At the last synod of the Christian Reformed Churches a rather miserable case was considered in connection with their mission work among the Indians, more particularly with the work at Rehoboth. On the surface it appeared to be the question whether “white patients” should be admitted to the hospital there, but it was repeatedly stated that there was a “deeper problem at the bottom of the whole matter.” It is not our purpose to review the whole case as it was considered by the Christian Reformed Synod. There is chiefly one point of interest to which we would like to call the attention of our readers as well as of the Christian Reformed brethren. This concerns the case of Dr. R. Pousma, medical missionary at Rehoboth at the time, who was rather severely criticized, not only with regard to his work, but also on account of his walk. We quote from the doctor’s own address to synod; “I have been criticized. First in my stand on the movies. Yes, I am a bit out of step with our Church on the movies. I have been criticized for entertaining movie stars at the hospital. Let me tell you the circumstances. I happen to be a Rotarian. We were having a dinner at the Rotary Club in Gallup. Some movie stars were there who were making a picture. They said they would like to see the Indians in their homes in which they live. I did the same thing Dr. Beets would have done. I took them into my home, showed them some of our Indian homes, and gave them a dinner. We ministers should be careful in using arguments against the movies. If you use the same arguments your grandfathers used, you will alienate our people. Are we not encouraging a lot of hypocrisy with our attitude toward the movies? On the mission field our attitude toward the movies is of extreme importance. We are trying to win Indians for Christ, not to make them Christian Reformed. There are ministers in Gallup and Presbyterians on the mission fields who feel different on that subject. One of our ministers used this argument: ‘What if you should be found in a theatre on the judgment day; how terrible that would be!’ I would not think so; it all depends on the kind of picture you are seeing. Some of our Indians have had training at the Ganado Mission. The superintendent of that school allows no smoking but he does take the children to a good movie occasionally. Then our missionaries get up and say: ‘No one can be a good Christian and attend movies.’ We are doing the hypocritical thing in the Church too, by maintaining the stand we do. Some of our ministers have said to me: ‘The stand of our Church is wrong; the decision should be removed, but we don’t dare to do it at the present time.’ Many pictures are bad, but some are good. . . .”
Thus far we quote Dr. Pousma on this matter.
We also present a quotation from the remarks made to Synod by Rev. N. De Vries, a co-worker with Dr. Pousma at Rehoboth for a time: “Then the movie question was thrust upon me. . . . A Navajo girl asked me: ‘What about the movies?’ I did not say No or Yes, but I asked her a simple question: ‘Would you care to be found in a movie on the day the Lord Jesus comes?’ The next Sunday evening I mentioned this in my sermon. The next morning Dr. Pousma called me and said: ‘Everybody here goes to the movies; there are workers here who go when the coast is clear’. . . . A few days later I saw one of the Rehoboth hospital workers go to the movie house in Gallup. . . . I went to see her. . . . I said: ‘We as missionaries are called to live a separate life,’ and pleaded with her as a pastor to be loyal to her Church and her Lord. She took it to the doctor. The next Sunday before the broadcast the doctor said to her in my presence: ‘Are you going to see Gone with the Wind’. . . . Here Is an incident: On the way East with a party, Dr. Pousma bought tickets to a show. One of the girls would not go. The doctor said: ‘Don’t be an old fashioned girl; your folks won’t find out.’ Again: it was Prayer Day. My boy suggested he’d like to go to a ball game while we went to church. The doctor said to the boy: ‘You go to the basketball game and pray there; we will pray here.’”
Both quotations are from The Banner of July 18, 1941.
Now, the point I wish to bring out is that Dr. Pousma in replying to these criticisms and defending himself, appealed to the doctrine of “common grace.” According to oral reports of his speech to Synod he made a good deal of this theory as a basis for his defense. The Banner briefly reports the following: “I must defend myself now. I am on the spot. The Board has always been exceedingly kind to me; but it has not always been sufficiently careful about the men it put on the field. There is a twofold trend among our leaders: there are those who are orthodox and conservative, and there are also those who are also orthodox and conservative but have more appreciation of common grace. The existence of the latter element exerts an influence on one’s outlook and ability to get along with other people.”
It seems to me that Synod should have answered this argument.
