From Dort to Today: A History of the Reformed Faith – The Protestant Reformed Churches (23)

The sole purpose of this series of articles has been to show that the truth maintained by our Churches today is the historic faith of the Church—particularly since the time of the Reformation.  It is a truth which has been passed down from the fathers of the Reformation to our own forebears in the Netherlands; a truth which was defended and developed by the fathers of Dort; a truth maintained through the controversies of 1924; a truth to which we are committed today.

It is the purpose of these concluding articles to show, in brief, that this is indeed the case.

Perhaps the key truth of the entire Protestant Reformation was the truth concerning the Holy Scriptures.  Rome had, through the dark ages of the centuries preceding the Reformation, succeeded in robbing the Church of God’s Word.  It had done this in many different ways.  It had piled on the top of Scripture the dusty and crusted traditions of the Church, insisting all the while that tradition was of equal authority with the Bible.  This insistence on the authority of tradition had made it possible for the Church of Rome to introduce into the theology of the faithful all kinds of false doctrines such as transubstantiation, worship of images, penance, meritorious value of good works, Mariolatry, etc.  Rome had robbed the saints of the Bible by putting the Scriptures into the hands of the clergy as their sole possession.  Rome insisted that the lay people could not and should not attempt to interpret the Scriptures—they were wholly unable to do this anyway.  Besides, they did not have to do this for they had an infallible pope who stood in apostolic connection with Peter, who spoke with an infallible voice on all matters of doctrine, and who could therefore do all the interpreting that had to be done.  All the people of the Church had to do was bend an ear to the pope, accept what he said, and do what he commanded.  All would then be well, and they would be assured of a place in heaven, even though it might not come until after a time spent in the cleansing fires of purgatory.

The Reformers protested vehemently against this entire view of Scripture.  To them belongs the blessed distinction of tearing the Bible out of the hands of the pope and his hierarchy and restoring it to the people of God.

But in doing so, they also insisted on the authority of Scripture and maintained that the Bible alone was the rule of faith and life.  In doing so, they tossed aside as worthless the arrogant claims of papal infallibility; they put tradition where it belonged—as worthy of our study and concern, but not as infallible truth; they gave back to believers their noble office—the office of prophet, priest and king under Christ; and pointed out that, by the Spirit of Christ which filled believers, the saints needed not that any should teach them.

In insisting that the Scriptures alone form the authoritative rule of faith and life, the Reformers saw very clearly that this could be done only when the Scriptures were maintained as the Word of God.  If the Scriptures are not God’s Word, it matters not whether people pay attention to them or not.  But if these same Scriptures come with the force of divine authority imposing itself upon our life, insisting that we believe the truths within the covers of this sacred book, demanding of us that we walk according to the precepts of God’s law, this can only be when the Scriptures are God’s Word and come with the authority of God Himself.  Hence (and this is the point) the Reformers saw so clearly that the authority of the Scriptures was inseparably connected with the truth of their infallibility.  Not the pope was infallible; Scripture was.  And Scripture was (and is) because God’s Word comes to us in it.

So deeply convinced of this absolute authority of Scripture were the Reformers that they bowed in absolute obedience to that Word.  They poured over its contents, searched without weariness its eternal truths, spent day and night in plunging into its depths, and bound their lives to this one sacred calling—the calling of faithfulness to God through His Word.  On behalf of this calling they were ready to surrender all they possessed and life itself should that be demanded of them.  No power on earth could swerve them from their allegiance to that Word.  In humility and reverence they bowed before it, submitting to its voice, being bound in their consciences and lives by its chains—which alone could (they knew) bring liberty.  Neither the armies of the Holy Roman Empire nor the bellowing threats of papal bulls could make them cower in fright when they stood upon the rock of that Word. Nothing could shake their resolve.  Nothing could daunt them in their purpose.  God’s Word was the breath they breathed, their strength in the battle, their comfort in distress, their hope for eternity.

This intense dedication (arising out of conviction as to its supreme authority) to Scripture continued in the Church in the years following the Reformation.  There is no other explanation that complete subjection to God’s Word which can explain the courage of believers when Rome bared her fangs and sent thousands to a martyr’s death.  And whenever the defense of the truth became “the marching orders” of the armies of God’s people, it was with the authority of Scripture that these noble warriors armed themselves.  This was true at Dort where the sole question was: Is the doctrine of Arminianism in harmony with the truth of God’s Word? This was true so many years later in the days of the Separation of 1834 when again the question was: Shall we be loyal to the State Church or to the Holy Scriptures? For both is impossible.  This was the state of affairs when our fathers came into this country, for they carried the Bible in their pockets and in their hearts.  And when the threat of modernism and worldliness was about to engulf them in the Reformed Church of America where they had found a haven, they did not hesitate to establish the Church where the truth of Scripture could be maintained.  And, when in 1924 doctrinal controversy swirled through the Church, the sole question that faced those who are the spiritual fathers of our own denomination was: Is common grace the truth of Scripture or is it not?

And so we come to today.

Only a quick glance about us will produce some startling conclusions with regard to this fundamental principle of the Reformation and its position in today’s Church.

The fact is, (and who can deny it?) that this truth is being callously ignored and denied.  It is striking and worthy of our note that within the last half decade all the major denominations of this country have faced the question of the infallibility of Scripture—and its corollary: the authority of God’s Word.  The list includes The Presbyterian Church US (Southern), The United Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), several important Baptist Churches including the huge Southern Baptist Church, the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church.  The question has come up because there have been men (most often in influential positions in the seminaries) who have denied this truth.  Errors have suddenly been found in the Bible by these men; errors which make Scripture untrustworthy and of dubious value in some measure.  The Scriptures are not maintained as infallible any longer, but rather as being only partially correct and therefore of limited authority.  And the Church is left to decide in what respect and to what extent this authority remains.

In the place of the authority of Scripture has come especially the authority of science.  Science teaches (so it is maintained) that the earth is very, very old; that man ascended (or descended) from lower parts of life to his present status; that the miracles could not possibly have happened, but must be explained as natural phenomena wrongly interpreted, or as a collection of myths which ancient people believed but which are no longer credible to modern man living in a scientific era.

And the authority of science is nothing else, of course, that the authority of man’s own mind which is set up above Scripture as possessing greater power and as being more trustworthy in explaining truth.

There is scarcely any denomination left today which has not, in greater or lesser degree accepted these errors.  And in doing so, they have denied the genius of the Reformation and lost their right to be called Reformation Churches.

It is here then first of all that we, as Protestant Reformed Churches make claim to maintaining the heritage of our fathers.  Trace the history of this doctrine back to Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin; and you will find that this precious truth of the authority of Scripture has always been the confession of the Church.

Let its words ring down the centuries of time…

“We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves.  For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

“We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God… It is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures…For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects…” Belgic Confession, Arts. V &VII.

We do not exaggerate when we insist that our Churches preserve this precious Reformation truth.

It remains for us to defend it with might and zeal in this time of apostasy.