The Dance is Redeemed—Finally, after Many Years

The Calvinist Contact, June 25, 1982, reports on the decision of the Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1982 concerning the dance:

Synod has mandated the Christian community to learn how to dance redemptively. Old and young, mature and maturing, Christians are challenged to look dance squarely in the eyes and redeem it. 

In one of the most difficult discussions of Synod for many, the delegates struggled hard with the content of the report written by the study committee and recommended by the Majority Report of the Advisory Committee.

The same paper also quotes the statements and guidelines as these were adopted by the Synod (with the exception of one part which will be noted below) :

a. It is biblical and therefore fitting that God’s people use appropriate liturgical dance forms for the expression of their deep feelings of praise to their God. The God who gave us bodies responsive to music and capable of rhythmic movement does not require that we ignore our bodies in worship or that we praise Him only with our minds and voices. (Note: Synod referred point a. to the Liturgical Committee for further study of its implications and its feasibility of implementation and to report to Synod in 1984.) 

b. Like painting, sculpture, and music, artistic dance forms such as ballet are legitimate avenues of expression for the Christian who pursues them in acknowledgement of Christ’s redemptive claims. 

c. The folk dances of many ethnic cultures, including various square dances, generally reflect a joyful use of music, rhythm, movement, and social involvement which can be redeemed by a Christian community that makes a sensitive effort to control the ingredients of music, motivation, and context. 

d. The ballroom and social dance of our contemporary culture present a far greater challenge to conscientious Christians. While many of these dances present positive potential for the expression of genuine artistic skills as well as healthy social interaction, they also present negative potential. They can be, and often are, deliberately sexually suggestive; they allow partners to make physical contact indiscriminately on a very casual and superficial basis; and the entire context in which such dances are held often reflects the hedonistic values dominant in our culture. Christians will find it difficult to redeem ballroom dancing without monitoring closely their attitudes, the nature of their participation, and the context in which these dances take place. Christians should not participate in them without the exercise of genuine Christian maturity. 

e. Such contemporary dances as disco, present a whole array of features that are sharply in conflict with Christian standards. These features include a blatant sexual suggestiveness, a narcissistic orientation, and use of musical themes that flout Christian values. Christians will find it difficult to redeem these dances and should firmly reject them as they appear in our culture.

More was written in the statement adopted by Synod—but the above represents the statement of position on the dance itself. Dancing is “in”—although for the present it would appear that the disco is too difficult to redeem, and the liturgical dance (which would presumably be part of the church worship) is under further study. The liturgical dance was, evidently, too much for the delegates at this Synod. Perhaps this was true, in part, because the Banner (May 24, 1982) had pictured on its cover three ladies participating in a liturgical dance. That Banner cover was featured on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press (June 16, 1982) along with a report of some of the discussion at Synod:

. . .But the debate at Calvin College was not without its pointed moments, as one delegate questioned the committee’s report suggesting that Christians could redeem dance to “God-honoring use.” 

That prompted some shifting about in seats. 

“We have the spiritual mandate that God forbids we do anything that will lead us to unchastity,” said one delegate who was opposed to the idea of liturgical dancing. 

He then drew attention to the cover of a denominational magazine, the Banner, where three Calvin College students were pictured performing a liturgical dance for a Good Friday service. 

“These three lovely ladies on the Banner cover are doing a liturgical dance, but how can we expect to give a good sermon after these girls have done their work? Why, on the cover, her leg is exposed as high as the leg goes,” he said as the audience and other delegates burst into laughter. . . .

Others were not too happy about that Banner cover and liturgical dances either. In the Banner of July 5, 1982, another wrote to “Voices”:

Regarding the Banner cover of 5/24/82, it is odd the things different people see in the same object. By no stretch of my imagination do I see three crosses or three nights in the tomb. 

What I see is the degradation and desecration of a Christian church service. I see the Israelites dancing and worshipping Baal when Moses left them for a while. I see druids dancing at a witches’ coven. I see three scantily clad girls cavorting before their Lord and Master. 

I go to church to hear the Word of God, not to see a spectacle.

What must one say of this sad turn of events? I am not going to argue against the decision of Synod. I would rather have the C.R.C. Synod of 1928 in its “Report on Worldly Amusements,” as this was printed for public distribution by the Synod of the C.R.C. of 1945, do this. I present brief excerpts:

. ..The same principle (that the honor of God is superior to all other interests) requires that the Christian shall deem it a matter of loyalty to his God and Savior not to farther the interests of an institution which in its general influence is an unmitigated evil, even though occasionally it may offer amusement which is not positively baneful. . . . 

. . .He knows that he belongs to a peculiar people, and is not satisfied with differing from the world only in the ground he has for his hope of heaven. He wants to lead a Christian life, a life as rich and varied as that of the worldly man, but a life which in all its ramifications bears the Christian stamp and grows from a Christian root. . . . 

. . .It is, for example, not correct to say that a moving-picture is a sinful thing, even though the godless world turns it into pollution on an enormous scale. But, on the other hand, this statement embodies the stern ethical principle that everything is forbidden which, though lawful in itself, has become defiled by the world to such an extent that a Christian cannot participate in it without endangering his spiritual or moral purity. . . . 

