In 1946, two years after the church Liberation of 1944, Prof Dr Klaas Schilder published the following meditation (here translated).[i] It has a context. The ‘synodical’ churches, which had suspended and deposed faithful people because they refused to teach Kuyper’s ‘presumptive regeneration’ theory, found that the faithful people they had ‘kicked out’ of the church, and who had formed the Reformed Churches (Liberated), now withdrew themselves (and their financial support) from the various organisations linked to the synodical churches. That was not to the synodicals’ liking, so they hastened to try and assure the Liberated people that if they could not serve the Lord together in church they could still work together in the various church-related organisations. For example, in politics the synodicals had an Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) which now saw some of its best supporters, who had Liberated themselves, leaving. So they sent messengers (or messages), saying, please continue to work together with us against our common enemy: the worldly powers in society. The Liberated people refused and set up their ‘own’ political party (GPV) and other reformed institutions (news media, schools, etc.) saying that, if they could not be one in the true faith and sit around the same Holy Supper table, they could not serve the Lord together on the basis of that same Truth in these various organisations.
Although the following meditation may be seen against this background, the Biblical principles, of course, apply everywhere and for all times.
No coalition in denial of antithesis
What will they answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD has founded Zion (Isaiah 14:32).
The Christianity of our time speaks out of two sides of its mouth.
There are those who first cause a schism between brothers of one and the same house. Yet when they find the fallout more serious than they expected, and want to go into damage control, they repeat the old story of needing to unite against their common enemy of that time. One hears them then say that Ephraim should not afflict Judah, nor Judah afflict Ephraim, but that they should jointly oppose their common enemy, the Philistines.
But a little later, messengers from elsewhere come to them—they’re also ‘religious’, you see—and ask if together they can form a coalition against an even greater enemy that threatens to swallow them all up.
It’s to become an ecumenical coalition against a perceived common enemy that’s on the way—or could be on the way. That common enemy is sometimes nothing more than a figment of their twisted reasoning; and the same can be said for the ‘religiosity’ of the party seeking to form a coalition with them against the common enemy.
Clearly define who the friend and enemy is? No way. Sometimes the ones promoting a coalition are the ‘Philistines’ themselves. Philistines also have their ‘religion’, you know. And those who first sought an alliance with Manasseh or with Judah to attack the Philistines are now prepared to listen to the overture of the Philistines to form an alliance against an even bigger and even more dangerous adversary. Both proposals are inspired more by a fancy of who the real enemy is than a clearly identified enemy. Both the principle questions: “What is friendship (in our confession)?” as well as the other: “What is enmity (in our confession)?” remain unanswered.
Both proposals appeal to the hearers.
But whoever places them next to each other finds that they contradict each other. And finds that those in favour cannot, on the basis of Scriptural principles, seriously mean what they say.
Isaiah’s ears have also had to endure these contradictory lies.
He gives a picture of the Messianic era, and says that in that time of salvation, Ephraim’s zeal will have subsided; that Ephraim (the 10-tribes-kingdom) will no longer oppress Judah (the two-tribes-kingdom), nor vice versa will Judah oppress Ephraim (11:13). On the contrary, they will be allies and together attack the Philistines (vs. 13), not to mention other enemies. One can be sure that this ‘eschatological’ sermon of Isaiah was received with tears of joy; he had probably never been so much ‘in vogue’ as when he said such delightful words, that dear man of God … oh yes.
But what was the reality at that time?
This: within the ten tribes, Ephraim was snapping at Manasseh, and Manasseh was snarling at Ephraim (9:20). But don’t see it as too much of a tragedy because, when it happens to suit them, the feuding within the ten tribes is forgotten, and as parties who first opposed each other they will, from time to time, form an alliance against another party that they both dislike intensely. Such a party is Judah, the two-tribes-kingdom. They even have no qualms about forming an alliance with a heathen nation in order, together, to attack Judah, the two-tribes-kingdom, their former brother-nation. First Pekah, king of the ten-tribes-kingdom, had struck the army of Ahaz, king of the two-tribes empire, with devastating effect (2 Chronicles 28: 5, 6). And later, this same Pekah of the ten-tribes-kingdom will form a coalition with Rezin, the king of Syria, in other words with the heathens, to destroy the two-tribes-kingdom (7: 1). Syria then forms an alliance with Ephraim to jointly attack Judah.
That was in the days of Ahaz.
Yes, things had not gone so well for Judah in Ahaz’ days. In the north, the ten-tribes-kingdom held discussions based on political expediency. Today: Manasseh and Ephraim opposing each other. Tomorrow: each other’s allies against a brother (Judah), of whom both are jealous. Today: an anthem about how good it is when Abraham’s children form a united front – you hear it said from the pulpit and sung after the meeting – against the heathens: the Syrians northward, the Philistines southward. And tomorrow: if the situation happens to lend itself, a coalition with such a heathen nation against a brother nation…
But the Spirit of the LORD does not sit still. In Ahaz’ turbulent days He moves the heart and mind and sentences of Isaiah, his prophet. And in the year when Ahaz dies, this Isaiah, he alone, attacks the Philistines. With the sword? Oh no; he has no sword. Or rather, yes, he has a sword, the sword, the sword of the Word; and with that he attacks the Philistines.
