Dancing—Full Circle

Both the Christian Reformed De Wachter and The Outlook, organ of the Reformed Fellowship, have given attention recently to the fact that the so-called “social dance” has been given approval at Calvin College. Especially the latter magazine has expressed rather vehement disapproval if the fact that Calvin’s Board of Trustees gave approval to such “social dancing” at the college, as well as of the fact that the 1977 Synod refused by an overwhelming vote to disapprove the decision of the Board of Trustees. It appears, therefore, that in 1978 the new policy which permits dancing will be implemented by the college administration, although admittedly there has been such dancing for some time already.

Editor Vander Ploeg, of The Outlook, counts this decision of the 1977 Synod as one of several ominous signals emanating from that synod, signals “so loud and clear that he who runs may read.” And he writes further: “When signals are flashing and bells are ringing at a railroad crossing to the danger of an oncoming, speeding train, a motorist or pedestrian must be blind, deaf, drunk, or bent upon suicide if he fails to take warning. CRC constituents are no less to be pitied if they now refuse to pay attention.” (The Outlook, Sept., 1977, pp. 2, 4) He then goes on to mention several “signals” in connection with the decision to implement social dancing.

Meanwhile, the editor fails to tell his readers what Christian Reformed constituents must do about the situation. That is, he has no advice for his readers as to what to do with respect to their church and its official stand. He admits that their church has changed (or has it?) and that, too, in the wrong direction. He talks about making an agonizing reappraisal with respect to paying quotas for Calvin College, without overtly advising to withhold such quotas—a form of ecclesiastical rebellion. He warns about other schools and colleges. And he has words about the dangers of this decision for the conscientious student. But what does all this mean? What does it do to solve the problem? What must be done about the fact that as a denomination the Christian Reformed Church has officially decided upon this policy, and that every Christian Reformed constituent is co-responsible for this policy unless he sunders himself from it in no uncertain terms? And what is to be done about the fact that the Christian Reformed constituency can no longer trust and depend upon the official decisions and counsel of their own broadest gathering, but must be warned about ominous signals by a Christian Reformed minister in a (mainly) Christian Reformed magazine? To these questions Editor Vander Ploeg furnishes no answer. 

I venture to say: he can give no answer, not unless he wants to go back beyond 1977, 1971, 1966, 1951, and even beyond 1928, to that fatal year of 1924 and its common grace decisions. 

If I may extend and apply the figure of those ominous signals employed by The Outlook’s editor for a moment, let me point out the following. First of all, standing on the railroad track—not merely at the crossing gates—was the Christian Reformed Church with its 1928-1951 anti-dancing decision. The lights were flashing and the bells were ringing already for a long time, really ever since 1928. But in 1966, when the so-called “film arts” decision was taken (overthrowing the 1928 anti-movie decision), the ominous signals became still more urgent. One might say that you could hear the loud horn of the approaching and speeding freight train. That freight train was also the Christian Reformed Church, but from a different aspect: the Christian Reformed Church with its common grace decisions of 1924. The train had three powerful diesel engines at its head—the Three Points of common grace. But the Christian Reformed Church of the 1928 anti-dancing decisions was drunk with the intoxicant of world-conformity, and therefore deaf to the bells and horn-blasts and blind for the flashing lights, apparently bent on suicide. For that CRC of the 1928 anti-dancing decision did not get off the track; nor did it make any effort to stop the fast-approaching train, at least until it was far too late. The result was that the heavy Common Grace Diesels struck the CRC-1928 full force, killed it instantly, and mauled and mutilated it until it was scarcely recognizable. An autopsy was not necessary. 

To speak literally rather than figuratively, the Christian Reformed Church has come full circle on the matter of the dance. In 1928 the Christian Reformed Church said: no dancing! In 1977 the Christian Reformed Church says: dancing is not only permissible, but it is welcome on the campus of our Christian college! 

