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The Danger of Lack of Knowledge
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” These words, spoken by the Lord, through the mouth of the Prophet Hosea, came to my mind recently. This text, which often is misquoted as, “My people go lost for lack of knowledge,” is very applicable to our days. It should be observed that this text does not principally concern intellectual knowledge, but as described so aptly in the Dutch marginal notes, “true, real, and saving knowledge of God, ordered according to His Word, mixed with faith and love for God and our neighbor.” It applies to the living, experiential, personal knowledge of God by faith. Yet, the marginal notes also contain the remark that it is ordered according to God’s Word, which signifies that there is room for knowledge along with true faith. Along these lines, compare these thoughts with the seventh Lord’s Day of our Heidelberg Catechism.
What purpose is served with these remarks? Apparently, the lack of knowledge was a cause for the pending destruction of the realm of the ten tribes, unto which Hosea prophesied in his days. In another place, we hear Hosea complain that there is no knowledge of God in the land, but instead, there is “swearing, lying, killing stealing, and committing adultery.” These are words which could have been written in 1989. The lack of knowledge, which increases rapidly in our land, could pose a grave danger to the church. Let us not object that this is not new because this has always been the case.
There have been times when our land was called a baptized nation. Of course, also in those days, the truly Reformed of heart and soul were merely a minority, but our nation as a people still knew something of the Bible. In any case, it was known that there was a true church in our country — that segment of the people which considered God and minded His Word. That is not to say that their viewpoints were supported or that their persuasion was shared, but they were known. That can no longer be said. By reason of the ever-accelerating secularization of our nation, God’s Word has become an unknown book for millions. The influences that God’s Word exercised on our society, and which could be traced in our judicial and congressional proceedings, have lost their value and relevance for many in these times. One can see that these influences are being removed from our national life with alarming speed. In such a time do we live. Consider the significantly decreasing respect for human life; the vanishing of awe for death and dying; the deterioration of the family; the ease with which some dissolve their marriages, and ever-increasing pressure for discounting the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Many more things could be mentioned.
If the history of the church is unknown, then the proper understanding of the lessons to be learned from history will always be lacking, and a lapse into the errors of the past cannot be circumvented.
It seems to me that one of the most alarming elements in all this is that the vast majority of the people of our nation have no knowledge of the past; no knowledge of the contents of God’s Word; no consciousness of a people in our country who live according to God’s ordinances. For example, if a person would have asked for a day off to go to church on Prayer Day fifty years ago, he may have been laughed at, but his supervisor would have understood why the request was made. Today, there is very little knowledge that there is a day for prayer. In former days, if a person offered prayer at mealtime, he may have been sneered at, but his mocking colleagues respected him for it. Today there are many who do not even know what folding of the hands and closing of the eyes implies. A person who refused to work on Sunday was respected in former days. Today, such a person’s principles are not regarded. In all these matters, there is a great danger for God’s church. Oppression commenced for Israel in Egypt when a new king who had not known Joseph, came into power. We call this the danger of a lack of knowledge. However, in respect to this danger, we also have a lack of knowledge in our own circles, which is alarming as well. It cannot be denied that a lack of knowledge is also among us today to an appalling degree. Every catechetical instructor can confirm that. Do our children know the simple stories from the history of the kings? Do they know the names of the four evangelists? Do our confession of faith candidates know the books of the New Testament in order? How many instructors dare to try to explain the difference between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism to sixteen-year olds? And let us go a little deeper; do the instructors know it themselves? Let us confess in all honesty, there is a staggering lack of knowledge of Scripture and of the doctrines of faith, not to mention church history. Many of our young people attend Reformed institutions today, but most are unable to answer even very simple questions concerning church history. For example: Who was the opponent of Pelagius? Who, in the fourth century, denied the divinity of Christ? Can you mention two books authored by Luther? Oh, the danger of a lack of knowledge!
It is a danger that threatens our congregations to the very core. Whoever does not know Scripture is vulnerable to many unscriptural errors. Whoever does not know the doctrines of our faith, has no words to oppose the various sects. If the history of the church is unknown, then the proper understanding of the lessons to be learned from history will always be lacking, and a lapse into the errors of the past cannot be circumvented. We realize there may be a danger of certain types of head knowledge that puff up. That also is a real danger and must be discerned. Presently, however, we must consider the lack of knowledge many times more dangerous.
