Christian Camel Drivers, Unite? or “The Rub to Christian Organization”

In those days John the Baptizer appeared on the scene in the Judean desert proclaiming:

Turn yourselves around!

The ruling order of heaven in just about here!

(This John is the one the prophet Isaiah talked about when he said: A voice crying out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make the paths for Him level and straight!” This John wore a camel’s hair cloak tucked up by a leather belt; his food was locusts and wild honey.)

Jerusalem, even all Judea, and all the country surrounding the Jordan traveled out to (hear) John and were baptized by him in the Jordan river after they openly, publicly confessed their sins.

When John saw a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for a baptism he said to them:

You sons of a snake! Who told you that you are saved from the coming anger (of the Lord)? Do (something!) bear fruit worthy of a radical change-about! Don’t keep on talking to yourselves “We have Abraham as father.” I tell you God can raise up sons for Abraham out of these stones here.

Already the ax is put to the trees’ root. Ever tree not bearing good fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with water into a radical changeabout. The one following me up, so much more powerful than me—whose shoes I am not fit to carry— he will baptize you with Holy Spirit…and fire! Pitchfork in hand he will clean up what’s left after the harvest on the threshing floor, collect the grain into his storehouse and burn the chaff up in a fire you cannot put out. (Matthew 3:1–12)

The rub to Christian organization is that it demands public confession of sin and deeds worthy of a radical turnabout to God.

Public confession of sin, open testimony of needing God’s Grace here and now, is not very popular with us men; we would rather justify how well we have done and are doing. And deeds, not just talk, actual concrete performance meeting the measure of repentance, of a radically new outlook, disposition, perspective, deeds that are worthy of such a deep-going turnabout in a man come hard; we believers are more comfortable discussing the faith or confining our acts to unmolested churchy activities.

But it could be, unless baptism is an insurance rite automatically conferring Abrahamic status, it could be that without openly repentant deed moved by a holy (= set apart!) spirit, it could be that the sprinkled covenanting mark of Cod on our foreheads only sets us up for the next baptism by are, the Lord’s winnowing judgment, on this generation of vipers and at the end.

This is the tack I should like to take and the level, so to speak, at which I think Christian organization needs to be confronted.

How, before the jealous Lord of heaven and earth, is a believer to acquit himself historically in creation? With what spirit is the Christ follower to meet his given culture? with the spirit of re-forming its patterns of life till they be conformed intrinsically to the way of the Lord? or, with the spirit of accepting what is good in existing institutions, Christianizing points where necessary, influencing established ways as much as possible by personal example and wisdom?

Only when examination and decision fall on such directional matters will it become clear what can and what cannot be argued with respect to Christian camel drivers, Grand Rapids factory workers and Chicagoan scavengers.

Let me begin by the back door.

Christian Organization

There is nothing worse than a Christian organization that lacks the Holy Spirit’s presence. A Christian labor union without Christian dynamic, a supposedly Christian college that docs not breathe the spirit of Christ in its classrooms, a church dominated by rancor, mistrust and maneuverings, are all terrible farces, prostitutions of Christ’s name. So-called Christian institutions, organizations, can be sepulchrally white hiding dead men within. Just because an organization is put together by Christians or has Christian in its name (Christian Reformed church, Trinity Christian college, Christian labor association) is no guarantee of actual holy-spirited, Christian witness and activity.

Dooyeweerd’s comment on religious antithesis should squelch further any misconceived idealization of Christian organization:

The antithesis is not a dividing line between Christian and non-Christian segments of the population. It is rather the eternal struggle between two spiritual principles which cut right through…all of mankind, irrespective of the safe castles of a Christian framework to social groupings…We must never forget that the antithesis cuts right through the Christian life itself…apostasy, schism, discord within Christian groupings witness to the fact that especially there the turbulent Spirit of darkness wages war against the Spirit of Christ, producing the most obnoxious phenomena (Vernieuwing en Bezinning, p. 3).

Christian organization is necessarily not perfect, even if you make ARSS membership humanly airtight.

