The Objects of Ecclesiastical Censure (continued)

In our last article we called attention to the position of the Christian Reformed Church in regard to Lodge Membership as expressed by Monsma and Van Dellen in their Church Order Commentary. We noted that officially the stand is that lodge membership and church membership are incompatible and therefore, those who join the lodge and refuse to break with it are the proper objects of ecclesiastical censure.

We further explained that consistency would demand that the church take the same position with regard to membership in worldly or so-called neutral labor unions. This the Christian Reformed Church does not do because, as has been expressed more than once by some of the office-bearers in this church, “there would be no church left if they took such a stand.” Principles are forsaken and for sake of external growth and sundry utilitarian reasons the power of discipline is broken. This is the situation, that prevails today.

In J.L. Schaver’s Church Order we find various pronouncements of the Christian Reformed Synods in regard to this matter of Union Membership. We quote them in full:

“I. STUDY OF AND GUIDANCE IN THE PROBLEM RECOMMENDED

“All leaders are urged to make serious study of the labor movement, and in preaching and in other ways to take much account of it for the enlightenment and guidance of the congregation. (Acts 1906)

“II. MEMBERSHIP IN NEUTRAL UNIONS PERMISSIBLE

“There are not sufficient data to show that membership in the church is incompatible with membership in the so-called neutral unions, unless it can be established that the union gives constitutional warrant to a certain sin or sins, or shows in its regular activities that it champions sin. (Acts 1916)

“III. CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF UNIONS NOT NEUTRAL

“A Christian is not to be a member of a union (1) which exacts an oath or promise of unconditional obedience to the majority or to the board with disregard of one’s duty toward God, the State, the Church, and the family, or which retains for itself the exclusive right to determine whether or not one’s membership shall cease—this being in conflict with the first and fifth commandment, and also with I Cor. 7:23 andGal. 5:1; (2) which officially desecrates the Lord’s Day by holding business meetings on that day or sanctioning its board. or committee to do so, or desecrates the day by arranging for excursion trips or doing ought else that is in conflict with the fourth commandment; (3) which in its rules or resolutions or in the appointing of pickets gives permission to use force or which in its strikes or boycotts proceeds in that direction so that it becomes the direct occasion for the performance of various acts that are in conflict with the fifth and the sixth commandments; (4) which forbids a Christian or makes impossible for him as a member to do what as a Christian he is commanded to do, or which commands or necessitates that he as a member do what as a Christian he may not do; (5) which raises money in a manner and for a purpose that is condemned by the Word of God, e.g., dancing parties, card parties, etc.; (6) which has a ritual (a regulation for the religious ceremonies of the union) that is kept secret from all who are not members; or (7) which in its essence is a secret or oath-bound organization. (Acts 1904)

“IV. LIBERTY TO COOPERATE WITH OTHERS IN SOCIAL REALM

“Every Christian must be considered to be at liberty to cooperate with his neighbor in every lawful domain of society, and as a member of society he has a perfect right to help in any social enterprise, or to unite with others in an organization, if the evident aim of such enterprise is not in conflict with the general principles of justice laid down in the Word of God. (Acts 1928)

“V. THE CHRISTIAN’S DUTY IN SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS

“(1) A Christian who is a member of a social organization, of whatever nature, is bound of God faithfully to exert his influence as a Christian and to contend for righteousness and justice. (2) By consent or silence he personally becomes fully responsible for whatever is sinful in the decisions and practices of the organization to which he belongs. (3) In order to be personally free from guilt he must with all seriousness protest against such practices as transgress the boundaries of justice, and according to ability he must endeavor to check the evil; and, if the organization in spite of his protests persists in perpetrating evil, it becomes his duty as a Christian to renounce his membership in such organization. (Acts 1928)

“VI. THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH TOWARDS MEMBERS IN THEM

“(1) The Church of Christ is in duty bound through her power of the keys to purify herself from those who have joined themselves to organizations that are essentially in conflict with the Word of God. Such organizations are also organizations in the social realm which either in their constitutions, official propaganda, or in their common practices reveal themselves as anti-Christian. (2) With respect to those who have joined organizations that essentially are not in conflict with the Word of God, but in which is found much that is worthy of disapproval and in conflict with our Christian principles (as many organizations of employers and employees), the Church must constantly be ready with instruction and reproval. (3) In the case of members who are also members of organizations that are not essentially in conflict with the Word of God but in which is found much that is worthy of disapproval and in conflict with our Christian principles, church discipline is to be resorted to only when it is evident that they are parties to and guilty of actions that are in conflict with the command of God. Here too the rule shall be applied that only if one is personally guilty of censurable sin shall one become the object of ecclesiastical discipline. (4) Every Consistory is admonished to investigate the rules of every organization to which a member of its church belongs, and to be observant whether the members are accomplices in acts which are in conflict with the law of God, and if so to deal with such members according to ecclesiastical discipline. The Classes must attend to the observance of this rule. (Acts 1925)

