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UNDERGROUND CHURCHES

In the Grand Rapids Press of Saturday, August 16, an article appeared on the church page written by Carl Strikwerda which reported on the establishment of “underground churches” in the area. The article reads as follows:

The underground church movement is alive in Grand Rapids. 

In the last decade, the idea of small groups meeting to worship God in their own way, outside the traditional church structure, has been a growing force. 

The unstructured religious gatherings in Grand Rapids are few in number, and, as in other cities, avoid publicity. But there are two active underground groups in Grand Rapids which welcome openness. 

Both groups were founded primarily by Calvin College students who were dissatisfied with the Knollcrest campus worship services. The students felt the services were too formal and impersonal to be meaningful. 

One group began organizing their own services during the school year, emphasizing informality and participation by all the worshipers. Meetings were held in various places until two months ago when members got permission to use facilities at the Grand Rapids Youth Ministry, 129 E. Fulton St. 

Regular services are held there each Sunday at 3 p.m., with additional meetings sometimes held during the week. 

The second underground church movement got underway about the same time, fast meeting at a local Christian Reformed Church and now at members’ homes. At the Youth Ministry, liturgies of the services are written by the young people themselves. Often they use the order of worship of the formal church but substitute their own forms which they feel are more natural for various parts of the service. 

Portions of the Bible other than Exodus or Deuteronomy are read for the commandments and the folk song “Kum-ba-yah” is sung as the prayer of illumination. 

Communal prayers, open discussion of the sermon and the “passing of the peace” between members are other new attempts to give meaning to worship. 

Most services are in the form of a dialogue between “the people” and the “leader”. The leader can be any member, group of members or the speaker for that service. Seminary students, ministers and college professors have given the message. 

Key to the services is informality with members’ attire running from sandals and Levi’s to other casual wear. All sit on the floor during the programs. 

“What we’re trying to do,” said a 21-year-old college student, “is to make worship part of our everyday life. If worship is divorced from reality, people can go back into life without having been affected.” 

Twice the services have included “love feasts” where members eat and drink together to emphasize the unity they share in Christ. Nothing formal about food either, with cookies and coffee one example. 

A college professor who has led the group explained that the love feast is not designed to take the place of communion, but to co-exist with the sacrament. 

The other underground church movement is even less formal in the sense of religious service. Members meet together to sing, talk over parts of the Bible and pray. 

Sometimes they break up into small groups to discuss individual problems. The emphasis is on making real what the young people have found in the Bible. 

“I feel that any praise or work of God is worship. To me, this meeting is just as meaningful as the regular service I attend,” a 19-year-old female member said. 

The songs that are sung are varied, ranging from hymns used in traditional services to religious folk songs. Accompaniment is with a guitar and tambourine. 

One high school boy who attends the services says he likes the freedom it offers. 

“If we want to include poetry or use a different version of something in the service, we can. And we don’t have to put on special clothes or attitudes to worship.” 

Originally, both underground groups were mostly Christian Reformed college students, but gradually persons of other denominations have joined. Today, members include students from all area colleges and local high schools. But the groups welcome anybody—including older persons. 

Surprisingly, many of the underground church members are not drop-outs from their original churches. As one Calvin coed said, “I still get something meaningful from the regular services.” 

All members, however, regardless of their present affiliations, would like to see changes in the traditional church. 

The changes they seek are not in doctrine or form but in relevancy. The young people want the church to have meaning in everyday life. 

They are not just criticizing the formal church, either. They are trying to initiate change in a mature manner. 

Some of the members have begun meeting on week nights with local ministers. They discuss their type of services and ask the ministers to consider changes in the church.

Thus, in some ways, these young people are not yet “underground”. They have not, for the most part, given up on the church. As one high school girl said, “We won’t turn off to the church, even if it turns us off.”

If these groups of young people were meeting together to discuss the Word of God and pray, this would be a commendable thing. But this is not the purpose. These young people are disillusioned with the Church and are using their meetings as substitutes for the regular worship services in their congregations. 

There may be reason for their disillusionment. There are plenty of churches even in Reformed communions where the Word of God is rarely preached in purity and where the preaching has degenerated so badly that the Word of God is replaced by the words of men. But this does not seem to be the chief motivation behind the formation of these underground groups. They are not apparently seeking the pure preaching of the Word, They are rebelling against “traditional forms of worship.” 

