An observation by the Rev. M. Schipper in the December issue of the Standard Bearer causes me to take the pen and write of his conclusions: Non sequitur! (It does not follow).
I refer to the following from the pen of my colleague: “It seems to me that when a church has only seven or eight families and it could have twenty seven or eight, if so many did not by-pass them, it is only playing church when the smaller churches continues. And this expression ‘playing church’ I apply both to the smaller church that continues and to those who bypass it. It becomes a bit ridiculous when a church of only seven or eight families has to struggle . . .”
Now I could make an observation about the qualification “ridiculous” when applied to a small, struggling church in Christ’s Name. But I forbear!
I only wish to voice my own convictions on this matter which is “characterized” by the Rev. M. Schipper, rather than soberly evaluated from Scriptural “motives.”
And of this “characterization” above referred to is say: non sequitur!
Now if Rev. M. Schipper were writing about an abstract question, it would not matter so much what he writes. Even then I would not agree with him, but I would let the matter rest. However, I believe he is writing about the small, but courageous congregation of Creston. At least I am certain that if the “condition” of being small prevails, Rev. Schipper will have given reason for the faint-hearted to be more faint, and for the courageous to feel that their courage is, after all, fool hardiness! Such need a word of encouragement, rather than to be told that they should simply disband—since it is a matter of ridicule to go on, should others not join their number!
Whether a group, large or small, is “playing church” certainly cannot simply be a conclusion from the fact that they are small; nor does it follow from the fact, that a group is relatively large, that they are not playing church; nor again does it show that one is playing church when he bypasses another church of his denomination.
One plays church when the reality and sobriety is out of it; when, the sacredness of the offices of Christ is not seen and exercised, be such a church large or small. And one does not play church when the offices are’ &ally honored, the Ministry of the Word is maintained, church discipline exercised, the youth instructed in Catechism, the covenant youth admitted to the Lord’s Supper upon confession of faith. Such a church hasthe sanction from the Most High God, and from Him who standeth between the seven candlesticks. And of such a church Jesus says: “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast little strength, and hast kept my word and hast not denied my name.”
And this is not changed one iota by the very accidentalfact, that a few people cannot see the glory of the ministry of the word and sacraments, which are being exercised by Christ Himself in such a faithful, be it then small church in number! A mere “placement committee” surely would, by their efforts, not make such a church less one of “playing; for such a church does not play church in the first instance!
Once more I, therefore, say: non sequitur!
Fact is, that the little church at Creston became small exactly because she maintained the faith, kept the Lord’s Supper pure by excommunicating the unfaithful, who are walking in disobedience to Christ; and she did this in Christ’s name, reading the Form of Excommunication. This small church walked in this courageous way, lest the church would lose its dignity and simply “play church.” And in this high and lofty task of “cleansing from evil-doers the city of our God” Rev. M. Schipper participated when Classis East so advised in Christ’s name. That was, I believe, not “playing church”—yet they were but eight families who performed this act in the Name of God!
I would not suggest this stigmatization of “playing church” upon small congregations, but would rather admonish with the sound words of Christ who said: “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62.
And this word is applicable, whether a small group grows numerically or not!
Will you please accept this short article for contributions.
It is with deep sorrow of heart that I set myself to writing this article, but it is my firm conviction that the article of the Rev. M. Schipper in the Dee: 15, 1955 issue of theStandard Bearer may not go unchallenged.
Let me quote just a small portion of his article to which I wish to make a few remarks, though I ask those who read this article to reread his article in the above mentioned Standard Bearer, in order to get the full import of my remarks. Quote: “It seems to me that when a church has only seven or eight families, and it could have twenty seven or eight if so many did not pass by them, it is only playing church when the smaller church continues.” This small quotation will serve to bring to your minds the article in question.
Rev. Schipper does not go so far as to accuse us of the sin of playing church. But to his mind, that is what we are guilty of. This is a terrible sin, the church, the body of Christ, to play with so holy a thing as that, that is terrible. Oh, if this is true, Oh God give us grace to repent. But do you know what this means, in the first place it surely means this that if the Rev. Schipper has the courage of conviction, he will not preach for us the next time he has a Classical appointment in Creston, for if he does he too is guilty of playing church. It also means that all we have ever done in the past as a congregation is null and void, the baptisms that have been administered are void. Our admittance to the Lord’s table is also void, our excommunications are void. Oh, if this is all true I shudder, for God is not mocked.
But is it true that we are playing church? What are the ear marks of the true church? And if we have the marks of the true church, then we are not playing church. The ear marks of the true church are the pure preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the Sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline. I’m sure the preaching of the Word is pure even as in all our other churches, the administration of the sacraments are properly administered, and as for Christian discipline, I’m sure that none of our churches bestowed the labor on the schismatics as the church of Creston, the church of seven or eight families. I do not say this boastfully, but rather in sincere gratitude to God for His faithfulness for it was and is only by his grace that we were able to do as He has instructed us.
The Scriptures say that where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.
As for those who pass us by, I am inclined to agree with Rev. Schipper, though that is not necessarily so. They may have very good grounds for remaining in the church in which they are now members though I must confess I have found very few that are able to do so. But that is their question: “Would we like to have more members?” Of course we would, it would sure make for a more rounded out church life. But if God withholds others from joining us, “Shall we complain?” Shall we become discouraged? Shall we discontinue? God forbid, let us strengthen ourselves in the Lord, and go forward in faith. That I am sure is our calling as a small congregation.