Articles

The Coming of the Kingdom: Christianizing the World? (6)

Series of six (6) articles Prof.David Engelsma wrote for the Beacon Lights, a PRC Young People's magazine in 2012-13. We thank the BL staff for permission to publish here.

Christianizing the World? (1)

Christianizing the World? (1)

            Is this the calling of the church? 

            Is this the calling of the Reformed young man or woman?

            Is this the purpose of the Christian education of Reformed young people, especially of the higher education of Reformed young people?

            If we are to believe the Christian Reformed Church, especially its high schools and colleges, including Calvin, Trinity, and Dordt, the answer is an emphatic yes.

            Since many Protestant Reformed young people are in contact with young people of the Christian Reformed Church and since some Protestant Reformed young people attend the Christian Reformed colleges, the Christianizing of the world becomes an issue for Protestant Reformed young people.

            Does the Lord Jesus command us to engage in this project of Christianizing the world?  Does the Protestant Reformed refusal to take on this project constitute disobedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ?  Do we by this refusal manifest the folly and wickedness of world-flight—the perversion of the Christian life of the old Anabaptists?  Are Protestant Reformed young people to feel guilty because of their lack of involvement in all kinds of endeavors that claim to be aspects of the Christianizing of the world?

            Or is the entire project nothing but a fanciful notion of men?  In this case, the project is not only foolish—a delusion and fantasy—like the crusades of the Middle Ages.  The crusaders were on a mission to conquer Jerusalem for Jesus.  The cultural Calvinists of our day are on a mission to conquer the world for Jesus.  But the project of Christianizing the world is also an instance of the very serious sin of “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:1–9).  For the proponents of Christianizing the world burden the consciences of people, especially Reformed young people, with the duty of Christianizing the world as though this were a commandment of God, when in fact it is merely a fond dream of humans.

The Source of the Project

            The source in the Reformed tradition of the modern crusade that tries to Christianize the world is two Dutch Reformed theologians of the previous century, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck.  They were colleagues in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the second half of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century.  They were men of great influence, both in their own large denomination and in many other Reformed churches over all the world.

            Kuyper and Bavinck saw that the Reformed faith, or Calvinism, as the pure form of the Christian religion of the Bible, confesses God’s sovereignty over all of human life, indeed over all of creation and all of history.  They understood also that Calvinism claims all of the life of the Reformed believer, not only worship and devotions, but also family life, work and business, education, science, the arts, and involvement in politics—all. 

            From these axiomatic truths, they inferred that it is the calling of Calvinistic Christians to “Christianize the world.” 

            It should be evident to all that the inference does not follow from the fundamental principles.  That God is sovereign over all creation and over all of history does not imply that he wills the Christianizing of the world by his people in history, and that he calls the church to engage in the project.  He may rather, and indeed does purpose that his church shine as light in the midst of and in contrast to a dark, ungodly, and un-christianized world.  It may be, and indeed is his purpose that the entire creation of the heaven and the earth be renewed and recreated (not: “Christianized”) by Jesus Christ at his second coming (not: by the saints within history, see Rom. 8:19–22).  God is also sovereign over hell, but this does not imply the church’s calling to Christianize hell.

            Likewise, the truth that Calvinism claims the entire life of the Reformed believer does not imply that Reformed believers must Christianize the world, or even their own society.  What it does imply is that every Reformed Christian is called by grace to bring his or her own entire life under subjection to the lordship of Jesus Christ and to live his or her entire life to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). 

            If I were compelled to use the barbarous term to describe the sound inference from the fundamental principles of Calvinism, I would say that the sound inference is that we are called to “Christianize” the whole of our life in the world, not only worship and devotions, but also our work and play, our studies, our work in science, our artistic efforts, our involvement in politics and civil government—all.  Not the whole world, but our own life in the whole world.

            Nevertheless, the two Dutchmen called their countrymen and all Reformed Christians to this grandiose task:  “Christianize the world!”  They issued the call in many speeches and writings.   

            Especially influential were and still are Kuyper’s lectures on Calvinism at Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States in 1898.  The lectures were soon published as a book, Lectures on Calvinism.  Over the years, the book has been the bible of the Reformed advocates of the Christianizing of society and the world.  My own copy (Eerdmans, 1953) was the textbook in more than one religion and theology course at Calvin College.  It was appealed to in other courses, although not in support of Kuyper’s banning of card-playing, theater, and dance as unchristian activities (“unhallowed influence of this world,” 73).

What is Meant by “Christianizing” 

            What Kuyper and Bavinck meant by the odd, non-biblical, non-creedal term “Christianizing,” was not that the world becomes Christian.  That the world becomes Christian would mean that all the life of all the nations would be obedience to the law of God, in love for God from the hearts of the citizens, because they believed in Jesus Christ.  And this could only be the case because a majority of the citizens of all nations had been converted to Jesus Christ and saved. 

            “Christianizing” in the program of Kuyper, Bavinck, and their contemporary disciples does not have this in mind whatsoever. 

            But it refers to a certain influence of Christianity upon people, affecting their outward conduct.  The vast majority of the people of the world remain ungodly and unbelieving.  They reject Jesus as the Messiah.  They worship their idols, whether Allah, or Buddha, or some movie star, or some athlete, or their money.  But Christianity changes their conduct, and perhaps even their thinking, for the better. 

            Kuyper himself described “Christianizing” this way:

“Christian” [in the phrase, “Christianizing the nation”] says nothing about the spiritual state of the inhabitants of such a country but only witnesses to the fact that public opinion, the general mind-set, the ruling ideas, the moral norms, the laws and customs there clearly betoken the influence of the Christian faith (“Common Grace,” in Abraham Kuyper:  A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt, Eerdmans, 1998, 199).

            Bavinck wrote of “Christianizing life,” and then described this activity as “a methodic, organic reformation of the whole cosmos, of nation and country” (“The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church,” Calvin Theological Journal 27 [1992]:  243, 246).  He spoke in this connection of “the conquest of the entire world” (“Calvin and Common Grace,” a booklet without publisher, place, or date, in my library, 127).

            A Christianized world is a world that still lies in the darkness of idolatry, unbelief, and unrighteousness, but that has become outwardly more decent, moral, and orderly.  A veneer of Christianity has been applied to the world; the world has been “Christianized.”

The Power of the Project:  Common Grace

            Basic to this project of Christianizing the world for Kuyper, Bavinck, and their contemporary disciples, both in the sphere of the Reformed churches and in the broader sphere of evangelical Christianity, is a common grace of God working in all humans, godless as well as godly, pagans as well as Christians.  This is a mighty, though not irresistible grace of God that does not save sinners.  What common grace does, Kuyper advises us in his Lectures:

There is…also a common grace by which God, maintaining the life of the world, relaxes the curse which rests upon it, arrests its process of corruption, and thus allows the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator (Lectures on Calvinism, 30).

            It is the purpose of God with this common grace to “consummate the world’s development,” ultimately in the world’s being Christianized (Kuyper, “Common Grace,” in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper, 176).