It is to be regretted that many promote the lack of knowledge. Parents sometimes feel free to contact a minister or an elder to protest the fact that the son or daughter had “to study so much” for catechism. Does the church demand too much? I would say that we ought to be ashamed. Rev. G.H. Kersten once related that he knew a girl who could recite all thirty-seven articles of our Belgic Confession of Faith. Naturally, an instructor must realize that not all of his students have this ability. He must exercise patience and love to those who do their best, but who cannot retain as well as others. I would bind it on the hearts of all our instructors to impress our Reformed dogmatics and the elementary foundations of the Word on the hearts of our children — to teach them. Do not be misled by those who contend that our modern method of teaching has changed dramatically, so that young children are no longer able to memorize. There might be some truth in that, but that does not free us from our bounden duty, as expressed in Deuteronomy 6:7, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.” Moreover, do not become misled by those who say that the youth of today despise all dry dogmatics and doctrine, that they only wish to hear what suits the experiences of their life and what directly applies to them. Whoever tries to comply with this will allow his catechizing to become bogged down with endless discussions during which everyone says something but nobody learns anything. The instructor should not permit himself to be tempted to just relate something out of his own experiences every catechizing period because our youth are not interested in the doctrines of our faith. Yes, an instructor may tell something out of his life. That can make deep impressions if the Lord grants it. But, above all, he must instruct. The danger of the lack of knowledge fills us with fear. We already pointed out the lack of knowledge in our nation, and the lack of knowledge concerning the doctrines of our faith in our own circles. But there is a third form of lack of knowledge.
We realize there may be a danger of certain types of head knowledge that puff up. That also is a real danger and must be discerned. Presently, however, we must consider the lack of knowledge many times more dangerous.
Perhaps this one is the worst kind. We fear that many are not knowledgeable concerning the life of grace and of the ways in which the Lord leads His people. It is a common complaint that the preaching is too difficult to understand. Which minister is not aware of this? It seems that it is preferred that the minister preaches only a simple history every Sunday, and then not too deeply. We readily admit that a sermon can be unnecessarily difficult. Every servant of the Word could profit by giving heed to the words that Comrie wrote concerning his wife, Johanna de Heyde, “She was mighty in the Scriptures; it was her desire to constantly urge me not to preach matters that were beyond the understanding of the common listener; often she said, ‘You cannot know enough about the slowness of people’s understanding.’” But it is not a good sign when people complain of difficult sermons, not only because of the theological terminology, but because they do not understand how the Holy Spirit leads the Church. This lack of knowledge is not only dangerous, but fatal.
Where do the reasons lie? We could mention a few things. There is such a sad lack of exercised people of God, not only in our own churches, but also in others. There are few people left who can instruct. Some think they can, but their attempts do not arouse holy jealousy. Sometimes I have talked with people of whom it could be discerned that the Holy Scriptures had become experiential reality for them. When they spoke of the doctrines of faith, then it was not dry dogmatics, but everything sparkled with spirit and life.
Another cause of the lack of knowledge is that there is so little searching. Many will read a biblical diary or an occasional meditation in a church paper, but that is the extent of their reading. We know (and again, without idealizing), that it was different formerly. There were less books, but they were read. How many simple persons at that time could find their lives explained in the “Fourfold State” and other such books! When the writings of our forefathers are neglected, then the preaching will no longer be understood, no matter how simply it is presented to us. It was my desire to write about this; however, not to deny that the good things that by reason of the Lord’s faithfulness are still found among us, but out of concern for our congregations, which are threatened by an increasing lack of knowledge.
It is not a good sign when people complain of difficult sermons, not only because of the theological terminology, but because they do not understand how the Holy Spirit leads the Church.
Rev. A Moerkerken is pastor of the Gereformeerde Gemeenten, (Netherlands Reformed Congregation) of Gouda, the Netherlands. This excellent article, translated from De Saambinder, speaks of the situation of the Netherlands as a nation, and our sister denomination, Gereformeerde Gemeenten, in particular, but the vast bulk of it applies equally to the United States and the Netherlands Reformed Congregations in North America. Though our recent school movement has contributed to a substantial increase of knowledge among our youth, we still have a large task ahead of us to properly educate the rising generation. Above all, may the Holy Spirit grant more saving knowledge by convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and by leading lost sinners to the only Savior.
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Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 juli 1989
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's
Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 juli 1989
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's