And the miserable wisdom of the philosopher-king in Ecclesiastes should touch us too at the start:

I didn’t enjoy all my toiling work struggled for under the sun because (I knew) I had to leave it to some man who would come after me, and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? but no matter which, he shall manage all I have done, sweated for, trying to be wise under the sun…God gives wisdom, insight and joy to the man who pleases him; but to the sinner God gives the trouble of collecting and stacking things up—so that He may give it to one who is lovely to the eye of God (2:18–19, 26).

That is, Christian organization is vexatious and vain unless it be conceived, maintained and practiced within the immediate blessing of God.

So what is a truly Christian organization and why go through all the trouble?



A Christian organization is first of all an organization, an association of men and women, a body of people whose communal existence involves more than the sum of its individuals. A family is not simply the addition of an individual father, mother, two sons and a daughter; a given family has a structural family bond to it which while never separable from the constituting members and not created to override, extinguish their varying individualities, does hold them correlatively embraced in a typical, temporal family identity. So too with political parties and chess clubs and more organizations quite different from a blood based family: they are groupings of people who have many other interests, activities and roles.

But in this specific matter, viz., use of reflective leisure demanding chess competence or moral concern for what political principles best shape the nation, individual men cohere together more or less. They are united in this particularly qualified grouping which has neither the cohesion of a living organism nor the supposed personality of an Ueberperson yet is more than a collection of atomic parts. A political party and a chess club like a family has an identity, generally a proper name; it is a certain community that can act as a unit in its sphere (differentiation of officers is called for by this oneness), even if it is only to set the time for the next meeting. Important to me here is simply this, that organizations are human social structurations.

You all recognize that there are importantly different kinds of human social structurations. Marriage is a sexual love union so intimate and lasting only death of one of the two breaks it; while you belong to a high school basketball team at the most four year’s and are in-again-out-again depending on your marks, athletic prowess and whether you can find time to practice. Some human social structurations you cannot help but be a member of, like a family—the tragedy of bastards and orphans notwithstanding; you are necessarily born into a family, but an American is not born into the Democratic political party (unless you come from Indiana and the name is Zandstra). The church is a singular organization to which hypocrites and genuine believers are bound within a definite confessional response to the specially central working of God’s Grace, if it be a true church, upon the congregation through sacrament and preached Word and corresponding doctrinal discipline. And the state today is a human social structuration ordained by Cod of which one is involuntarily a citizen, against whose binding power revolution is a serious evil; whereas a laborers’ association or corporate chain of grocerers is by nature a voluntary type organization, here with a peculiarly economic orientation.

One could go on, but the point is: there are importantly different, specific kinds of human social structurations, unions, institutions, organizations extant—some with an historically transient relative character, others with the cosmic duration of a creational ordinance, some voluntary, others inescapable for men (how one analyzes and encyclopedically orders the myriad number of organizations in our complex, civilized society will say much about one’s philosophical and even religious perspective)—yet they all are alike in being open to the sin of men and the Grace of our Redeemer.

I must try to be clear. It is not so that a marriage of unbelievers is not a marriage but continuous fornication; before God their betrothed cohabitation is a marriage. And it is not so that a family who has its confessional papers with an orthodox church is thereby a Christian family. If an evil spirit sit on its back, infest the family talking, eating, living room, it is an unholy horror even if there be a double tithe on Sunday. I mean to say that Christian believers have no corner on creational order, no monopoly on human social structurations, except the church. And no concrete organization, including the church, is Christian just because its paperwork, constitution, statement of purpose, is formally in order.

Testing the Organization

That seems to leave precision of Christian organization rather up in the air. Can you ever—when would you dare call a college faculty and administration a Christian organization? a Christian college?

When the leading spirit driving an organization is one of selfless passion to show God’s presence, Christ’s blessed ruling order at work in its given social area, then that concrete, temporal human social structuration is a truly Christian organization. Its sins may cry out to heaven and incompetence plague its operation; but if its living conception, dynamic, direction is one of openly impassioned, joyful struggle to incarnate the Lord’s wisdom, then you have a human grouping moved by the biblical faith, whether a marriage, family, state, basketball team or chess club.

