What Synod Did – Race and Youth Evangelism

Marvin Van Donselaar, pastor of the Kanawha (Iowa) Christian Reformed Church and a delegate from Classis Northcentral Iowa to the 1971 Christian Reformed Synod, herewith gives his reactions to decisions on two matters: “Project Equality” and “Guidelines and Principles for Youth Evangelism.”

“Project Equality” – Synod of 1971 was confronted by the Home Missions Board with a recommendation coming from its sub-committee on race relations that the Christian Reformed Church become a participant in “Project Equality.” This recommendation was rejected for the time being by Synod, but it was followed up by a Synodical instruction to the Committee on Race Relations “to disseminate information and materials on Project Equality to the churches to explain how the program can serve as a means of Christian witness and of achieving social justice.” As a result of this latter action, there is continued need for concern about this recommendation.

Project Equality is an effort originated by the National Catholic Conference for Inter-racial Justice which binds and commits its participants to patronize only those places of business which have satisfactorily proven to Project Equality that they either already are or are at present in the process of becoming equal-opportunity employers. The point is that participants in the project agree to combine their financial resources to try to force those with whom they do business to employ members of minority groups as well as others on the labor market. According to a promotional leaflet entitled Jobs, Justice and Project Equality, “The name of the game is jobs—and equal opportunity in all aspects of employment from salary-level to working conditions.”

Present members of Project Equality cover a wide range of religious convictions. “Religious institutions and bodies of all faiths -Baha’i, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic and UnitarianUniversalist—numbering in the hundreds are active participants in the program” (Ibid.).

It is highly commendable of the Synod of 1971 that she rejected the recommendation of the Race Commission of the Home Missions Board to join in this project. It is disheartening, however, that Synod has given this recommendation a second chance by using in her rejection the wording: “That the Christian Reformed Church does not become a participant in Project Equality at the present time” (emphasis mine, MVD) and then by going on to recommend that information and materials on Project Equality be disseminated to the churches “to explain how the program can serve as a means of Christian witness and of achieving social justice.” By the use of this wording followed upon by this specific Synodical instruction, the door has been opened for a period of conditioning to take place among our churches not only (an effort in which its promoters will doubtlessly attempt to make this project to appear as palatable and acceptable as possible) but also for a reconsideration of the original recommendation at some time in the future. Both of these are most unnecessary.

To point out why these arc unnecessary is to specify what ought to be principially obvious among Reformed Christians. Scripture so clearly declares: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever?” (II Corinthians 6:14, 15). Project Equality has as active participants an assortment of unbelievers—Jews, Unitarian-Universalists, Bahais. As a denomination we can never join hands with these no matter how appealing their project may be made to appear in the days ahead. This factor alone should be more than sufficient reason for a solid and permanent rejection of the Christian Reformed Church’s participation in this project.

Furthermore, Project Equality is a strictly utilitarian, socially oriented, humanistic effort. Unemployment and underemployment are spoken of by it as “root causes of the turmoil in our cities” (Ibid.). No mention is made in its promotional material of sin or depravity, the Gospel, the Christ, man’s spiritual needs, regeneration, salvation, or anything of the sort. To look for anything that is distinctly Christian or spiritual in this project is to look in vain. “The name of the game is jobs . . .” Our churches do not need to have such a project more fully explained to them in order to see that we can never have any part in it. The Word of God declares to us who claim Christ as Lord: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). That crucial emphasis is missing in Project Equality.

Living in an increasingly complex society such as ours is fast becoming demands an ever increasing amount of sanctified discretion by Christians. The Master’s exhortation: “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) becomes the more difficult to full1l1 as society becomes more involved. We have long been aware of our Christian responsibility in certain areas of financial patronage; the time is no doubt now here to broaden our views in this respect so that workers of minority groups may be shown Christian love and justice when it comes to being considered for employment.

However (and this must be emphasized as strongly as possible) all our efforts as a Church and as individual Christians, in this matter as well as in all others, must be motivated by the compassion and the love of Jesus Christ—and they must be done in His Name. That rules Project Equality out of the picture, but it in no way restricts the Church or Christians in their peculiar ministry to people in need, unemployed members of minority groups included.

Instead of further promoting Project Equality, which due to its policies and its present membership cannot be distinctly Christian, let the Christian Reformed Committee on Race Relations exercise some sound Christian initiative and come to a future Synod and to our churches with a plan of their own for promoting the interests of members of minority groups, a plan which can legitimately bear the distinguishing stamp of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Guidelines and Principles for Youth Evangelism The Board of Home Missions also came to Synod this year with the recommendation that it adopt what were called “Guidelines and Principles for Youth Evangelism.” It was the contention of the Board that “Youth evangelism is difficult in our times” (Agenda for Synod, p. 128). “Young people have little concern about long range programs or purposes for themselves or society. They are intensely ‘today’ oriented. It is now or never . . . Unless we understand these pressures our evangelism will not speak to the youth today” (Agenda, p. 130).

A study report prefaced the recommended guidelines which attempted to evaluate a number of areas of theology pertinent to evangelism. This report proved to be a real “can of worms” as it attempted to explain certain generally accepted concepts in most inadequate and inaccurate language.

For example, the emphasis placed upon programing in evangelism found throughout the report shines through in this sentence: “As one becomes aware of need and the redemption provided, the Redeemer becomes inescapable” (Agenda, p. 136). What is the place of the Holy Spirit in convicting of sin and planting faith in the person’s heart? This is not explicated in the report at all. The emphasis is placed upon the approach to be made and the human response to be expected from it. “Conversion might be defined as a conscious act of the regenerate person in which he turns to God in repentance and faith. The individual is active. A personal decision must be made regarding the Christian faith. In a basic sense, conversion is a radical, once-for-all revolution in an individual’s life” (Agenda, pp. 136, 137). All in all the report proved to be much less than acceptable.

The Board apparently sensed this inadequacy because formally it requested only that the “Guidelines and Principles” at the end of the report be adopted by Synod and that no action be taken on the report itself. A problem arose in this strategy, however, when the Board’s request came in these words: “On the basis of this report, it is recommended that the Board of Home Missions request Synod to adopt these ‘Guidelines and Principles for Youth Evangelism’” (Agenda, p. 138; emphasis mine, MVD).

Synod soundly defeated the “Guidelines and Principles” set forth by the Board which ought, no doubt, to be taken as a clear rejection of the theological imprecision of them and of the report upon which they were based. Before guidelines of this kind can be accepted, there will have to be much greater soundness and clarity in them, in reflection of Scripture, than was the case in those which were submitted for adoption in 1971.