“If Consistories follow conflicting procedures, the concrete instances shall be brought to the attention of Classis. (Acts 1892) “The Church should exercise discipline in the spirit of love, but nevertheless with a firm hand whenever her members become guilty of propagating un-Christian principles in the world of labor, assume an unbrotherly attitude towards their fellow Christians, take part in acts of violence, trample upon the fundamental principles of justice, or refuse to break with organizations that are avowedly anti-Christian in character, or reveal throughout an anti-Christian spirit in their activities. (Acts 1930)”

We do not intend to discuss these decisions in detail but cite them here primarily to show that in the mind of the Christian Reformed Church it is clearly evident that discipline and censure ought to be applied to those of their membership who affiliate themselves with these godless and anti-Christian organizations. However, as was stated before, they I lack the strength and courage to enforce this conviction and the result is that what is known to be sin is condoned. This defiance of the command of Christ to maintain the purity of His church by means of discipline cannot be practiced with impunity for the Lord is not mocked. The Heidelberg Catechism is certainly correct when it expresses it to be “the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life” and when this is not done “the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath is kindled against the whole congregation” (Lord’s Day 30).

Further, it must be noted that this failure on the part of the church coerces its own members who still desire the right into a walk of sin as long as they remain members in the church. I will cite an example of this. I spoke once with a man, an elder of the church, who had been forced to give up his job and seek other employment because he refused to become a member of the godless union. He was asked to explain why he could not work with these men and join with them in the union when he obviously could eat and drink with members of the same organization at the Lord’s table. Certainly if it is possible for him to be one with them at the table of the Lord, he should have no real objections to being one with them in his daily work. This man admitted that this was very inconsistent on his part; that he did not like it that members of the union that had deprived him of his job were in attendance at the Lord’s table but he could not do anything about that because the church allowed it. The fact of the matter is that if this man was as conscientious about his walk in the midst of the church as he appeared to be about his walk in the sphere of his daily employment, he would also concede that the church with its refusal to heed the command of Christ with respect to the members of these evil organizations forces him from the Lord’s table just as much as these evil members forced him from his job. Certainly theLord’s Supper cannot be celebrated that way. If such a person persists in participating at the Lord’s Supper under such circumstances, there should be no reason that he further refuses to join these members in his daily work and retain his job by joining the union. If it is possible to speak of greater and lesser sins, the latter is a lesser evil than the former. There are yet other matters we purpose to discuss in this connection. Membership in worldly organizations is not the only censurable sin.

There are other sins that fall into this category which we will consider. We are living in an age of spiritual indifference wherein the seriousness of sin is ignored. Let the church give heed to her calling to punish sin and let every believer give serious consideration to his calling unto sanctification lest the wrath of God consume In our last article we called attention to the position of the Christian Reformed Church in regard to Lodge Membership as expressed by Monsma and Van Dellen in their Church Order Commentary. We noted that officially the stand is that lodge membership and church membership are incompatible and therefore, those who join the lodge and refuse to break with it are the proper objects of ecclesiastical censure.

We further explained that consistency would demand that the church take the same position with regard to membership in worldly or so-called neutral labor unions. This the Christian Reformed Church does not do because, as has been expressed more than once by some of the office-bearers in this church, “there would be no church left if they took such a stand.” Principles are forsaken and for sake of external growth and sundry utilitarian reasons the power of discipline is broken. This is the situation, that prevails today.

In J.L. Schaver’s Church Order we find various pronouncements of the Christian Reformed Synods in regard to this matter of Union Membership. We quote them in full:

“I. STUDY OF AND GUIDANCE IN THE PROBLEM RECOMMENDED

“All leaders are urged to make serious study of the labor movement, and in preaching and in other ways to take much account of it for the enlightenment and guidance of the congregation. (Acts 1906)

“II. MEMBERSHIP IN NEUTRAL UNIONS PERMISSIBLE

“There are not sufficient data to show that membership in the church is incompatible with membership in the so-called neutral unions, unless it can be established that the union gives constitutional warrant to a certain sin or sins, or shows in its regular activities that it champions sin. (Acts 1916)

“III. CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF UNIONS NOT NEUTRAL

“A Christian is not to be a member of a union (1) which exacts an oath or promise of unconditional obedience to the majority or to the board with disregard of one’s duty toward God, the State, the Church, and the family, or which retains for itself the exclusive right to determine whether or not one’s membership shall cease—this being in conflict with the first and fifth commandment, and also with I Cor. 7:23 andGal. 5:1; (2) which officially desecrates the Lord’s Day by holding business meetings on that day or sanctioning its board. or committee to do so, or desecrates the day by arranging for excursion trips or doing ought else that is in conflict with the fourth commandment; (3) which in its rules or resolutions or in the appointing of pickets gives permission to use force or which in its strikes or boycotts proceeds in that direction so that it becomes the direct occasion for the performance of various acts that are in conflict with the fifth and the sixth commandments; (4) which forbids a Christian or makes impossible for him as a member to do what as a Christian he is commanded to do, or which commands or necessitates that he as a member do what as a Christian he may not do; (5) which raises money in a manner and for a purpose that is condemned by the Word of God, e.g., dancing parties, card parties, etc.; (6) which has a ritual (a regulation for the religious ceremonies of the union) that is kept secret from all who are not members; or (7) which in its essence is a secret or oath-bound organization. (Acts 1904)

