Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.


Winning One for the Lord?  


Sunday, February 4, 2007 was “Super Bowl Sunday.” It is considered by many to be the greatest, most important sporting event of the year in the United States. Millions watch. Some, doubtlessly, stayed home from services in church to see the great game on TV. One can easily guess that some Christians managed to get the expensive tickets to see the game in person. 

Many churches too would make use of the game as another “evangelical tool”—in an attempt to “become all things to all men” (I Cor. 9:22). A super-sized screen is placed in church and the game projected for all in the auditorium to see. Friends and neighbors of parishioners are invited to attend the viewing of the game—usually in place of the normally scheduled sermon. During or after the game, spiritual applications could be made. Others are introduced to this church by means of the game. Perhaps they would be inclined to attend on subsequent Sundays as well. And did not Paul himself often use sports illustrations (as: running a race) when he presented the gospel to the Gentiles? 

Two other things made this particular Super Bowl special and unique. What many noted was that both teams had black coaches. Never, we are told, has a black coach led his team to a Super Bowl victory. This year, obviously, a black coach will have attained this milestone.

But a few have pointed out another remarkable thing: both coaches profess to be Christians. Don Pierson, sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune (Jan. 23, 2007), wrote:

…At a Chicago news conference where he endorsed Mayor Richard Daley for re-election on Monday, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said Smith and Dungy (the two coaches—GVB) present “a good lesson for all of us.” 

“To see two African-American coaches go to the Super bowl when it has been historically difficult for black coaches to break into the NFL is terrific,” Obama said. “But what makes it even better is that they are both men of humility, they are both men of God. They never trash talk. They are not yellers and screamers on the sidelines. They are a couple of class individuals.” 

To Dungy and Smith, their story is as much about coaching style as color. 

“I know the type of person Lovie is,” Dungy said. “He has the same Christian convictions I have. He runs his team the same way. I know how those guys are treated in Chicago and how they play—tough, disciplined football without a lot of profanity from coaches or a win-at-all-costs atmosphere.”

One must be pleasantly surprised that these coaches are “both men of God” who do not “trash talk.” Now we have not only the Super Bowl used by many churches to attract and teach attendees concerning the “game of life,” but also coaches who might serve as examples personally to the youth of the church. 

Yet there is something very disturbing. These “men of God” must honor in their confession the first commandment as well as the second and third. But what about the fourth commandment? Football games are regularly played on Sunday. The Super Bowl is only the climax of a season of disregard for the Sabbath in sports. What sort of lessons does one learn in this violation of the Sabbath? While one can appreciate the decent behavior of some sports heroes (there is so little that is commendable in many of the “heroes”), does not this very fact tend towards the increasing erosion of obedience to the fourth commandment? If these “men of God” can violate the command, is it so wrong that we do likewise? And if the Super Bowl can replace the preaching, at least for one Sunday, what does it teach about Sabbath observance and the need of the preaching of the gospel? 

There can be no doubt that there has been an erosion of the requirements of the fourth commandment. Sabbath observance has sharply declined in recent years. Many, perhaps most, businesses are open on Sunday. Sports increasingly take place on Sunday. All of this serves to cause the Christian to doubt the need of having one day of seven set aside to worship. In fact many in Reformed churches claim that since we are called to serve God every day of the week, it is immaterial whether we do that especially on Sunday. 

We could profitably examine our own use of the Sabbath. Can we note evidences of possible erosion of our own proper worship of God’s name on this day? 

“Will it be Light or Heat for the CRC?” 

So began an article by John VanDyk in Christian Renewal, January 31, 2007. VanDyk began his column by reporting what appears to be a relatively quiet time in the CRC after several turbulent decades now past:

Other than a recent major stir over the issue of homosexuality, the Christian Reformed Church has appeared on the surface at least to be a relatively peaceful denomination quietly going about its business. Following the departure in the early 1990s of over 10,000 members, the delegates to classes and synods remarked in The Banner on the “harmony” and refreshing “lack of confrontation” experienced in those assemblies. 

