Wes Bredenhof (Yinkahdinay) posted this link to a short essay from the Banner (the official publication of the Christian Reformed Church). Rev. Bredenhof was saddened upon reading it, as was I. The provocative essay is entitled "Relics of a Bygone Era" and recounts the difficult task of a son and daughter packing up the earthly remains from their recently deceased father, which included the father's Reformed books, personal teaching notes, and favorite cassette sermon tapes (Relics of a Bygone Era). The author writes,
Dad had been a staunch defender of a somewhat cramped version of Calvinism formed by his upbringing in the Gereformeerde Kerk in the Netherlands. Early on, his parents had put the kibosh on his aspirations to ministry; unless he had a distinct call from the Lord, he had a duty to help his father run the farm. But disappointment did not snuff out his enthusiasm for the cause of John Calvin. He read commentaries and wrote essays that he read at men’s society meetings. Dad eloquently argued points of doctrine, articulating and defending each letter of TULIP. He collected cassette tapes of sermons by Dutch dominees and those Christian Reformed ministers who shared his passion. In retirement he pored over black-bound tomes and cobbled together sermons, reading them to the captive audience in a nearby retirement home. He had become a preacher after all.
The essay concludes with the following lament:
As long as we contemplate the remains of past orthodoxy, see Dad’s righteousness in the slanted handwriting on stored sermons on election and reprobation, Sunday observance, worldly amusements, adultery and divorce, we cannot come to a decision.
The brief coffee klatch gets us talking about the new “normal” in church life: praise teams, women clergy, seeker-friendly services, interfaith dialogue, acceptance of divorced and gay members. We put down our coffee cups and get down to business. The ark has become a beer box with relics of a bygone era. Emboldened, we transfer its contents into a black plastic garbage bag. The cigar box with cassette tapes goes in last.
Tomorrow a smelly truck will rumble to our curb. A man in a yellow coverall will jump out, grab the bag, and toss it among the garbage. The truck will roar away to the city landfill and consign outdated orthodoxy a place among the broken bedsprings, naked dolls, and used paperbacks of our throw-away society.
Are these reflections on the means of grace, the Heidelberg Catechism and pious living, no more important than a broken-down hobby horse or a six-pack of empties? Do those old sermon tapes at least deserve a respectful place in a preacher’s bookcase? I don’t know if it really matters. I keep to myself the gnawing ambivalence, twist the bag shut, and drag it to the curb.
According to the comments made in response on the Banner's website, more than a few of those reading the essay took the author to be merely reflecting upon the realization of the fact that his father's death was just another indication that everything changes. What was meaningful to dad, wasn't meaningful to his son.
Other readers took the author to be saying something much more--that the son is reflecting upon the fact that every generation has to be faithful to its own views, values, and commitments, and the son's views (along with those of the ever-more "relevant" CRC) were not his father's (and his "somewhat cramped version of Calvinism"). Although it was hard to throw out dad's treasured books, notes, and tapes, the son saw these as "relics" of the past (even if these relics were "holy"). They needed to be dumped, if the son was to be true to his own beliefs, and finally move beyond the passe theology of his father. This is how I took the essay.
Therefore, Relics of a Bygone Era left me with a profound sense of sadness. For one thing, I hate death and the difficult choices like this we face when someone close to us dies. What do you keep? What do you sell or give away? What do you throw away? I understand a son's difficult choices--I've had to make them. I also understand that a son is not his father, and that those things among my possessions which I deem most valuable, my sons might not.
But the essay did make me think about my own role as "a deliverer of the faith." It quickly occurred to me that I have failed as a father and a pastor if I have not passed down to my sons (and to my congregation) a knowledge of God's word, and especially a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as that gospel is summarized in the Catechisms and Confessions of the Reformed faith. May God grant me the passion and the wisdom to do this very thing.
I also know full-well that I cannot make anyone else "love" the gospel or trust the Savior--only the Holy Spirit can do that. But I can tell those in my family, and in my church, what they should know about Jesus, why they should love the gospel, and that they must understand that Jesus is their only possible comfort in life and in death. This gospel is not a "relic" which can be thrown to the curb, once I'm dead and gone. This is the faith "once for all delivered to the saints." It is my job to deliver that faith. It is every Christian's responsibility to believe that faith. It is my responsibility. It is my children's responsibility. It is the responsibility of every member of our church. It is the Christian reader's responsiblity. May the blessed Holy Spirit create faith in our hearts, and continually lead us and guide us unto that truth which is found in Jesus Christ.
Although the essay never addresses the question of whether the author's father attempted to pass along this faith to his children--it is fair to assume that based upon those things which were so important to the father, and which are the very things which the son is having such a hard time trashing, surely implies that the father did teach his son the importance of these things. This is what raises such angst in the son, and what leaves the reader torn. Is the son rejecting the faith altogether, or merely the father's version of the faith?
My take is that the son is not throwing away junk which no one but his father would be interested in. Rather, this man is self-consciously throwing away the faith of his father, having never, apparently, made that faith his own. This is not to say the son is rejecting the Christian faith entirely, but this clearly indicates that the son will have much less to pass along to his own children than his father had given to him, and there is every indication that the son's own children will find that even the scent has gone from the old perfume bottle.
Given that this is posted on the website of the Banner, I can only conclude that the Banner's editors are in full sympathy with the author's point about trashing "the remains of orthodoxy." This is exactly what the CRC has been doing. They've already thrown much of their Reformed heritage to the curb, as so much trash to be discarded.
And this is sad. But it is all too characteristic of our age. The children always know best. The new is always better. Progress is always the goal. The stuff dad believed was fine for him (and the church of his day), but it is not for us, nor is it for the church which dad's church has now become. Don't forget, the trash truck comes again tomorrow.
By the way, if you don't want it, we'll take your trash! We think some of it is still pretty valuable!