October 13: The Spirit of Error

Largely forgotten now, the League of Evangelical Students was an early 20th century forerunner to such contemporary evangelical student fellowships as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ and Reformed University Ministries. Its mission statement declared it to be “an inter-denominational and international student movement for the defense and propagation of the Gospel in the modern student-world.”
Organized in 1925, the League grew to have over 60 chapters on campuses across the United States, with an affiliated chapter located in China. Its leadership came primarily from the conservative ranks of the northern Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and it is notable that many of these same leaders were later to figure prominently in the formation of both Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929 and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.
The Evangelical Student magazine ran from 1926 until 1939, with the first issue appearing in April of 1926. In addition to the magazine, the League held annual conferences which were hosted by various chapters. Click here to learn more about the League and its magazine.
For today’s post, we’ve selected a short but important article by J.G. Vos
[1903-1983], son of the Princeton professor Geerhardus Vos [1862-1949]

THE SPIRIT OF ERROR
by J.G. Vos
[The Evangelical Student 1.2 (October 1926): 6-7.]

ERROR is always with us. It assumes many forms and makes various appeals. The systems of falsehood are almost without number. There are errors as old as the ages, and there are errors of recent origin. Errors appear, disappear, and reappear, while the truth of God abides continually. So sporadic, indeed, have been the errors, and so constant is the truth, that some have concluded that all error, because it is error, is about to die; and that all truth, because it is truth, is sure to survive.

This conclusion is certainly fallacious. It is true that error often dies, and that the truth usually survives; but the error does not die because it is error, nor the truth survive because it is truth. If error dies, it is because the Holy Spirit has used means to cut it off. If the truth survives, it is because the Holy Spirit has used means to ensure its survival.

Error will not die of itself, because the natural heart of man clings to it and loves it better than the truth. Idolatry, the worship of that which is not God, is almost as old as the race, and a large part of humanity still adheres to it, for the worship of the things that are seen appeals to the natural man. Christian Science, with its denial of the reality of sin, flatters the sinful heart of man. The idea of salvation by works, by character, by ideals, etc., appeals to the pride of man and conveniently removes the stumbling block of the cross of Jesus Christ. While the heart of man is what it is, these errors will never die of themselves.

Error will not die of itself, because Satan is actively engaged in its propagation. He is the father of lies, and there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own. Error traces its origin back to him, for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44). Errors and heresies are not indifferent things which come from nowhere; they are devised and propagated by the arch-enemy of the human race.

If error is to be overcome, it must be by active opposition on the part of those who acknowledge the truth. Christians must witness for the whole of revealed truth and oppose all contrary error. If we merely state the truth and neglect to point out and oppose the contrary error, we are not faithful witnesses. It is only as the truth is distinguished from error that its real character can be shown. The notion that we can forget about the error and merely preach the truth, that we can ignore “modernism” and meantime engage in “constructive” Christian work, is tragically mistaken. No doubt God could accomplish his purposes without using men as his instruments; no doubt he could bring about the victory of the truth without using our testimony, but He has called us to be his witnesses, and it is our duty to testify.

The visible Christian Church is divinely appointed to bear a corporate witness to revealed truth, and therefore also to discountenance error. Christian students by their membership in the body of God’s witnessing people support the truth and oppose error. In our day, however, great sections of the Christian Church have abandoned their testimony to the truth and their opposition to error, and other great sections seem about to do so. Doctrinal indifference is the first step; open toleration of error is the consequence. On this account Christian students should consider earnestly and carefully the question of their relation to a particular branch of the Christian Church, for membership in a witnessing church is itself a witnessing act, and membership in a church which tolerates error involves, to some extent at least, a tacit approbation of such toleration.

The League of Evangelical Students is essentially a witnessing body. We declare that we “bear united witness to the faith of students in the whole Bible as the inspired Word of God,” (Constitution, Article II, Section I). Those only are eligible for membership in the League who have “faith in the Bible as the infallible Word of God” and who accept “the fundamental truths of the Christian religion,” (Constitution, Article III, Section I). Let us not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. Let us not fear the charge of intolerance. God has commanded his people to witness for the truth, but he has never commanded them to tolerate error. If we who have banded ourselves together into a League to witness for the truth and against error, are on that account called narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, or even unchristian, let us call to mind the words of the Lord Jesus which are recorded in Matthew 5:11 : “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

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