,”I don’t need a savior. I can fix my own mistakes and save myself. And I don’t believe in that blood theology.” It made my blood run cold. There, young people, is the antithesis in a most clear and practical way.
Positively, we believe what Paul teaches. The wisdom of this world is really foolishness in God’s eyes. And what men consider to be the foolishness of preaching is really the wisdom of God. That wisdom prevails because it is the power of God against which none can stand. By that power and according to his wisdom, he effectively and irresistibly calls his elect people unto salvation and by that power and according to his wisdom he sends the reprobate to eternal damnation in the way of the foolishness of their own wisdom.
The antithesis stands!