. . .But when we speak of “the dance,” we speak of the modern dance, the suggestive dance in which the sexes mingle and that promiscuously, that is, any man with any woman. Reformed moralists and Christian writers in general have condemned the dance for amusement when it is suggestive, because of an immodest exposure of certain parts of the body, and also when it is promiscuous. 

The promiscuous dance, especially as it is in vogue today, because of the close physical contact between the sexes, is fundamentally immoral. Its fascination lies in its sex-appeal. It thrives on the sex-instinct, and is therefore a violation of the seventh commandment, as explained in the Heid. Cat. This kind of diversion would almost die out if there were no mingling of the sexes in the mazes of the dance. It is an unclean thing and is in principle immoral because it nourishes forbidden lusts. It can and does entice men to unchaste thoughts and desires if not to impure actions. 

But how about the dance for amusement’s sake when it is not suggestive or promiscuous? Since the mere act of dance is not condemned in the Scriptures, either directly or indirectly, the conclusion might seem justifiable, even inescapable, that there can be no harm in the private dance in the home between members of the same family, the aesthetic dance and the folk-dances which are taught in many public schools. We do not believe, however, that this conclusion should be drawn. The rule of self-denial and self-preservation determines our attitude in this case. We believe that in view of the rapidly increasing popularity of the promiscuous dance and the low morality of the modern dances, Christian parents and teachers and the Christian church should frown even on the most innocent forms of this kind of amusement. The folk-dance and the parlor dance so easily become the stepping-stone to the promiscuous dance. The child which is permitted to take dancing lessons will, as a rule, not stop at the mixed dance, as its parents may require and expect, and say, “There I draw the line!” It has entered the danger zone and may lose its soul because of the carelessness of its parents! Such parents are not less foolish than those who allow their children to play with matches on the ground that matches were made for useful purposes! Here again we have a case where Christians should hate even the garment which is spotted by the flesh.

There follow many quotations from Reformed writers and other churches, condemning the dance. There seemed no doubt in the mind of the church in 1928 about the dance. It was wrong—and even required discipline and excommunication except the sinner repent. 

But the decision of 1928 had a “fly in the ointment.” It pointed to the effect of common grace upon the wicked, and allowed that this permitted a measure of cooperation and participation with the ungodly (cf. page 15 of the pamphlet). The C.R.C. Synod of 1966, in approving of “good” movies, also referred to the work of common grace whereby the wicked do produce that which the Christian can enjoy. The same argument was also presented in connection with the dance. In 1928, common grace could not be stretched far enough to cover the movie and the dance—but by 1966 and 1982 it had gained that elasticity! 

Some troubling questions could also be asked in connection with this sad decision. One was expressed by a delegate to this year’s Synod as quoted in the G.R. Press (6/17/82):

After the Synod approved the different forms of dancing, and suggested that families and institutions take responsibility for the dancers’ surroundings, an older Wisconsin delegate stood before his fellow delegates to express his dismay. 

Explaining he had taught his children “that sin was sin and dance was sin,” the delegate asked, “Now I have to go back to Wisconsin and say I was wrong because Calvin (College) is doing this. How can you supervise sin?” 

Synod moderator Rev. Clarence Boomsma. . .sympathized with the Wisconsin delegate. “I empathize with you, brother, because all of us older brothers were brought up to believe that dance was sin,” Boomsma said. “But I do think this (decision) is part of our painful growth.”

I not only empathize, but sympathize too with that delegate and all others who now must have their children brought up also under this decision—while they still know in their hearts that the dance is sin. 

More: if the dance and the movie are now “redeemable” (whatever that might mean), what will be the next sin which the church will take upon itself to “redeem”? Will it perhaps be homosexuality—as the G.K.N. of the Netherlands has already done? If much more work is done along this line, the church will have redeemed all that which is now sinful—and there will be no more concern about sin. What a strange way of ridding oneself of sin and of making the church “holy”! 

Thirdly, in all honesty, can any say that this decision represents “painful growth” in theology, that it represents increased spiritual sensitivity, that it points to a growth in the holiness and godly life of the church? Can any say that this represents spiritual development beyond what Calvin expressed, or other Reformed writers, or even over the decision of the C.R.C. of 1928? I would dare any to say so! 

Finally, one would expect that the Synod and individual consistories ought to take remedial action to “rehabilitate” those “sinners” who were disciplined because they had fallen into the evils of the dance in earlier years. There ought to be public apologies expressed to all those who were disciplined for what now turns out to be not sinful after all. 

We too, as Protestant Reformed, must learn from all of this. Though we have continued to condemn “worldly amusements,” though our stand is not so dissimilar from the C.R.C. of old, yet the pressures of worldliness can be seen in our midst too. We must be on guard—lest we also succumb to the pressures of, such worldliness. If any of us would want also the dance, or the movie, these would be welcomed with open arms within the C.R.C.—but such have no place with us. Let us maintain the standards set forth long ago already by John Calvin.