But still, if Christian organization is determined by this spirit of utter dependence upon God, a constant searching, claiming the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, isn’t discerning the spirit of an organization a pretty subjective thing? Be specific once. Is the Anti-Revolutionaire Partij in the Netherlands today a Christian organization or not? What have they been doing since Schouten—in their journal, is that an autopsy or open heart surgery? Or, do you say the Christian Labour Association of Canada is a Christian organization and the Christian Trade Union of Canada an unChristian one?

If that kind of detail question is couched in the usual disinterested spirit of divide and kill, begging brother to judge brother, it does not deserve an answer. But if it is an honest question I would answer that there comes a time when one has to decide where the line is to be drawn, what is the language of faith and what of ratiocination. Maybe it falls on article 2, that despite the National Labour Relation Board’s charge of discrimination you decide you must continue to publicly express that we base our “program and activities on the Christian principles of social justice and love as taught in the Bible,” and some with the best strategic Christian intentions leave. Or one has to decide whether the solid antirevolutionaire principles arc being existentialistically adapted to a welfare state temper or are they just being freed from rationalistic accretions. Prayerful discerning of the spirits is an agonizing business, takes time; and it is not wise to chit about it from the outside. However, because a given testing is difficult and fallible does not permit one to abdicate his responsibility under the slogan of “subjective,” unless you mean to call into question the very reality of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in a group of people.

Truly Christian organization may be elusive to pin down observationally and to build l1p actually—the Holy Spirit does not let himself be boxed in so easily -but it is not therefore neo-orthodoxily indecipherable or a matter of momentary visitations by eternal Grace breaking within the time barrier. God’s Word according to Matthew 3 I read speaks quite definitely about the action God wants from his saints: open confession of Jesus Christ’s lordship and deeM touched by single-minded repentance, a facing-God praise response. Such a temper and fruit only comes when the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of men, and only such fruit is worth a man’s baptism.

Again, I know the temptation to decipher “good fruit” positivistically. to add up the number of college graduates in the last five years, for example, become Christian school teachers, subtract the graduated number who left the church, multiply by the number of missionaries, divide by the number of sex: deviates, and if you get a certain score you are a successful Christian college.

Whether a college or magazine, labor union or family is a Christian human social structuration—much depends upon the leading personalities in the organization (editors, committee chairmen, president, power behind the throne)—its Christian character cannot be quantified (to use North Central Association jargon), tabulated circumstantially. Wormy fruit may be born of consecrated labor, and good apples may be a pure gift of God in spite of the rotten tree. Nevertheless, the spirit of an organization in its approach, expression, within the very cultural force it sets in motion is telltale, fine but discernible. When that spirit is one of reforming historical patterns of life till they be conformed to the way of the Lord, under the skimpy shade of that sour apple tree of an organization I as a believer feel at home and am ready to give the Lord there whatever I’ve got.

Christian organization has somehow gotten a bum steer. A Christian labor union is no more a “separate” organization than a Socialist labor union in society. Christian organization is not a forced construction superimposed upon the unwilling faithful: it is rather the embodiment you would expect of men sharing a deep communion in Jesus Christ who arc busy socially. Christian organization is not a frenetic imperialism to win the world for Christ our way against an odds. Its fight and passion is one of joyful obedience to God to bring the light of His Word and Christ’s easy yoke to bear upon our many faceted society to free men from their captivities. A Christian political grouping will not be the machinery of an elite band of political scientists, who now are Christians, telling the faithful mass where to apply pressure; but Christian political action like any communal Christian cultural endeavor on earth will be a slow, generations-long buildup of the believing community’s sense of Christian political office till they are wise enough to use the power of the sword in a biblical way.

A bum steer; “separatism,” “factional,” “grandiose schemes,” “how can it succeed?” And to damn Christian organization because of its weak and sinful proponents seems to show a lack of biblical wisdom and Christian charity. Or could there be an other reason?

Christians in Secular Organizations

Some Christians disagree with the call to Christian organization for quite weighty reasons, the best of which is this; Christians can break through to the world, be a more effective witness to the gospel in existing non-Christian organizations, and can do so in good conscience until such organizations be· come anti-Christian.

