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Strange Editorializing

In the Banner of December 16, 1977, a strange editorial appears. In discussing the truth of “Word Became Flesh,” editor DeKoster inserts comments about the Sadat-Begin peace efforts. The words are, it seems to me, strangely out of place even in theBanner. He writes:

Probably you noticed that, on international television, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin both affirmed, as casually as you please, that their political behavior roots in their conceptions of the will of God. Granted the theological gulfs between them, and ourselves, we yet rejoice in their frank witness to a religious mandate laid upon themselves. What a healthy note to be sounded around our secularized world!! And how refreshing, especially for us Calvinists, to have a Faith lifted out of the realm of the emotional and into that of the political, where our own convictions and heritage have long been at home. 

So it was, I trust, a worthwhile detour from our Advent reflections. Not really much of a detour at all, probably. For we have seen, in this latest act of the on-going Middle East drama, determined efforts by strong, religiously-motivated men to transform their convictions into history, and thus to make word into deed. And this is, after all, the heart of the Advent itself: “And the Word became flesh . . .”

DeKoster acknowledges “theological gulfs between them, and ourselves,” but evidently not such a gulf as is found between believer and unbeliever; between godly and ungodly. He commends the “witness to a religious mandate” from a Moslem and a Jew. Because a Moslem and a Jew speak of their “political behavior root(ed) in their conceptions of the will of God,” he mentions the “healthy note” heard in our secularized world. He speaks of all this as “refreshing” that “Faith” is lifted out of the realm of the emotional into that of the political. He even speaks of “strong, religiously-motivated men'” who make “word into deed,” and he relates that to the wonder of Christ’s entrance into our flesh. 

How can one ever, and especially one who claims to be Calvinistic, commend the “witness to a religious mandate”—from idolaters? Or, the “refreshing” evidence of “Faith”—from idolaters? It is not faith but unbelief, not the “will of God” but the will of false gods which motivates these men. Is DeKoster glad- because of that ? Does all of this have any semblance of a tie to the manger of Bethlehem? God forbid. 

The incident of II Kings 1:2 came to mind: “And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, God, inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease.” 

I could almost imagine DeKoster to comment: “What a healthy note to be sounded around our secularized world!! And how refreshing, especially for us Calvinists, to have a Faith lifted out of the realm of the emotional and into that of the medical, where our own convictions and heritage have long been at home.”

But what did God say? “Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?” I do not know what the result of the Sadat-Begin exchange will be. I do know that God can not be pleased when those who deny Him and His Son Jesus Christ nevertheless speak of a “religious mandate” that comes from their gods. 

First Tango at Calvin

Some interesting and pointed comments are made in the Banner of December 9, 1977 by Harry R. Boer concerning the proposals of the Board of Trustees on “social dancing in a Christian manner” at Calvin College. Though the article drips with sarcasm, a good point is made. Dr. Boer gives no evidence of opposition to dancing or movie attendance itself—only to the manner in which these have been introduced into the CRC. Listen to what he has to say:

. . . Such an event took place at the recent May meeting of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary. Report of the meeting appeared in The Banner of July 29. The first half of it is humdrum, the second affected, nauseant, but for all that instructive. It begins with “The area of concern for student life most discussed and debated at this session of the Board was the matter of social dancing.” 

Shades of 1928 these forty-nine years agone! In that fateful year the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, with great righteousness and the release of full ecclesiastical sanctions, promulgated the blessed or the notorious, depending on your bent, Report on Worldly Amusements. . . . 

Even so, not in vain did the Synod “instruct” consistories to “inquire” of those wanting to make profession of faith “as to their stand and conduct in the matter of worldly amusements.” Consistories were further “reminded” that “careful attention” should be paid to this matter in making nominations for office-bearers, and it “suggested” that “Boards of Christian Schools, City missions, etc., heed the same matter in their appointments.” . . . 

