There is a scourging lack of sharp polemics in Reformed periodicals and journals today. Reformed writers are averse to writing sharply against false doctrines that assault the truth and the church of Jesus Christ. Reformed writers fear that if they were to write sharply against false doctrines and name those who teach false doctrines, they will be labelled as radicals who believe that theirs is the only true church. Reformed writers fear to write sharp polemics out of fear that that they will be accused of pride and arrogance.
In two professors we have outstanding examples of what it means to contend earnestly for the faith. These two professors are never afraid to write sharply against false doctrines and heretics on behalf of the truth. Their writings and their style of writing are not popular today. Some would say that their style of writing is harsh and unloving. Many would label them as radicals.
These two men lived through the controversy that engulfed the PRC in 1953. They knew from personal experience the deceitfulness of the lie and its devastating consequences on the truth and the lives of God’s people. In times of desperate necessity when the truth was at stake, these two men rose up to defend the truth. They were not afraid of being slandered as radicals. They contended earnestly for the faith, confessing that God’s truth is above all.
Professor Herman Hanko
Prof. Herman Hanko was the former professor of Church History and New Testament studies at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. In his years of studying church history, he recognised that controversies frequently confront the true church of Jesus Christ. In his book on heretics in the church, Prof. Hanko writes that controversies “are frequently present in the church of Christ because the church is called to fight the good fight of faith in defense of the truth of Scripture”. But the “salvation of the church lies in her intolerance—intolerance of all that is contrary to God’s truth in Christ”. “When the truth of God is at stake, one ought to defend that truth with vigor and enthusiasm—even if one must suffer for it.” “In times of apostasy, the church needs trumpet blasts, sharp unambiguous language, men willing to “say it as it is,” fearless men who love God and his word above all else”.
Along with controversies, there are also heretics who are present in the church. Prof. Hanko defines a heretic as “one who teaches doctrines contrary to those that have been officially established by the church as the truth of Scripture”. A heretic is often not one who outrightly contradicts the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions. A heretic does not introduce his false doctrines by announcing to the church that he is intent on contradicting the church’s confessions. Rather, Prof. Hanko points out that heretics
“attempt to clothe their erroneous positions in ambiguous language and outwardly orthodox language. Their motive is deception. They attempt to present aberrations from the faith as genuine Reformed doctrine. They plea that they are simply stating old truths in new and fresh ways, or that they are giving the people of God fresh and innovative insights into long-cherished doctrines. But they lie.”
In his commentary on Galatians, Prof. Hanko explains that another tactic used by heretics is to attack the credibility of those who stand for the truth.
“Heretics throughout history, attempting to introduce false doctrine into the church of Christ, frequently have used the same or similar tactics. Rather than attack the truth head on—something too obviously wrong to be deceiving—they attack the credibility of the leaders in the church. Heretics may say that these men are old, decrepit, and unsound of body and mind. Or they may brand the defenders of the truth as narrow-minded, intolerant, sectarian, promoters of ideas that have no sanction of most of the church world.”
The true church of Jesus Christ and faithful ministers of the gospel may not tolerate false doctrine. There “is no room in Scripture for tolerance of wrong doctrine. A faithful minister and church are intolerant of corruptions of the truth, for these are corruptions of the truth of the God whom the saints love and serve”. Today, there is the thinking that one may compromise the truth in a certain aspect, but still continue as a member or an office-bearer in good standing. Prof. Hanko has this to say about those who compromise the truth: “Sad to say, the church has always been plagued with these great compromisers. They are almost more dangerous than outright heretics, for they sell the truth under the guise of toleration, love for brethren, and desire to be known as peacemakers”.
Standing boldly for the truth will mean suffering. It will bring scorn and ridicule from those inside and outside the church. Prof. Hanko assures Reformed believers that when “we suffer for Christ’s sake because we represent his cause in the world and his truth over against the lie, there is profit”.
Professor David Engelsma
Another stalwart defender of the truth in the PRC is Prof. David Engelsma, former professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament studies at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. He is well-known for developing the truths of God’s unconditional covenant, marriage, and the doctrine of the church in relation to church membership.
Much of what appears in Reformed periodicals and journals is heavily nuanced to avoid offending those who teach false doctrine. Rarely is a false prophet named. Reformed writers believe the seductive lie that they ought only to be positive in their writing, and never to be critical, or that it is wise not to offend. The result is that God’s people believe that there is no need to guard the truth jealously. Prof. Engelsma never nuanced his writings against those who teach false doctrine. Concerning nuancing, he writes:
I confess at the outset that I have the strongest aversion to “nuancing”—the word and the activity. “Nuancing” in contemporary theology is the activity of so qualifying, modifying, limiting, moderating, and mitigating a doctrine or an ethical precept that what remains is a pathetic, puny thing, not worthy of one’s life-and-death stand on its behalf. “Nuancing” is the affliction of the scholars, who generally prove to be of little help in the great struggle of the church for the defense of the faith in these last days.
Prof. Engelsma explains the reason why we must be intolerant of false doctrine in the church:
For God’s gracious deliverance of his church from that misery, we ought to be grateful. In our gratitude, we ought to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We must be intolerant of every error and departure, especially the errors and departures that compromise the gospel of salvation by sovereign, particular grace.
During his decades as editor of the Standard Bearer, Prof. Engelsma displayed a courageous stand for the truth. He guarded the truth jealously on behalf of the PRC. Before he gave up his position as the editor of the Standard Bearer, Prof. Engelsma warned that the magazine “is not, and the magazine may not be, loosely Christian or generally Reformed”. The Standard Bearer “fights with the Word of God, and with the confessions…The sword of the Standard Bearer is sharp. In its controversy with doctrinal and ethical evil, it is uncompromising”. The Standard Bearer is “not a slick, friendly, positive, harmless magazine. It is not a magazine that tries to please everybody and tries equally hard to offend nobody”. The “editor of the Standard Bearer must be polemical. He must be a fighter, regardless whether this is naturally his character. For this he is most severely criticized, even hated”. “Cursed be the editor of a Reformed publication, particularly the Standard Bearer, that does the fighting work of the Lord negligently. And cursed be the editor that keeps back his pen, which is mightier than the sword, from blood.”
Professors Hanko and Engelsma took seriously their calling as professors of theology to “expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors” (Church Order, Article 18). They are stalwart defends of the Reformed faith. They love the truth and defend it at all costs. It is deplorable that some in the Reformed church world would scorn at their courageous stand for the truth.
The scores of books and articles that these two professors have written are sources of powerful, solidly Reformed instruction to every believer. It is critical that in these last days, where compromisers are aplenty, that Reformed office-bearers and members take heed to their instruction.
When God’s people contend earnestly for the faith by searching deeper into the Scriptures to develop the truth over against false doctrines, God blesses their efforts. He causes them to grow in godliness and holiness. He blesses them and their children in their generations. He sees to it that His church remains and grows as a powerful witness to the truth.
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 54
 Herman Hanko, Contending for the Faith: The Rise of Heresy and the Development of the Truth, (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2010), 53.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 21.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 106.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 158.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 49.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 225-6.
 Herman Hanko, Justified unto Liberty, (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2011), 15.
 Hanko, Justified unto Liberty, 43.
 Hanko, Contending for the Faith, 169.
 Hanko, Justified unto Liberty, 184.
 David Engelsma, Bound to Join, (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2010), 123.
 Engelsma, Bound to Join, 127.
 David Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, March 1, 2005, 250.
 Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, March 1, 2005, 250.
 Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, March 1, 2005, 250.
 Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, March 1, 2005, 250-1.
 Engelsma, The Standard Bearer, March 1, 2005, 251.