We’ve Come a Long Ways!

A name held in high esteem by many of the older Calvin College graduates is that of Johannes Broene, for many years professor in the Department of Education and also one-time President of the College. We remember him as a Christian gentleman, a gifted teacher, a wise counselor. These enviable qualities were consistently reflected not only in his lectures—no problem of attendance in his classroom!—but also in his chapel talks. When we saw him walk to the platform in chapel to take his turn leading the devotional service, we knew, even before he began to speak, that we were going to have a profitable service. There was no question in those days about the desirableness of daily chapel, when Johannes Broene—and there were others like him—was to conduct the morning devotionals.

Insightful Talks. Some of Broene’s chapel messages were compiled and published in a book entitled, In a College Chapel (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1928). I treasure my copy of this book and recently I was gratified to hear our family physician—also a Calvin graduate—say that on occasion he takes his copy and re-reads these chapel talks. And he added this impressive remark: “Johannes Broene still teaches me.” I would urge my readers who do not have the book to make efforts to secure a secondhand copy. You will be mentally stimulated and spiritually fed reading Professor (President) Broene’s insightful talks on:

Jacob, Rehoboam, Peter, Martin Luther, Washington and Lincoln, William Rinck (in Memoriam), Worldliness, The Wages of Sin, The Meaning of Christmas, Of Whom I am Chief, Humility, What is Philosophy?, The Minister, The Teacher, The Physician, The Lawyer, How Long a Process is Education?, The Proper Function of Calvin College…and others

A Gem on “Worldliness.” His message on “Worldliness” is a gem. Based on Romans 12:2a – “Be not conformed to this world” it calls attention to the Church’s “one inveterate, consistent, persistent, implacable enemy—the devil.” Satan’s stratagems deserve close study. One of them is the promotion of a dead orthodoxy—a devitalized Christianity—which is characterized by creedal soundness but with indifference to Christian living. “Orthodoxy that has lost its vitality,” says the venerable professor, “leads to worldliness. manifesting itself in our dress, in theatre-going, dancing, Sabbath desecration. There is no question in my mind that these practices are disastrous to a genuine spirituality.”

No, that is not a misquotation. That is what Professor Broene said in a Calvin College chapel service some forty years ago. And note particularly his unqualified assessment of theatre-going. He called it worldly and regarded it “disastrous to a genuine spirituality.”

Theater Publicity in Chimes. Well, we’ve come a long ways in these forty years. Today the Calvin College student paper Chimes regularly reviews movies being shown in commercial theaters in Grand Rapids and gives publicity to the places where these films can be seen. Among the theaters mentioned by name are the Savoy (Chimes, Oct. 2, 1970 ); the Wealthy (Chimes, Nov. 6, 1970); the Eastbrook (Chimes, Dec. 4, 1970).

We might note in passing what the reviewer says about the notorious film JOE: “In spite of its flaws it is well worth the time and the money to sec JOE” (Chimes, Nov. 6, 1970, p. 2). As for the publicity given the Savoy and Eastbrook, we recall that it was the Savoy which booked the film, “I Am Curious (Yellow)” in the fall of 1969. This movie gained its notoriety from the fact that in several scenes there is undisguised male and female frontal nudity, and one scene portrays sexual intercourse. Currently (December 23, 1970) the Eastbrook theater is showing “Diary of a Mad Housewife”—“Does her anger at a domineering husband justify a wife’s taking a lover?”…“This wife was driven to find out”! With these lines the advertisement also displays a woman in the process of disrobing herself. (I give this information to uninformed readers so that they may know something of the standards of selection employed in the bookings at the Savoy and Eastbrook theaters in Grand Rapids.)

Worship Procedures. Yes, we’ve come a long ways in the Christian Reformed Church. We’ve come a long ways in the mailer of worship procedures and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. On November 8, 1970, a Communion Service was held in the Fine Arts Center on the Calvin Knollcrest Campus. At this service college students were permitted. to distribute the communion elements. Some of these students were dressed in blue jeans and slacks. It is more than mere rumor that we have pastors who are not averse to dispensing with the second preaching service on the Lord’s Day and who believe that worthy substitutions can be made in the way of religious films, drama, discussion sessions or, perhaps, a visit to a planetarium. (I have had private correspondence with a pastor who endorses the latter idea.)

This morning (December 23, 1970) I had in my study a member of a Christian Reformed congregation who does considerable travelling. He told me that last year he and his wife spent three months in a locality where there is a Christian Reformed Church whose pastor on Communion Sunday did not read any of the approved liturgical forms. Moreover there was no preparatory message the week before. This, by the way, was a regular Communion Sunday.

We have come a long ways, but which way are we coming? Strange innovations in re-organizing worship, and the introduction of unconventional music, are commonly reported. It is, of course, stupid to defend the proposition that no changes must ever be made. Certainly, no generation of Christian believers is entitled to the distinction that it did everything in the only conceivably proper way. But we still must ask, Which way are we coming?

Perhaps at this point some principal questions should be asked:

1. To quote Bonhoeffer”s familiar expression, Is this thing we are writing about part of the “Come of age” development to which the “old guard” is expected to accommodate itself? Is it really so, as the “Come of age” defenders would have us believe it, that previous generations which gave us the Protestant Reformation, the great modern missionary movements, and the solid schools of theology—the older Princeton and the older Amsterdam—were religiously immature, and that the generation which now calls for “Religion less Christianity”—the abandonment of any real emphasis on Christian doctrine and God-centered worship—is man “come of age” the fully-grown-up man—the emancipated adult, who seeks recognition and distinction in rejecting what as a matter of fact he may never have taken the trouble to understand?

2. Have any of the “come of age” innovators, who in not a few instances encourage youth to ignore the lessons of political science and to rush into the streets, making up their politics as they go along, considered the possibility that in coming to “maturity” they turned off more lights than they turned on, and that in the murky twilight, which they have created, aimlessness and absurdity have been substituted for “childish things”?

3. Is not the current rebellion against the “Establishment” partly an expressed aversion to the prescriptive elements of our religion and morality? And again, is not this aversion the natural seedbed for the idea that love has no need of direction outside itself, the idea which is the heart of Situation Ethics? My fear is that if this anti-prescriptive disposition really takes hold in our church, it will be extremely difficult to prevent it from engendering in our young people the monstrously false notion that situation is a better determinative of behavior than rules, and that love needs no law to guide it. It is, of course, obvious that once this kind of morality is adopted, adultery, for example, will be justified whenever the adulterer sincere1y believes that his transgression of the Seventh Commandment is consistent with love.

Now to return to our starting point: We’ve come a long ways. What worries me is the answer we may have to give to the question: Which way are we travelling?

Leonard Greenway is pastor of the Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.