When the church of Christ gathers to worship God, it is commanded to worship God as He has commanded in His Word. This requires a certain amount of spiritual discipline. It requires the discipline of grace. It requires the discipline of humility. The people of God are required to come with fear into God’s presence and submit in humility to God’s holy Word. The “informality” of these underground services gives evidence of a refusal to submit to such discipline. The young people are influenced by the general rebellious spirit which characterizes our age and particularly many youth in this generation. But their rebellion is against God and against His Ward. It can come to no good. 

One wonders what happens to the church institute in such worship services. Where is the ambassador of Christ commissioned to preach in the name of Christ, sent by Christ to bring an authoritative Word of the gospel? Where are elders who are called to rule in reflection of Christ’s kingly office? There cannot possibly be any exercise of the keys of the kingdom in such meetings. Nor apparently are there intended to be when everyone is welcome. Christ’s high priestly office is forsaken and there is no display of the mercies of Christ which He shows to His people. The whole church institute is destroyed and informal gatherings are substituted. 

But the church institute is the mother of believers. Without such an institute the believers cannot exist in the world. They are born from this holy mother, nourished at her breasts, brought up under her discipline, cared for by her tender regard for their spiritual well-being and prepared by her earnest instruction for the difficulties of a life of faithfulness. 

The fault lies not in the church—although if the church to which these people belong is not faithful to her God-given calling, the church must answer to God for the disillusionment of the youth of the covenant. The fault lies with rebellious young people who will not submit to the discipline of Christ. His yoke they refuse to take upon them. His burden is intolerable, even though Christ assures His people that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

A BLOW TO RELIGIOUS BROADCASTING 

Some time back the Federal Communications Commission wrote what it called its “Fairness Doctrine.” This doctrine, among other things, requires all broadcasters to give free time to any person or group which has been attacked on the air. The purpose of this free time is to give those who are attacked opportunity to answer. 

Especially right-wing conservatives were alarmed over this doctrine. It seemed (and may have been) to be especially directed against such programs as Carl McIntire’s “Twentieth Century Reformation Hour,” Billy Hargis’s “Christian Crusade,” and H.L. Hunt’s “Life Line.” They believed not only that the ruling of the FCC was a direct attack on the part of liberals to silence their programs, but that eventually this ruling would mean the end of all religious broadcasting. 

The matter was carried to the United States Supreme Court. The court, in an unanimous decision, upheld the Fairness Doctrine. It argued that indeed the doctrine might create some problems for some stations, but that it did more to encourage free speech than hinder it. 

The fact of the matter is however, that many stations are refusing to carry religious broadcasting and especially broadcasting of the extreme right wing because they are afraid to carry controversial broadcasts which will require rebuttals from< those attacked. The time, the cost, the threat of lawsuits is not worth it all in the eyes of many stations. 

NOAH’S ARK FOUND? 

Several years ago there were reports that a Russian aviator had located the well-preserved remains of Noah’s ark on the shore of some lake in the mountains of Ararat. The news made quite a sensation at the time and expeditions were formed to investigate. The report proved false and the excitement soon died down. 

Now there are new reports that the ark has been found. This time however, the ark is supposed to be lying beneath a glacier at the bottom of a lake on Mount Ararat. Some wood has supposedly been found which came from the ark. Once again an expedition is being formed to investigate the report. The expedition plans to leave next summer. 

We do not know whether God has preserved the ark all these years or whether it has, by this time, been destroyed. We are inclined to think the latter. There are almost no “relics” from Bible history available—in spite of so many claims of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a very striking thing that God saw fit to destroy them all. In fact there is not even any certainty among students of Scripture and of the geography of the Holy Land where many ancient sites are actually located. No one knows with certainty where the “cattle stall” of Bethlehem is located, where Calvary is to be fixed and where many other places mentioned in Scripture are to be found. 

One thing is certain. The ark will make no difference for faith. Those who believe in Scripture do not need the ark to verify or strengthen their faith. Those who do not believe in Scripture—in the whole story of the flood—are not going to change their minds even if the ark is found.