Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Taking Our Heritage Into the Twenty-first Century: Part II

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
Editor's Note: In our last issue we featured the first part of Rev. Schoul's speech given at the 1997 Church Day. In this speech he reflects on the four H's that he feels we must preserve as churches namely Heritage, Holiness, Honesty and Hope. The first installment covered only the first H, namely Heritage. In this second and last article he deals with the remaining three.
The second "H" that we need to preserve as part of our heritage is holiness. The root meaning of holiness is separation unto God, being so dedicated to his service, so moved by his love that all our efforts are put in for his cause. Of course, this is exactly what God demands: loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves.

Holiness involves action, hard work and strenuous effort. But holiness which is only action, strenuous effort is legalism. Nothing is as obnoxious to one delivered by free grace as legalism. He finds it to be an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his all so that we can be saved as those who say: Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling. Legalism is that against which the apostle Paul, the apostle of Justification by faith through grace, fought so hard. Legalism is the bringing in of anything which is our work, whether that be in our repentance, by our tears and certain experiences or in our conversion, by efforts and promises or in our thankfulness. Legalism is holiness without the life of Christ. Legalism is the devil's parody of holiness.

When we try to distinguish holiness from legalism, we are in an area in which we must tread carefully. Basically, no Christian life is possible without holiness. It is essential for a Christian to be holy, for Christianity means holiness, in the sense of being separated for the service of God. It is a great lie to think we can be saved and not be sanctified. This truth has recently been newly stressed in Reformed and Evangelical circles, and we can be thankful for it. Also among us there has come, especially among some of our younger members, a new emphasis on the need for sanctification. A word of caution is in order, however. In our pursuit of holiness, we must be holy. This stands to reason, so what do I mean? I mentioned that there is a difference between holiness and legalism. In essence, that difference is very deep, broad and radical. Holiness is rooted in Christ, but legalism is rooted in self.

The problem arises because we, even though we may be saved by grace and have in us the beginning of the new life, never have more than a beginning. It means that the carnal still is with us, even in our desire to serve the Lord. We will not be pure or completely sanctified until the Lord takes us into glory. Until that happens, we remain prone to have unholy thoughts and sinful actions which continue to mark also our Christian life.

One of the greatest dangers and most pernicious errors is the idea that, in our pursuit of holiness, we are doing better than others or that we are doing things that are acceptable to the Lord in their own right, based on their own merits. The moment we fall into that trap, we have moved from holiness to legalism.

This sin comes to us in many different shapes and forms. As our Christian life is to include all our actions, thoughts and words, so this sin is prone to affect all our actions, thoughts and words. Yet, there are two areas of life on earth in which this pursuit of holiness becomes particularly difficult--and we know this is so not only from experience but from the Word of God. In I Timothy 6 Paul urges us to "fight the good fight of faith." We love to quote that text, but have we ever noticed the context? The apostle is warning believers against sins of a financial nature, money sins, greed, improper relations between employers and employees. It is clear that the economic aspect of life is one area in which holiness can be attained only through the strenuous fight of faith. The other area in which the apostle gives clear warnings has to do with sexuality. Believers are to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. Also in this realm, they are to fight the good fight.

Let us not, somehow, spiritualize these things. Sins are committed in and with the body, in the here and now and some of the most powerful forces in this here and now are the sexual and the economic. Lust and greed are twin dragons which try to destroy the work of grace. The fact that we have a rich heritage of sound doctrine does not mean these dragons do not go around in our churches. How much damage has been done to the church by people who claim to pursue holiness while, more or less secretly, they coddle these dragons as bosom pets. Their "holiness" is the worst kind of legalism.

Whether the struggle be in these areas or whether it be in others, the point is that if left unrecognized, unchecked and unconfessed, it gives rise to a sanctimonious state of mind which is abhorrent to the Lord and distasteful to his people. There is only one remedy for this ill: it is to learn more fully the meaning of "Grace" and to discover more and more that we have nothing of our own with which we can please the Lord. It is, to use an old fashioned but treasured phrase, to be emptied of self in order to be filled with Christ. Where this takes place, there is growth in grace. To the extent we grow in grace, we advance in holiness, a holiness marked by genuine humility, expressing nothing but love for the Lord. That is how we learn that precious lesson, expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, a lesson which is usually not learned at the beginning of the Chrstian journey: But of him are you in Christ Jesus who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification [holiness!] and redemption.

Also in these things we are called to be of help to one another. We move now to the third H-- Honesty. Honesty is one of the most abused virtues in the stable of Christian graces. Honesty and love are often coupled to shoot our barbs at others. "Honesty compels me to tell you, but I do so in love" ... and then you let fly--and woe to the person who then does not receive your criticism in loving humility. If he does anything but that, you have proven your point and can walk away with a self satisfied feeling. "See, I was right!" As if the cover of "honesty" allows one to vent all his feelings without regard to the injury one may cause.

Nevertheless, honesty is a virtue that should be used, perhaps more often than it is and perhaps more wisely than we often do. I plead especially for honesty as churches and in the churches. Let us deal honestly with each other, brothers, at our various meetings. Let us not be as others of whom we hear and of whom the history of the church can give various examples that they are driven by their own agenda. reaching for their own goals. It is not that these things already are so with us--but if it has happened with others, it can happen with us.

Honest dealing with each other means that we reach out to each other, that we believe the best of each other, accept each other and expect of each other that we strive toward the same goal: the preservation of the Heritage which has been entrusted to our care. It was a joy to see some of this spirit present at our last synodical meeting--and may the joy of that linger to refresh us in new and better efforts to recognize each other, with our different accents, all striving towards that common goal. Honesty also means that we trust one another when critical comments are due. It means that we trust each other unconditionally. It means that we recognize in each other the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work.

Honesty brings with it a willingness to be the least-not in some sense of false humility or weakness of spirit-but in the sense of recognizing that the grace of Christ has been at work in our hearts, that grace which gives us the mind of Christ by which we esteem others better than ourselves. Honest does not mean that we cannot deal seriously and righteously with sin in the lives of others or in the life of the church. It would be a sad thing if the church were always to be paralysed by the imperfections of its office bearers. Honesty which makes us the least in Christ, makes us very strong in dealing with sin in the lives of others, for grace has taught us the way to the cross of Christ and, honestly confessing to others how we have learned to find that way, we can be the means to lead them there also.

That is what gives us our Hope-the last of the 4 H's. Is there really hope for the Free Reformed Churches as we stand on the threshold of the 21st century? There is none whatsoever if the defence of our heritage is attempted without holiness and without honesty. There is none whatsoever if we do not learn that holiness is the essence of this heritage. Holiness in the only biblically acceptable sense of the word is "living for and with God." There is none whatsoever if we believe that we can maintain the heritage without a close walk with the Lord,--nor if we think that a close walk with the Lord is possible outside of the parameters set by this heritage. Remember, it is the heritage, not of men however godly they may have been; nor of their systems, however accurately and wondrously they may have been devised, but it is the heritage of our understanding of Scripture.

There is hope for the churches and our heritage can be and will be carried into the 21st century. It can be carried by us, if we live out of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished work. It will be carried by the King of the Church, for it is His work and he will bring it to perfection. Let our prayer be that the Lord may so work in our churches with His Spirit that the heritage will be preserved, not in isolation so we rub our hands in glee over what we have, but in a splendid display of soldiers of the Lord, fighting the good fight of faith, lifting up this precious heritage so that it, and we with it, may be a shining beacon in an ever darkening world.

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