The Church, Bulwark of the Truth 3
Rev K Bruning concludes his speech[i] as follows
The Doings of the Lord
Finally, let me say a few words about that other point: that we are to esteem the doings of the Lord highly, and show that in our daily life. It seems to me that this too is an obligation which relates closely to the question: How shall we remain bulwark of the truth?
The doings of the Lord have been great in the history of the Church. Through them God again and again gave a decisive turn of events in the progress of His Church. With great power and certainty He saved His Church from serious dangers, sins, apostasy, humiliation and misery, and led His Church in the way of blessedness and salvation to the promised future.
The doings of the Lord are, for His church, the history of salvation; but they are, for His enemies, a process of humiliation and destruction. The Lord has commanded that we should remember His great deeds and speak about them to the next generation; that we should let the doings of the Lord direct our life so that we draw strength from them, and praise and thank Him for them.
The Lord Himself does not stop reminding His Church of His doings. And he accuses His people of unbelief when it forgets them and consequently ends up in misery and despair. Don’t we see this happening in the Bible time and again!
Well, the obligation to remember God’s doings is just as important for the Church today. And don’t we see things going hopelessly wrong in so many ways?
Ignoring God’s deeds in history at our peril
Today’s modern movements towards unification love to keep God’s book of history closed. That would be so much easier for them because it avoids having to answer those awkward questions about faith and repentance and doing justice to the work of the Lord.
This avoidance is really not surprising. Whoever abandons the good confession must also start manipulating the deeds of the Lord. These two are so closely connected that a denial of the one leaves no room for the other. In this regard we should ourselves be extremely careful.
Consider, for example, the difficulties in the Netherlands where a crisis has set in also in respect to what the Lord has done.[ii] It’s not just about the Church Liberation of 1944 and God’s work therein. In reality a similar attack has begun on the reverence for God’s work going back as far as, and including, the great Reformation of the 16th century. When it is argued in the magazine ‘Opbouw’ that quite a few ‘vrijgemaakte’ ministers tend towards the ideas of the philosopher Kant and that the defence of the truth of Lord’s Day 22 must be seen in that light; and further that it is scholastic to stick to the text of the Confession; and also that we ought to stop our endless warnings against Rome and the like, then I say in turn: the issues which these people present are much and much more fundamental than the mere question of how we must regard and value the Liberation. I’m also thinking of the excitement caused by the case of two ministers of our sister-churches.[iii] There is presently much ado about this or that ecclesiastical procedure. But I reckon there’s one thing which is very important: if church leaders no longer possess the right insight in the doings of the Lord, and in fact deny these and direct the whole church—including the youth—away from the obligation [to see the great doings of the Lord in church history] which also in this regard is so clearly taught in Scripture, one should not whine about the resulting trouble. For it makes clear that such leaders can no longer be office bearers in the Church of Christ. In the end, that’s what it boils down to.
And the frank statements of these ministers have demonstrated that the conflict is really about these important matters, and not merely about trivialities and differences which can be tolerated within the confines of the Church, as is claimed.
It is not hard, these days, to find followers who will support universal peace campaigns, or support those questioning the truth of the Confession, or help criticise the church fathers, or back-up self-serving malcontents. You can always find some people who help you feel you’re a martyr that has been hard done by. You know, if we want to undermine the church and lose our young members, then by all means allow our confession to be made questionable and sow doubts about its reliability and about our church history.
The Needs of the Youth
But no, our young people seek assurance, steadfastness; and they want to hear the unadulterated truth. Such demands are valid; and satisfying them has never produced anything but good fruit in the history of the church. The opposite however has always caused disintegration and estrangement from the Word and service of the Lord.
When, on occasion, we spend some time in the circles of the younger generation, as I did during the recent journey up and back from Holland, it becomes clear that many do nothing but criticise ‘the establishment’ and consider it ‘old-fashioned’. Over against that, they find nothing that is good; negativism is rife, and they try to fill the void with dancing, cinema and immoral experimentation. These are the facts. And these facts will take us by surprise, too, as soon as we fail to declare to our young people: ‘IT IS WRITTEN’ AND ‘IT CAME TO PASS’. If we lose these positive truths, we may as well shut the doors of the church and write-off our generation.
Therefore we all have a tremendous responsibility, not in the least towards our young people. It’s a responsibility that we, in our studies, in knowledge, in education and instruction, keep the deeds of the Lord in the centre. Both the great and the small deeds, if we may express it that way. They all form the links in that chain of redemptive work that originated in Jesus Christ.
Struggle and Triumph
And let us fear being infected, also by what we read in the press and in books. We should address these things in our everyday life. Unfortunately I haven’t the time to expand on this. But we can all do that in our discussions.
Then we shall have an open eye for the promises that come to us through ‘the bulwark of the truth’. It’s a unique bulwark; from which also springs forth the offensive that will overcome the world.
Moreover, if we are indeed bulwark of the truth, then—as ought to happen—we shall, in every struggle that arises, attract others who through the working of the Holy Spirit will join us in the truth.
Now, already, we begin to discern the new life of a true ecumenism—Korea, Africa, America, and who knows where else—where the confession and history of Christ’s churches are having an impact, and where perhaps the eyes are opening.
But whatever the situation is, we must be faithful, more than ever, also in our truthful witness to the outside; faithful on the basis of what we confess to be in accordance with God’s Word, and faithful in what we may see and tell of the doings of the Lord.
In that way the bulwark will be strong, and finally be completed and transformed into the New Jerusalem, with its open gates in God’s new creation: the city of everlasting peace!
For from Zion’s walls and fortresses we look up to heaven and say: For this God is our God.
by Rev K Bruning
Clarifying footnotes (by JN)
[i] This speech has been translated into English from Dutch. The original title of the speech, held in 1966, was “De Kerk als Citadel der Waarheid”. The title alludes to 1 Timothy 3:15.
[ii] This referred to the situation in 1966 in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (liberated). There were church leaders who no longer regarded the Church Liberation of 1944 as a gracious work of the Lord but as the result of a squabble in church.
[iii] A reference to Rev A van der Ziel and Rev van der Vliet. The former caused much upheaval in the churches by initiating talks with the ‘synodical’ churches and refusing to submit to the authority of his consistory. It ultimately led to a group leaving the churches. They were called ‘Buitenverbanders’ because they operated outside the bond of churches and later formed the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken which became very liberal.