Rev. Dykstra is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Doon, Iowa.

If I do not remember thee,

Then let my tongue from utterance cease,

If any earthly joy to me

Be dear as Zion’s joy and peace.

Psalter #379, from

Psalm 137


Beloved young people, how important to you is Zion, your church, with all that is especially for you, i.e., society, retreats, and conventions? Have you ever sung these words—I mean, really sung them from the heart? Strong desires are expressed in this inspired song. In Psalm 137 this is written: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” Think of how many hand-skills you have developed—eating, writing, perhaps the playing of a musical instrument, or athletic skills, not to mention the skills you learned for your job. Could you ever seriously wish to forget all these skills just because you forgot Jerusalem, that is, the church? Or could you ask that, from the moment you forgot the church, you would be unable to speak another word? That is a remarkable request to make to the Sovereign God.

But what does it mean to remember the church? At the least it would mean to think about the church, to be mindful of her needs, and to pray for her. But the psalmist further explains this “remembering” with these words: “if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Now if we would understand “chief joy” to mean that the church is our greatest joy, that the church fills us with more gladness than anything on this earth, this would be a rather bold statement. Then the church (Sunday worship services, catechism, societies, conventions, communion of the saints) is more important to us than our houses and cars, our times of relaxation and play, our .jobs, our families, and our very lives. The church is our chief joy.

But “chief” here means more than just greatest; it is chief in the sense of principal or head. Think of it this way. What the body is to the head, our whole life is to our chief (head) joy. The body serves the head and is nothing without the head. Likewise all the people, events, possessions, and joys of this earth exist only for the sake of our chief joy. They all serve to help us seek our chief joy, and apart from our chief joy they cannot give joy at all.

That the church is and must be our chief joy should be quite plain from Scripture. The church is our spiritual mother in whom we are begotten. She feeds and nourishes us in all the years of our earthly pilgrimage. She cares for our souls with guidance and correction. The preaching of the Word, which is the revelation of the God of our salvation and the power of God unto salvation, has been given only to the church. You can find the lively preaching nowhere else. Thus, since this Word is the content and the sustenance of the believer’s joy, he seeks it with all his being. Only in the church can he find his salvation clearly described. Only there is the chief means of strengthening his faith. There in the divine worship services and in the company of saints he experiences the greatest joy in his salvation. This is a significant point. All this is obtained in the church alone! No wonder then that Jerusalem is the chief joy of the believer.

What does this have to do with young people’s societies, retreats, and conventions? First, we distinguish societies from the worship services and catechism classes. Christ calls to the worship services and to catechism in order that He might speak to all believers through the preaching, and to the “lambs” of the flock in a special way through catechetical instruction. Societies are different. They are not specifically required by Scripture, for Christ does not officially speak to us in society, even when an ordained minister leads.

Why then do we have societies and related activities? Societies, it seems to me, grow (or should grow) spontaneously out of the church as a response to the official preaching and teaching of the church. They are not imposed upon believers by a higher authority. Rather, societies are proposed, organized, and maintained by interested church members. This is one major problem with many young people’s societies, namely, that too many young people feel almost no responsibility towards maintaining their society. To such, Young People’s Society is a fixture in the church imposed by others. It was there as long as they can remember; it will be there indefinitely, regardless of what young people put into it. This attitude is wrong! “Young People’s” is your society and your responsibility. Societies, then, are concrete expressions of a threefold response to the preaching: 1) a zeal for the truth; 2) a desire to grow in the knowledge of the truth; 3) a love for the saints.

In the first place, filled with a zeal for the truth which he has heard, the young believer looks for opportunities to talk about these precious truths. Societies are one such opportunity, and a precious one for young people since peer pressure makes it hard to bring up spiritual matters with friends in a casual setting.

Secondly, societies express the desire to grow in the truth. One who attends society is confessing an inadequate knowledge of Scripture. Desiring to learn more, the church member attends a society where the saints can discuss the Word in a systematic way. By means of both preparation and discussion, difficult passages become clear, obscure truths become familiar. Especially here the old saying is so true, “You get out of society what you put into it.” Zero preparation plus zero enthusiasm plus zero participation equals zero spiritual benefits. Actually, that is not quite correct, the result is rather a negative spiritual effect, including a more callous attitude toward the truth, a greater distaste for studying the Scriptures, arid a dampening effect on others, not to mention acute boredom.

The opposite is also true. Preparation, enthusiasm, and participation yield tremendous benefits. I have personally led discussions where the young people inspired me. In other groups, even my enthusiasm for discussing God’s Word was buried by the apathy of the young people. When all is said and done, it is up to you, young people (especially the older ones), to make your societies work. Will your weekly meetings be an unbearably dull hour that drags on for an eternity, or an incredibly quick hour that leaves behind the urge to come back next week for more?

Finally, societies grow up as an expression of Christian love for the saints. It is a fact of life that we enjoy being with those who are like us and with whom we share many common interests and possessions. Our fellow Protestant Reformed young people fit this description perfectly. Oh, perhaps this does not always seem true from the outward viewpoint of personality or shared earthly interests. The young people from the world may have personalities more compatible with ours or interests closer to ours in some things. But spiritually the young people in your congregation should be closest to you. (If this is not the case, then either you or the rest of the society is living contrary to the Scriptures in walk and/or confession.) This spiritual unity breeds a love for the fellow saints and a desire to be with them. Societies fill this desire.

Whether or not this is true for us depends on the priorities in our lives. Another way of saying it is, What is our chief joy? If our chief joy is found in school (whether in sports, social life, or preparation for a good paying job), then society will be of little significance. We will not need it; our lives are full enough. If our chief joy is in possessions—cars, clothes, and stereos—society can do nothing to help us gain these. And in fact, retreats and conventions hinder us because they cost money and we lose hours at work. If the chief joy is in the pleasures of this world, society is out, for it stands opposed to these.

Only when our chief joy is the church of Christ will the society be a significant part of our lives, as it should be. Psalm 137 makes this very clear. For, on the one hand, since this is the inspired song of a believer, God reveals that this must be our song as well. (“. . . If any earthly job to me be dear as Zion’s joy and peace.”) And on the other hand, these words came from a believer in Babylon (a type of the ungodly world about us today), when Babylon was encouraging the Old Testament church to forget about Zion, to loosen up and enjoy life in Babylon. The saints refused. So must we. Beloved young people, let us be sure that Zion is our chief joy. A vibrant, enjoyable, and profitable society life is sure to follow.