            Kuyper very much needed such a grace for his project.  The comparatively few Christians can otherwise not be expected to influence their neighborhoods, much less the world.  But now the ungodly themselves, delivered from their total depravity and freed somewhat from God’s curse, can exert themselves to realize a truly good culture and society—a way of life that at least outwardly conforms to Christ. 

            By virtue of this grace of God, which is shared by Christians and non-Christians, Christians may and can cooperate with their ungodly neighbors and unbelieving countrymen in the important work of Christianizing their society, their nation, and finally, the world.  In this work, Christians add the influence of the particular grace that is their peculiar possession.

            So important is common grace to the project of Christianizing the world that without it the notion fades away like a hazy dream upon one’s awakening, and the entire project collapses like a pierced balloon. 

            This is in part the reason that the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 took no prisoners in its defense of the doctrine of common grace against Herman Hoeksema.  The Christian Reformed Church was committed, heart and soul, to Kuyper’s crusade of Christianizing the world.  The spirit of that denomination was then, and has increasingly become cultural Calvinism, rather than spiritual and doctrinal Calvinism.

            Every student of Scripture cannot but notice how this theory turns the Bible on its head.  It is not a prominent admonition in the Bible that Christians must influence the world for good.  But it is a warning on almost every page of Holy Scripture that the true Church and the holy child of God must be vigilant in guarding against the world’s influencing them (James 1:27; James 4:4; Rom. 12:2; Gal. 1:4).

The Kingdom of God without Jesus Christ 

            When the skeptic requests biblical proof for this quixotic campaign of Christianizing the world, the enthusiasts for cultural Christianity appeal to the biblical texts that speak of the coming of the kingdom of God.  Thus, a Christianized world is identified with the kingdom of God.

            The implication, which the proponents of Christianizing are happy to draw, is that those—chiefly the Protestant Reformed Churches—who reject the project are without a kingdom-vision, indeed fail to seek and promote the kingdom of God in the world.  A slander! 

            I intend to subject the notion and project of Christianizing the world to criticism in my next installment.  But let the readers observe carefully that the kingdom of common grace is not the kingdom of God revealed in the Bible in any shape or form.  It is a kingdom, at best, of merely external conformity to some aspects of the Christian religion, without any love of and zeal for God in regenerated hearts.  It is a kingdom of citizens most of whom hate God and his Christ—and therefore the true church and genuine believers—worshipping idols and living impenitently in unbelief. 

What is most damning about this kingdom is that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus does not reign in it as king.

Common Grace Produces Antichrist 

            I for one am not a citizen of the kingdom of common grace, that is, of a Christianized world as conceived by Kuyper, Bavinck, and the modern cultural Calvinists.  I renounce citizenship in this kingdom, as well as participation in the project of building it, on peril of my soul’s salvation.

            For adding to the peculiarity of the common grace kingdom is that in its final form and development, according to Kuyper himself, the architect of the kingdom of a world Christianized by common grace will prove to be the kingdom of Antichrist.

The closing scene in the drama of common grace can be enacted only through the appearance on stage of the man of sin…Common grace…leads to the most powerful manifestation of sin in history…Babylon…will display the most refined forms, the most magnificent unfolding of wealth and splendor, the fullest brilliance of all that makes life dazzling and glorious.  From this we know that “common grace” will continue to function to the end.  Only when common grace has spurred the full emergence of all the powers inherent in human life will “the man of sin” find the level terrain needed to expand this power (“Common Grace,” in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper:  A Centennial Reader, 180, 181).

            One would think that this would dampen the enthusiasm of the cultural Calvinists for the Christianizing of the world.  They are, in reality, working at the Anti-christianizing of the world—a dubious project.

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof. Engelsma is professor emeritus of Theology and Old Testament in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  

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Christianizing the World? (2)

Christianizing the World? (2)

            In my previous article in this magazine, I described the project of Christianizing the world—a project in which many Reformed people are engaged.

            It is, however, not only Reformed people who have taken on this project.  Many prominent evangelicals in the United States have also signed on.

            But Protestant Reformed young people are confronted with the call to participate, and with the accusation of “world-flight,” if they decline the call, usually at Christian Reformed colleges.

            What should the response to this call and accusation be on the part of Protestant Reformed young people—and also on the part of all young people who are and are determined to be truly Reformed?

            They must refuse the call.  They must repudiate the accusation that by refusing to Christianize the world they make themselves guilty of world-flight. 

            The entire project of attempting to Christianize the world is unbiblical, unreformed, illegitimate, and doomed to failure.  It is the flight of the fancy of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and all its contemporary advocates.

            Christianizing the world is not a calling from God.  Nowhere in Scripture, whether explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, does God call his church or the members of the church to influence the world outwardly, after a Christian fashion. 

            The Christian’s calling regarding the world is to be in it, physically, but not of it, spiritually and ethically (John 17:14–16).  By joining with the world of ungodly, unbelieving men and women, in Christianizing the world, the Christian puts himself in the position of being of the world.  He is now one with the world in a great, spiritual project: nothing less than Christianizing the world.  He opens himself up to the world’s thinking.  He is party to the world’s way of doing things.  In this cooperation, he finds himself fellowshipping with ungodly men and women as together they supposedly build a form of the kingdom of God.

Demonizing of the World

            Scripture clearly reveals that God’s plan for the world is not that it becomes Christianized, but that it becomes increasingly demonized, that is, ungodly and antichristian (Matt. 24).  Shortly before the end, in the very days in which we are living, in the very days in which foolish Reformed theologians and college professors are clamoring for the Christianizing of the world, all the nations of the world become the kingdom of the beast, Antichrist (Rev. 13; Rev. 17). 

Inwardly, in their unregenerated hearts, the vast majority of the human race are anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-church, and anti-holiness.  Their hatred of God develops to the extreme.  In accordance with their wicked hearts, they frame their outward, societal life, their culture.  The idea that men and women with unregenerated, depraved hearts can have some delight even in an outward veneer of Christianity and will work in cooperation with Christians to erect a kingdom influenced by Christ is nonsense on the face of it.  Out of the heart are the issues of life.  Unholy hearts hate Christianity, root and branch.  Hearts that hate God build kingdoms of hatred for God. 

Every semblance of Christianity in national and international life is effaced in these last days.  Every aspect of the culture of the modern heathen expresses their hatred of God and of his holiness.  Their politics exalts Man and governs on behalf of Man liberated from God and now sovereign.  The laws of the courts and congresses deliberately trample God’s laws underfoot.  So developed is the anti-Christianity of the nations in the last days that the laws of God that are held in contempt are not only his laws in Scripture, but also his laws in nature.  The demonized State legislates sodomite and lesbian “marriages” (Rom. 1:24–28). 

Their educational system despises God’s great work of creation, ascribing the origin of all things to blind chance operating through evolution.  Thus, Man is deified as the goal of all things, rather than the God of creation and providence. 

