1969 Agenda Synod


The rumor has been around for a while that some people in the Christian Reformed Church were quite dissatisfied with the current position as to the essential incompatibility of membership in oath-hound, secret societies and membership in the church. In short, that position is one which our fathers took, guided by the Holy Spirit and prayer, when they ruled that it was not permissible to tolerate lodge membership within the church.

The existing position is well-stated by the late Prof. Martin Monsma in his standard work, The Revised Church Order Commentary (Zondervan, 1967):

It is the stand of our churches, by synodical conclusion, that if it becomes manifest thai a member belongs to a secret, oath-bound organization, he shall be disciplined. (Cf. General Rules, Art. 55, 1881.) In harmony with this decision it is the duty of consistories “to put the question to those who desire to be received as members and admitted to the Lord’s Supper whether they belong to any society bound by oath or solemn vow.” (Cf. Acts 1867, Art. 15.) The implication is, of course, that those who do belong to a lodge are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Table (p. 295).

But now we face Overture No.6 3S found on page 336 of the Agenda for the 1969 Synod. In it Classis Erie lets the cat out of the bag, so to speak, by asking “the synod of 1969 to study whether it is possible for a person to hold simultaneous church and lodge membership.”

I think that we ought not to he deceived by the form of the Lake Erie overture. If after almost a century of presumed conviction and incessant instruction on this point we aren’t really convinced, then it is utterly inconceivable that we could possibly conclude after “study” that it is not possible to be some kind of a lodge member and at the same time be a full-fledged, “in good. and regular standing” church member, and that in the Christian Reformed Church. In other words, I think that one can only read this overture as an attack upon the old position, and upon the entire view of the Christian life which it represents.

The Lake Erie overture is neither modest in length nor in substance. In more than 500 words it presents an elaborate case for the requested study. The argument runs as follows: Lake Erie missionaries and ministers are troubled by “the problem raised for them by the synodical decisions regarding secret societies.” This problem arises because people being evangelized by these missionaries and ministers do not agree that “a religious commitment is required of all lodge members.” Such people feel that it is at least possible to continue membership “because of certain financial benefits (insurance, annuities, etc.),” meanwhile ignoring the religious position of the lodge. After all “many lodges insist that lodge members must also be members of a church.” Further, lodges arc not merely “religious” but also social, business and philanthropic organizations.

Reading this overture one cannot escape the question, Just what is the problem that troubles Lake Erie?

There would be many possible ways in which this might be described, I suppose. At the risk of appearing concessive, however, I’d like to try to imagine a typical situation in which an evangelist meets up with this problem. A new family appears in the church services of a Sunday morning. They are neatly dressed, polite, drive a late model car, and, still more, are of a ready Christian testimony. They are fed lip with the modernism and liberalism of a nearby “main line church,” and they are looking for a sound, Bible-believing, conservative church for use as their church home. They speak glowingly of the quality of the catechism sermon they heard that morning, and the pastor is invited to call at his earliest convenience.

The moment for the mutually agreed upon pastoral call has arrived. Things inside the suburban split-level look even more impressive than could have been hoped for. There is evidence of culture and refinement both in the appointments of the home itself and in the conversation of these prospective new members. The introductory exchanges go smoothly, the questions of these people concerning the doctrine and liturgy and program of the congregation are intelligent and helpful.

All counselling and personal work authorities urge one not to prolong such interviews, and so the elated emissary is readying himself to leave, “don’t want to take too much of your time, you know.” And then the question comes which spoils it all. “We were visited by the Lutheran pastor once and he told us that his church doesn’t allow lodge members the privilege of communion. I don’t suppose your church has any narrow-minded rules like that?”

You can fill in the rest. And you can imagine the disappointment of the missionary or minister as he makes his way back to the parsonage!

Since I am unalterably opposed to any modification of the present CRC stand on lodge membership I am tempted to ignore the fact that the Lake Erie overture says a few good things and concedes many more. It grants “the inherent difficulty faced when someone is member of two organizations which hold to conflicting religious doctrines and principles.” As a Classis there is no intention to say that we “condone lodge membership” (some might remember how much anguish the word condone caused at the Synod of 1951 in connection with the church’s stand on worldly amusements). It even declares, “We also believe that the Masonic Lodge is a proponent of a false religion.”

