Signals from the CRC Synod of ‘77: The Social Dance at Calvin College

The CRC Synod of ’77 has something to say to all who still have ears to hear and eyes to see. This year’s Synod is giving out signals—ominous signals—so loud and clear that he who runs may read.

Religious dullards, deliberate cop-outs, those whose chief concern is not to rock the boat, and those who want to be comfortable at any and all costs, may fail or refuse to take note of these signals. Liberals and the like (the foe within the gate) may tell us there is really no cause for concern as to the future of the Reformed faith. And, as the saying has it, “The devil is never too busy to rock the cradle of a sleeping saint.”

Now, these signals—what are they? The following come to mind—Synod’s decisions concerning:

Social dancing at Calvin College

the so-called Verhey matter

Harry Boer versus the doctrine of reprobation

divorce and marriage guidelines

the vote on the lodge question and the trend it reveals.

My intention is to consider only the social dancing matter at this time and hopefully to continue a discussion on these matters in following issues.

It was a shocker – Although I am thankful and even proud to profess to be and also to be classed by others as a conservative (if only the term be rightly understood!) I do refuse to be branded as a legalist.

There is a difference. A conservative is one who clings tenaciously to and seeks to conserve whatever he believes to be va1uable and good in his heritage or tradition, whether it be religious or otherwise. For the bona fide conservative there are basics that are simply not negotiable. A legalist is one who would lay down, for himself and also for others, laws for conduct that are not clearly prescribed as such in Scripture.

For example. In 1951 the CRC Synod wanted a clarification of the thrust or import of the stand the CRC Synod of 1928 had taken on “Worldly amusements.” It was my position as a member of the 1951 committee then and still is that 1928 was not to be read and employed as a piece of legalism. In certain matters room must be left for Christian liberty while, at the same time, this may never be abused to tolerate sinful license.

Well, as a CRC we have come a long, long way in these matters since 1928 and 1951. It is very urgent for us to take stock to know whether this has been for good or for evil. Specifically, how is so-called “social dancing” looked upon in the CRC today? The CRC Synod of 77 has left us with a number of highly important signals; and the first of these, to which I wish to call your attention is the one that pertains to social dancing.

Simply stated, the Calvin Board (composed largely of CRC ministers and a minority of laymen) decided to approve of and to introduce social dancing at Calvin College.

Shock-proof as one becomes in times like these, I‘ll admit that this still came across as a shocker to me. And when this matter was reported at Synod, and when Dr. Harry Holwerda (an M.D. from De Motte, Indiana and serving as a delegate from Classis Illiana) made a motion to disapprove of this decision of the Calvin Board, and when I naively expected that the CRC Synod would certainly endorse such disapproval, and when I heard instead that the motion to disapprove was soundly defeated—frankly, I could hardly believe my ears. Was that really the Synod of our CRC?

As stated above, the Calvin Board is largely made up of eRC ministers. Moreover, the CRC Synod has 76 ministers as delegates. However, the minutes of the Ca1vin Board meeting record that only one member (Mr. Berton Sevensma, a Grand Rapids attorney) requested that his negative vote on the social dancing decision be recorded. It seemed significant a1so that it was a young medical doctor at Synod who made the motion to disapprove of this action of the Calvin Board. To be SlUe, there were ministers who spoke in favor of the motion to disapprove but it is worthy of note and a1so of appreciative recognition that it was a lawyer and a medical doctor who spoke up as they did on this matter.

The Calvin Board‘s decision – Now, in all fairness, it is well to record the decision of the Calvin Board on social dancing in its entirety. It might be sufficient to give only the gist of the decision but I am giving the full text to avoid the risk of being charged with quoting the decision out of context. Moreover, there are among readers of THE OUTLOOK those who do not receive The Banner in which the Board’s action was recently published. Following is the decision of the Calvin Board re the Dance Issue exactly as it appears in Article 53 of the Minutes of the May 27, 1977 meeting of the Calvin Board:

Decisions re the Dance Issue

A. A motion prevails to adopt the following statement of position re the Dance issue:

Whereas the Synod of 1971 declares “the conclusions of the Church and Film Arts study of 1966, particularly ‘with respect to the relationship of the Christian to the world’ and ‘with respect to the exercise of Christian liberty’, to be a guide for the churches in dealing with the matter of dancing” (Acts of Synod, 1971, p. 139; and

