Credibility Gaps

The term “credibility gap” is frequently used in the sphere of the federal government. In all likelihood, it originated here. In government, public officials often say they are going to do many important things but when all is said and done, they do very little, or the very opposite occurs. For example: The president many say that federal taxes will surely be lowered within a certain amount of time, but before long, you notice them increasing. When this happens, you have a credibility gap. You begin to doubt that the president will actually do what he says he will do. There is an obvious contradiction between what he says and what he does.

The term “credibility gap” is not limited only to governmental officials but can also be used in scrutinizing the life of a church and individuals within a church. It is in this sense that I speak of Credibility Gaps.

We, as Protestant Reformed people, have a favorite expression that doctrine and practice are one. If I were to posit the idea that what we need in our churches is a little more practical preaching, I am quite sure that better than half of the members of our churches would object and tell me we cannot divide the preaching into doctrinal and practical preaching because they are one. But it’s exactly at this point that we have a “credibility gap”. Not because the statement is false, but because we as individuals often do things, and say things which contradict the doctrines in which we believe.

In Old Testament history it was certainly true that doctrine and practice could not be separated. This is obvious when one studies the life of an Israelite. In his everyday life he sacrificed to the Lord, he feasted to the Lord, he gave a tenth of all he grew to the Lord along with the first fruits of his crops. And yet often throughout their history “credibility gaps” appear. They claim to love the Lord, they sacrifice to the Lord but we read often in the prophets that God despised their sacrifices because they were disobedient, because along with their Jehovah worship they worshipped all the heathen idols of the nations around them. At times the conditions were so bad that the heathen nations could very easily have considered Israel no different than themselves. They were commanded to trust in the Lord but instead they gathered large armies with many horses and chariots in the belief that they would win in their own strength.
In the New Testament, the apostle James concerns himself with “credibility gaps” within the early Christian church. He angrily condemns the early Christians for honoring persons in goodly apparel and being partial to those that are poorly dressed. God, says James, chose the poor of this world who were rich in faith but you, the brethren, despised these poor and respect the rich. So also he bitterly denounces those in the church who do not give to those that are needy, destitute and naked.

His battle cry against these and other conditions within the church is a resounding “faith without works is dead.” Faith and works are one. You cannot have one without the other. So also doctrine without practice is a dead doctrine. The two go hand in hand. And yet in the lives of the people of God there is often a very obvious, apparent separation between the two. So much so, that outsiders are often inclined to disbelieve our Christianity. As James says “brethren, these things ought not to be.”

As we carefully examine our doctrine and walk together we are sure to find many conflicts and outright contradictions. The “credibility gaps” in our lives are varied and many. Some of these that follow will apply to all of us. Some that you may discover in your own lives may not be included. It is possible that you may think that there are no “credibility gaps” in your life; in that case you should question your honesty in evaluating your life.

Scripture repeatedly tells us to trust in the Lord. This trust is a leaning on, or heavy reliance on the Lord. The Psalms are full of such expressions as “I have trusted in thy mercy . . .; Our fathers trusted in thee . . .; O God, I trust in thee . . .; I trusted in thee, O Lord . . .; Trust in the Lord and do thou good . . .; Blessed are they that put their trust in thee . . .”. Over and over again the Word of God tells us to trust in the Lord. We sing of this in our Sunday services. We hear it proclaimed to us from the pulpit. Yet, are we paying attention to what is being preached and what we are singing? Or are we busy thinking about our growing savings accounts, the expected pension we’ll receive when we retire, the insurance policy to be used in time of emergency. Often these things become thorns in our sides. They give us a false trust and a false sense of security.

When we claim to trust in the Lord but secretly perhaps, are filling barns with the goods of this world, is this not a very real “credibility gap”? God is not mocked. We may be able to hide our inner goals, desires, and our underlying trust from each other but never from God. I think a lot of us would feel much more comfortable if Scripture had said, “Trust mightily in your savings account and in your insurance policy.”

