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In the last issue we considered the stand of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES) on the question of the union. Seven resolutions were adopted expressing the Synod’s mind on the subject. The three resolutions which we have already considered are briefly, (1) that it is the calling of the believer to reflect upon his responsibility in political and social fields and the manner in which this responsibility can be discharged. (2) Synod expresses that there is need for greater stress on considering concerted Christian action in these fields. (3) In the social and political fields, Christians are encouraged to organize whenever pos­sible to promote the one true justice and righteousness.

It was pointed out that there were attempts made to introduce into the third resolution the idea that the Christian can be more effective through organization (any organization), though sometimes most effective through Christian organization. Such an amendment would have been an encouragement to the Christian to join worldly organizations. This the Synod refused to do—commendably so. Another similar amendment was made to add the words “and effective’’ to the resolu­tion. With that amendment the resolution would have encouraged separate Christian organizations when possible and effective. That is, the Christian must judge (subjectively, I imagine) if a separate Christian organization will be effective—and if so, that then he should promote it. The result would be that there could seldom, if ever, be any Christian organizations in social and political fields, since the Christian in this world cannot expect to be “effective,” at least not according to any earthly standards. But Synod also rejected this amendment.

REMAINING RESOLUTIONS

The fourth resolution reads as follows:

4. Since the contrast between the kingdom of light and that of darkness is becoming more sharply defined in the sphere of political and social relations, and it therefore becomes increasingly difficult for Christians who have united with so-called general or neutral organizations, to give due heed to their Evangelical mandate, there is a growing need for separate organi­zations of believers.

Grounds:

  a. Since in many countries and many situations there exists an increasing unchristian activity, appealing to ruthless power only, and not seeking a justice and fellowship that is in accord with Scriptures, a separate Christian organization (in the social field of employers as well as of employees), will provide believers with the opportunity to exhibit their concept of society and to appeal to biblical norms.

  b. Experiences with separate Christian political and social organizations in which the employee as well as the employer are viewed as God’s creation, and in which harmonious cooperation between employers and employees, especially in trade unions, plays a central role, indicate that in this way the believer is enabled to make a fruitful contribution to the promotion of better social relations.

To this resolution also Prof. H. Stob took exception and recorded his dissent. The resolution itself con­tains rather strong arguments against membership in worldly unions. The RES, though, was not ready to condemn membership in such worldly organizations. If what they state concerning worldly organizations, particularly unions is true (and it is), there is then no place at all in them for the Christian. There are questions which ought to be answered here too: what does the RES consider to be our “Evangelical mandate?” There is the implication that in the past it was possible co carry out this “Evangelical mandate” within worldly organizations; specifically, in what ways was this done in the past? I would deny that it was possible to carry out this “Evangelical mandate” in worldly organizations.

The fifth resolution is concerned specifically with separate Christian organizations:

The purpose of separate Christian organizations must always be the service of God and fellow-men and never a matter of seeking isolation.

Ground: Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world and are admonished to function as such (cf. Matt. 5:13-16).

One could discuss many questions which arise respecting this resolution. That Christian organizations must seek always the service of God is true. But what is the implication of this phrase: “never a matter of seeking isolation?” It is correct to maintain that we as Christians cannot live in isolation as some sects have tried. Yet the opposite of this negative statement, together with the ground offered, appears to suggest a working together with the world through our separate organizations toward a common goal. The passage from Matt. 5:13-16 is quoted to suggest, I feel, that the Christian and his separate organizations must affect and improve the world about us—that the Christian will make this unsavory world yet savory before God. The resolution appears to be based on postmillenialism. Yes, we have a calling on the earth to “labor in the service of God”; but this must not be done under the impression that this old wicked world is going to become better under the influence of our “salt.” The contrary is true. The more faithfully one maintains the “justice and righteousness” of God in the earth, the more he will be hated and despised. And though we are called to maintain this “justice and righteous­ness,” the result will be that the wicked world will be hardened and will oppose such righteousness. Let us faithfully maintain that righteousness, but let us not deceive ourselves concerning its effect upon the world.

The sixth resolution is the most lengthy:

With respect to the so-called general or neutral political and social organizations, believers in con­sultation with fellow believers who are in the same situation, must decide in the light of holy writ, taking into consideration the circumstances of time and place, whether they may or may not unite with such organizations, provided that the basis, aims and prac­tice of such organizations allow them to exercise their calling in this world. It is understood, of course, that if a Christian joins such a non-Christian organization, he alone and unitedly with other Christians in the organization is in duty bound at all times to live by and advance Christian principles within the organiza­tion.

Ground: The Christian is called upon to be obedient to Christ in every activity (cf. I Cor. 10:31). He must therefore live consistently with his confession.

The emphasis in this resolution ought to rest upon the statement: “…provided that the basis, aims and practice of such organizations allow (believers) to exercise their calling in this world.” We have main­tained as churches, at least with respect to labor organizations, that their basis, aims, and practices are contrary to Christian principles—hence membership within them is impossible. The basis of any worldly union surely will not allow the believer “at all times to live by and advance Christian principles within the organization.” Nor would it be difficult to show that the “aims” of these organizations are contrary to that which any Christian may hold. And that their practices are contrary to Christian principles can be seen in every daily newspaper which reports on the activities of various unions. If the emphasis were upon the above line, the RES could not even suggest that the believer must decide on the basis of Scripture…whether he “may or may not unite with such organizations….” The ground given for this resolution is very good, and if it is maintained, the believer will not unite with these “general or neutral political and social organiza­tions.”

The final resolution is very much to the point. One could desire that this be more consistently maintained by the believer wherever he might be.

Christians may not be members of or give aid to social and political organizations whose principles and/or whose common and regular practices conflict with biblical norms.

Ground: To live in a manner inconsistent with biblical norms is sin, and this sin is aggravated when a Christian is aware of the contradiction and continues to ignore it (cf. James 4:12; I Thess. 5:22).

The above represents the position of the RES on social and political organizations. The resolutions, of course, can be interpreted in different ways by different denominations. From the above one could conclude that membership in worldly unions is impossible. Yet many could argue that such membership is compatible with church membership—in light of the decisions which were taken. RES ought to be more definite in harmonizing these contradictory conclusions which can be drawn.

It is interesting also to note how one of the member denominations of RES acted on these resolutions. The matter came before the Christian Reformed Synod in 1964 and was placed in the hands of a committee to come with advice the next year. In 1965 the committee proposed: “That the Synod of 1965 adopt these resolu­tions as its own.” Several grounds were proposed for this recommendation. Though Synod adopted virtually the same grounds offered by the committee, it did not adopt the recommendation itself, but revised it in such a way that it appeared on the one hand that Synod supported the resolutions of the RES, yet actually did not commit itself at all. This was decided:

Synod receive these resolutions as furnishing im­portant guidelines for Christian thought and action in our day.

Grounds:

  1. They reflect in their main thrust the teaching of the Word of God as it bears on Christian organizations.
  2. They are in harmony with the historic stand of the Christian Reformed Church in these matters.