Whereas out of concern for the increasing practice of social dancing on the campus of Calvin College, the President of the College, on December 1, 1976, appointed an ad hoc (for this matter) Committee on Dancing, and said Committee reported its findings to the President and the Board of Trustees at its meeting of May 23, 1977 and days following,

The Board of Trustees states its position on this matter in the following way:

1. The Board instructs the Administration to implement immediately the development of social dancing in a Christian manner by:

a. instructing its art, music, drama, and physical education departments to provide leadership and direction in using the social dance in a Christian way, and

b. “All Christians, according to the talents God has given them, must work positively and constructively to fulfill the cultural mandate” (Acts of Synod, 1966, p. 34).

c. A policy allowing students the freedom to dance ought to be accompanied by instructions to those who guide these students to provide leadership in implementation, and by instructions, to the students themselves.

2. The Board accepts the recommendation included in the report of the ad hoc Committee on Dancing that Calvin College “allow for social dancing as an acceptable, and wholesome, on-campus, recreational activity for Calvin students and staff,” as regulated by the guidelines given in the same report.


The decision of Synod (1971) provides a sound basis for the College to authorize dancing within the above guidelines.

3. The Board instructs the Administration to delay implementation of this policy until September 1978.


a. This will allow the Calvin College community the time needed to implement the development of social dancing in a Christian manner.

b. This will allow the Calvin College constituency and the Christian Reformed churches and assemblies the time needed to express a collective mind on the position of the Board of Trustees. (Note: Mr. B. Sevensma [a Grand Rapids attorney] requested that his negative vote be recorded on Points 1 and 2.) (Not a single negative vote by a CRC minister member is recorded—but just this one member, an attorney. Some of you whose pastors are Calvin Board members may wish to ask them about this.)

B. It is by motion decided that approval of the Dance Policy is understood to be in principle and that any editorial changes be referred to the Administration, subject to the approval of the officers of the Board.

C. A motion prevails that the publication of the Board‘s position on social dancing on Calvin College incorporate the directives to the churches adopted by the Synod of 1966 with respect to the “Relationship of the Christian to the World” and the “Exercise of Christian Liberty” (Acts of Synod 1966, pp. 33, 34).


1. These directives form the broader framework for this policy.

2. These directives serve to redeem from the secular context our understanding and practice of dancing.

Note: For these directives see the President‘s Report III, pages 108 and 109.

There you have it! The Calvin Board’s Report on social dancing at Calvin. This then is the stand of the Board of which the CRC Synod 1977 with a decisive vote refused to disapprove!

Significant signals in all this – When signals are flashing and bells are ringing at a railroad crossing to the danger of an oncoming, speeding train, a motorist or pedestrian must be blind, deaf, drunk, or bent upon suicide if he fails to take warning. CRC constituents are no less to be pitied if they now refuse to pay attention. Consider then a few of these signals:

1. Signal number one that should come through loud and clear to those who have long supported Calvin is that “onze school” and the CRC have changed radically. The social dance, by a synodical decision of 1928, was branded as being disreputable and a worldly amusement to be shunned. But now it is being advocated as something to be made “Christian” and as having a potential for the fulfillment of “the cultural mandate.”

How unrealistic and naive can we get to be! There are other voices to which we do far better to listen. Writing in HIS MAGAZINE, Dwight Small in an article (Dec., 1962) on “Dating—with or without Dancing” writes:

“Even medical science clearly identifies dancing as a sex stimulant, going so far as to define it as an erotic exercise, as part of the sexual commerce itself. Medical Review of Reviews states: ‘There can be scarcely any doubt that dancing came about as an adjunct of sexual stimulation.’ Professor W. C. Wilkinson of the University of Chicago analyzed. the modern dance as ‘a system of means, contrived with more than human ingenuity, to excite the instinct of sex into action.’ Roman Catholic Archbishop Spaulding of New York said that the confessional reveals the fact that nearly every known lapse of female virtue is traceable to the dance.”

Are we really so gullible now as to think that the social dance can be made “Christian” and a fulfillment of the “cultural mandate”? To be sure, the signal says that times have changed and the CRC along with it—but definitely in the wrong direction!