Paul, In Romans 12, exhorts the believers to be transformed by the renewing of your mind and not to be conformed to the world. John, in John 1:15, commands “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the father is not in him.” Christ, in His sermon on the mount proclaims, “No man can serve two masters . . .”. Repeatedly God’s Word directs us away from the world and its pleasures. Yet, we in our foolish unconcern for things spiritual, think we can have both the material things of this world and the spiritual joys of God’s kingdom. We try to look like the world by wearing their suggestive styles. We seek to be entertained by the world and its godless people. We do this not only in attending the theater but also in becoming emotionally involved in the growing sports craze that has spread throughout our country. Our ministers preach the antithesis and we go home, flip on our television sets and watch our favorite baseball team or football team in action. The old slogan “actions speak louder than words” condemns us and shows our hypocrisy.

In Psalm 101:5 we read, “whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off . . .”. One of the seven abominations that the Lord hates is “he that soweth discord among the brethren,” We believe that the Lord loves us, His people, and we say that because He loves us we love Him and also our fellow believers. However, if what we say is true, why does gossip, backbiting, and evil talk about others rampantly spread almost unchecked throughout our various congregations? This certainly is not Scripture’s idea of loving the brethren. Are we not listening when the minister preaches on the ninth commandment? Or are we too busy trying to determine who the minister might have in mind that we fail to apply God’s Word to ourselves.

When is the last time you went to visit someone who was in trouble, someone who was burdened with an overwhelming load? When was the last time you visited the sick or the bereaved to comfort them with God’s Word? How often in the past year have you shown your concern for someone else’s problems? We believe that we are one in the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ; and yet when one of these brethren experiences difficulties almost too overwhelming to bear, he is almost certain to feel deserted by his own at the very time he needs them most. We find that we are too busy to bother or we’ll do it tomorrow but, of course, tomorrow is even busier. And so it goes.

Our churches have organized many societies in order to help us study and discuss the Word of God. Would to God that Paul could say of all of us what he said of the Bereans, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Our Lord also exhorts us to “search the scriptures; for in them ye think, ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” Our societies help us search the scriptures and yet what a small percentage of us are faithful members. Our societies should swell with one hundred percent attendance but in many cases the very opposite is true; hardly enough members to keep meeting week after week. And parents, don’t expect your children to go to Young People’s Society if you do not attend adult societies. You do not even have a right to insist that they go to societies until you yourself become a faithful member. The same applies to reading our periodicals.

Often the Lord blesses us with special events during the week. To be able to attend a lecture by one of our capable ministers; a graduation program of one of our schools; a pre-synodical sermon; an inspirational meeting; or a Theological School Convocation exercise are blessings the Lord has given to strengthen us spiritually. And yet so often such special occasions are so poorly attended that those who sponsor such activities begin to doubt (there is that credibility gap) the spiritual strength of our people.

I am going to quote from a letter I received a while back. This person speaks about our Theological School Convocation exercise, “Prof. Hoeksema spoke on Psalm 119:162, ‘I rejoice at thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil.’ I am sure the speech was inspiring for the young men who are beginning another year of study. Attendance was very poor. One wonders if our seminary is appreciated. Are not our people filled with joy that seven young men are studying and preparing for the ministry in our churches? Don’t our people know that there is not another seminary in the world like the P.R. Seminary? That it very really is the last bastion of the “Reformed Truth’? Do not our people realize how merciful and gracious God really is to them? If things were right then our auditorium would have been much too small and the faculty and student body would have gotten a send-off which they and all in attendance would never forget. We thank the Lord for our seminary; it fills us with joy; but the apathy and lukewarmness (if one can even call it that) of our people makes us mourn.” Our unconcern in regard to matters as important as these should be one of great concern for each of us.

And now Young People, I commend you when you invite your boyfriend or girlfriend of another faith to worship with you in one of our churches. But, please don’t spoil it all, as I have seen done with my own eyes; by whispering, joking, laughing, or sleeping during the service. Your actions have one and only one result. Your date or steady will begin to disbelieve your sincerity. They will think if the preaching in your church means no more to you than that, why not come along with me to my church. Why do you make such a big fuss about which church you go to? Again, actions speak louder than words.

Why do we worry when scripture states “take no thought for tomorrow.” Why are our congregation meetings so poorly attended when we have important business from the Lord to deal with? Why are we tempted to cheat on our income tax returns? Why are we prone to tell little discreet lies to pull us out of something we would rather not do?

In the Church of God and in the life of each individual believer these “credibility gaps” ought not so to be. We should use every effort we can muster to overcome them and destroy them. You have faith; then show it by your works. If you have a living and abiding faith you will witness of it in your walk.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 31 No. 6 October 1971