But it did not. In the discussion of Dr. Pousma’s speech there were some that expressed rather strong disagreement with it and disapproval of it, but no one touched the principle of the matter as presented by the doctor: the relation of the theory of common grace to the rest of Dr. Pousma’s views.
Here came a man and appeared publicly before the synod of the churches whose servant he is as medical missionary, openly states that he belongs to the Rotary Club and dines with representatives of Hollywood, has a good time with them, instead of rebuking them for their well-known corruption, is friends with them, laughs at their jokes, no doubt, and talks their language (how otherwise can one dine with people of the world? It is always the same). He freely attends shows, advises others to do so, and mocks at those that oppose this. And he advises a boy to say his prayers at a ball game! And he defends this “broad outlook” on life by an appeal to the very doctrine which, the Church he serves adopted in 1924, and publicly declares virtually: “the only difference between some of you and me is that I know how to appreciate this doctrine of common grace, you don’t.”
Surely, for their own peace of mind as well as for Dr. Pousma’s sake, the members of Synod should have answered this argument of the doctor!
For their own peace of mind, I say. Did they not get scared for a moment when Dr. Pousma presented this argument? Did they not ask themselves: how is it that a man that is quite rational can conclude from the doctrine we adopted that such an outlook and mode of life is justified? Did they not wonder for a moment whether, perhaps, he was right? Surely, they owed it to themselves to point out the fallacy in the doctor’s reasoning if there were any.
But also to the doctor they owed this. For, after all, it was the doctrine of common grace, which the Christian Reformed Churches officially adopted in 1924, that had become a stumbling block to the doctor. And personally I do believe that it is such a stumbling block. But even if the delegates to Synod do not agree with me on this point, they must admit that the doctrine of 1924 actually became a stumbling block to Dr. Pousma. Should they, then, not have pointed out to him that in what respect he erred in his conception of the doctrine expressed in the “Three Points?”
But they did not even attempt this. Why not? Perhaps, they had an inferiority complex and felt that they could not show the doctor the error of his reasoning. Perhaps, there were some who felt that the doctor’s conclusions could not be attacked. Perhaps, there were also those that were of the same views as Dr. Pousma, had the same outlook on life and followed the same mode of life.
However this may be: the Synod failed to answer Dr. Pousma on this most important point.
I cannot refrain from acquainting our readers with the outcome of this matter. I quote from The Banner of Aug. 15, 1941:
“Synod’s officers advised: 1. To accept the resignation of Dr. R. H. Pousma as a medical missionary and to give him an honorable dismissal. 2. To give to Dr. Pousma the following advice in answer to his request : ‘From your statement it is evident that you do not desire to resign as a minister of the gospel, and only did so because you thought the one automatically followed from the other. We advise that you await for a time the leading of God’s providence to see if some other field does not open for you where you can labor as medical missionary, and in case no such opening is provided, that you address yourself to your Consistory for an honorable dismissal from the ministry.’ This advice was adopted by Synod.”
The authors of this advice surely proved themselves masters of ambiguity. Mark, the question is: Is Dr. Pousma still a minister? The masterful ambiguity of the above advice appears in this, that it seems to answer this question, but in reality it does not. Or, if you please, it gives a double answer: Yes-No. No, for the resignation of Dr. Pousma as medical-missionary was accepted. This includes his ministry. He is no longer in the service of the Christian Reformed Church as minister of the gospel in the mission field at Rehoboth. The relation between him and his Consistory has been severed as far as his ministry is concerned. Yes, for Dr. Pousma may still look for a position as missionary in another field, and although he already received an honorable dismissal as medical missionary, he may still ask for one from his Consistory! Is Dr. Pousma still a minister of the gospel? No: he received an honorable dismissal. Is Dr. Pousma still minister of the gospel? Yes: until he asks for an honorable dismissal!
I expect, however, that this decision will meet with general satisfaction. For by this decision the Christian Reformed Churches get rid of Dr. Pousma, while at the same time they vindicate him in his views. The latter is true, for he received an honorable dismissal, and is committed to the kind providence of God for another field (other, we suppose, than Christian Reformed) of labor as medical missionary.
Dr. Pousma appealed to common grace.
The Synod did the evidently wrong thing with an appeal to “the leading of God’s providence.”
The two were not very far apart after all!