Mr. Chairman, Board members, delegates, visitors, and friends:
It is a privilege to address you on this occasion for more reasons than one.
The chief reason is that you as a Covenant youth represent the emerging Church of tomorrow. You are the timber from which future elders and deacons and ministers of the Gospel are formed; but no less the material for future Covenant parents and teachers, valiant soldiers of the cross and faithful witnesses of the Name of God in these last days.
And I admire your undaunted zeal. You might be compared with a rosebud unfolding its petals to the light of day, or a butterfly, just emerging from its cocoon, testingly spreading its wings as it basks in the morning sun. But these comparisons would fail to express your ambitious enthusiasm as you challenge the future before you. Your problems are vital just because you are preparing yourselves for your place in God’s Church and Kingdom, and you have the vitality, the zeal and the daring to face your problems with a challenge.
The more reason why it is a privilege to discuss these problems with you, especially in an assembly where a large number of our Prot. Ref. young people from at least three States are represented.
No less does the subject appeal to me on which I am to address you briefly this morning.
Not one of us is unaware that especially for the youth of the Church recreation presents its own problems and has created much discussion even in ecclesiastical assemblies in the past. The time in which we live is partly responsible for this. Not as if our young people of today are any worse than they were some years ago, but the many developments of our day have created new problems. There was a time when a person hardly stepped beyond the narrow sphere of his own church and family. Long working hours, horse and buggy transportation, etc., simply made it impossible. There were not so many outside amusements, nor was the opportunity of participating in them so great. But today with the radio and the automobile, not to mention the wide range of amusements of every type offered wherever you turn, the problem becomes far more acute than ever before. Especially for the Protestant Reformed youth who are not willing to follow the dictates of sinful flesh, nor satisfied with merely placing the question, “may we do this or that”, but who want to apply their principles to every sphere of life, the question becomes vital, “what must be our attitude toward recreation?”
Let me add that the word recreation is much better for the purpose of our discussion than the word amusements. First of all, because especially in common usage the word amusements includes much which the Christian condemns. But also amusements, although they do have a place in our lives, can only serve as recreation.
In answering the question before us we should first agree on what we understand by recreation. An answer to that question will also determine our attitude toward it.
1. What do we understand by recreation?
The word comes from a Latin word to which is added the prefix ‘re,’ so that the meaning becomes ‘to create again or anew.’ You readily recognize the word re-create in it. As such it means, refreshment of the body or mind; diversion, amusement, as a pleasurable occupation or exercise.
Recreation, from the very nature of the case, must be some engagement, whether physical or mental or spiritual, which tends to refresh a person. It must be something different than the regular occupation, a diversion from the strain of our daily work. We are so constituted that we can put forth our best efforts into a certain task only for a limited time. Then we need a rest, which need not necessarily be inactivity but must be a diversion, a relaxation.
Therefore recreation also includes the idea of pleasure. Health authorities tell us that a pleasant conversation during a meal aids digestion. A person who cannot sleep should rest himself by enjoying pleasant, refreshing thoughts. A laugh is healthy. This is certain, that doing a thing purely for the pleasure that is in it affords relief and rest. As such the question of recreation is closely related to the matter of amusements.
The question must be put, what is the place of recreation in the life of a Christian?
In answer to this question it is sometimes maintained that recreation is an end in itself. It is its own excuse for being. Thus, for example, young men who have toiled in manual labor all day will go out evening after evening to engage in a game of ball, simply for “the fun of it.” Young women who have spent the whole day nailed down to an office chair will come home in the evening and settle down to a romance in some magazine, only because they “like it.” In that case the only argument for recreation, if you can call it such, is the common idea that “we need some fun.” The old adage of “all work and no play” is taken to mean that life is too short that we should not get out of it all the pleasure we can. Work is drudgery which we cannot escape, but in our spare time we do as we please, give vent to our feelings and let our emotions run riot. You will all agree that there is nothing Christian in such an attitude toward recreation; neither is the defense very strong.
Again there is the idea, not too strange, that recreation must serve as a sort of antidote for an overdose of religion. We go to Church, to Catechism, to Society possibly, maybe to this or that other meeting, but we also need some sport or amusement. The argument is raised that we cannot always walk with long faces, nor sit in a corner twiddling our thumbs and acting like old men and women. The idea seems to be that religion is alright, but it needs an antidote; we are willing to serve God, but we want our days off and our time out. Recreation is then the Christian’s safety valve. It possibly might be called a “necessary evil.” There can be but one conclusion, if that is the case, recreation has no place in the life of a Christian.
But how, then, can we defend it and what place does it occupy in our lives?
As a proper approach to this question it is essential that we are reminded of the fact that we are created as image bearers of God. God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the spirit of life, whereby he became a living soul. Man was created with what we sometimes distinguish as the three H’s, head, heart and hand. He had a mind to think and know and understand; a heart as a center of feeling and impulse whereby he could will and desire, love, consecrate and devote himself; and a body to use in subjecting all things of this earthly creation unto his service. His calling with mind and heart and body was to replenish the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it. All that remains the save even after the fall. But the point is, and that is significant, that Adam was called to serve God as God’s friend-servant. He was king in this earthly creation only as vice-regent under God. He had to use all things and do all things in the service of God, not as drudgery but in willing devotion, a consecration of love. That was Adam’s calling in Paradise and that, no less, is our calling as we are restored in the image of God in Christ Jesus.
