I happened upon two quotes in the last couple of days that I found interesting. It is the common lament of nearly every generation that theirs is truly the negligent one and the answer is a return to the doctrinal faithfulness of the forefathers. While this lament is understandable, it seems that no matter how hard one looks, he will never finds a period in the past when the planets were perfectly aligned (!) and all was right with the theological world. (Scott Clark labored long and hard in or WSC class on the Medieval Church and the Reformation to disabuse us of the notion of a “golden age” of church history!) Well, enough musings – on to the quotes!
First, from Louis Berkhof’s famous Manual of Christian Doctrine:
Mindful of the great importance of the proper indoctrination of the young people of the Church, I did not have the courage to refuse [to prepare an abridgment of Systematic Theology], but undertook to prepare a brief manual. The work seemed particularly important to me in view of the widespread doctrinal indifference of the present day, of the resulting superficiality and confusion in the minds of many professing Christians, of the insidious errors that are zealously propagated even from the pulpits, and of the alarming increase of all kinds of sects that are springing up like mushrooms on every side. If there every was a time when the Church ought to guard her precious heritage, the deposit of the truth that was entrusted to her care, that time is now.
From the Preface.
Written in 1933, I was struck that even at the time of Louis Berkhof, pastors and theologians were lamenting biblical and theological indifference and imprecision present in the “modern” church!
The second quote is more recent. In his chapter, “Why the Elder Needs to Know, Love and Defend Reformed Doctrine,” Cornelis Venema recounts that when he was young, his own father lamented the theological and biblical illiteracy of elders in his own day. In response to that, Venema writes:
We are always tempted to praise the virtues of an earlier period of history while decrying the weaknesses of our own. Not only were earlier generations of Reformed believers as apt to neglect the preservation of Reformed doctrine, but they were likely not as well-informed about Reformed teaching as we might think. The truth voiced in my father’s lament, however, cannot be denied. We live in a period of history that neither prizes biblical doctrine nor believes that its defense is a matter of urgency. The lack of solid doctrinal teaching in many Reformed churches is lamentable. How many churches, even Reformed ones, do not prefer a pastor known more for his congenial personality than for his strict adherence to the true teaching of the Word of God?
Cited in Called to Serve, pgs. 85-86
Venema has hit the bulls-eye dead center. There certainly is a bit of “golden age historiography” latent in all of us, and yet there is certainly a measure of truth to the complaints of each generation. Perhaps the answer is to recognize that no generation lives up to the ideal of a biblically literate and theologically precise generation, and then to respond by striving to present every man mature in Christ. This is the call of every generation of pastors and teachers. Until Christ returns, it is not likely that there will be a generation who believes that theirs is the one who finally gets it right!