In this installment we continue, first of all, with our sketch of the Report on Worldly Amusements which was before the Christian Reformed Synod in 1928. That Report, because its principle was that of common grace, contained the seeds of the, 1966 and 1977 decisions to open the door to the so-called “film arts” and to dancing and to bring these corruptions right on the campus of the denomination’s Calvin College. We remind you that both in this sketch of the 1928 Report and in our comments we are leaning heavily on an article of warning written by the late Herman Hoeksema in Volume 4 or the Standard Bearer. We now continue the outline of the Report:
II. Application of these principles to the three forms of worldly amusements:
A. Theater attendance: (Note: in the Report theater and movie attendance are treated under one heading. cf. pp. 31, ff.)
1. The theater is in itself not evil. The committee is not prepared, at least, to condemn the theater as such.
2. But the theater as it exists in reality is certainly evil and wrong:
a. There are still good dramatic performances that can be presented.
b. But the committee advises believers nevertheless not to attend these: (1) Because it can give offense to the brother. (2) Because one cannot always have the assurance before seeing a play that it is not only clean throughout but beneficial. (3) Because some of the so-called good plays are more dangerous than the bad, because of false conceptions of religion and morality which they set forth. (4) Because theater attendance will develop a taste for theater-going. Total abstinence is therefore also the safest.
B. The Movie:
1. There is no essential difference between the playhouse and the movie theater.
2. No intelligent person would condemn the movie on the sole ground that it presents moving pictures. The cinematograph is after all a wonderful invention, and there is no essential difference between a moving picture and a still picture.
3. But the movie theater as it actually exists, that is something else. That is evil and is in the same category as the playhouse.
1. Dancing as such is, of course, not to be condemned.
2. But the dance as it comes to manifestation in the world is immoral.
D. Card-playing and games of chance are to be condemned for well-known reasons.
At this point Rev. Hoeksema inserts another rather prophetic note “I would say that the only conclusion to which all this can lead is that we must take care that we get Christian theaters and Christian movie houses and dance-halls, which are established according to the demand of faith, where God’s children can play and dance to the honor of God. But the committee thinks differently about .this.” Somewhere along the line, of course, the powers that be in the Christian Reformed Church drew the same conclusion. They brought the theater and the movie and the dance right to the campus of Calvin College—in the name of Christianity. Now we continue again with the sketch:
III. What must the Church do with regard to those members who nevertheless participate in such amusements?
A. The Church must combat the spirit of worldliness and in particular the growing participation in these worldly amusements.
1. By instruction in the doctrinal and ethical principles which lie at the basis of this amusements-question.
2. By doing all it can to develop a stronger type ofspirituality among its members.
3. By unceasing warning against the prevailing spirit of worldliness and worldly amusement.
4. By censuring those who have been admonished and who nevertheless continue to live in the sin of visiting such worldly places.
In order to carry out the above, the Committee advises the Synod:
1. “To urge all of our professors, ministers, elders and Bible teachers to emphasize in this age of prevailing worldliness especially those doctrinal and ethical principles which our people must clearly understand and firmly adhere to in order not to be swept away by this mighty tide. Strong emphasis should be placed on the covenant-position of Christians and their children, on the call to spiritual separation, and on those ethical principles which have been explained in the second part of this report.
2. “To urge all our leaders and all our people to pray and labor for the awakening and deepening of spiritual life in general, and to be keenly aware of the absolute indispensability of keeping our religious life vital and powerful, through daily prayer, the earnest searching of the Scriptures, and through engaging in those practical Christian works which are the best antidote against worldliness.
3. “To exhort all our leaders to warn unceasinglyagainst the prevailing spirit and forms of worldliness in order that our Reformed principles in these matters may be reemphasized; to insist that these warnings shall be given not only in the preaching, but also in our Catechism and Sunday School classes, in family-visitation and in personal contact; and to urge that these warnings shall be given also in our schoolrooms.
4. “To remind consistories and other bodies; such as boards of Christian schools, city missions, etc., that in the nomination or appointment of those who occupy positions of responsibility in our circles, careful attention shall be paid to their conduct in the matter of amusements, and that no one shall be placed in a position of trust and influence whose conduct in this as well as in all other matters is not beyond reproach.
5. “To urge consistories to deal in the spirit of love, yet also in view of the strong tide of worldliness which is threatening our churches, very firmly with all cases of misdemeanor and offensive conduct in the matter of worldly amusements; and where repeated admonitions by the consistory are left unheeded, to apply discipline as a last resort.
6. “To instruct consistories to inquire of those who ask to be examined previous to making public profession of their faith and partaking of the Lord’s Supper as to their stand and conduct in the matter of worldly amusements, and if it appears that they are not minded to lead the life of Christian separation and consecration, to refuse their confession.”
B. The Committee does not consider it to be its task to suggest ways and means whereby our young people may be provided with wholesome amusements.
In his criticism, Rev. Hoeksema strikes at the basic error of the entire report as follows (I translate):
“And then our chief observation is that the Committee indeed has not correctly described the real place of the Christian in the world, and because of this it also has not grasped and correctly presented his calling and task. The basic view of the Committee is not antithetical but dualistic; it is really Anabaptistic. Let the reader judge for himself. According to the presentation of the Committee, the highest purpose of the Christian is to glorify God. For that purpose man was originally created. In order again to attain to that purpose God has also redeemed His people. Through redemption the Christian can again achieve his original purpose, namely, to praise and magnify God. That, then, is also his calling in the world.