2. Signal number two in all this is to the effect that as members of the CRC we may be conscience-bound to make an agonizing reappraisal of our practice of automatically paying the Calvin quota year after year. “Yes,” a pastor of a large CRC congregation has said, “we still pay our quotas, but our hearts arc no longer in it.” Others are outspoken about it that they refuse to pay for Calvin any longer. Anyone who calls this mutiny may make the most of it as he will. Do I still pay the Calvin quota? Yes, but with misgivings, and I do not mind sharing with you that we will tentatively continue paying but only under protest and to encourage others to do likewise—and that my intention is to notify our consistory and also the Calvin Board to this effect. To be sure, this may not make a dent or even cause a ripple as to Calvin‘s ability to carryon—but at least I will then be able to live with myself and with my conscience. And so—now that’s off my chest.

3. Signal number three is the message conveyed by the foregoing to Dordt and Trinity Colleges, to our Christian high schools in the U.S. and Canada, to Calvinist Youth United, and to all young people (and also to those who are older) throughout the CRC. If social dancing is to be acceptable and even encouraged at Calvin by decisions of the Calvin Board and the 1977 CRC Synod, why should it not be allowed now elsewhere and to others? Those who clamor for allowing the social dance at their schools or even church activities will see the green light and will now have their school boards and consistories over a barrel if they are going to object. Didnt the Calvin Board and the Synod realize what a Pandora’s box they were opening up! Never in all the years I have attended CRC Synods as a delegate, as editor of The Banner, and as an observer, have I felt so heartsick re the future of the church as at this 1977 Synod. 4. Signal number four, as I see ii, is one that comes to the conscientious student who wants no part of what the Board and the Synod now encourage. I choose to believe that there are at Calvin God-fearing young men and young women who choose to keep their distance from the world instead of getting as close to it as possible while still wanting to be Christian. Such young people may very well find themselves to be misfits at Calvin, out of step not only with fellow-students, but also with the authorities.

It’s a shocking thing to try to tell these non-dancing students that to engage in the social dance is one way in which their talents ought to be put to use to fulfill “the cultural mandate.” Think of the awful responsibility of leading such young people astray. Am I all wrong if at this point I call to mind our Lord’s warning: “Whoso shall cause one of these little ones to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). That’s the Book and the Word we still go by, isn’t it?

5. Another signal—number five—says something to the discerning student who is not misled by the Board‘s attempt to justify the social dance as they intend to have it at Calvin. A case in point is the following quote from a letter by Dirk Miedema of Phelpston, Ontario, published in Calvinist-Contact (July 15, 1977):

“Dear Sir: I am a 1977 graduate of Calvin College. I was somewhat disturbed to read that the Board of Trustees at Calvin College will be allowing social dancing at Calvin. However, I‘m not as disturbed with their decision as I am with their means of justifying their decision. They justify dancing at Calvin by saying that it will be creative, educational and to the glory of God. This is a real joke for many of us who know that dancing is done for enjoyment, for entertainment and not for its creative or educational values. No matter how many good intentions the Board of Trustees has, dancing will always be just that, at Calvin, or anywhere else . . . .”

6. Signal six is a message to godly parents to the effect that they should be aware of the wrong influence to which their sons and daughters will be exposed even when they entrust them to Calvin for their college education. Parental prayers are urgently needed for the young people, and now more than ever. True, there are a number of excellent teachers at Calvin whose influence and teaching can be an influence for great good. However, the gold is being dimmed, and concerned parents could very well feel the need of further consideration as to which school is the better choice for their children’s college education. Of course, we are still being given the coming year in which we may protest the Calvin Board‘s recent decision re the social dance. However, in view of the Synod‘s decision not to disapprove of this social-dancing decision, can we still believe that protests will now be anything more than another exercise in futility? 7. Signal seven and that should suffice we profess in our Heidelberg Catechism re the seventh commandment in Lord’s Day 41 that

God condemns all unchastity. We should therefore thoroughly detest it and, married or single, live decent and chaste lives.

“We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy.

That is why He forbids everything which incites unchastity, whether it be actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires.”

Or has language like that now gotten to be for “squares” only?

We will let the sophisticated wiseacre say what he will. However, the born-again, Spirit-filled person cannot feel at home or be assured that he is in the company of the redeemed unless he still follows old-fashioned guidelines like that as it comes straight from the Word of God—the Book by which we still profess both to live by and also to die.