Yet despite efforts to maintain the peace by walking the narrow yet hap hazardous road of both appeasement and compromise on the issue of women in office, the CRC Synod of 2006 may have inadvertently rekindled the flames of an ongoing debate.

After the CRC Synod 2006, two groups emerged in connection with the decision taken respecting women in office. Synod adopted a proposal to change its Church Order, which clearly stated that men would occupy the offices within the church, so that now the offices would be open in all of the denomination to women. This change would have to be approved finally by the Synod of 2007. (Several years earlier the CRC Synod had decided that individual Classes, by majority vote, could legally set aside the requirement of the Church Order and ordain women as ministers of the Word.) The Synod made the further decision that women would not be able to serve, for the present time, as delegates to synod or as members of synodical committees. In addition the Synod decided that the women-in-office issue would not be brought up again for seven years— a “cooling off” period. 

Two groups formed after the Synod of 2006. One consisted of six pastors in West Michigan. These held a public meeting on September 11, 2006 at the Byron Center CRC. The report was that “several hundred CRC pastors, elders, deacons and members were in attendance.” This group calls themselves “The Returning Church.” Their statement of purpose reads:

As many other denominations, the Christian Reformed denomination has gone through difficult times the last decades. Many individuals, families and pastors who were long part of the denomination have left for other churches and some have formed another denomination. 

Those who remain within the denomination are saddened by polarization, by a sense of unease and by the threat of further membership losses. On a deeper level, there are many who feel that the denomination no longer benefits from careful attention to the Scriptures and an enthusiastic recognition of the value of its confessional treasure. Discussion of serious ecclesiastical issues often occurs with little reference to the Bible and the confessions. 

This evening’s meeting is the beginning of an exploration of ways that the Lord may be pleased to use to bring renewal to our denomination. We have considered and have rejected the option of leaving this denomination for three reasons: (1) We believe the denomination has many members and churches that are dedicated to God’s Word and who value the confessions. (2) We believe that other denominations have problems as well. And (3) we feel that God is calling us to exercise our faith and use our spiritual energy to bring about renewal in the Christian Reformed Church.

We are dedicated to revitalizing local Christian Reformed Churches so that the power of Scripture will be the primary influence within them. We are dedicated to the catechetical instruction of our children that reflects the continuing importance of the Reformation tradition. And we are dedicated to evangelism and missions built on biblical principles.

But a more strident, insistent, demanding voice is also being heard in the CRC. Women who have gained the “right” to serve as ministers, elders, and deacons in the CRC are offended that synod somewhat limited their opportunities to serve the Lord: they cannot yet come as delegates to synod or serve on synodical committees.Christian Renewal reports:

Enter the overture-writing lobby. According to The Banner and The Grand Rapids Press, “A group of women pastors and chaplains from the western Michigan area around Grand Rapids have called for the removal of all restrictions particular to women. Calling themselves “Hearts Aflame” in reference to Jesus’ disciples, they have organized four prayer vigils, including one for the opening day of synod, June 9, 2007. They are also urging local classes to draft overtures, and have created a tip sheet to help in the writing.” 

Another lobby effort led by Calvin College professor Dr. Helen Sterk called for an organizing meeting in early January “to begin a campaign which includes getting churches to write overtures asking that the Sabbath (moratorium on discussion) be cancelled and that women join men in all aspects of the CRC”; a daily demonstration during synod—one thousand people every day all wearing the same color watching the delegates; booths at synod with brochures and a video documentary. The group is also calling on the leadership of the denomination to join the protest.

Comment is hardly needed. This sort of activity surely does not proceed from “hearts aflame.” There is evidence of coercion, intimidation, and pressure tactics. It appears to make a mockery of prayer—four prayer vigils indeed! For what will these be praying? That God would move the synod to grant them their hearts’ desire? One can hardly imagine that these would be praying, “Thy will be done.” Nor would they likely be praying, “Grant that we may submit to Thy Holy Word.” And imagine daily demonstrations during synod, when each day one thousand or more people, all dressed in the same color clothing, are watching, watching synod to make sure that the delegates know what is expected of them. 

It is a sad commentary on what ought to be decency and good order in the church.