Their entertainment glories in the shame of sin, movies, television, videos, and the internet:  sexual promiscuity and perversity; gratuitous violence; sensual music; material wealth and physical pleasures as the end of human life.  Man’s own lusts are the standard of the right and the good, rather than the will of God as taught by Jesus Christ.

Hardening of the World 

And all of this development of sin in the world takes place under the wrathful judgment of God on the world, which “when they knew God…glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.”  God gives them up to uncleanness; God gives them up unto vile affections; God gives them over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:21–32).  Whereas the dream of Christianizing the world proposes the world’s good development by a common grace of God, the Bible teaches that the world develops as the kingdom of Satan under the judgment of God. 

The advocates of Christianizing the world knowingly work at a project that conflicts with God’s plan for the world.  God does not intend the Christianizing of the world.  Their project, therefore, is foolish.  But matters are worse.  The advocates of Christianizing the world pit themselves against God.  In his awful but just judgment, God is at work hardening the world in its willful ungodliness, so that the world develops in sin, filling the cup of its iniquity.  The cultural Calvinists oppose this work of God, attempting to Christianize the world.  Their project is resistance to God.

As is evident to all in AD 2013, the project of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands and of the Christian Reformed Church in North America over the past one hundred years to Christianize first their nations and then the world has been a colossal failure.

But the project of Christianizing the world has not been without its effect:  Both Kuyper’s Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church have become thoroughly worldly.  The vain enterprise of cooperating with the world of the ungodly, purportedly by a common grace of God, in order to Christianize the world does not, in fact, make the world Christian.  But it does make the church and its schools worldly.  The churches of Kuyper have become part of a false church—a church that has ministers who preach, “No God!” (see Psalm 14:1).  As for the Christian Reformed Church, it is open to the wicked world and tolerant of the world’s most grievous attacks on God’s glorious works and holiness: evolution and the denial of the inspiration of Scripture, particularly with regard to Genesis 1–11; a universal love of God, implying universal salvation; feminism; sexual promiscuity, particularly in the sanction of divorce and remarriage; promotion in at least one of its colleges of the sexual perversity of sodomy and lesbianism; approval of the very worldly behavior of dancing—the foreplay to fornication.   

The true church and the Christian, including the Protestant Reformed young person, must view the world as their enemy, especially in these last days.  From it, they must separate spiritually, so that they hate it and refuse to make common cause with it. 

It is the sin of the proponents of the Christianizing of the world that they promote the friendship and cooperation of God’s people with the world of the ungodly, the world that has Satan as its god (2 Cor. 4:4).  Working closely with the world of ungodly men and women, in a work that is in reality, as Abraham Kuyper himself acknowledged, the building of the kingdom of Antichrist, Reformed young men and young women are swallowed up by the world and destroyed.  They adopt the world’s thinking—about good laws, about origins, about legitimate entertainment, about the goal of earthly life.  They forsake the church, if the church is at all Reformed.  They come to regard the church as too narrow, too old-fashioned, even bigoted.  They marry unbelievers.  They are seduced by and lost to the world’s culture, the world’s way of life. 

This is happening to the young people of the Reformed churches that send their youth into the world in the great, glamorous project of Christianizing the world.

And their ministers and college professors are to blame—and will answer for their souls.

Uncommon Wrath

Fatal to the notion and project of Christianizing the world is the truth that the world of the ungodly is not the object of the grace of God.  Nor does the world of ungodly men and women enjoy a grace of God that is a power improving and directing their lives.  The theory of common grace, which is fundamental to the project of Christianizing the world, is false doctrine.  Grace is divine favor towards someone—a favorable attitude.  God does not have an attitude of favor towards unbelievers and idolaters, who are outside of Jesus Christ.  On the contrary, God “hates all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:5). 

God does not drive the culture of the ungodly by some non-saving grace.  Rather, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).  In this uncommon wrath, so far from influencing them to create an outwardly Christian civilization, a form of the kingdom of God, God gives them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (Rom. 1:28), thus manifesting their kingdom more fully and clearly as the kingdom of the devil. 

Judgment is impending over the world!

And all those who are one with the world in implementing, exercising, and developing the world’s ungodliness will perish eternally in the divine judgment when it falls.  All those who have been busy building “Babylon the great” must perish in its fall, and fall it will (Rev. 18:2).

“Come Out of Her”

The call of God with regard to the great kingdom of the world now abuilding is not, “Christianize it!  Christianize it!” but, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).

The call of God to Protestant Reformed young people is the opposite of the siren-song, “Christianize the world.”  The call of God is, “Separate from the world!  Do not defile yourself with the world’s rebellion against God and filth!  Hate the world!  Oppose the world!  Willingly endure the world’s hatred of you, as representatives of the holy God in the midst of the unholy world!”

That you might hear this (saving) call, our spiritual and ecclesiastical fathers and mothers took the stand against common grace that resulted in their expulsion from the Christian Reformed Church in 1924.   

But does this not amount to the error of world-flight—the unreformed view and practice of the Christian life of the Anabaptists?

Not at all!

The charge is groundless, if not malicious.

And this will be the content of the next article in this series.

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof. Engelsma is professor emeritus of Theology and Old Testament in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches           

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Christianizing the World? (3)

Christianizing the World? (3)

            Those who promote the Christianizing of the world as the duty of the church and of the Christian present the project as the coming of the kingdom of God in the world.  The Christian colleges that are on this bandwagon beat the drum of the coming of the kingdom.  Not much is heard of church or covenant.  Kingdom is all: seeking the kingdom; promoting the kingdom; living the life of the kingdom; and the like. 

            This emphasis on the kingdom, as though Christianizing the world brings about the kingdom of God and is the chief aspect of the kingdom, goes back to Abraham Kuyper, the source of the notion that the church’s calling is to Christianize the culture first of one’s country and then of the entire world. 

In his influential Lectures on Calvinism, the playbook of the game of Christianizing the world, Kuyper appealed to the “Sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms,” that is, to the kingship and kingdom of God (Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdmans, 1953, 79). 

In a book on Common Grace in Science and Art, Kuyper pleaded for the Christian’s cooperation with ungodly scientists and artists who by “common grace [have] been active…greatly promoting the spiritual development of the human race.”  In this context, Kuyper stressed the “kingdom of God”:  “the Kingdom of God is not in the least limited to the institutional church but rules our entire world-and-life-view” (“Common Grace in Science,” in Abraham Kuyper:  A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt, Eerdmans, 1998, 458, 459).

The Charge of World-flight

In keeping with their conviction that Christianizing the world represents the coming of the kingdom of God and is a noble kingdom-venture, the Reformed zealots on behalf of Christianizing the world charge the Protestant Reformed Churches and their members with a serious lack of kingdom-vision and with grave dereliction of duty concerning promoting the kingdom of God.  A serious shortcoming, if true!  This charge is rightly disturbing to Protestant Reformed students at these colleges.

