...

Of this exclamation of the lamenting prophet we were reminded when we read the answer by Prof. L. Berkhof in The Banner of Oct. 31, 1941, to a question by a member of the Christian Reformed Churches concerning the censurableness of a Church member’s belonging to the C.I.O. The standpoint of the reply is that membership of the C.I.O. and, of course, of any worldly union is a relative matter: one may belong to such organizations, but it is better, because it is less dangerous, not to belong to them! And when we compared this weak and colorless reply to what the same professor said and wrote in 1916, we naturally were reminded of the text from Lamentations 4:1: “How is the gold become dim.”

But let us get the details.

The question asked was, whether the statement in the Form for the Lord’s Supper, that “all who seek to raise discord, sects and mutiny in Church or State” should abstain from the Supper of the Lord, does not apply to members of the C.I.O. “inasmuch as this organization is doing just that.” To this the professor replies, first, that “if members of our Church who belong to the C.I.O. make themselves practically guilty of such sins, the injunction, of course, applies to them as well as to anyone else.” This seems to be a mere commonplace, a truism. The professor seems to intend to say here, that the statement from the Form for the Lord’s Supper, applies to anyone that makes himself guilty of those sins, whether he is member of the C.I.O. or not: it applies even to members of the C.I.O.! But he feels that this does not really answer the question. And so, he comes to the point: is one practically guilty of raising discord and mutiny if the C.I.O. does “just that,” merely by being a member of that organization? Here the professor makes a distinction between communal and individual responsibility and guilt. It is the professor’s view that communal guilt is incurred by a member of the C.I.O. only if the officers of that union or of any union “initiate, abet, and actively seek to raise mutiny in Church or State” without protest on the part of such member. It seems that the professor thinks that it does not matter what the membership or a large part of the membership of the C.I.O. does, as long as it is not initiated or abetted by its officers. Well, in that case such a member must protest, and if his protest is in vain, he ought to leave the organization. Evidently, the professor is of the opinion that it is possible to be a member of the C.I.O. without doing violence to one’s Christian conscience. This is weak and colorless enough. He evidently believes in the principle of “neutral” organizations. For, if neutrality is impossible in. the sphere of labor, it is sin to join the C.I.O. Not so according to Prof. Berkhof. But he makes the matter still worse. Evidently afraid that the reader might draw the conclusion that such “communal guilt” of a member that fails to protest against the evil doings of the C.I.O. is censurable in the Christian Reformed Churches, he hastens to add: “This does not mean, however, that their guilt is necessarily just as great in the case of such corporate action, as it would be if they were personally guilty of the sins committed.” In other words, it is the opinion of Prof. Berkhof that discipline does not have to be applied even if a member of the Christian Reformed Churches belongs to the C.I.O., that organization raises discord and mutiny in Church or State, and that member does not even protest! The professor closes by saying that he is not sufficiently acquainted with the C.I.O. to pass judgment on it; he does not want to be understood as condemning that organization. But “on the whole it would seem to me that our Christian people would do best, if at all possible (sic!), to steer clear of it in view of the dangers to which membership in it exposes them.”

Conclusion: 1. Membership of the C.I.O. is not sinful: join if you cannot avoid it (i.e. let the bread question decide). 2. If the C.I.O. does something wrong you must protest, i.e. if it does something evil officially. 3. Even if you don’t protest and condone all the C.I.O. does, you need not become subject to discipline. 4. One of the leaders in the Christian Reformed Churches has not taken the trouble to find out whether the C.I.O. is to be condemned. 5. But for danger’s sake (not for principle’s sake, of course) it is better not to belong to the C.I.O.

This is the opinion of Professor L. Berkhof in 1941.

How different it was in 1916! Then he said and wrote:

“Finally the question arises: What should our Christian laborers do in view of the anti-christan character (I underscore, H.H.) of the general labor unions? Shall we say that they ought to join the existing organizations and attempt to reform them? From what we said in the foregoing you can easily infer that we do not intend to give any such advice. It is our firm conviction that the idea of such reformation is purely illusory, for it would not merely mean the correction of a few abuses, but a radical change in the essential character of the whole labor movement” (The Christian Laborer in the Industrial Struggle, p. 29).

What a difference! How we! Professor Berkhof at that time knew that the labor unions were anti-Christian! Today, he does not even know the C.I.O. well enough to pass judgment on it! How well he was convinced that attempts at reformations of the union are illusory! Today he advises the laborers to join and protest! How positive is his language in the above quotation: he has no intention to give any such advice. He has a “firm conviction” on the matter! The general labor unions would need a radical change in their essential character! That is language we can understand! But listen how he talks today: “This does not mean, however, that their guilt is necessarily as great,” etc. He is not sufficiently acquainted with the C.I.O. to pass judgment on it. He is not greatly in love with it, he writes! On the whole it would seem to him that our Christian people would do best if at all possible to steer clear of the C.I.O. in view of the dangers to which they expose themselves! 0, really, it made me sick at heart when I read it!

Let me quote from the stronger Berkhof once more:

“Conditions being as they are, we can only come to the conclusion that our Christian laborers must organize separately, if they feel constrained to take an active part in the industrial struggle. We say this advisedly, notwithstanding the position recently defended in one of our Church papers, that a Christian may join “an organization in the sphere of natural life that does not officially name the Word of God, and is therefore neutral in religion.’ For our contention is that the general labor unions are not neutral and cannot, strictly speaking, be neutral.”

And further:

“Now, as we already pointed out, the spirit that actually expresses itself in the unions is prevailingly a spirit of unbelief. . . . In the main unions are frankly revolutionary and humanitarian, and consequently do not believe in objective norms. And as we already pointed out, they have but slight regard for righteousness and personal liberty. Hence we repeat that we should have Christian labor unions,” (idem, pp. 29, 30).

And well I remember the beautiful close of that lecture, which I here quote:

“In their (the Christian unions) struggle they should not place their reliance on strikes and boycotts and the closed shop, those short-cut revolutionary methods, but on collective bargaining, joint agreement, arbitration, and efforts at better legislation. And if in this way of doing their Christian duty, of regulating their life by their Christian principles, they meet with derision and opposition and even personal loss, they have the blessed assurance that it is the cross of Christ that is resting on them, which they as consistent Christians cannot and do not desire to escape. Strong in the sense of doing the will of God they will then press on, ever mindful of the words of the Savior: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.”

All this is now forsaken by Prof. Berkhof. He has now himself taken the position he condemns above, at that time taken by the Rev. J. Groen. Wholly he repudiates his former stand! His stand today is determined by utilitarian principles.

God’s people will have to struggle on without him!

How is the gold become dim!