Ancient Landmarks? Whatever.
Some time ago I came across this article from the official Christian Reformed magazine, The Banner. I read it with tears in my eyes.
It made me think of Proverbs 22:28, “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” This passage has a long history of interpretation in the Reformed churches. There is a long history of understanding this as referring to respect for the way of our fathers in the faith, especially when those ways are firmly grounded in the Word of God. The comments of Charles Bridges on this passage are worth pondering:
All sound expositors warn us, from this Proverb, to reverence long-tried and well-established principles, and not rashly to innovate upon them. Some scorn the ancient landmarks as relics of bye-gone days of darkness. Impatient of restraint, they want a wider range of wandering, to indulge either their own prurient appetite for novelties, or the morbid cravings of others for this unwholesome excitement (2 Tim. 3:7; 4:3,4). Endless divisions and dissensions have been the fruit of this deadly evil…
…Turning to our beloved and venerated Church; the last age witnessed a rude, but by divine mercy an unsuccessful, effort, to root up her landmarks. We have seen a subtle and invidious attempt to remove them from the place, where our well-instructed fathers have set them, and fix them nearer Rome; leaving but a narrow boundary of division between Christ and Antichrist. This is indeed the rooting up of the foundations of the grace of God, which ought, if need be, to “be resisted unto blood” (Heb. 12:4). The Lord make us “valiant for the truth,” and consistent witnesses of its power!
There is a footnote at the bottom of the page which explains the events Bridges is referring to in the last sentences: “The Heathen Association, at Feathers Tavern, supported by men of influence and dignity, with the avowed object of sweeping away the Creeds, Articles, and Subscriptions.” I suspect that “The Heathen Association” was a mission society. In the interest of mission, they probably wanted to have a lowest (or lower) common denominator Christianity.
Some interpreters draw attention to the context of the Proverb and make reference to the fact that moving boundary markers was a matter of injustice. One’s neighbour would be preyed upon by such actions. The poor would be particularly vulnerable. However, this doesn’t exclude the historic interpretation and, in fact, sharpens it. Being casually indifferent to a sound inheritance is a matter of injustice — it is profoundly dishonouring to one’s parents and other forebears. It will impact those who are vulnerable — particularly the coming generations and those new to the faith.
What we find in that article from The Banner is therefore not only sad, but also foolish. The CRC does not have a monopoly on this. Regrettably, the same foolish spirit is sucking the spiritual vitality out of many churches around the world. No one is immune to it, but churches that are confessionally Reformed in the most meaningful sense have the best hope for resisting.