Rev. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Redeemed Art

In the Grand Rapids Press, Feb. 11, 1989, and inThe Banner, Feb. 27, 1989, appeared reports on the “sacred” or “liturgical” dance. The Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids has been incorporating the liturgical dance into the worship service. The Banner reports:

Dance is no longer a worldly amusement. It has been redeemed as an art form.

The suggestion to do so was made by Synod 1971. Of all the Christian Reformed churches represented at that synod, few have responded by welcoming the redeemed sinner as an art form into ecclesiastical service.

In 1978, Church of the Servant Christian Reformed church . . . began integrating liturgical dance into its worship services. Fenna Stoub, 38, has been coordinator of liturgical dance since its debut in 1978.

. . . Liturgical dance in a Christian Reformed church, no matter how unfamiliar that may be, is no stranger to Stoub.

According to Stoub, dance adds another level of meaning to the worship experience. “Any art form exegetes words,” she said. “Dance gets under the meaning of words—it touches deeper than on a superficial level. It’s no different than music or poetry in Scripture.”

. . . Dance embodies the spirit of each liturgical season at Church of the Servant. How dancers move and what they wear symbolize what the church is celebrating. At Lent, for example, dancers don dark colors, whereas at Easter, their raiment is white with streamers of colored ribbon.

Though liturgical dance is a new art form in the Christian Reformed Church, it is not new to the Christian church. According to Stoub, dance was utilized in worship until the eighth century when an Augustinian mindset began drawing attention away from the body to the spirit.

“That’s not biblical,” Stoub said. “There was never a problem with dance in the Bible. In the Old Testament, David danced before the ark. When David’s wife Michal condemned her husband’s dancing, God put her under a curse.”

The Grand Rapids Press reports on the same development:

Arms outstretched, head bowed and hands dangling, Fenna Stoub looked like the crucified Jesus.

She and five other dancers advanced from three different points toward the altar in Seymour Christian School’s gym. Slowly, reverently, they scooped imaginary sins from the floor and cast them away in a graceful act of contrition. Then the redeemed sinners converged on the altar, palms upward, faces intent, “reaching toward salvation, toward mercy”. . . .

Church of the Servant is unique, but less and less of an anomaly as other churches discover a place for the arts in their worship.

“I think there’s the realization that the body is involved in praise,” said the . . . pastor of the church. “Especially when the dance expresses the songs and the themes, it becomes obvious that it’s a way of worship.”

Because of the love of dance—she has studied ballet since she was 18 and works with Artist’s Refuge, a professional dance group in town—Stoub was a natural to lead dance at Church of the Servant.

She was running her band of a dozen dancers through the regimen last Sunday. The group ranged in age from 9 to 38.

In addition to her church work, Stoub is serving her second, yearlong term as president of the Sacred Dance Guild. The 653-member guild comprises members from all denominations, and even counts some Buddhists and Jews in its ranks.

For all those denominations to choose from, it is ironic that a member of the Christian Reformed Church, a church that has long cast a suspicious eye on any form of dance, should head the guild.

Stoub thinks the suspicions date back to Plato and St. Augustine, philosophers who mistrusted all things having to do with the body, and were used to support the later idea that dance is somehow sexual.

“The roots of the anti-dance thinking (in the CRC) has to do with secular dance and movie-going and card playing, ” Stoub explained. “‘It was seen as worldly” . . . .

Noteworthy is the manner in which The Banner report introduces this subject, “Dance is no longer a worldly amusement. It has been redeemed as an art form.” It was a “worldly amusement” for the Christian Reformed Church until 1971. Then the Synod declared piously that the dance could be “redeemed” as an art form. Christ, of course, does not redeem the dance. The church does. It takes what is worldly and corrupt, and purchases it for Christ and His church. What was worldly and sinful, has marvelously been changed into an instrument of praise to God. And all this was done on the basis of Common Grace, according to the decision of the C.R. Synod. One is reminded of the wolf who comes in sheep’s clothing. Here the opposite takes place. Some seem to have discovered that what appeared to be a wolf, was after all a sheep in disguise.

It is truly unbelievable that any can claim that what the church had rejected as worldly for hundreds and even thousands of years, could now suddenly be rediscovered as an “art form” to be used to glorify God. In the same manner the movie, formerly considered also a “worldly amusement,” surprisingly became “film art.” What a tremendous transformation!

Can it really be true that these developments in the last days in which we live mark a return of the church to its more pristine and holy form as it was manifest shortly after Pentecost? Or is it rather that we see evidence of the “dog returning to its own vomit again” (II Pet. 2:22)?

Orthodox Presbyterian Churches

Clarion, the Canadian Reformed magazine, Jan. 2, 1989, quotes a report in Journey magazine about activities in the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches:

News and rumors are rife concerning some Orthodox Presbyterian congregations/pastors who are seriously considering leaving the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In a letter dated January 6, 1988, the Rev. Mark Maliepaard announced that the New Life Presbyterian Church of Mira Mesa, California, had voted to realign with the Presbyterian Church in America. That church has since realigned. 

Through the Summerand Fall there have been further developments. The New Life Church of Escondido, pastored by the Rev. Richard Kaufmann, has publicly announced that their Session is considering realignment. This is significant because this church has been so influential at Westminster Seminary (West).

A number of private meetings, beginning with an August 6th gathering of approximately ten men, have been held to discuss realignment. Another meeting was held on September 10th where four presentations were made in the morning, and four in the afternoon. The possibility exists of six California churches realigning, including the aforementioned Mira Mesa and Escondido, as well as almost half the Orthodox Presbyterian teachers at Westminster (West) . . . .

A few churches in other parts of the country have also been mentioned as possible realigners . . . .

Some in the OPC have been strongly in favor of joining the PCA. These were greatly disappointed when a proposed merger was defeated. Now it appears that individual churches are leaving the OPC to join the PCA. It remains to be seen how extensive this realignment will be. The Canadian Reformed “Press Review” editor sees this a trend which will “strengthen the Reformed character of the OPC.” He adds, “This gives all the more reason for us as Canadian Reformed Churches to intensify our contacts with the OPC.”