They had come to him with oh so much ‘reason for gratitude’; it was enough to make one weep. Imagine: the Philistines had just escaped a great oppression; the rod of Assyria that had so often oppressed them – the heathen military power whose invading armies had terrorised them – that rod was now broken. The great destroyer, the terrible Asian power that had threatened all those little nations, was itself destroyed. Even Judah, the two-tribes-kingdom, had good reason to fear this same destroyer. Earlier several smaller nations nearby had vainly attempted to withstand the growing Assyrian power. But now that the ‘rod’ that had beaten them was broken, i.e. now that the Assyrian power, probably because of the death of the Assyrian king, was presently handicapped, the Philistines considered it desirable to form a coalition with Judah against Assyria. They send envoys: the “messengers of the nation” about whom our text speaks. Those messengers of the nation put forward a proposal: Let’s form a coalition against Assyria.
And what should Judah now answer?
Oh, it was so appealing to respond favourably this time. Two smaller nations against one bigger nation, that enemy-from-the-north. Principle objections? But Ahaz had noticed that his brother-kingdoms in Israel (Ephraim and Manasseh) had not objected to forming alliances with a heathen nation. And if the ten-tribes-kingdom could form alliances with its pagan Northern neighbours against the church people of the two-tribes-kingdom, well, then it appeared to look good for Judah to make an alliance with their heathen southern neighbours (the Philistines) against, no, not against their brothers, the ten tribes, but against that Great Heathen, Assyria. After all, one needs to keep up with the times. That man-of-the-north is an immense danger. Surely that which had to be objected to, on principle grounds, in the days of Ahaz (i.e. an alliance with the heathens) can, now that we have learnt from bitter experience during Ahaz’s reign, be agreed to following his recent death, can’t it?
But Isaiah won’t have a bar of it. What to answer those envoys of that nation? This: that YAHWEH has founded Zion. That this small nation is a great Church. Not a political, but a federal, a religious greatness in the first place. That’s why Isaiah’s thesis is grounded in the restorative mercy of the God of the covenant of grace, and that this thesis sets an antithesis between everyone who believes on the one side, and everyone who does not believe on the other side. Certainly, Philistines may associate with Judea, but then in the manner of Psalm 87: that they see the great Light of the Lord, and head towards it. But one may not place the lamp of Yahweh on par with Dagon. One does not sacrifice the antithesis. Not even in the face of a truly threatening danger, of which Isaiah is fully aware—the danger of the Assyrian world power.
For the true enemy is not: today Manasseh, and tomorrow Judah, and the day after, Syria, and the next time Philistia, and the last one Assyria, but the true enemy is today and tomorrow and every day: the man of denial of the Word of God, the rejection of His covenant, the mingling of true and false, the anti- as well as the pseudo-christ.
And the true friend is not: tomorrow Manasseh (against Judah), and the day after Judah (against Assyria) or Syria (against Judah) and later any arbitrary coalition of power against an even greater concentration of power that threatens to harm our political “interests”, but the true friend is always the man fearing the LORD who joins us, not on the basis of practical reality but on the basis of the content of faith , and the existing order; the man who agrees with us beforehand, that, considering God’s mercy, we will reject all decrees which contradict the Scriptures and the Church Order. The man—and now there are those who laugh at this—the man who truly and thoroughly lives according to article thirty-one of the Church Order; pillar and foundation of the (biblically based) truth.
And therefore the enemy at every ecumenical invitation is the one who has a wrong knowledge of the LORD on whom the church is founded, because through such a wrong knowledge of the LORD the foundation of apostles and prophets, which is the Christ of Scriptures, is rejected. And the friend is simply he who clings to that foundation, just as stubbornly and obstinately as Isaiah. The man who does not acknowledge that Christ, forms, along with those who are with him, the fifth column of the ecumenical Antichrist, and that fifth column then operates within the “ecumenical church”, destroying this church from within.
Well, throughout the world no-one sings Philistine psalms anymore; and the Syrian hymns have merely become archaeological study material; and Joseph’s ten-tribes-kingdom has let go of God. But the psalms of Jerusalem, the orthodox psalms, are sung today throughout the world. Only the truth of God’s thesis, which thus becomes the antithesis of unbelief, is ecumenical. It alone forms the last real concentration of power against the Antichrist. Ecumenical is the Parade of the Antichrist, but ecumenical is also the congregation of God’s last saints in the catacombs. All the ecclesiastical showpieces will then be long gone; but the people whose heart is united in truth will have remained. They don’t need interpreters; because they have few speeches, but much faith.
[i] De Reformatie, XXI, 14 Sept. 1946. (K Schilder’s writing is sometimes difficult to translate and I apologise for not doing justice to the original – JN)