I haven’t posted a “guest post” in a while, so here goes:
The PRC’s Imaginary Antithesis
I just received the latest issue of the PRC’s “The Reformed Perspective.” (Yes, to them, it’s just a perspective – one perspective among many Christian perspectives. Oh, they’ll say that it’s the only biblical perspective, but they won’t say that others who don’t hold to their perspective are not Christians.) In it is an excerpt from Homer Hoeksema’s essay entitled “The Three Marks of the Church”; particularly, the excerpt under the heading “The True And The False Church.” You’d think, especially with the PRC, that this article would come out in black and white terms; after all, they’re supposed to be ardent promoters of the “antithesis,” right?
“Thus, there is, in principle, an absolute cleavage between the true and the false church. We may notice, too, that our Confession of Faith speaks of this cleavage in such ‘either-or’ terms: the true church and the false church!”
Absolute cleavage! Either true or false! Okay!
But wait a minute. What’s that little phrase “in principle” doing in there? There’s an absolute cleavage “in principle”? As opposed to what – “in reality”? Am I just picking on a little phrase and making a big deal out of nothing?
No way. Check out what Hoeksema says after this:
“Further, there is between those two, the true church and the false church, a continual movement from the true toward the false. Churches, as everyone will realize, do not become completely false all at once. On the contrary, the completely false church, the church of which it cannot be said at all that Christ is present in it, is the product of a process. There is a gradual weaning away from the truth, a gradual increase of the power and influence of the lie and false doctrine, until finally a certain church becomes completely false. The practical result of this process of development is the situation in which the child of God finds in the midst of the world not merely two churches, a completely true church and a completely false church. Rather, speaking practically, there are between those two many gradations, so that it is possible and proper to speak of the purest, of varying degrees of less pure churches, and of the completely false.
Yet we must be cautioned that in this situation the child of God must conduct himself in accord with the principle of the absolute cleavage which we noted earlier. In the light of this principle, there is always either a movement toward the true church or a moving in the direction of the false church. The question, therefore, from a practical, spiritual point of view is, to put it bluntly, not this: can and may I “get away with” belonging to a church which is less pure, rather than to the purest manifestation of the body of Christ in the world? Such a question bespeaks deeply unspiritual attitude toward the holy, catholic church. But the question is: how and where must and can the believer seek and join himself to the true church?
As was suggested earlier, this question has become especially complicated since the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Not only are there all kinds of churches in the world which differ from one another in various natural respects: churches which differ as far as their national origin is concerned, which differ as to race and color, as to language, as to geographical location. Things of this kind, after all, do not affect the spiritual nature of the church. But there are also hundreds and even thousands of churches which differ as to the essentials: they differ as to doctrine, as to confession, as to government, as to worship and liturgy, as to the sacraments, as to discipline. And in that mass of different churches you find a vast difference of degree. There are those, of course, who openly repudiate the Scriptures and who have long ago abandoned the Word of God completely, who deny the very fundamentals of the faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection Christ, etc. Practically speaking, such churches present no problem for the believer and his church membership. The life of regeneration simply cannot exist there, cannot find fellowship and sustenance there. Why not? Because Christ is not there!
The problem, however, becomes more complicated when we confront the many different kinds of churches who claim to hold – and to a degree do hold – to what are called the fundamentals, but who are nevertheless divided as to many important doctrines. They are divided, for example, as to the truth of predestination, divided with respect to the atonement, divided with respect to the doctrine of the Lord’s return; or they may differ sharply with respect to the sacraments or the exercise of Christian discipline.”
Thus, in the end, when it all comes down to reality, there is no “absolute cleavage” between the true church and the false church. According to the PRC, there are certainly totally false churches that totally reject the fundamentals, but the “true churches” are somewhere in between the “totally true churches that only exist in principle but not in reality” and the totally false churches. And these churches that “to a degree do hold to what are called the fundamentals” are churches to which true Christians can belong. Hoeksema mentioned that “the atonement” was one of “the very fundamentals of the faith” in one paragraph, but he then goes on in the very next paragraph to say that there are these churches that “to a degree do hold to what are are called the fundamentals” that “are divided with respect to the atonement”! What kind of double-talk is that? Either the atonement is one of the very fundamentals of the faith or it isn’t! And what about predestination? That’s not a fundamental doctrine?
So again we see that when it all comes down to where the rubber meets the road, there is no true antithesis for the PRC. It’s all just Robbins-like bluster and bombast (see “The Trinity Review: Two-Faced Paper Tiger“). They believe that there are churches who deny biblical predestination and the biblical atonement that are one of those “in-between churches” in which there are actually believers and in which the “fundamentals” are being preached. Gag.
And what do denominations like the PRC say to people around the world regarding joining a local church? Well, if there’s no PRC in the area, they say that the people are commanded to join the “purest” church in the area, even if the choice is between an Arminian Baptist and a Roman Catholic church. They say that people should go to the Arminian Baptist church because it is “more pure” or has “more of the marks of the true church” than the Roman Catholic church. They tell them to join Synagogue of Satan rather than Mother of Synagogue of Satan. Other “Reformed” denominations such as the OPC and PCA say the same thing. Going to some “worship service” at some church building, even if the “church” denies efficacious atonement, is more important to them than whether or not pure doctrine is being taught there. In fact, I’ve heard some of these preachers say that it is important that when someone goes on a vacation that includes being away from the home church on Sunday, that they should find some kind of church wherever they’re vacationing and go there, no matter if the church disagrees on issues like the atonement! Why not just tell them to go visit a Church of Satan on their vacation? It’s the same thing! For some, it’s the whole “Sabbath-keeping” junk. They believe they’re really not “keeping the Sabbath” unless they go to some kind of worship service on Sunday at some kind of church, preferably the “most pure” church they can find, even if that church denies efficacious atonement.
Contrary to the dung of the PRC, OPC, PCA, and all others who believe like they do, Christians are either to worship with a TRUE CHURCH or with NO CHURCH. Those are the only two choices. And if there is no true church in the area, the Christian will not just worship with the “best he can find”; he will not worship with any church, and he will strive to look for a true church with whom he can worship, even if it means moving to another location.