An especially painful aspect of this charge is the accusation that Protestant Reformed churches and believers are guilty of the unbiblical, shameful evil of “world-flight.”  The common grace, cultural-Calvinists consign us to the ranks of the Anabaptists of the time of the Reformation.  They dismiss us as belonging to the company of Munzer, John of Leyden, and Menno Simons.  We are no genuine Calvinists at all!  We are no children and heirs of Luther, Calvin, and evidently of the Reformed confessions (although the cultural-Calvinists offer precious little proof for their theory of Christianizing the world and for their charge of “world-flight” from the creeds).

I write “unbiblical” evil of world-flight because our Lord forbade world-flight:  “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world…I [have] sent them into the world” (John 17:15, 16).

So serious an evil is the Protestant Reformed refusal to participate in the project of Christianizing the world that, according to the proponents of the project, we make ourselves guilty of opposing and obstructing one of the two great works of God in history and, therefore, one of his two main purposes with his world:  the creation of beautiful, noble, good, even godly culture, worldwide, by virtue of common grace. 

Listen to the father of the cultural-Calvinists, Abraham Kuyper:

There is a particular grace which works Salvation, and also a common grace by which God…relaxes the curse which rests upon [the world], arrests its process of corruption, and thus allows the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator (Lectures on Calvinism, 30).

            In his work on common grace, Kuyper wrote:  “There is beside the great work of God in special grace also that totally other work of God in the realm of common grace.”  That “totally other work” is to “consummate the world’s development” (“Common Grace,” in Kuyper, ed. Bratt, 176). 

            How wonderful a work of God the Christianizing of the world is, in the thinking of its advocates, and therefore how woefully deficient, if not sinful, those Reformed Christians are who decline to involve themselves in this work, Herman Bavinck suggested when he exclaimed, “We have to aim at that mighty, glorious, rich ideal to Christianize the world by bringing in our Reformed confession into all areas of life” (Bavinck’s farewell address to the Kampen seminary students in 1902, in Willem J. de Wit, On the Way to the Living God, Free University Press, 2011, 58).  It might give the contemporary cultural-Calvinists pause that Bavinck spoke of the necessity of bringing the Reformed confessions into all areas of life.  From the contemporary form of the project of Christianizing the world, the Reformed creeds are noticeably missing. 

But the zealots for Christianizing the world are utterly and wholly mistaken.  They are mistaken with regard to their conception of the kingdom of God.  They are mistaken with regard to their notion that Christianizing the world by common grace has anything to do with the kingdom of God and its coming.  They are mistaken in their false accusation that the Protestant Reformed Churches are indifferent and passive with regard to the kingdom of God and its extension in this world.

What the Kingdom of God is

First, the advocates of a Christianized world are mistaken regarding their conception of God’s kingdom in this world.  A society, a nation, or even an entire world of mostly unbelievers that has been influenced by Christianity outwardly is no more the kingdom of God than a set of ungodly Hollywood actors dramatizing the life of Martin Luther is the Reformation of the church or an extension of the Reformation. 

The kingdom of God in this world is the reign of the triune God in Jesus Christ, God’s great servant in the world.  This is the kingdom whose coming Christians desire and pray for in the second petition of the model prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”  It is the kingdom of God’s “dear Son” (Col. 1:13).

This kingdom does not come by a common grace of God.  Rather, it comes by God’s “Word and Spirit,” as the Heidelberg Catechism explains:  “Thy kingdom come; that is, rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit” (Q&A 123; emphasis added).

Of this kingdom, only those are citizens who are elect believers.  The citizens are those whom God “hath translated…into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13).  All other humans remain under “the power of darkness” (Col. 1:13), in the kingdom of the prince of darkness.  These unbelieving people have no interest in the kingdom of God, except to will its destruction (Psalm 2; Rev. 13). 

As to its nature, the kingdom of God is heavenly, not earthly; spiritual, not carnal.  This was Jesus’ description of the kingdom to Pilate, on the day of Jesus’ establishment of the kingdom on the foundation of the righteousness of his death:  “not of this world”; “not from hence” (John 18:33–37).  Correctly explaining this description of the kingdom of God, John Calvin wrote, “spiritual,” “heavenly,” and “separated from the world” (Commentary on John, vol. 2, Eerdmans, 1949, 209). 

Therefore the kingdom does not come with “observation” (Luke 17:21).  The kingdom of common grace, in contrast, comes with observable developments in social relations, economic advancements, and political progress, at least in the imagination of the dreamers of this kingdom. 

The benefits of the kingdom of God are not earthly peace and carnal prosperity—the main goals of the kingdom of common grace—but “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).

One thing more about the kingdom Jesus stressed to Pilate in their discussion of the kingdom: the kingdom of God is founded on “the truth”:  “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37).  This was Jesus’ response to Pilate’s question, “Art thou a king then?” (John 18:37) and Jesus’ description of the nature of his kingship and kingdom.  The truth is the gospel of Scripture as summarized in the Christian and the distinctively Reformed confessions.

Not even the most enthusiastic defender of the kingdom being promoted by the cultural Calvinists—the kingdom of common grace, in cooperation with Roman Catholics and unbelievers—will dare to contend that that kingdom is based on the truth.  That kingdom can make progress and take form only by the compromising, if not the complete silencing of the truth.  Roman Catholics and unbelievers reject the truth.  The kingdom of common grace therefore is no kingdom of God.  It is no kingdom in which any Calvinist, indeed any professing Christian, should have any interest, except to oppose it as a rival kingdom to the kingdom of the truth, that is, the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.  (For a more complete treatment of the vitally important truth of the kingdom, see my booklet, “The Kingdom of God,” Evangelism Committee of Southwest PRC, 2002).

The Reign of God in the Heart  

That the kingdom of God is heavenly in origin and in nature does not imply that it is not on the earth and in the world.  The kingdom is in the world, and its primary location is the heart of the elect believer.  There Christ has his throne; there God reigns in Jesus Christ by his grace and Spirit. 

Kuyper and his cultural-Calvinist disciples disparage the reign of grace in the hearts of the people of God.  They criticize the spiritual and doctrinal Calvinists who emphasize this, as though by this emphasis we restrict the kingdom to the heart.  A scholar of Kuyper is correct when he states as a main concern of Kuyper in his program of Christianizing the world by common grace that Reformed people “restrict the reign of Christ to the ‘spiritual,’ to the private rule over the human heart” (John Bolt, A Free Church, A Holy Nation:  Abraham Kuyper’s American Public Theology, Eerdmans, 2001, 193). 

The rule of God in the human heart is fundamental to the presence of the kingdom on earth.  Apart from this rule in the heart, whatever outward conformity there may be to Christianity, the entire project of Christianizing the world is obnoxious to God and is certainly not the coming of his kingdom.  God looks to the heart!  God is pleased with willing service from the heart!

In fact, apart from the reign of grace in human hearts, men and women will not, do not, and cannot seek the kingdom of God, even outwardly.  As slaves of Satan, they hate even the appearance of the kingdom of God.  They exert themselves to destroy God’s kingdom.  They energetically build the kingdom of antichrist. 