“In this description of the highest principle of the Christian’s life and calling there is no antithesis. Yet, for a right view of things, it was just exactly necessary that the Committee should from the very beginning grasp the antithetical idea. They should have expressed this thus, that it is God’s purpose with His people in the world that they should glorify Him over against a world that lies in evil, and thereby condemn the world. His people are called to serve, to glorify, and to love Him antithetically. To cling to God and to reject the world; to love God and to hate mammon. By walking in the light and testifying of the light he condemns the world. If the Committee had clearly grasped this and expressed it, it would have given another direction to the development of the main line of its report.
“Now the Committee gets dualism. For according to the presentation of the Committee, the Christian must glorify God in the world. And in that world, according to the view of the Committee, there is much good through God’s common grace, but also much evil. And now it is the calling of the Christian to avoid that evil, but to cooperate with and go along with the good. The ungodly also still does the good. That happens through Common Grace. And now the Christian lives a double life. On the basis of this common grace he lives along with the ungodly, he has fellowship with him, he does many things in common with him, he amuses himself with him and plays ball with him. But according to his regenerated life and according to the ungodliness of the unbeliever, he keeps himself far from the ungodly and he must avoid the evil in the world. In the latter respect the Committee is indeed Anabaptistic, for avoidance (flight) is exactly Anabaptistic.”
Is it not ironic, by the way, that the very men who accused the deniers of common grace of Anabaptistic views here fall into that error of world-flight rather than world-fight themselves?
“This entire view is false.
“The correct view is that of the antithesis. It proceeds from the basic principle that the Christian is called so to serve and to glorify God, so to please Him and to confess Him, to walk in the light and in sanctification of life that, so doing, he condemns the world. The light must judge and rebuke the darkness, must fight against and overcome it. The sphere for this manifestation of the light over against the darkness is all, of the life of this world, with all means and gifts and powers and talents. It is the sphere of state and society, of business and industry, of science and art, of music and song, of joy and pleasure, of amusement and relaxation. In all these areas the child of God lives according to this calling as a child of the light, showing forth the virtues of Him that called him. But the ungodly also lives his life always out of the principle of enmity against God, and he reveals himself also very really as an enemy of God. And now God’s child does not want Anabaptistic avoidance, or world-flight. If he understands his calling, then he does not withdraw out of the world. Neither does he merely want to avoid the evil. But he wants to condemn it and do battle for his God in every area of life. Such is the correct line of the truth according to God’s Word. And if this principle is maintained, then there is no possibility of playing with and amusing one’s self with those who are the enemies of God. Who the composer was of that portion of the report in which the remark about ball-playing appears, I do not know; but whoever of the Committee members penned it, it is certain that he might well first follow his own advice and earnestly pray for a deepening and enrichment of his spiritual life, before he lives on such a footing with the ungodly that he with them and they with him can very well play a friendly game of ball!
“From this principle it also arises that the Committee does not absolutely condemn the theater and the movie. The actually existing theater and movie, as we know them, yes, that is wrong. But the presentation of a drama cannot be condemned in itself. We find this to be a dangerous piece of advice to the churches, especially in the time in which we live. For it is not only so that many children of God go along with the world, play with and amuse themselves with the ungodly, but they also haul the world into the church. They not only visit the theater and movie, but they bring the theater and many other things into the sphere of the Church. That is much worse still than theater attendance. Spiritual earnestness of life is missing. Young people can no longer have a banquet or party, or there has to be a drama, which is Christian in name, but in which nevertheless prayer and commandment are mocked. That is reality. And about this the Committee gives no advice. The Committee only concedes that the theater, taken in the abstract, can indeed be good. Well, then, what is more logical than that our young people should draw the conclusion from such advice that we are then called to present Christian dramas and to set up a God-glorifying theater! Of course, that is nonsense; but the nonsense is from the Committee.”
It is at this point in his article that Rev. Hoeksema makes the prophecy which I quoted in my first editorial on this subject: “The report of the Committee is ambivalent, irresolute, and therefore very dangerous. And we predict that, if the Synod adopts this report in this form, it absolutely will not help the churches in the battle against world-conformity. It is an attempt to point the drowning Church to a few blades of grass on the bank of the stream, advising her to cling fast to them, rather than pulling her out of the stream and saving her.”
That prediction has come true todayï¿½in full.
We say again: the seeds of the 1966-1977 stand on the movie and on dancing were present in the 1928 Report and Decisions. In a very real sense, those seeds were the Three Points of Common Grace and their consequent denial of the antithesis.
The battle to stem the tide of worldly amusements in the Christian Reformed Church was hopeless from the outset. It was only a matter of time before the whole church would be overwhelmed by that tide.
Such is the sad history of the amusements problem in the CRC.
For the church as such, it is too late, far too late, to do anything about it.
For those who ruefully and sorrowfully view the spectacle of this debacle there is but one solution: Back to the principle of the absolute antithesis! But that is only possible when you repudiate the insidious doctrine of common grace!