Reformed churches have historically taught the doctrine of the antithesis. Specifically, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America teach and preach this doctrine and its implications. Yet sadly, many Reformed believers do not understand this doctrine.
An antithesis is an opposite, or a contrast, of something else. In his book Doctrine According to Godliness, Rev. Ronald Hanko identifies the antithesis as “the separation and opposition between darkness and light, believer and unbeliever, church and world” (page 209).
Although the word antithesis is not found in Scripture, the doctrine of the antithesis is taught in Scripture. A classic statement regarding the antithesis is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty”). This passage teaches that God has created a distinction between His church of godly believers on the one hand, and the world of ungodly unbelievers on the other. This distinction is pictured by the distinction between light and darkness. Light and darkness are antithetical contrasts; they are always separate from each other.
Antithetical contrasts such as light and darkness, or the believing church and the unbelieving world, cannot be combined. Yet some do attempt to combine believers with unbelievers, and to join the church and the world. Such a joining is called a synthesis. The common way to attempt this synthesis is that of convincing the church that society’s values, views, and morals are actually pleasing to God; thus the church becomes more like the world, and less like the church as God intended her to be. But just as it is impossible to combine light and darkness, so it is ultimately impossible to synthesize the world with the church. Man’s attempts to do so manifest man’s hatred of God, of His covenant, and of His church. That church which does join herself to the world shows herself not to be God’s church.
Fundamentally, the doctrine of the antithesis teaches that God is perfect and holy, the opposite of everything sinful. So we read in Scripture that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God reveals His perfect holiness by His Word to us – both His Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and His written Word, the Scriptures, which are compared to “a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Antithetically opposite this holy God – unable to exist in harmony and fellowship with Him – are the devil, the lie which the devil speaks, and the whole human race as it is corrupted by sin through the influence of the devil.
Regarding God”s gracious work of salvation, the doctrine of the antithesis teaches that God calls His people out of the darkness of sin and unbelief, into the light of the knowledge of the truth and fellowship with God (I Peter 2:9). In saving His church, God does not destroy the antithesis between Himself and sinful humanity; rather, He creates an antithesis among men, separating one part of humanity (His church of believers) from the other part (the world of unbelievers), and drawing His church into fellowship with Him in the way of knowing the truth and turning from sin. God’s creation of this antithesis among men is rooted in His sovereign eternal decree of election and reprobation, based on Christ’s limited atonement, and realized by the work of His Spirit applying all the blessings of salvation to the elect for whom Christ died. All of this is taught in a nutshell in Genesis 3:15.
The doctrine of the antithesis has application to the lives of God’s people and church.
First, as regards God’s people, this doctrine requires us to serve God in faith and obedience, and to avoid serving the devil in unbelief and disobedience. Already Adam was required to do this, by eating of the tree of life, and not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9, 17). Likewise we must say “Yes” to God, and “No” to the devil. So God commanded His covenant people: “Ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, I Peter 1:15-16).
This also is why God calls His people to a life of separation from the world of ungodly unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), being not conformed, but transformed (Romans 12:2). Notice, God does not call us to physical separation from the world, as if the church is required to live geographically apart from unbelievers in Christian communes. Rather, God calls us to spiritual separation from the world – to live a life of faith and obedience in the midst of ungodly unbelievers. This is the idea of walking in the light (Ephesians 5:8, 1 John 1:7), and of our being a light unto the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Practically speaking, this means that God’s children must avoid sinful activities such as drunkenness, sexual immorality (that is, any sexual relations with a person other than one’s God-given spouse), and rebellion against any rightful authority. This also means that God’s children must not join ungodly organizations, such as lodges and even labor unions (the latter promote rebellion against one’s employer). Finally, this means that although believers must necessarily interact with unbelievers, we must avoid close friendships with any unbelievers.
Second, as regards God’s church as a body, this doctrine requires the church to preach the truth of Scripture and to warn God’s people against the many devilish lies that men promote (2 Timothy 4:2ff). It requires her to call men everywhere to faith and repentance. It requires churches to join themselves in federation with other churches which preach the same truth over against the lie, and to avoid ecumenical relations with other churches which no longer preach the truth. To say this is not to ignore or work against Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one” (John 17:11), for here Jesus prays for the true, spiritual unity of those whom the Father gave Him (the elect for whom He died), in the way of confessing the truth about Jesus Christ. For the church to join forces with those who deny the truth is for her to live synthetically, not antithetically. Always God’s church and people are to avoid the synthesis, and to manifest the antithesis.
Manifesting the antithesis in her life, the church shows forth the virtues of Jehovah, for which purpose God saved her: “that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
The Standard Bearer, (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association) volume 4, page 353: “Antithesis, Synthesis, and Dualism” by Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
The Standard Bearer, volume 62, pages 97-120 (Special issue on the subject of the antithesis).
The Standard Bearer, volume 73, pages 157f, 275f, and 301f: “Antithesis” by Rev. Steven Key.
Herman Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association), chapter 10: “Doctrine of the Antithesis.”
Ronald Hanko, Doctrine According to Godliness (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association), pages 209-210: “The Antithesis”