And if Christ reigns in one’s heart, that man or woman will and must live the life of the kingdom of God—in all spheres of human life

The fear of the cultural-Calvinists that believers will be passive and Anabaptistic is groundless.  The fear does not reckon with the heart as the source of all the issues of life, or with the mighty, all-comprehensive lordship of Jesus in the heart.

Do not disparage or underestimate the reign of Christ in the heart!  With this, the Heidelberg Catechism begins its explanation of the second petition of the model prayer:  “that is, rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to Thee.”  The meaning is: Rule us in our hearts.

Sovereignty in All Spheres of Life 

Such is the rule of Christ in the heart of the Reformed Christian that he or she submits to Jesus Christ in all spheres of earthly life.  Thus, the Reformed Christian lives the life of the kingdom in all spheres.  Thus, the kingdom is extended to all spheres.  Thus, the believer raises the banner of the kingdom of God over every sphere:  “Jesus the Christ is king and lord of all.”

Thus, altogether apart from a common grace of God and without any participation in the project of Christianizing the world, the spiritual and doctrinal Calvinist—the genuine Calvinist—does full justice to Kuyper’s famous, stirring declaration, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry:  ‘Mine!’” (“Sphere Sovereignty,” in Kuyper, ed. Bratt, 488).

Demonstrating and illustrating this kingdom-life in all the spheres will be the content of the next article.

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof. Engelsma is professor emeritus in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches

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Christianizing the World? (4)

Christianizing the World? (4)

            In this installment in the series examining the crusade in Reformed and evangelical circles in North America to Christianize the world, I present the kingdom alternative of genuine Calvinism.  Rejection of the project of common grace to influence the culture of the world does not imply rejection of the calling of the Christian to live the life of the kingdom of God in all spheres of earthly life.  The Protestant Reformed Christian, although rejecting Abraham Kuyper’s and the Christian Reformed Church’s theory of common grace, lives and must live in such a way as to honor Kuyper’s stirring claim on behalf of Christ, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry:  ‘Mine!’” (“Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper:  A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt, Eerdmans, 1988, 488).

            In every sphere of our life, earthly as well as spiritual, in government, education, science, and labor, as well as in prayer and at church, we live the life of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  In every sphere of life, our behavior and speech witness that Jesus the Christ is king.  Thus, over whatever sphere of life we enter, we raise the banner, “Jesus Christ is king.”

The Kingdom of Jesus

            However—and this to us is of fundamental importance—the Christ on whose behalf we raise the banner is the man who was crucified, raised from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God in heaven.

            For Kuyper and his disciples, the Christ who is sovereign over all and whose kingship they suppose they honor is only the second person of the Trinity, not the man Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us.  If there were a kingdom of the second person of the Trinity, it would be the kingdom of the absolute power of God triune (not alone of the second person).  This kingdom of the triune God exists in perfection apart from any and all efforts of the church on earth to extend it.  This kingdom does not come, but is.  It certainly is not promoted by common grace, or for that matter, by particular grace.  It is a reality by virtue of the Godhead of God with regard to his creation. 

            The kingdom that has the heart of Protestant Reformed Christians, as also of all Christians throughout all ages until the time of the speculations of Abraham Kuyper, is the “kingdom of [God’s] dear Son:  in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14). 

            The cultural-Calvinists may go on honoring the second person of the Trinity, evidently to the exclusion of the first and third persons.  Protestant Reformed Calvinists honor the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord Jesus and in him, the triune God.

            Let this be understood:  for us, the sovereignty and kingdom of Christ are the sovereignty and kingdom of Jesus

            This Jesus reigns in our hearts by his word and Spirit, as the Reformed faith confesses in the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 123.

            Reigning in our hearts, Jesus Christ reigns also in all the spheres of life into which we enter.  Thus the kingdom extends to every sphere, and thus the banner of the kingdom flies over every sphere.

The Sphere of the Church 

            First and foremost is the sphere of the institute of the true church.  The citizen of the kingdom of God will be a lively member of a true church, worshiping the triune God in spirit and in truth diligently every Sabbath. 

            This aspect of living the life of the kingdom in all the spheres is minimized and even ignored by many of the vocal advocates of Christianizing the world.  Not only do they not stress this, but also they usually say nothing about this at all in their treatises on the kingdom.  This caution on their part is understandable:  If you are creating a kingdom with atheists, Muslims, unbelievers, and Roman Catholics, you had best say nothing about church membership. 

            But minimizing or ignoring church membership is inexcusable.  The reign of Jesus Christ in and over the church is the second explanation of the second petition of the model prayer by the Heidelberg Catechism: “preserve and increase Thy church” (Q&A 123).  The church is the institutional form of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The Westminster Confession of Faith declares:  “The visible church…is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus” (25.2).  The Belgic Confession teaches the same when in its treatment of the church it states, “which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King” (Art. 27).  Christ is king of the church, and the church is his kingdom. 

            The New Testament church is God’s “holy nation”—the reality of Old Testament Israel (1 Pet. 2:9).  This is a basic truth that the proponents of the Christianizing of the world have a hard time keeping in mind.  As they dream their dreams of Christianizing first their own nation and then the world, they invariable identify their own nation with the kingdom of God.  Kuyper thought that the Netherlands was God’s holy nation, the New Testament reality of the nation of Israel.  Jonathan Edwards supposed the same regarding America, especially the New England part of America.  Many evangelicals today, in their preaching of the call to make America once again a Christian nation, show that they think that the United States was once a Christian, holy nation.

            The Netherlands was never a holy nation.  Neither was the United States.  No earthly nation, regardless how Christianized it might become, can be God’s holy nation.  The true church in the world is the kingdom and holy nation of God, the New Testament reality (not: replacement) of Israel in the Old Testament.

            This is a reason that we doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and spiritual Calvinists so highly regard the true church and prize membership in her.  She is God’s kingdom, God’s New Testament Zion. 

            In the church on the Lord’s Day occurs the chief cultural activity of any human: the public worship of God. 

            In addition, the church gives the believer the directions and spiritual energy to live the life of the kingdom in all the other spheres of human life.  The dynamo of the kingdom of God is not the Christian college, and certainly not the Christian college that thinks to equip the kingdom-builders with some feeble power of a common grace.  The dynamo of the kingdom is the true church, and the power with which she equips the citizens of the kingdom is the mighty, resurrection grace and Spirit of the Lord Jesus.

The Sphere of the Family

            The second sphere of human life in which most citizens of the kingdom submit to King Jesus and fly his banner is marriage and the family.

            Common sense realizes the fundamental importance of this sphere for all of societal life and for the welfare of an earthly nation.  That the political leaders of the West are unseeing, indeed actively at work to destroy marriage and the home, is due not only to the natural darkness of their depraved understanding because of unbelief, but also to God’s blinding of them in his judicial wrath.  Common sense has become senseless in the United States with regard to the basic structure of human life in society.

            Scripture insists on the importance of the sphere of the family, and gives thorough instruction concerning the will of King Jesus for life in this sphere.  The Creator married one man and one woman in an intimate union of one flesh for life, and blessed the marriage with fruitfulness in bringing forth children, whom the married couple, their parents, must rear (Gen. 1, 2).  King Jesus took this ordinance over into his kingdom and made his will concerning our life in marriage and the family known in Ephesians 5 and 6, 1 Corinthians 7, and many other places in Scripture. 