I think this position is common, respectable, and wrong better said, informed by a different spirit than the one that meets and grips me in the Scriptures. And since this position of “Christians in secular organizations” is sometimes supported not as the happenstance situation a Christian may be historically stymied in and need to work himself out of but as the leading policy believing Christians should follow today in Western, at least Anglo-Saxon, civilization, till it is no longer feasible, I should like to analyze briefly a few disconcerting things it presupposes.

The existence of neutral organizations is assumed: like chess clubs and a civic group organized to clean up the shady lady sections of Grand Rapids and make it a better place to live in; neutral organizations, i.e., where by constitution and practice every religious opinion is welcome (atheist, Christian, Jew, Muslin, Dodoweirdian—) and its sole objectives are limited goals common to all members.

One could say, I suppose, there are chess clubs and there are chess clubs. Platonic chess clubs were organized for homosexual dalliance. Soviet Russian chess clubs are organized for political advancement or to bring honor to the state.

But I mean just a plain old human pickup chess club. I don’t want to earn a merit badge in the Calvinist Cadets—I just want to learn how to play chess. Can’t I, mayn’t I join a good secular chess club in my home block? You certainly can. You may too without even committing the stature of a venial sin.

This sophistry may dazzle, confuse, and trick those unschooled in rhetoric into giving bad answers, but it is most tawdry, like the sort of questions “Is there a Christian way to brush your teeth?” That is not an honest question, Sincerely asking for information; it is a pseudo-question, pure bunk, to which a nonsense answer is “brushing up and down is humanistic, sidewise pagan, and Christians do it deftly in the form of a cross.” That sort of question about brushing teeth assumes some areas of life are not directly subject to God’s redeeming Grace; therefore, if you accept the question, you cannot give an answer that assumes all life is religion in operation without appearing ridiculous.

Likewise for this business about chess clubs and more importantly Grand Rapids civic groups: to move from the description of fact that Christians and unbelievers can, do, may co-operate in organizational structures not breathing adoration of Christ’s name, to raise that current empirical practice to the status of norm, or if not quite nonnative certainly more than permissible, as the best policy (“best’”—with all the built~in relativism of that concept), make this compositional practice the best policy for Christians to pursue in cultural matters, assumes, if r see it rightly, a secular definition of organization that denatures man or idolizes him, removing a truly Significant area of historical concern from the rooting power of the Gospel.

To encourage Christians to take active part in non-Christian organizations as the way to fulfill their cultural responsibility to our Lord God gives me problems, because nonChristian organizations by their nature would suspend, be non-committal about the basic reasons, motive, purpose for doing what they are doing. And those basic matters are not simply theoretical addenda, super-additum addenda, but constitute the very dynamic, spirit, of the organization’s doings. When the Christian rationale is leveled on a par with unbelieving rationales, the resulting spirit is a horizontally noble human spirit listing where it reasonably will but that inevitably will constrain the pentecostal way the Holy Spirit flows into and through and out a believing man’s life.

One could deny that organizations have a spirit deeply embedded, moving in its workings, but that presents an insoluble puzzle for those Christians who admit that everything an individual does is before the face of the Lord Jesus, in His name or not, no third possibility: when two or three individuals are gathered together suddenly what they do is in nobody’s name, neither for or against Jesus Christ, it is a neutral affair.

Something is wrong then, it seems to me. Either you must deny that organizations are God-given human social groupings and conceive them secularly as space-time constructs, an arena in which Fichtian, monadic egos temporarily act in concert -which denatures human association to a technical relation and conceives social phenomena abstractly as religiously detached—or you must deny that everything an individual man does is to be directly subjected to his faith-commitment in Christ, that only interpretive, typically human confessional-ethical, mental-reflective acts are peculiarly Christian or not, but not stuff like playing chess and organizationally cleaning up Grand Rapids. Either alternative has serious consequences for the Christian world and life view and one’s daily practice.

