January 6, 1950
Dear Beacon Lighters,
It has been a long time since we saw each other at the Iowa Convention, hasn’t it? A lot of things have happened in the past four months. I am now 4,000 miles from Iowa. To be more exact, I am writing you from the desk of your author friend, Rudolf Van Reest (Van Spronsen) in Goes, Zeeland, where I am staying for a few days in my Christmas vacation. (I interrupted my schooling in Grand Rapids this past Fall, and am now taking additional preparatory training at the Theological Seminary in Kampen.) Before coming to Goes I spent five days in historic Utrecht, and a marvelous weekend in Rotterdam with a fellow student, Karel Smouter and his family. Decadent remains of Roman civilization can still be observed in Utrecht. Rotterdam is interesting, too. Huge open spaces mark its centrum, ugly reminders of a beautiful city now left broken in the wake of a ravaging war. I met two Dutch students here, Henry De Raad and Henry De Bolster, who hope to come to Grand Rapids shortly and attend our Seminary—(not to forget Henk Dooranbos from Kampen). They certainly are enthusiastic. You will have to meet them when they come.
But don’t get the idea that it’s all play and no work over here. Far from it! Schooling here is tough and thorough. The Holland student begins school at the age of 6 and from then on is exposed to six grades of general elementary instruction. At the age of twelve specialization begins— practical skills are taught in a two year course in the “Ambacht School”; a four year commercial course in the “M. U. L. 0.” (Meer Uitgebreid Lager Ondenwijs) is offered to students with business ambitions; and a six year pre-university course or “Gymnasium” is provided for those with professional aims. A graduate of the Gymnasium is ready for the University land has at this point had a stable study diet consisting of five years of Greek, six years of Latin, five years of German, seven years of French and four years of English. Mathematics (physics, trigonometry, solid and plane geometry) is thrown in for good measure with Geography, Bible, Biology, and History as desert. Thus the European, at the age of our High School graduate, has qualitatively a much greater background with the exception of Philosophy than our average college graduate. There are no electives. All courses are compulsory.
The Freshman year in a European University is called the “propaedeuse” in which the student studies advanced gymnasium subjects, but not the professional subjects as such. Here in Kampen freshmen take advanced Greek, Latin and Hebrew, but Dogmatics, etc. are reserved for the remaining three years. After the freshman year the propaedeutisch exam must be passed and if successful the student is then admitted to the Theological classes. Much anxiety accompanies these examinations. Failures, even though not frequent, do occur. After the Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years the average student must, continue his study at home; for two or three years or until such a time as he should feel himself adequately prepared to take his candidate’s exam.
My professors are Dr. Schilder for Christian Religion, and Philosophy; Prof. Holwerda for Hebrew; Dr. Buwalda for Patristic and New Testament Greek; and Dr. Mulder for Classic Greek. I find their lectures fascinating; they are brilliant scholars.
One of the most interesting things in the school life here is the activity of the Student Corps. This is an organization of all the students, having at its head a five-man Senate elected by the group. The purpose of the Corps is to cultivate social communion between the students providing an outlet for both intellectual extra-curricular activities and recreational “bull-sessions”.
But I must tell you how freshmen were initiated into the Corps. The Freshman is considered “green” when he first arrives at school and therefore must undergo an “ungreening process” during the first three weeks of the semester. This period is begun with a visit to the Senate of the Corps. In solemn silence we, the “novieten” or novices are led before the Senate and entering the chamber are struck dumb by the blinding glare of spot lights mounted upon desks behind “which sit the cut-away-coat-clad Senators in dark and gloomy silence, puffing their cigars, eyeing us with careful scrutiny. Silence. . . “Take that silly grin off your face!” shouts the Praetor in impatient anger. Silence. . . . “Bow six times to each officer!” commands the abactis with an air of authority. This goes on for perhaps a half hour until the little freshman is completely rattled, not knowing whether to disobey the Senate and take the consequences of so rash an act, or to continue, being made a fool of. Finally we received permission to toddle out of the Senate chamber, but to the humiliating cadence of “Groen bene we groen, als groente-soep zoo groen.” No sooner were we out of the Senate chamber, than each was overpowered by four or five upperclassmen and dragged off to some secluded corner of the school or senior’s room where efforts were made to pump us empty of every intimate or personal thought and emotion.
Another initiation device is the collection of student signatures. Each freshman is given a little book in which he must collect the signatures of each upperclassman. The signature constituting a vote of confidence is given to the noviet only after he has made thorough acquaintance with the upperclassman. Some seniors take advantage of this “kennis- makking” demanding of the noviet services in exchange for a signature. . . . I remember buying stamps at the post office for one of my superiors.