This just might indicate what the real, practical intent of the Overture is. Classis Lake Erie wants the Church to be instructed as to the difference between Masonry, and, say, the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, etc. etc. It will allow, up to a point, the current stand with respect to the Masonic order, but it can’t quite see the point in barring from church membership people who belong to the local Elks lodge in order to get an indoor swimming facility for their children, to get in on the social life of that organization and to become beneficiaries of its life insurance program. Not to mention the opportunity to support its laudable charitable ventures. Who can really criticize even the Shriner effort to help crippled children? We ought to be that noble!

A few obvious comments are in order here. The first is that we can see from this that the task of bringing the true Gospel of the Reformed Faith to the nation is unbelievably difficult. To be an effective evangelist in this end time is seemingly impossible. The second comment is that if at all possible the wishes of those who are engaged in such work ought not only to be understood but honored. In other words, if it is Biblically possible to alter our stand on the matter of lodge membership so as to relieve at least in part the difficulty of doing the task of domestic evangelization, let’s do it! Whatever unnecessary baggage the Christian Reformed Church is carrying from the past into this fast moving, desperate Age ought to be junked.

But now we must face the real question: Is it actually advantageous to our witness to Christ to alter our stand with respect to lodge membership? Should we say that this area of life is outside the rightful supervision and concern of the Church? Should we say that each instance of lodge membership is to be taken on its own merits, and that the local congregation has the autonomous right to decide for itself if it wishes to grant Communion Table privileges to affiliates of secret, oath-bound organizations? Or should we say that such people can be admitted to church membership provisionally, that is, in terms of an express or implied willingness to be instructed so that when their graduation to a level of greater spiritual maturity is reached they may be expected voluntarily to leave their lodge membership behind?

To all these questions I would say an emphatic NO!

My space here is limited, and so I’m going to concentrate on what I think is the really disturbing, almost heart-breaking element in the Lake Erie overture. It is its apparent unawareness that it has adopted a view of religion which is absolutely irreconcilable with that which lies back of our current lodge membership stand. Take note, if you will, of sentences such as these:

If, however, the lodge were nothing more than a religious organization, the problem would not exist.

In addition, we must recognize that the lodge does not exist solely for its’ religious activity. There are the social, business, and philanthropic aspects (italics mine, J.H.P.), as well.

A neighboring pastor here in South Holland has in effect warned me that I’m not going to get my point across in this little piece because, he asserts, the kind of thinking reflected in this overture has so completely overwhelmed the minds of so many today. I’m afraid that he is quite accurate in his diagnosis, but I’m still hoping that this will be the one time that everyone who deals with this overture officially or unofficially will see the point.

You see, there is no such thing as “a religious aspect” and “a business aspect” and “a philanthropic aspect” or “a social aspect” in human life. Or, perhaps better, one cannot speak of religion as, if it were a concept of the same dimension and the same character as these or any others.

Because of the Reformation our fathers had relearned that life is religion, and that you can discern an economic and an ethical and a social aspect, but all of these are known and exercised by God’s imagebearers in obedience to or in rebellion against him. Lodge members must (that is why they are oath-bound!) do things out of a wrong principle, and they cannot allow their activities to be ventilated by public scrutiny (for they insist upon an exclusivism which God’s New Testament people surely cannot tolerate). The very last thing that a Christian church might tolerate, therefore, is the assertion that something is not religious in character, or that a particular religious expression may be ignored.

And so the Christian Reformed Church continues to move toward crisis after crisis. Should it decide through its synodical delegates that here, too, the strict, old-fashioned, hard-to-get-along-with positions of the past are outmoded and ought to be set aside (in the interest of a greater effectiveness of evangelistic witness, of course!), please don’t think that the issue is one of the difference between this or that kind of lodge, or between an old, narrow traditionalism and a newer spirit of outreach and concern “for others.”

No, the depth of these repeated controversial occurrences in the Church is far greater than any such consideration. That depth can only be plumbed if we ask this question: Does the Church have to do merely with the religious aspect of life (in which area it can offer the expert services of highly educated leaders), or does the Church preach that Gospel which demands the radical conversion of all aspects of life to God, so that we can at least achieve the vision of total commitment to Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, the King of kings?


Rev. John H. Piersma is pastor of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church, South Holland, Illinois.