            The Reformation restored this sphere to its place of honor and importance after Rome had degraded it by monasticism and by the decree that the clergy may not marry, as though single life were a higher, more spiritual state than marriage, to say nothing of the tolerance by Rome of sexual promiscuity. 

            There is much talk today by the cultural-Calvinists about Christianizing our American society.  These same people and their churches tolerate rampant divorce and remarriage in their own churches.  There is even open promotion of sodomy in the denominational paper of the Christian Reformed Church and in their flagship college.  Their unconcern for marriage and the family is proof that they are not serious about the coming of the kingdom of God.  They are not serious about influencing the culture of Grand Rapids and the United States.  Marriage and the family are the urgent social issues in North America.  The great evils disrupting and destroying the country are divorce, remarriage, and sexual promiscuity, including perversity.  Genuine concern for the culture, to say nothing of the kingdom of God, could not possibly remain quiet about these evils.

            The man who lives faithfully with his wife, the wife who keeps her vow to her husband, the parents who together raise their children in the fear of the Lord, the children and young people who honor their parents and heed their godly instruction—these are living the life of the kingdom.  These are extending the kingship of the Lord Jesus into the fundamentally important sphere of the family.  These are flying the banner of King Jesus over the home for all to see.  These are also the beneficial citizens of any earthly nation.

The Sphere of Education

            A third significant sphere of human life is the education of children, as both Scripture and nature teach us.  Citizens of the kingdom of God submit to the reign of Jesus Christ in the sphere of education.  Thus the kingdom extends into the sphere of education.  Over the sphere of education, we raise the banner, “Not once square inch about which Jesus Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’” 

            We give our children a godly upbringing at home, including the example of our own lives of submission to King Jesus, and including discipline of the children.  We see to it that the children receive thorough instruction in the history and doctrines of the Bible in the solid catechism program of a true, Reformed church.  In addition, with like-minded Reformed believers we provide for our children good Christian schools in which trained, competent Calvinist teachers prepare the children to live and work ably in 21st century America as subjects of King Jesus.  On behalf of the parents, these teachers instruct the children in all the branches of knowledge in light of the word of God, as most parents lack both time and ability to do. 

            By this Christian education is brought into subjection to King Jesus the mind of the children.   

            Here, in a special way, our zeal for the kingdom is evident to all:  We pay for these schools ourselves!  The state, that is, the other tax-paying citizens, do not support our schools.  We support our schools in addition to funding the state schools—an obvious injustice that the government does not redress and that apparently does not trouble the other citizens of the country. 

            The result of this rearing is that our sons and daughters become good citizens of the United States—the best citizens of the nation: capable, responsible, hard-working, law-abiding, and tax-paying.

            But our motive in our rearing of our children is not primarily to influence the United States and the world.  Rather, our motive is the kingdom of God.  Our children are from birth citizens of the kingdom.  They belong to King Jesus, and therefore must be educated in the truths and ways of the kingdom of God: “Suffer little [infant] children to come unto me…for of such [infant children] is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).

            Heart, church, family, and education do not exhaust the important spheres in which spiritual and doctrinal Calvinists live the life of the kingdom.  Some of the other spheres we will consider in the next installment. 

            Let no one persuade you that by rejecting the Christianizing of the world you neglect the kingdom of God or come short in living its distinctive life in all the spheres of human life.

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof. Engelsma is professor emeritus in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches

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Christianizing the World? (5)

Christianizing the World? (5)

            Rejection of the (impossible) project of Christianizing the world by a (fictitious) common grace of God in no wise implies an Anabaptistic flight from the world.  The Reformed Christian who heeds God’s call in Scripture, rather than Abraham Kuyper’s in Lectures on Calvinism, lives a kingdom-life by the grace and Spirit of Jesus Christ in all the spheres of human life in God’s world.

            Already in this series I have affirmed the reign of King Jesus in the heart of the elect, Reformed believer and described the extension of the kingdom into the spheres of the church, the family, and the education of kingdom children.

The Sphere of Labor

            Another sphere of earthly life in which we hold aloft the banner of King Jesus is labor.  Calvinist businessmen and financiers run their enterprises honestly; provide fairly, even liberally, for their employees; and with their well-gotten wealth “do good…[and are] rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate [that is, give to the needy],” in obedience to the charge of the apostle of Christ in 1 Timothy 6:18.  This is their kingdom-behavior, not because some labor union, in disobedience to the fifth commandment and to the New Testament precept that employees be subject to their employers, forces them to do so, or because a civil government, influenced by Karl Marx, usurps the authority to redistribute the wealth of the citizenry.  But this is the behavior in the sphere of labor of Reformed businessmen because they know that, although they did build their companies by their own creativity and hard work, they are not lords of their companies.  Jesus Christ is lord in business and finance.

            In the sphere of labor, the Reformed workingman is diligent and reliable, submitting to the authority even of a “froward” employer, for God’s sake (1 Pet. 2:18–25).  He repudiates the revolution and violence of the labor unions, even though this may mean financial loss and suffering.  The explanation is that King Jesus reigns in his heart and therefore over all his life, including his behavior at work. 

            I instance the example of my own father in the matter of the kingdom-life of the Reformed workingman.  He worked diligently and reliably for more than forty years in the Keeler Brass factory in Grand Rapids.  Wages were not the highest in this non-union plant.  Many of his fellow workers were constantly grumbling, always critical of the owners of the factory.  Again and again they tried to get a labor union into the shop.  Every time my father was a leader in keeping the union out.  At his retirement, his fellow workers, who respected him even though they disagreed with his Reformed principles (which were the basic truths of the kingdom of God), gave him a farewell party.  Unexpectedly, Mr. Keeler, the owner of the company, appeared in the gathering.  My father began his prepared farewell remarks this way:  “I thank Mr. Keeler for work, so that I could support my family, support the Protestant Reformed Church, and send my children to the Christian schools.”  

            This was the confession of King Jesus in the sphere of labor.  That conduct on the job and that speech flew the banner of the kingdom of Jesus Christ in the realm of labor.

The Sphere of Government

            On the sphere of politics and government the cultural-Calvinists put heavy emphasis.  Abraham Kuyper did.  A prominent feature of his project to Christianize the Netherlands was the forming of a political party that would propel him into the office of prime minister of the nation. This achievement of political power by that extraordinary man fascinates his disciples today.  They are impressed with that kind of showy accomplishment by a uniquely gifted Calvinist. This attainment of earthly power and earthly glory is what they are really after, when they proclaim the coming of the kingdom and the Christianizing of the world. 

            But this is clean contrary to the message of the gospel of the kingdom in New Testament Scripture.  Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, not many Abraham Kuypers, has Jesus Christ called into his kingdom.  Rather, he has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, and the nobodies, “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:26–29).  Accordingly, the kingdom is extended into every sphere of life, for the most part in very ordinary, unnoticed, obscure ways.  There are no trumpets blaring, no balloons dropping from the ceiling, no television cameras recording the action. 

