Standard Bearer, Volume 10, January 15, 1934, pp. 174-176
Through the window of my study, one Sunday morning, I saw a young man aimlessly walking the street, both hands in the pockets of his overcoat, coat collar up, evidently very uncomfortable; for the weather was chilly and a fine drizzle was falling. It was eleven o’clock. I had conducted the first (the Dutch) service, and so happened to be in my study during the second morning-service, which begins at ten-thirty.
That young man was playing truant!
He should have been attending the service, listening to the preaching of the Word of God. But, rather than worship with the people of God, he would wander miserably and aimlessly about on the street in a cold drizzle!
No doubt he peeked in to know who was preaching on that particular morning; perhaps he will find out from others what was the text on which the sermon was based. If necessary, then, he will inform his parents that he was in church, that so and so conducted the service, that he preached on such and such a text, but that the sermon was so dark and deep that he could not understand much of it!
How true, thought I, is that word “truant”! For, truant means literally: a wretch, a beggar, a tramp! He is one who, for no valid reason at all, stays away from any place where it is his business, his calling to be. To play truant is to stay away without reason from the place of our calling.
Truant is the child that makes his parents believe that he goes to school but does not. In this sphere, however, the evil of truancy is largely overcome, since there are truant-officers and laws compelling the children to attend school.
But the evil of truancy is not eradicated from church-life. On the contrary it is but too general.
Truant are young men and young women, boys and girls (not to speak of adults), who should attend the services but are absent for no good reason. Truant are several youths who are supposed to attend catechism class and do not. Occasionally they come, especially when they have just been visited by a committee from the consistory or when the danger threatens that they will so be visited. But then they stay away again as soon as the “danger” is past.
Truant are they who are members of the societies that are organized within the bosom of the congregation, but who hardly ever attend, and who are usually reported absent when it is their turn to deliver an introduction to the Bible discussion, essay, or recitation; and the Sunday School teachers who never or seldom attend teachers’ meetings and are careless about teaching their classes, as well as the children that are enrolled in those classes but attend very irregularly, though there be no reason why they should not attend every week.
Yes, sad to say, there are always a number of truants in practically every sphere of church-life.
Truancy is a sore evil!
First of all it is a great sin! Sin because of the fact that, whenever anyone stays away from that particular place where his duty calls him, he refuses to go and be where God calls him! It is, therefore, sin in itself, apart from the question where the truant spends his time while he is playing truant.
But sin, too, because of the places he evidently prefers to the things of the kingdom of God. It is bad enough, a manifestation of carnal tendencies, when a young man prefers to walk in a cold drizzle, rather than attend the services of the people of God on Sunday morning. But the truant does not always walk in the rain when he plays truant. He prefers many things to the kingdom of God. Now the ice is just beautiful and the weather favorable and he prefers to go skating; now it is too warm to sit in church or to attend catechism and he prefers to take a ride; or he knows of a good movie, of a nice program, of a splendid baseball or basketball game; or he reads an interesting novel; or he hangs over a lunch counter…. A thousand and one excuses he can find why on a particular Sunday he should play the truant, or on a certain evening he should not attend catechism or society.
And every one of these reasons is perfectly carnal. The truant lives from the principle of the lust of the flesh. He does not seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He will not be instructed in the truth of the Word of God. He sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. He is a fornicator. In as far as he is a truant he is closely related to Esau!
But truancy is also an evil, a sore evil, from the viewpoint of its effects. Truancy bears fruit! Evil fruit! First of all for the truant. For he learns little of the truth, if anything. Occasionally, as was said, he will attend catechism. But when he does attend, he does not know the lesson. His stale excuse is usually that he did not know what lesson he had to learn. Besides, he does not understand what the instruction is all about, for he lost the connection, or rather he never had it. Catechetical instruction is systematic instruction. One lesson is based on another. One cannot fruitfully attend catechism once in a while.
And the truant blames it to the instruction. It is too deep for him! At the same time, he found one more reason why he should play the truant, this time a reason that apparently justifies him to an extent, justifies him, alas! also in the eyes of some parents!
But there is more.
In a sound Reformed church the preaching really presupposes sound catechetical instruction. It is expositional and doctrinal preaching, as it should be. And the truant, in the same way and for the same reason that he loses hold of instruction in catechism, loses all contact with the preaching of the Word of God.
And again, he does not blame himself. He blames the preaching. It is too deep for him. He puts the blame on the preacher. Why cannot he tell some stories, as other preachers do? If only the preacher would be more interesting, he, the truant, would also reveal more interest in the things of the kingdom of God!
His truancy bears evil fruit for himself. But also for the body to which he belongs, for the church, for the catechism class, for the society.
Many a program of a society the truant spoils, unscrupulously! He is a member. His name appears on the program. He must deliver an essay. He is absent. The society has nothing else on its program for that evening. It depended entirely on the unfaithful truant. The evening is spoiled.
In catechism the instruction must more or less adapt itself to the needs of the truant, when he does attend.
The church will lower its standard of preaching if too many of these truants complain that they cannot understand it!
The truant is the dead fly in the ointment!
Truancy is a great evil, indeed!
What to do about it?
Usually very little is effective against the truant.The church has no truant-officers, and it cannot put the truant in confinement.
But the consistories must watch, warn, admonish, and labor patiently with these truants, for their own sake and for the sake of the rest, for the church’s sake.
And parents must not defend their truant children, protect them, and try to justify them in their truancy. Rather they must try to be sure, much more sure than they actually are, that their children are where they are expected to be.
The church must not be tempted to cater to her truant children. For their sake the church may not be allowed to go to ruin!