A Pressing Need
The Christian layman is gradually coming into his own. In all denominations he is playing an increasingly important role in Kingdom work. The activities in which Christian workers of our day engage are so numerous that unless their ranks include a very large number of laymen many fields of Christian service must remain unoccupied. This applies to missions not less than education, benevolence, and social service. It applies to foreign missions and home missions not less than neighborhood evangelism. The very fact that the world’s population is increasing at a much faster rate than of those who profess the Christian religion and join the Church points up the urgent need of employing laymen as well as ministers to bring the glad tidings to those who are still in spiritual darkness.
We should be profoundly grateful therefore that today an ever·increasing number of people are enjoying the ad· vantages and blessings of higher education. As for our own circles, the time is long past when the minister was practically the only person in a congregation who had more than an eighth grade education. It is no longer necessary for ministers to write con· sistorial minutes, prepare church bulletins, select books for church libraries, serve as heads of educational institutions, or take a prominent part in negotiations for the purchase of church properties.
It does not follow that ministerial leadership in all matters religious, including the religious aspect of our Kingdom institutions, is no longer necessary. All Kingdom work, of whatever sort, has theological implications. That is true especially of our schools. For that reason we hold it to be unwise to exclude our ministers from membership in the boards of our Christian schools and other educational organizations. And the same is true of Christian hospitals, rest-homes, labor organizations, and social service institutions.
Two kinds of Laymen
The Church needs two kinds of lay· men: those who work and those who think. Naturally, this is no hard and fast line of distinction. The best Christian workers are men and women who think, and laymen who think but rer fuse to work are in danger of becoming captious critics. Nevertheless, there is justification for the distinction between workers and thinkers. There are many Kingdom activities, for example those that concern material needs, which do not require special study. But there are also spiritual needs and problems which no layman can deal with unless he is a thinker. And no one can be a fruitful thinker unless he is a persistent and careful reader. Native intelligence is a valuable asset but unless those endowed with it read constantly to be informed and to take stock of the opinions and views of others their very intelligence may render them dangerous.
Our elders in particular must be leaders who think. They must take time for reading and reflection. This is one argument for the present costom of compulsory retirement, though it has serious disadvantages. As a rule elders who retire are reelected after one or more years of rest. Such periods of retirement offer opportunity for the study of subjects with which those who rule in the church should be conversant. And no member should be considered eligible for nomination as elder who has not formed the habit of reading and giving serious thought to the teachings, government, and practical problems of the church.
Salute to two Laymen
The need and the value of Christian laymen who are thinkers was brought home to us quite forcibly at this year’s Synod as we listened to Dr. Clarence Boersma, one of the professors at Calvin College, while he expounded his objections to one of the statements in our Belgic Confession about the Lord’s Supper; namely “that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ.” (Article 35.) We are not now expressing ourselves on the merits of Dr, Boersma’s objections though we must admit that he presented formidable arguments to establish his position and to reply to those who disagreed with his criticism. We said to ourselves: Here is a layman who is a thinker, even on theological issues!
We were again reminded of the value of lay-contributions to what is basically a theological problem when we read the report of Mr. Lambert Petzinger on the question of church control of Calvin College. This brother could not agree fully with either the Majority Report or the principal Minority Report on the subject. The former contended that the Church has the right to establish and maintain a college whenever in her judgment the spiritual welfare of her youth and the demands of Kingdom training make this necessary. The principal Minority report held that it is not in the classic Reformed tradition to say that the church has the right to maintain and operate a school for general education. Therefore, it said the Church ought to take steps to ultimately relinquish ownership and control of Calvin College.
Mr. Petzinger took the position that, though he preferred the Society principle from several viewpoints, the exigencies of our situation are such that he was impelled to suggest, for intensely practical reasons, that for the foreseeable future the Church should launch her college expansion program.
Now, we are not calling attention to Mr. Petzinger’s well written report because we agree with it. Our position comes closer to that of the Majority Report. We do consider it remarkable that Synod’s decisions on the matter come closer to the recommendations of Mr. Petzinger, a lone layman, than to those of the two principal sections of the study committee.
Very little was said in the report of the Advisory Committee about Mr. Petzinger’s report. He could have received more credit than was given him. At all events, we could not help being impressed with the fact that one of the laymen on the “Synodical Long-Range Planning Committee” of twelve men had the courage to stand alone in this important issue and the ability to present his thoughts in a form that would be a credit to any committee.
Let us add this: All the reports on the subject were well written, Both the Majority Report and the Minority Report were masterpieces, But it is Significant that even though Mr. Petzinger declared that he preferred “the Society principle,” he saw so many practical difficulties in the way of severing the connection between Calvin College and the Church that he recommended the perpetuation of the relationship between them and the expansion of our College as an ecclesiastical institution,
The Church needs more laymen who think—and who think straight.
The Come-back of the Sunday School
The National Sunday School Association, an evangelical organization and an affiliate of the N.A.E., held its 1957 convention in Grand Rapids on October 30, 31, and November 1. A conspicuous feature of this
convention was a downtown parade of local Sunday Schools. We were informed upon inquiry beforehand that at least a few of our Christian Reformed Sunday schools expected to participate in this parade.