The CRC fought a losing battle against “worldly amusements” from the beginning. She caved in first on the movies. This happened in two stages. When she could no longer resist the pressure to deal with the disparity between church law and church members’ practice, the Synod of 1951 judged that “although Synod (of 1928) did not pass judgment as to whether or not theater attendance, card playing, and dancing are always sinful in themselves it did urgently warn, in no uncertain terms against theater attendance, card playing and dancing, and did not condone participation in them.” Having placed this jewel of equivocation on the record, along with half a dozen other resolutions all of which stopped short of condemning theater, card and dance, the synod, “grateful for the wonderful unanimity with which these decisions were reached. . . sings the doxology.” 

From this point on, a correct reading of the message that was written between the lines led to the not unwarranted conclusion that you could dance where you wished, go to movies as you pleased, and play cards with the shades up so long as you were satisfied that you were not doing something that was “sinful in itself.” This did not happen in a month or a year. But it happened so inexorably that in 1966 the Synod of the CRC, without a by-your-leave, adopted an extensive report on “the Film Arts.” . . . 

And that was that. The portals of hell had imperceptibly become the gate of heaven. 

Now, twenty-six years after the basic’ destruction of 1928 and eleven years after the ultimate coup de grace of its most salient concern, our wise and courageous Board of Trustees, having judged the time to be felicitous, has undertaken to speak in different accents and modulations about dancing than we have been wont to hear. . . . 

At any rate, it has: 

a. Instructed Calvin’s Art, Music, Drama, and Physical Education Departments to provide leadership and direction “in using the social dance in a Christian way.” 

b. Warned against a tendency to adopt uncritically “a dance style that ignores the richer dimensions of the social dance.” 

c. Exhorted the Calvin community to work positively and constructively “to fulfill the cultural mandate.”

What must we think of this conversion and dedicated commitment on the part of the board to the cultural values of the social dance? How must we assess its unqualified blessing on a form of recreation that members’ fathers unqualifiedly condemned? . . . 

The following observations seem to me to be called for on the surface of things: 

1. One would be less disposed to consider these pious declarations as so much insincere eyewash if there were some show of repentance for all the hypocrisy irk which the Christian Reformed Church involved its membership in the twenties, thirties, forties and well into the fifties by its attitudes to “worldly amusements.” Of this there is not a word. . . . 

2. The board’s action must not surprise us: The Christian Reformed Church has long been and is not ceasing to be a thoroughly politicized ecclesiastical community. Its synodical and board decisions on sensitive issues are, more often than we like to think, not prophetic declarations for our time but rather careful calculations of what the current tolerances will bear or a new ground swell demands. . . . 

3. There is little reason to doubt that the church whose synods fathered the equivocation of 1951 and the syrupy Film Arts theology of 1966 will in 1978 place her benediction on the Trustees’ application of 1966 principles to this facet of the newly found cultural mandate in the area of 1928’s “familiar trio.” It may even be found appropriate to climax the long, perplexing journey from 1928 to 1978 with a ringing synodical doxology.

Perhaps the CRC should express a word of deep thanks and appreciation to Dr. H. Boer for his striking analysis of events re “worldly amusements” in the CRC. He certainly has a point. Have there been none in the past who were placed under censure, even excommunicated, because of their seeking of the “familiar trio”? Have not some in the past been suspended and expelled from Calvin College in connection with their enjoyment of this “familiar trio”? Yet now the same can be done in a Christian manner in fulfillment of “the cultural mandate”? It certainly does not take a great deal of intelligence to recognize the inconsistency. If now the CRC is fulfilling its “Cultural mandate” in concentrating on the movie and the dance, then in the past it sinned terribly by condemning this very thing, yea, ecclesiastically punishing those who were fulfilling their “cultural mandate.” Boer is correct: let the CRC at least be “man” enough to stand up and confess, “We have grossly sinned in the past in condemning what God approves and punishing saints of His who were, after all, walking in great godliness.” Let them in all honesty before God remove what must surely be a terrible blot on their past. Let them address all those whom formerly they condemned, and let them confess that they sinned against God and them. Surely before God they can not continue this radical shift in direction without some sort of confession. 

What Boer does ignore is that the decision on the “Film Arts” and indirectly that on the “social dance in a Christian manner” was to a large extent based upon the idea of “Common Grace.” That goes back to 1924. Perhaps the inconsistency was between 1924 and 1928—and now that inconsistency has been removed.