I would not dispute that sometimes somewheres Christians must wait with Christian organization and work within secular institutions. Afghanistan may be closed to Christian missionaries, but the government invites two highly competent Christian M.D.’s to staff posts in its medical university. It would probably not be biblically wise for them to found the Christian Medical Association of Afghanistan that year. Or in a remote province of Japan where there are a dozen converted young Japanese couples who despite the vision of what a Christian school education would mean for their children simply cannot bring it off: you need a Christian community to act christianly communally. That is why “Christian Camel Drivers, Unite!” would not make much sense where I live; there are not many camel drivers in Cook County. But if in Jordan and Palestine there is a growing body of Christians driving camels, the exhortation would be most biblically appropriate, so that they might surprise their fellow Arabs, Jews, and secular Western business men with the cash value of all that highfalutin talk about the relevance of the Christian faith for daily social life.

And it is so that because an individual is not ontically swallowed into the makeup of an organization that a Christian is able to convince himself that his membership in the National Education Association of the United States is not incompatible with subscribing to the church’s creeds because he doesn’t really commit himself to the beliefs of the N.E.A. as it says he does on page 54 (1964-65 Handbook) nor orient his spiritual injunctions to “the American way of life” (p. 70). Also. I would not take it ill of a believer who conscious of his brief lifetime and the critical state of the Christian community judges that organized development of certain culturally insignificant areas need to be neglected by him.

But all this historical turmoil, shifting, qualification in which Christians live and move must not be that from which they take their cue. And because non-Christian organizations are tolerated and used by believers in our broken-down historical situation does not imply they are neutral before Jesus Christ! much less that they are the straight and level ways of the Lord we should be building. Such suggestions are false, misguided directions without biblical support. There is a fine line between the lukewarm compromise of mental reservation and the biblical sanity of living out of faith in enemy territory. What spirit fires a man and drives him on determines the issue.

That points to the other disconcerting feature I shall mention detected in the position proposing Christians infiltrate secular organizations: a peculiar a-historical temper. It seems to be assumed that the Christian faith is not to produce culture but rather critically influence it, not employ worldly power but speak to it, not change the world but interpret it. Paired with this, how shall I say it, otherworldly mission attitude of testify-pull back—we have no abiding city here, paired with this a-historical temper seems to go a strangely high valuation of humanistic culture plus the conviction that the only really necessary Christian organization is the church, conceived in high church fashion as the controlling refuge which makes all things well.

I do not think one can gainsay this position once a Christian firmly adopts it. You can find proof texts for this evangelical withdrawal, compartmentalized adoption, rigorously ecclesiastic standpoint; pacifists. fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, latter day Anabaptists know their Bible too. All I can say now is: the a-historical bent of this position, pulled from an absolutization of the, to be sure, crucial mission task of God’s people is foreign to the biblical Reformational Christian faith as I have always understood its genius.

I learned from Dr. W. H. Jellema a long time ago that you deform the biblical richness of the Reformed faith if you reduce Christian witness, which is an activity of civitas, civitas Dei, reduce it to a matter of personal, individualistic testimony. And I have gradually learned from Dr. Runner that doing good competent work in a field, also thanking God for it in church. is a meagre, split response of a believer who wants to live Singly. wholeheartedly, wholebodily, directly and fully, totally out of the hand of God focused by His directing Word.

I am aware that the a-historical bent of this mission-emphasis position does not limit one to candle-holding, bench quarterbacking on Vietnam, pastoral admonitions, that it can foster Roman catholic confessional sub-groupings of workers within the secular AFL-CIO union. But its grasp of cultural problems always maintains the weightedness of an unreformed ecclesiastic scholastic mentality (which no amount of neo-orthodoxy can erase) concerned more with ends, practical goals than means, that tends to dismiss the important difference between the indisputable co-operation of believers with unbelievers and the association, the intimate sharing-in-with, mingling partnering communion only believers have together (cf. I C 5:9-10; E 5:7.11), dismiss the difference as semantics, that would be willing to blur, for a practical mess of potage—God knows Esau was hungry! the difference between Christian and parochial school.

Again, I know these last remarks may seem derogatory of the church to many scribes and theologians. but these special leaders of God’s people never show up well in the New Testament for the very matter on the docket: scholastic presumption of the institutional church to stand authoritarianly between believer and God Almighty.