“IV. LIBERTY TO COOPERATE WITH OTHERS IN SOCIAL REALM

“Every Christian must be considered to be at liberty to cooperate with his neighbor in every lawful domain of society, and as a member of society he has a perfect right to help in any social enterprise, or to unite with others in an organization, if the evident aim of such enterprise is not in conflict with the general principles of justice laid down in the Word of God. (Acts 1928)

“V. THE CHRISTIAN’S DUTY IN SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS

“(1) A Christian who is a member of a social organization, of whatever nature, is bound of God faithfully to exert his influence as a Christian and to contend for righteousness and justice. (2) By consent or silence he personally becomes fully responsible for whatever is sinful in the decisions and practices of the organization to which he belongs. (3) In order to be personally free from guilt he must with all seriousness protest against such practices as transgress the boundaries of justice, and according to ability he must endeavor to check the evil; and, if the organization in spite of his protests persists in perpetrating evil, it becomes his duty as a Christian to renounce his membership in such organization. (Acts 1928)

“VI. THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH TOWARDS MEMBERS IN THEM

“(1) The Church of Christ is in duty bound through her power of the keys to purify herself from those who have joined themselves to organizations that are essentially in conflict with the Word of God. Such organizations are also organizations in the social realm which either in their constitutions, official propaganda, or in their common practices reveal themselves as anti-Christian. (2) With respect to those who have joined organizations that essentially are not in conflict with the Word of God, but in which is found much that is worthy of disapproval and in conflict with our Christian principles (as many organizations of employers and employees), the Church must constantly be ready with instruction and reproval. (3) In the case of members who are also members of organizations that are not essentially in conflict with the Word of God but in which is found much that is worthy of disapproval and in conflict with our Christian principles, church discipline is to be resorted to only when it is evident that they are parties to and guilty of actions that are in conflict with the command of God. Here too the rule shall be applied that only if one is personally guilty of censurable sin shall one become the object of ecclesiastical discipline. (4) Every Consistory is admonished to investigate the rules of every organization to which a member of its church belongs, and to be observant whether the members are accomplices in acts which are in conflict with the law of God, and if so to deal with such members according to ecclesiastical discipline. The Classes must attend to the observance of this rule. (Acts 1925)

“If Consistories follow conflicting procedures, the concrete instances shall be brought to the attention of Classis. (Acts 1892) “The Church should exercise discipline in the spirit of love, but nevertheless with a firm hand whenever her members become guilty of propagating un-Christian principles in the world of labor, assume an unbrotherly attitude towards their fellow Christians, take part in acts of violence, trample upon the fundamental principles of justice, or refuse to break with organizations that are avowedly anti-Christian in character, or reveal throughout an anti-Christian spirit in their activities. (Acts 1930)”

We do not intend to discuss these decisions in detail but cite them here primarily to show that in the mind of the Christian Reformed Church it is clearly evident that discipline and censure ought to be applied to those of their membership who affiliate themselves with these godless and anti-Christian organizations. However, as was stated before, they I lack the strength and courage to enforce this conviction and the result is that what is known to be sin is condoned. This defiance of the command of Christ to maintain the purity of His church by means of discipline cannot be practiced with impunity for the Lord is not mocked. The Heidelberg Catechism is certainly correct when it expresses it to be “the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life” and when this is not done “the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath is kindled against the whole congregation” (Lord’s Day 30).

Further, it must be noted that this failure on the part of the church coerces its own members who still desire the right into a walk of sin as long as they remain members in the church. I will cite an example of this. I spoke once with a man, an elder of the church, who had been forced to give up his job and seek other employment because he refused to become a member of the godless union. He was asked to explain why he could not work with these men and join with them in the union when he obviously could eat and drink with members of the same organization at the Lord’s table. Certainly if it is possible for him to be one with them at the table of the Lord, he should have no real objections to being one with them in his daily work. This man admitted that this was very inconsistent on his part; that he did not like it that members of the union that had deprived him of his job were in attendance at the Lord’s table but he could not do anything about that because the church allowed it. The fact of the matter is that if this man was as conscientious about his walk in the midst of the church as he appeared to be about his walk in the sphere of his daily employment, he would also concede that the church with its refusal to heed the command of Christ with respect to the members of these evil organizations forces him from the Lord’s table just as much as these evil members forced him from his job. Certainly theLord’s Supper cannot be celebrated that way. If such a person persists in participating at the Lord’s Supper under such circumstances, there should be no reason that he further refuses to join these members in his daily work and retain his job by joining the union. If it is possible to speak of greater and lesser sins, the latter is a lesser evil than the former. There are yet other matters we purpose to discuss in this connection. Membership in worldly organizations is not the only censurable sin.

There are other sins that fall into this category which we will consider. We are living in an age of spiritual indifference wherein the seriousness of sin is ignored. Let the church give heed to her calling to punish sin and let every believer give serious consideration to his calling unto sanctification lest the wrath of God consume.

—G.v.d.B.