That limits and determines the place of recreation in our lives.
It means, first of all, that also our recreation must be a service of God. I consider it essential that we view it in that light. In God’s service there are no days off, no vacations, nor even recesses. God demands of us in every moment of our lives that we shall love the Lord our God with our whole heart and mind and soul and strength. And the application of the parable of the Unprofitable Servant is, “and when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do.” That is certainly also the attitude of the true child of God. We serve God not out of force of duty, but willingly and in love. As we also sing from our Psalter:
Thy precepts are my heritage,
For daily they my heart rejoice;
To keep Thy statutes faithfully,
Shall ever be my willing choice.
This is also the command of all the Scriptures.
“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” Rom. 12:1-2. And again, “whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do it all to the glory of God,” 1 Cor. 10:31.
In the second place, recreation can be of a threefold nature. It can be physical, mental or spiritual. By physical recreation must be understood those sports or pastimes which especially tend to exercise and develop the body. It is but natural that one who is engaged a very large part of his time in mental work must seek his diversion in some physical relaxation. While, on the other hand, anyone who is engaged in manual labor should seek it in something that is almost entirely free from physical strain, in some form of mental recreation as music, reading or study. But it makes no difference whether your labor be mental or physical, there always remains room for spiritual recreation. True religion must be more than recreation, but also that. By spiritual recreation I mean such engagements as reading the Word of God, the church papers and spiritually upbuilding literature, attending Catechism and Societies, preparing for these meetings, discussions on spiritual matters when we visit with one another, and anything of that nature. If our service of God is a pleasure instead of a mere drudgery we shall not only find time and place for it, but what is more, develop a liking for it as a pleasant form of relaxation.
And finally, whatever our form of recreation may be, it must always be and remain a diversion. Recreation must never be an end in itself, but must always serve to relieve the strain of our daily toil and thereby refresh us. It may never take the place of or hinder us in performing our duties, but always aid us to do the very best work of which we are capable. Even so it must serve the purpose that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works, 2 Tim. 3:17. Instead of being in conflict with, it must serve toward a more perfect service of God.
2. That already determines our attitude toward recreation.
If we have learned to properly evaluate our recreation we are ready to condemn all those forms of amusements which from the very nature of the case are sinful. I have in mind such entertainments as the world has to offer us. Pastimes and sports which bring us right into the midst of the world and cause us to rub elbows with the works of iniquity. Gala events and amusements where the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are given unbridled rein. Any entertainment where the Christian must necessarily forsake his faith and give himself as a slave to chance, to carnal pleasures and to sin. Amusements such as dances, theaters, games of chance and all that they represent.
That also means that our own entertainment in the Church will necessarily be of a nature that is worthy of a Christian. Any social or banquet which is so filled with hilarity that one all but laughs himself sick can hardly be classed as a Christian form of entertainment, no matter if it is opened and closed with prayer. No more does a reel of pictures, whether it be of Mickey Mouse or anything else, have a place in Christian amusements.
Moreover, recreation can never take a predominant place in our lives. A while ago I mentioned that young men will sometimes indulge in a game of ball evening after evening. Purposely I chose what may be called a very healthful sport. There can be no real objections to the game as such. And yet it would be wrong for any of us to live purely for that sport as well as for any other. By indulging purely in physical exercise a young man may vie with a gorilla for strength, but he certainly can expect nothing else than that his forehead, too, like the gorilla’s will begin to run back just above the eyes. Likewise, what good does mental development do for a young woman if she has learned nothing more than the fine arts of making love and how to share the vain fashions of the world. Christian young men are strong, but their strength is spiritual rather than physical, “for,” says the apostle John, “they have overcome the evil one.” Theirs is the battle of faith against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. Christian young women adorn themselves with the truth. They are examples of true Christian modesty, beauty and virtue.
Even that demands of us the self-denial of Christian discipleship. Jesus warned the over-enthusiastic candidate for the discipleship that the “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay His head.” And His demand to all of His disciples is, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” If we are ready to do that, we are also ready to. allow recreation only that small place in our lives that it can serve us physically, mentally and spiritually unto the service of the living God.
Finally, the question might be asked whether the Church should supply entertainment for its youth. The Catholics, as you know, have gone to the extent of preparing public boxing bouts for Catholic youth. Even in Reformed circles the possibility has been mentioned of preparing “movies of a high order” within the Church to satisfy youth’s demand for that form of entertainment. Personally, I want to go on record as being adverse to the whole idea. What is more, I am of the conviction that it spells the ruin of the Church and its youth if the Church must preserve the youth by compromising with the world and bringing the world’s entertainments into the Church. The distinctive calling of the Church is to preach the Word, in season and out of season, and we may certainly expect that where the Word is preached in all its purity the true Covenant youth will also walk according to it.
In conclusion, there can be no objection to games or Christian amusements, but let them never escape from their subservient place in our lives. They must serve to refresh, recuperate, and thereby aid us in fulfilling our God-given calling in every sphere of life. And as to spiritual recreation, we are more liable to suffer from a lack of it than from an excess. Let us have more of it.
In all that you do, equip and prepare yourself for a well-rounded Christian life in the service of God.
The man of God must be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
Rev. C. Hanko