This is true particularly of the kingdom-life of Calvinists in the sphere of government.  It consists of simply submitting to the rulers and paying one’s taxes, because the Christian recognizes the civil powers as ordained of God (Rom. 13:1–7).

At such simple, ordinary behavior the cultural-Calvinists jeer.  They want influential political parties.  They want illustrious men and women in high office.  Many advocate, and some take part in high-profile, glamorous revolution.  Traipsing off to South Africa to stir up revolution is acclaimed by the proponents of Christianizing the world as a glorious expression of the life of the kingdom of common grace.  Distinguishing oneself as a revolutionary, especially on behalf of blacks or women, is a badge of honor in the common grace kingdom.  That in the kingdom of God, King Jesus forbids revolution against the civil authorities is of no concern to the cultural-Calvinists (Rom. 13:1–7; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13–17).

Scripture bestows its badge of honor upon the simple, ordinary conduct in the sphere of government of the vast majority of Christians in all ages and among all nations of submitting and paying taxes.

In his inimitable way, Martin Luther affirmed the ordinary behavior of the lowly and no-account as the characteristic life of the kingdom of God:

A faithful servant girl does more good, accomplishes more, and is far more dependable—even if she only takes a sack from the back of an ass—than all the priests and monks who sing themselves to death day and night while making bloody martyrs of themselves (quoted in William H. Lazareth, Luther on the Christian HomeAn Application of the Social Ethics of the Reformation, Philadelphia:  Muhlenberg Press, 1960, 159).

The Sphere of Leisure

            The Bible hardly recognizes a sphere of leisure among the important spheres of human life.  But so prominent has leisure become among the nations of the West that any treatment of distinctively Christian behavior must take account of it.

Scripture does not encourage leisure.  Scripture calls humans to work in the short time of the life of all of us.  Two truths ought to govern our sparing enjoyment of leisure.  First, regarding our earthly vocation, we are called to work six days and to rest one day the rest of God.  This is the force of the fourth commandment of the law:  “six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work:  but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God” (Ex. 20:9–10).  The rest of the Sabbath is not the same as North American leisure.  It is a rest involving, indeed requiring, spiritual labor.  Diligently we attend the church of God.  We work at preaching and hearing the word of God.  The remainder of the Sabbath is spent, not in “sacking out,” or in amusing ourselves by watching NFL Sunday, but in good reading, instructing our families in the word of God, and meditating on the things of God.  This is work.  But this rest affords peace to the soul that mere leisure cannot give.

Second, with regard to our work in and on behalf of the kingdom of God, we ought to be diligent in working “while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). 

            Our main calling is to work.  Leisure, in the small place it has in our lives, must serve our working and not become an end in itself.  The Reformed Christian therefore must keep leisure in its place.  As much as the everyday duties of his or her life permit, the Reformed man or woman ought to seek or accept activities that promote the kingdom of God: for men, membership in the consistory and school boards; for both men and women, help of the needy, whether poor, or sick, or otherwise distressed; involvement in various projects of church and school; and diligent study of the word of God, so as to develop in the life of the kingdom.

            With regard to the entertainments that jostle to dominate our leisure, the very first rule of the kingdom of God is that we refuse those entertainments that are unfitting for a  citizen of the kingdom of God:  the dance; movies that entice with sensuality or amuse with violence; gambling.

Dancing 

            The tendency of the theory of common grace to make its adherents worldly, rather than to Christianize the world, is evident in the inability of the proponents of common grace to condemn and repudiate even the worst of the world’s organizations and most corrupt productions.  Whereas once the Christian Reformed Church and its colleges condemned dancing as worldly (which it is—a prelude to fornication), now they embrace it, extol it as an art form, and practice it.  They have “redeemed” it.  But its “redeemed” form differs in no respect from its unredeemed form.  It remains lascivious movements of males cheek to jowl (and not only these body parts) with females to whom they are not married, to the accompaniment of arousing music.  To speak of the redemption of dancing is to demean the glorious Christian concept of redemption.  To encourage dancing among college students is to pour gas on the flame of lust.

Movie Attendance

            As I write this article, the Winter 2012 issue of The Calvin Spark arrives in my mailbox.  This is the magazine for the alumni of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Prominent in the magazine is a full-page, favorable review of a book by a professor at the college—William Romanowski—titled Reforming Hollywood (15). 

The first reaction of a spiritual and doctrinal Calvinist is incredulity.  Is there another human in the world besides the author who thinks that reforming Hollywood is a possibility?  Indeed, does the author himself really think so?

The second reaction is more substantial:  Christianity does not think or write of reforming the moral cesspool that is the Hollywood of the filth, violence, and sheer ungodliness of the movies, of the immoral, if not amoral actors and actresses, and of the antichristian producers.  Christianity thinks and writes of as well as prays for the utter destruction of that opening of hell into the earth called Hollywood. 

In the review of the Calvin professor’s book, the Calvin Spark notes approvingly the author’s evident agreement with the liberal James Wall’s commendation of the movie The Graduate as having “moral and religious significance, as well as artistic merit.”  I distinctly recall (the names Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft unfortunately stick in my memory) that the reviews and graphic advertisement of this movie in the public press promoted the movie as featuring fornication and adultery as an acceptable, indeed desirable way of life for moderns.

I let the patron saint of the cultural-Calvinists at Calvin College rebuke their advocacy of Hollywood and its movies.  In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper wrote this against theater-going. 

Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon…theatres…That which offended our ancestors was…the moral sacrifice which as a rule was demanded of actors and actresses for the amusement of the public.  A theatrical troop [today, the set of actors and actresses—DJE]…stood, morally, rather low [today, ridiculous understatement—DJE].  This low moral standard resulted partly from the fact that the constant and ever-changing presentation of the character of another person finally hampers the moulding of your personal character; and partly because our modern Theaters…have introduced the presence of women on the stage, the prosperity of the Theater being too often gauged by the measure in which a woman jeopardizes the most sacred treasures God entrusts to her, her stainless name, and irreproachable conduct…The actual fact remains that, taking all the world over, the prosperity of a Theater often increases in proportion to the moral degradation of the actors.  Too often therefore…the prosperity of Theaters is purchased at the cost of manly character, and of female purity.  And the purchase of delight for the ear and the eye at the price of such a moral hecatomb, the Calvinist, who honored whatever was human in man for the sake of God, could not but condemn (Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdmans, 1953, 73-75).

            Kuyper concluded that attending the movies is a “Rubicon which no true Calvinist could cross without sacrificing his earnestness to dangerous mirth, and the fear of the Lord to often far from spotless pleasures” (75, 76). 

            The cultural-Calvinists have long since crossed this Rubicon. 

            And Kuyper himself with his doctrine of a common grace of God and his call to Christianize the world by this common grace is to blame.