It is encouraging to learn that the nation’s Sunday Schools, which up to a few years ago were suffering from a decline in interest and attendance, are sharing in the revival of religious interest which is one of the outstanding features of our national life at the present time, There are today 40,000,000 persons enrolled in’ our American Sunday Schools, an increase of two and one half percent over last year. If we consider that in most of the denominations in our land the Sunday school is the only institution for the religious instruction of our youth, we realize the importance of that increase.
Since the National Sunday School Association is definitely evangelical it deserves our sincere and earnest wishes for success and continued growth. May it help to promote the bringing of the gospel to many of America’s youth who are growing up in almost complete ignorance of the Bible and of the fundamental truths of the Christian religion.
From the very beginning of its existence the Sunday School has been specially fitted to reach the unchurched since it makes use of lay-teachers who can approach and labor with those estranged from the church when the clergy cannot reach them.
We are thankful that the process of decline in Sunday School attendance in late years has been reversed.
Hold the Catechism Line!
There is no disagreement among Christians of Reformed persuasion that the Sunday school is by no means adequate for the proper religious training of the youth of the church, A brief hour of religious instruction once a week, often under adverse circumstances and sometimes by poorly trained teachers, cannot begin to give our children the instruction in the Bible and the Christian religion which they need.
The Christian Reformed Church is one of the denominations which hold that the threefold cord—not easily broken—of catechism, Christian day-school, and Sunday school is none too strong to bind our youth to God and his Church.
What about our catechism work? Are we becoming increasingly catechism conscious? Are we, as ministers, consistories, and parents, putting increaSingly strong emphasis on the importance and indispensability of catechetical instruction?
We are not too sure that this question deserves an affirmative answer.
To be sure, our Synods have not failed to give special attention to the needs of our catechumens and catechisms, We now have a permanent committee on education which is busy producing the kind of texts which should put the work on a better pedagogical footing, though there seems to be a lag in the production of these texts.
But what about the interest in this work on the local level? Do our ministers give this part of their task the same careful attention which they give to sermon preparation? Do parents insist that school activities, music lessons, afternoon or evening sports, family errands and tasks shall not interfere with catechism attendance? Do our consistories see to it that there is proper equipment? Do they provide the right kind of rooms for catechism work, especially in the many new church edifices which have been erected these past few years?
There seems to be a tendency to give special thought to the needs of the Sunday school in planning new churches but to forget that the pastor is entitled to a special room for his catechism classes and that special equipment is needed for such a room. The proof for the sincerity of our oft-repeated profession that “catechism must be first” will have to be found, among other things, in what is done to make the meeting places as adequate and pleasant as possible.
This writer, in visiting new church buildings, usually asks to see the catechism room, Often one of the Sunday school rooms or a society room is pointed out. The opinion seems to prevail that almost any room can serve as a classroom for catechisms, The fact is that our sanctuaries, no matter how beautiful or costly they may be, and no matter how many Sunday school rooms may be provided, are inadequate unless a special room. is set aside and equipped for catechism, use only. True, Sunday schools and societies may find it convenient to meet where the pastor teaches his catechism classes when such classes are not in session; but the plain truth is that if there are no blackboards and Bible maps and if the scats are not fixed and provided with arms for writing, the pastor cannot do good work with his catechumens.
Consistories are first of all responsible for providing proper meeting places and good equipment for catechism purposes. They do not fail to provide a special consistory room and to equip it comfortably. Why stint in providing what is necessary for the more frequent meetings of the catechism classes? Of course, ministers may be expected to call attention to this need and to insist that it shall be supplied.
To retain the catechism as a live institution in the years that lie ahead will not be an easy task. The prevailing emphasis on the Sunday school in nearly all American churches, the anti-doctrinal spirit that is abroad, the trend in our day-schools to increase the extra-curricular activities of the pupils, the disinclination of even Christian parents to pay close attention to what church and school are doing for their boys and girls, and the spirit of materialism which usually lies at the root of our lack of interest in spiritual things-all these factors together will make it difficult to prevent the catechisms from becoming a limp and languishing institution. The only way to retain them is to do our utmost to improve them.
8:00 a.m. Catechism Classes
It was our privilege to spend six weeks in the late summer in the vacant Second Church of Redlands, California. During the last week of our stay, which we enjoyed greatly, it was left to us to give the catechism classes their first lesson explanation of the season and to make various arrangements as to grades, texts, and time of meeting, in cooperation with the consistory’s committee on education.
We found that it had been customary in this church (possibly the custom is followed also in other California congregations) to conduct one or more classes from 8:00 o’clock to 8:45 in the morning. Since the classes at the Christian school in Redlands begin at 9 o’clock, it was possible for the children to be at school in ample time after having attended their catechism classes.
A novel arrangement indeed! As we see it, this custom solved a vexing catechism problem, at least for the classes concerned. Every minister knows that after-school hours are the most unprofitable and unpedagogical time for catechetical work. The children are tired mentally, possibly hungry, eager for play, and strongly inclined to be unruly and noisy. The fag end of the day is the worst possible time for catechism.
Our experience with eight o’clock morning catechism classes was surprisingly encouraging. The pupils were fresh—in the good sense—alert, and well behaving.
There must be other communities besides the one mentioned where school hours are such that catechism classes can be held before the school bell rings. Where this is not the case at the present time, a change could perhaps be made to make early morning catechism classes possible without interfering with the program of the Christian day-school.
If catechetical work is of the utmost importance, it cannot be unimportant to do all that is possible to avoid holding the classes at a time when the catechumens are tired and restless.