Not only so, but emphatically the same Christian Reformed Church has made these opposite decisions. My application of the figure was not wholly consistent. Close examination of the speeding freight train and the figure standing on the tracks would reveal that principally they represented one and the same Christian Reformed Church, as I intend to show conclusively a bit later. I emphasize this because Editor Vander Ploeg denies it in writing about “signal number one.” He states: “Signal number one that should come through loud and clear to those who have long supported Calvin is that ‘onze school’ and the CRC have changed radically.” And again: “To be sure, the signal says that times have changed and the CRC along with it—but definitely in the wrong direction!” I reply: not really! And: not principally! And I will demonstrate it conclusively.

Again, speaking literally rather than figuratively, Editor Vander Ploeg ought not to have been so dismayed and even shocked at this decision. The warnings were all there, and they were clear. Having served on the 1951 committee to study this matter, he of all people should have taken note of the clear warnings. 

Certainly, this decision did not come like a thunderbolt out of a blue sky! On the contrary, it was predictable. 

For one thing, there were practical indications of its coming. As I mentioned earlier, there was admittedly dancing at Calvin already, though without theimprimatur of the church. Besides, already some years ago, I recall, there were reports about observing or participating in—I do not recall which, at the moment—a thing called liturgical dancing. Further, from time to time one would hear reports about dancing on the part of CRC constituents off-campus and apart from any relationship to Calvin College. Now, given the whole background of this problem, even these practical indications might have served as warnings of the fact that sooner or later there would be pressures in the church to justify officially what was already being practiced in fact. Not only do things usually go that way, but they had gone that way with that other “worldly amusement” involved in the decisions of 1928-1951. As movie attendance became more common and more open, a clamor also arose to justify it by official ecclesiastical decision; and eventually precisely this was done in what is rather euphemistically called the “film arts” decision. 

But there is more. 

Given the “film arts” decision, it followed with unassailable logic that dancing would also have to be approved. Anyone at all acquainted with the so-called worldly amusements problem and its history in the Christian Reformed Church could see that. For not only was it true that the two problems of movie attendance and dancing were closely connected historically and in previous synodical decisions. It was also true that, given the principal basis of the film arts decision, that basis would and could also serve as the principal basis of the social dancing decision. And what was that basis? Common grace and the restraint of sin. It is in the Acts of 1966 for all to read. The Standard Bearer called attention to it at the time of its adoption. 

Still more: as the decision of the Calvin Board quoted by The Outlook plainly declares, the Synod of 1971 specifically declared “the conclusions of the Church and Film Arts study of 1966, particularly ‘with respect to the relationship of the Christian to the world’ and ‘with respect to the exercise of Christian liberty’, to be a guide for the churches in dealing with the matter of dancing.” Hence, the Synod itself gave the cue as to how dancing might be justified, namely, on the same basis as that on which the theater and movie were justified. 

How anyone could be shocked at the decision of 1977 is beyond my comprehension. It was bound to follow the decision of 1966 as surely as night follows day. The surprising element to this writer is only the fact that it took as long as eleven years! 

But talk about warnings! 

The late Herman Hoeksema sounded a clear warning in The Standard Bearer of June 1, 1928, before the Report on Worldly Amusements even became a synodical decision. At that time he wrote (I translate from the Dutch): “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.” 

If only the Christian Reformed Church had listened in 1928! 

No, if only the Christian Reformed Church had listened in 1924! 

For, as I said, common grace and its denial of the antithesis is the root of the problem. This I shall show by quotation in the next issue. 

In conclusion, let me call attention to the significant fact that Herman Hoeksema’s prophecy of 1928 is being fulfilled some fifty years later. From time to time we have been criticized for attributing the present ills of the Christian Reformed Church to the common grace decisions of 1924. Well, brethren, the evidence is there! In 1928 the late Herman Hoeksema criticized the Worldly Amusements Report precisely because it proceeded from the principle of common grace and denied the antithesis. On this basis, he predicted that the churches could not win the battle against world conformity, but would drown in the stream. 

Today that prophecy has been fulfilled. 

Is this mere coincidence? That explanation is not credible: there have been too many such coincidences. 

No, it is a case of principles working through and bearing fruit. The (evil) leaven of common grace is leavening the whole lump! 

Face the facts!