Again the question of the relation between Calvin College and the Christian Reformed Church is raised for the Synod of 1969 by the overture of Classis British Columbia. Cf. Agenda, pp. 325 ff. 1 am sure that this question will continue to arise until such time that the church has the courage to solve the problem upon the basis of Biblical principle instead of temporary expediencies. I am sure that the present relationship with its accompanying quota arrangements is a matter of concern for the churches in Canada but it is becoming more and more a matter of concerned discussion by the church in every part of our denomination. The church will not long be able to walk around this problem without running the risk of precipitating unilateral action on the part of one or more consistories and congregations.

Classis British Columbia points up again that Synods have repeatedly declared that owning and operating a College is not within the purview of the definition and primary task of the church as institute. This fundamental principle need not be argued again. Synod of 1957 declared, “That the church has, however, the derived (not inherent) right, and even duty, to perform functions related to, but not of the essence of, the primary task of the Church, whenever the well-being of the Church and her members demands it. Times, places, conditions, and circumstances determine this right.”

If the times, places, conditions and circumstances now were such that no other way could be found for providing Christian higher education, then the present position of the denomination would have some validity at least at that point. The fact of the matter, however, is as plain as can be. There are other ways in which this Christian higher education can be provided. Who can argue with the fact that Dort College is here in demonstration of the other and better way? Who can argue with the fact that Trinity Christian College is here in demonstration of the other and better way? Who can argue with the fact that the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship is here in demonstration of the other and better way?

The times, places, conditions, and circumstances which gave rise to the present relationship are no longer the same. The evidence of this is written large and clear in Iowa, Chicago, and Toronto. It is time to see the evidence and act upon it.

The continuation of the present arrangement hampers the building of the Kingdom in every place except Grand Rapids and western Michigan. I am most concerned about the building of the Kingdom in Grand Rapids and western Michigan, but not at the expense of and to the detriment of the building of the Kingdom in all other areas of the denomination. We are no longer a one college denomination. There is obviously a competition in the field. This is good. Fair competition never hurt anyone. No one should be afraid of competition which is fair and open, least of all Calvin College.

The preliminary studies necessary to change the present relationship are long past due. They ought to be delayed no longer.


Rev. Rein Leetsma is pastor of the First Roseland Christian Reformed Church of Chicago.


An interesting and relevant problem is raised, by way of an appeal to Synod, concerning the war in Vietnam. In short, the question is: May a Christian refuse to fight in Vietnam if he believes our country is wrong in being there?

Instead of going into all the details of this particular appeal, it could be helpful to deal with this matter in general, for it is a real problem for many young men. And all Christians should be clear in their thinking on the pertinent issue.

1. There is no Biblical basis for total conscientious objectors

The Bible does not teach pacifism. It is not wrong to kill. As a matter of fact, the Bible does not even say, “Thou shalt not kill.” That is not the sixth commandment. The very next chapter, Exodus 21, gives instructions when the Israelites should kill, such as in case of certain crimes. Moses had not suddenly lost his senses and contradicted himself in the short space of one chapter. The Berkeley version has captured the correct meaning of the sixth commandment when it translates it as, “Thou shalt not murder.” It means: Thou shalt not kill out of a spirit of hate and revenge. But it does not forbid killing under all circumstances.

In addition to Exodus 21, which commands killing by society, we read of the command for capital punishment in Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man.”

And Romans 13 tells us that a government wields the sword as the minister of God. As a vicar of God it has the authority to have police and armies.

Often it is objected that Christ told us to love our enemy and to turn our other cheek. Therefore, they say, a Christian should never go to war.

Such reasoning is unbiblical and pernicious. In Matthew 5 Jesus is speaking about an ethic for individuals. They should always have a spirit of love, and not a spirit of hate and revenge. Jesus was not speaking about governments, which have the authority and duty to carry out justice. Matthew 5 does not cancel out Romans 13. One concerns a personal, individual situation; the other, a societal, governmental situation.

So, no young man should have the slightest compunction about serving his country either as a policeman or a soldier. Thank God that he gave the sword to the government. It would be hell without it.

But if a person (Christian or not) still believes before God that it is immoral and sinful to kill, even in the line of duty for his country, then the Christian should never try to force him to violate his conscience. Such a person should be required to serve his country in some non-combative way.

2. There is a Biblical basis for selective conscientious objectors

A Christian must obey his government in all things, except when it commands him to sin, such as killing babies (Jochebed), not praying (Daniel), bowing down to idol!f (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), and not preaching (Peter and John).