It would be helpful to get straight what is at stake in the debate on Christian organization. It is not the question whether so-and-so believes in Jesus Christ (secularists who are nominal Christians can hide piously in secular Organizations and zealots with false pride can nest easily in Christian social structurations—each one look to himself). And it is not the question whether so-and-so’s understanding of what is happening on the American cultural scene is accurate (fellow Christians may analyze current trends somewhat disparately). Those are not the matters to discuss and impugn.

The question that must be faced is this: with what spirit is the Christ follower to meet his given culture? With the spirit of re-forming its patterns of life till they be conformed intrinsically to the way of the Lord? or with the spirit of accepting what is good in existing institutions, christianizing points where necessary, influencing established ways as much as possible by personal example and wisdom?

In the balance is the Reformed faith. The Reformaational Christian faith as quite distinct from the Roman catholic, Anglo·catholic, Fundamentalistic, Neo-orthodox Christian faith. Within which spirit—no matter how you label it a man decides to frame his life is unarguable; that is, if you do not hear the Scriptures tell you all life is religion in operation before God and the body of Christ is to act like one, I who hear this to be utterly, simply, biblically true cannot convince you of it. The pity is you may have a personally rich grip on our common Lord. What differentiates other Christian faith from the Reformational Christian faith is the makeshift reservations, human blind constructions and divisions, unhappy mixtures it seems to a Reformational believer the other’s grounding, driving religious motives tries, for whatever good reasons, to insert confusingly into the biblical dynamic. Nothing less than everything brought subject to Christ’s footstool satisfies the Reformed faith.

The closest one might come to an argument on Christian organization (not argumentation!—if you know C. S. Peirce’s careful distinction) is this:

If all human life is religion in operation before God, including a man’s organizational and social life; and

if the Holy Spirit drives a man to live single-mindedly for Christ into the world of history (not with a gospel chip on his shoulder but openly, unrestrainedly, publicly); and

if the saintly communion which members of Christ’s body share truly means its prayer that His Will be done on earth, establishing the work of our hands

—in that scandalous. humble assurance that the Christian faith has the singular Truth and is not just one of the spiritual pillars of Western civilization, and in the fearful knowledge that prayer without works is dead and works without obedience are vain—

then the Christian community, in all its many human social structurations, will be impelled by the constraint of Christ’s love to work out the baptism of water on its forehead with the baptism of the Holy Spirit to show the Lord God’s gloriousness to the world at large socially, economically, politically…

This “argument” will not touch the heart of a man insensitive to the playful vision of the reforming. edifying (building up) Holy Spirit, but I think what Dooyeweerd said once is so:

It is imperative that without looking to see who-is-what we frankly decide for ourselves on the question REFORMATION or ACCOMODATION because that question determines the Christian way-of-life today too. And only the moving force of God’s Word-revelation is able to give us the answer (Vernieuwing en Bezinning, p. 110).

Maybe it has struck you that those in Christian organization act as the opponents of Christian organization say we should—in confrontation with the world, while those propagating a Christian presence in secular organizations seem to be generally acting as they say Christian organizations would—reflectively on the sidelines as far as outspoken Christian confession and repentant deed goes. That should bother Christians who would be busy trading their talents in the marketplace as they anticipate Cod’s kingdom fully come.

Those baptizers Antonides and Vandezande have been troubling Jerusalem. I pray they trouble all of Israel, especially all sons of the snake who say “We have John Calvin as father.” The Word of God says that the Lord can raise up sons of Calvin out of the stones. the blockheads of Canada. It is not who your father is or how successful your deeds are that count with God, but whether the work of your hands be fruit of obedience to the Word. the profession of turned-around men sanctified by the Spirit. performed in undissembled love for our jealous God.

Why go through all the trouble of a Christian organization, knowing that it daily demands confession of sin and doing works worthy of repentance?

This the profound spiritual question which Dr. Calvin Seerveld, professor of philosophy at Trinity Christian College, Chicago, IL, raises for us this month in which we celebrate Labor Day. That this material was first presented as a public address for the “Groen van Prinsterer Club” on Calvin College campus accounts for its style which appears here without change. Don’t read this article, unless you are ready to be stirred to fear and trembling by the Word of the Lord.