The R.E.S., during its brief history, has treated a variety of subjects of interest to the churches in common; it is in process of study on other subjects. One subject of special concern also to us is its study on social and political organizations and the Biblical principles governing these. Particularly there is the question concerning the stand of the church with respect to unionism. I wish to point out the stand of the R.E.S. on this subject in the present article. The quotations which follow are from the “Acts of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod — 1963”.
The topic of “separate Christian organizations” arose when the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands presented an overture to the Fourth Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Potchefstroom (1958). The Gereformeerde Kerken presented the following to the R.E.S.:
(3) The eventual necessity to be organized in the social sphere on our own. Regarding this problem Synod had in mind the members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands emigrating to different countries and finding themselves in quite different circumstances as they were used to as far as social organizations are concerned. Synod does not in the least wish to convey the idea that she thinks that all organizations must fall in line with those in the Netherlands. Synod thinks it fit to investigate this problem now and rather from the view of principles concerned. (Pg. 93)
The Fourth Reformed Ecumenical Synod appointed a committee to study and suggest an answer to this overture. The following was submitted and adopted by this R.E.S., and this forms the basis of a report presented to the R.E.S. of Grand Rapids in 1963:
Conscious of both the scope and profundity of the problems appertaining to separate social and political organizations, your committee recommends that the Ecumenical Synod appoint an international study committee instructing them to make a thorough investigation concerning the Biblical principles involved and regarding the application of these principles in practice, and to report to the following Ecumenical Synod.
Since it yet remains desirable to indicate some guiding principles, tentatively your committee also recommends:
That this Ecumenical Synod declares that it is not at all imperative for Christians, and especially for emigrants, who in their Homeland were separately organized, but now live under entirely new and different circumstances, always to establish such organizations;
That the obligation to organize in this manner lies interwoven with the prevailing state of society as a whole and/or local circumstances. In the event that the antithesis between the Kingdom of Light and that of darkness in any society or section of it is already evident or in case the Christian is hampered by the so-called neutrality of Positivism, then he, for the sake of the maintenance of the foundations of a Christian society as such and its development, is called to organize separately. This should, however, always take place in a clear realization of the fact that isolation is never an end in itself, but should be designed to serve God and one’s neighbor. (pp. 94-95)
As a result of the above decision, a very lengthy report was presented to the R.E.S. of 1963 which met in Grand Rapids. This report is included in the Acts of that Synod; pages 93-155. The report is a summary of the labor movement in the Netherlands, especially, the Christian labor movement, and the action of the Reformed Church with respect to that movement. There is also a similar summary of the labor movement of the United States and the basic decisions of the Christian Reformed Church pertaining to that movement. The report, finally, contains recommendations that the R.E.S. adopt certain “principles” which govern membership in political and social organizations. These recommendations were revised by the R.E.S. itself and were then adopted as presented below.
DECISIONS OF THE R.E.S. RE MEMBERSHIP IN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS
The R.E.S. took action on several points, some of which were disputed and. questioned by a minority at the meeting.
Preamble: As it is the calling of the church to let the light of the prophetic Word, entrusted to her, shine upon all spheres of life, Synod deems it desirable to formulate some directives regarding separate Christian organizations in the social and political fields. Therefore Synod declares:
1. Believers should reflect individually, in groups, and in organizations on their responsibility in the political and social fields and on the manner in which this responsibility can be discharged.
The church’s confession and proclamation of the Kingship of Christ in all phases of life demands that believers reflect on the manner in which they are to discharge their duties in the social and political fields. Such reflection is demanded more and more in this age of constantly increasing organization of man in all kinds of alliances. (p. 55)
This particular point is very general and therefore, I suppose, would be acceptable to most people. No doubt but that believers ought to “reflect” upon their responsibility on the political and social spheres. It should have been emphasized that this “reflection” must be in harmony with Scripture and the confessions of the Reformed churches. Too often it is the case that even the believer, in his “reflections,” considers that which can best serve himself. Yet the point is well made: the believer ought to consider and discuss the question of his calling in this evil world. It is a good subject for consideration on Sunday-evening visits as well as in societies.
2. Although it is not possible for Synod to say that Christians must always organize on a separate basis in the social and political fields, there exists a need for greater stress on considering concerted Christian action in the above-mentioned fields.
a. It is the duty of the church to preach the full counsel of God, including the principles of Christian behavior in the social and political fields and not the function of the church to prescribe the details of what is or what is not Christian’ behavior in the social and political fields.
b. Modern developments of unchristian activity in the social, economic and political fields in which ruthless power often seems the only norm that reigns, make the question of establishing and/or joining Christian organizations a matter of great importance.
In this resolution the R.E.S. suggests the advisability of organizing separate Christian organizations in the social and political fields. The R.E.S. is not ready to say that this must always be done-though it appears rather inclined to say this nevertheless. This resolution is also worthy of our study and consideration. It is very brief and does not consider the problems which arise within certain particular areas. The next resolution further elaborates on the subject of separate organizations.
3. In the social and political fields Christians should promote the one true justice and righteousness, taught in the Word of God, and should be encouraged to organize to that end whatever and whenever it is possible.
a. It is God’s will, as revealed in His Word and testified by His Spirit in our hearts, that justice and righteousness be established in society. (Cf.
b. Of all people, Christians should be the most sensitive to injustice and unrighteousness. Although the individual Christian can and should witness against these, in the increasingly complex and massive organization of society, it would seem that the Christian witness can be made more effective through Christian organizations. It should be noted that the possibility of effective Christian social and political organizations will depend to a considerable extent on the prevailing state of society as a whole and/or of local circumstances. (pp. 227-228)
From the minutes of the R.E.S. meeting, one concludes that there was a measure of opposition to the strong insistence on establishing separateChristian political and social organizations. In the second resolution above, an amendment was made and carried to elide the word “separate” from the original proposal where it had been placed in the last part of the second ground: “.. and/or joining separate Christian organizations.. .” In the third resolution above, there was an amendment to change ground b. to read: “…in the increasingly complex and massive organization of society, the Christian witness can be made more effective through organization, and sometimes most effective through separate Christian social and political organizations. It should be noted….” This amendment failed. But note the deliberate intent to water down the original resolution. The amendment would have suggested that the Christian would be obliged to enter into any organization in order to make his Christian witness “more effective.” It would have not merely condoned but even approved of membership within the worldly unions. There is no indication which delegate from which denomination suggested such an amendment. There is a note, however, that Prof. H. Stob of the Christian Reformed Church registered his dissent from recommendations 3 and 4. (p- 58). He, evidently, did not consider this to be a proper resolution (as it was passed) to guide the churches. I expect to treat this further in the next article, D.V.