In this same vein, if the U.S. government is a horrible aggressor, indiscriminately and continually dropping napalm bombs on civilians; if the U.S. is trying militarily to make South Vietnam a 51st state; if the U.S. and South Vietnam are really so brutal that all the newspapers are duped when they say that over a million people have fled North Vietnam, and as a matter of fact they all went to North Vietnam; if Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon have the same political goals as the vicious, atrocious human-butcher Ho Chi Minh; if all, or any of the often-repeated above charges are true, then, certainly a Christian has a solemn moral obligation to refuse to be drafted.

But, if for one do not believe for a moment that the above charges can be substantiated. I believe that a person is extremely naive (to put it mildly) if he believes such accusations. But, if he has carefully and thoroughly studied the issues (not just in a superficial way), and sincerely comes to some of the above conclusions, then, he has the Biblical duty to be a selective conscientious objector.

3. A nation has a Biblical obligation to try to help defenseless nations.

In our daily press we hear almost nothing about the Biblical reason for our being in Vietnam. The most we hear is that it is for self-defense: the domino theory. If it is a matter of self-defense—and our government avers it is—then the Christian does have a right and duty to defend his nation. (And the Christian must be very careful before setting himself up as more knowledgeable than our Presidents and their cabinets.)

But where do we hear what the 1939 Christian Reformed synod so admirably and clearly set forth, when it said: “The solemn duty which the Christian has to exert himself to the utmost in behalf of peace and the peaceful settlement of conflicts and disputes, should at no time be used to cancel his equally solemn duty to defend his country against the attack of the aggressor, to protect the weak in the international family from the wanton assault of the strong” (p. 241–242)?

Or again, “And in the sphere of national and international relations it should be remembered that government is divinely instituted precisely for this protective purpose, viz., to maintain justice and to protect the weak from the strong” (p. 243).

A nation does have a solemn international obligation to protect to the utmost of his ability (and one nation cannot police the whole world) helpless victims of brutal aggression. This Christian motive, and not only self-defense, should be one of the strongest reasons we are involved in Vietnam.

But instead of hearing about this, we hear chiefly the selfish, isolationistic plea for America to withdraw to its impregnable (?) fortress, and let our fellow nations go to destruction.



Dear George,

You remember we talked about the new form for the baptism of infants found in the Agenda for Synod. I thought I would try to clarify my thinking on it, ask you to think along with me, and so perhaps come to some conclusions. I believe that the committee should be commended for its effort during the last five years because the form of baptism which is proposed shows a good deal of thought.

I wonder, however, why the committee has “…tried to limit the didactic function of the form…” when our Lord told us explicitly to be didactic; “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matt. 28:20. It seems to me that this moment of most dramatic sacramental illustration is the precise time to be didactic.

What do you think about the recasting of the traditional vows? You said that they were “Different…” which was a correct appraisal. But do you think that such a re-casting ought to abandon the basic idea of original sin found in the old form in the words, “…our children though conceived and born in sin and therefore subject to all manner of misery”? I don’t read Genesis 3 and Question 2 of our Heidelberger in the new proposed vow of the new form and it is a cardinal point. “Yea, to condemnation itself…” is also left out and that means that the tremendously powerful idea of hell is bypassed. Why was this done?

I feel that the new form is so lacking in specifics that it has been broadened and generalized out of much content.

Then too, “Proclaimed in the Gospel…” is not, I believe, a good substitute for the specific gospel, “which is contained in the Old and New Testament.” I don’t think that we ought to be so broad and general in this age of easy definition. Why not let the people hear us say exactly what we mean? And what’s wrong with confessing, “…and in the articles of the Christian faith”? Are we not sure of these any more?

Would you be afraid to say, “…to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation … and taught here in this Christian church…”? I wouldn’t! You mention the ecumenical spirit of the age: it sounds to me that this part of the new form tries to be so general that it would be acceptable to almost any “Christian” as defined by that ecumenical spirit.

Again, I want to promise before God to instruct my child “as soon as he is able to understand…,” for that to me means prayer over my new born infant and singing the Christian cradle songs very early in life as well as Christian Education. Why omit to teach “…the afore-said doctrine…”? If there is anything children and new converts need it is indoctrination. As a former home missionary, I would insist on the retention of this phrase.

Many more things could be said, for I felt too that we could have had some changes. But the proposed are too fundamental and too far reaching. I hope our synod studies this matter carefully for a year or two, that it is vigorously discussed in our church papers, and only then permit its trial usage. The form and doctrine of baptism are too important for anything less.

What do you think, George?

Your pastor,


Rev. Vogelzang is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church of Lansing, Illinois.