            Once the monster of conformity to this present world is unleashed in the church, on the advice of the church’s theologians and by official church decree (as was the decision of the Christian Reformed Church in its adoption of the theory of common grace in 1924), there is no stopping the monster until it has devoured all the life of the members of the church, beginning usually with the young people.

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof Engelsma is professor emeritus in the Theological School of the Protestant      Reformed Churches

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Christianizing the World? (6)

Christianizing the World? (6)

            In the preceding article in this series, I contrasted the kingdom-life of doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and spiritual Calvinists in all the spheres with the cultural-Calvinists’ dream of Christianizing the world.

            What now is the expectation of us citizens of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ?  What is our expectation with regard to the kingdom of which we are citizens, the kingdom we promote, the kingdom whose banner flies over all our life in all the spheres?

Antithesis

            In this life, in history, and in fact in the near future, also in North America, we expect hatred, fierce opposition, and outright persecution.  We expect this hatred and persecution exactly because of our uncompromising confession concerning the kingdom of God and because of our distinctive kingdom-life. 

            We expect the very opposite of the appreciation and cooperation on the part of the  world of the ungodly that the common grace cultural-Calvinists are looking for.  Basic to the project of Christianizing the world is the conviction that the ungodly are favorably inclined to the project, that the ungodly regard the cultural-Calvinists as friends, indeed as indispensable fellow workers in the grand project of creating a good, even godly earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity for all, and that the ungodly will not oppose, but work together with the cultural-Calvinists.  And by compromising the kingdom of God at every stage of the building of the kingdom of common grace, the cultural-Calvinists see to it that the ungodly world does in fact approve of them and befriend them. 

            Radically different is the expectation of genuine Calvinists, and radically different is also our experience.  There is antithesis—opposition and hostility—between the kingdom of Jesus Christ and its citizens on the one hand, and the kingdom of Man (with a capital “M”) and its citizens on the other hand.  God has placed this enmity between the two kingdoms:  “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed” (Gen. 3:15). 

            The two great kingdoms in the world at all times, and especially at the end of time, are at war!

            The Heidelberg Catechism recognizes this warfare in its explanation of the theme of this series of articles, the coming of the kingdom of God:  “destroy the works of the devil and all violence which would exalt itself against Thee; and also, all wicked counsels devised against Thy holy Word” (Q&A 123). 

            The project of Christianizing the world, as an important aspect of the coming of the kingdom of God, has no place for this instruction and warning of the Catechism, even though the Catechism is  the creed also of the cultural-Calvinists.

            Jesus forewarned us that the result of our being in the world, but not of the world, would be that the world would hate us, rather than look favorably on our kingdom-life and  pitch in to help us with it:  “The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

           

The Vain Hope of a Carnal Victory within History

We spiritual, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical Calvinists do not expect the carnal triumph of the kingdom of Christ in history.  We do not expect the Christianizing of the world.  We deny that the Bible holds out this prospect for the project. 

            The history of the past one hundred years or so of the efforts of the cultural-Calvinists to Christianize their nations and the world has been utter failure.  Abraham Kuyper’s Netherlands is not a whit more Christian today than it was in 1898.  Neither is the North America of the Christian Reformed Church more Christian than it was in 1924. 

            The present cultures of the Netherlands and of North America are not promising with regard to the coming of the kingdom of God in any form.  Open anti-Christianity is virulent in the cultures.  The cultures are decadent, and descending into the abyss of the lawlessness that rages against God’s law in nature, that is, the law of male and female.

            The stubborn project of Christianizing the world fights Scripture, history, and present experience.

            Even though Reformed believers do not expect the carnal victory of the kingdom of Christ within history, we who now live the kingdom-life of Jesus Christ and who promote the kingdom of Jesus Christ will have the victory.  The kingdom that is now established in our hearts, that is the true church, and that extends in our lives to all the spheres will triumph.  The victory of this kingdom is certain. 

            It will destroy the rival kingdom of the beast.  It will punish and cast into hell all the citizens of the kingdom of the beast.  It will establish itself perfectly over all the new creation.  In it, we will reign with King Jesus over all things forever.

            To this the Heidelberg Catechism directs our hope in the conclusion of its explanation of the second petition of the model prayer:  “till the full perfection of Thy kingdom take place, wherein Thou [God triune, in Jesus Christ] shalt be all in all” (Q&A 123).

            Not within history!

The Temporary Victory of the Kingdom of Common Grace

            Within history, as is taking place in our day, Satan’s outwardly grand kingdom of Man, in which Man is all in all, as much as possible, develops itself to the fullest.  This grand kingdom of Man is anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-church.  It is lawless.  It will persecute the citizens of the kingdom of God for their witness to Jesus, for their confession that God is God, and for their life of obedience to the law of God.

            And, now, mirabile dictu [wonderful to relate], according to Abraham Kuyper himself, the father of the project of Christianizing the world, this godless, antichristian, lawless kingdom will, in fact, be the final, full development of the common grace project of Christianizing the world. 

The closing scene in the drama of common grace can be enacted only through the appearance on stage of the man of sin…[common] grace leads to the most powerful manifestation of sin in history…At the moment of its destruction Babylon [the world-kingdom of Antichrist—DJE]…will exhibit not the image of a barbarous horde nor the image of coarse bestiality but, on the contrary, a picture of the highest developmentof which human life is capable.  It will display the most refined forms, the most magnificent unfolding of wealth and splendor, the fullest brilliance of all that makes life dazzling and glorious.  From this we know that ‘common grace’ will continue to function to the end (“Common Grace,” in Abraham Kuyper:  A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt, Eerdmans, 1998, 180, 181).

            All those, therefore, presently engaged in erecting and promoting the kingdom of common grace are, in fact, deliberately helping Satan to realize his antichristian kingdom, the kingdom that Revelation 13 calls the kingdom of the beast.

            I have bad news for them.  The wrath of God abides on their project throughout history!  And their kingdom will be demolished in the day of Jesus Christ!  The little stone of Daniel 2 will fall upon it and grind it to powder.

            The day comes when not only Herman Hoeksema, but also all heaven, the holy apostles, and the prophets will rejoice over the destruction of the project of common grace.  “Rejoice over her [Babylon, the kingdom of Antichrist, and, according to Kuyper, the final product of common grace], thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her” (Rev. 18:20).

The Goal of History

            The victory and perfection of the kingdom of Jesus Christ will not take place within history, but as the goal of history.  The victory of our kingdom will be everlasting.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory…Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:31, 34)

            This is certain, as certain as it is that Jesus arose to become lord of all, and as certain as it is that the God and  Father of Jesus Christ must be all in all.

            This is our hope.

            With this hope, we live the kingdom life faithfully; promote the kingdom actively; fly the banner of the kingdom without shame or fear; yes, and patiently endure scorn and suffering for the sake of this kingdom and its king.

            The kingdom of Jesus Christ and his (particular) grace is coming, not so much by our kingdom-work as in answer to our prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” 

Rubric: Where We Stand - The Beacon Lights

Author: Prof. David J. Engelsma

Prof. Engelsma is professor emeritus in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches    

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