If the freshman acquires all the necessary signatures, as most of them do, and puts on a sufficiently convincing attitude of inferiority, he is installed at the Corps opening meeting or “Dies Natalis” meaning “birthday”. For a little freshman, and particularly this one, this first meeting is never to be forgotten. Entering a large room we were faced with a barricade of chairs and tables above which howling upperclassmen bellowed their challenges to cross their “picket line”. We had to cross the line to get to the other side of the room where the Senate was waiting to install us. Over the tables we went. “Charge!” Chairs flew in every direction, tables stood up on end, arms were pulled and legs were yanked, —but we got through. Order once more restored, the Praetor read the Latin installation form, the novieten bowed themselves three times deeply to the Corps emblem, the Praetor’s gavel slammed onto the table with a resounding crack and thirteen new Corps members received their membership certificates. Thirteen fresh, chirping voices sang to the honor of “Fides Quaerit Intellectum”, meaning, “Faith Seeks Knowledge”. But naturally, all new babies must be washed and we Corps babies also. Before any of us could move, each was lifted off his feet by six seniors and carried off to the faucet. Under went each head, and at the same time a sound paddling was administered where it does the most good. But there is no more fighting now, no more kicking around, no more compulsory sitting on the floor in the presence of upperclassmen, etc. Congratulations and wine and a complete change of attitude salute the brother corps member who shortly before was treated as dust under the feet of his superiors. “Amicitia! Amicitia! Amicitia!”—a wonderful sensation. The ceremony is completed with the “Amicitia toast”. This amicitia or friendship toast is formed when two persons link their right arms together and each drinking out of his own glass looks the other squarely in the eye. The “Dies” doesn’t stop here however. It’s just begun. First an hour and three-quarter-paper on the theme “De Prediking” followed by a two-hour discussion of the paper, a short skit played by the novieten poking fun of upperclassmen, and finally an “alles en nog wat” period of jokes, dramatic organ playing and not to forget the professional caricatures as expertly done by Karel Deddens.
My space is up. The foregone sounds silly and even out of place to an American, I know. But Europe lives in its traditions and traditions influence also the scholastic life. Even though perhaps a one-sided emphasis may be noted in my description, a healthy balance of fun and devotion is ever maintained. There is also a good side to initiations if not carried too far. I know that I shall ever cherish my signature book, and the water didn’t hurt me either. Student life in Holland is dynamic. About the rivalry between the three clubs within the Corps, the majestically built Gothic Churches, European class distinction, the week-end trips with my friend Cor Oly, and my resounding tribute to the Veenhof family whose friendship and devotion carried homesickness away, there is very much to tell. Later, maybe!
It is with not little hesitation and apprehensiveness that I reflect upon the subject treated in last month’s issue of Beacon Lights and analyze the approach of my friend and fellow seminarian Marvin Koerner. Although I emphatically agree with Marve as to his contention that “Youth For Christ’’ is not properly sponsored,—an agreement which legitimatizes this critique since only similars can be contrasted with advantage and only like people disagree,—yet, it seems to me, that the process whereby this conclusion is achieved is wholly incoherent and inconsistent.
By way of explication to a positive, constructive perspective, let us analyze my friend’s theme:
In re: “They have the bad approach, which is “winning souls for Christ.” Notice that this statement embodies two unproved assumptions namely, that the endeavor to “win souls” is bad and that Y.F.C. is guilty of this activity. The first assumption is fallacious because “soul-winning” per se is not only permissible but virtuous. (Proverbs 11:30. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”)
As to the second assumption, this could only mean that Y.F.C. is occupied in doing that which is “wise”. Furthermore a “humanistic” interpretation of the phrase “soul winning” is excluded by the Y.F.C.’s doctrinal platform, point four, which reads, “We believe that for the salvation of the lost and sinful men, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.” (Doctrinal Platform adopted by Y.F.C. International, July 23, 1915 as quoted in “Youth for Christ”, by Mel Larson).
In re: “They use the wrong approach entirely”. It is a question in my mind whether we often do not fail to distinguish between “sheep-feeding” and “fish- catching”. Certainly we would not feed sheep with fish bait or visa-versa. It is true, the Word must always be preached, but the form of the presentation may vary with the nature of the audience.
In re: “The preposterous goal of Y.F.C. is to evangelize the whole world.” This statement can mean either of two things, depending upon the interpretation of the term “evangelize” and “world”. The term “world” can be used quantitatively to express the idea that the gospel must be preached in every nation as a prerequisite to Christ’s return. Certainly this goal is not a preposterous one. (Matt. 24:14: “And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come”). But then the “world” can also be understood in an ethically qualitative sense as including the reprobate. Indeed, if Y.F.C. endeavors to save the reprobate world their goal would be “a preposterous one”. In fact, to say of any one that he endeavors to do that which he by his own terminology confesses to be impossible is to question his rationality! To maintain that Y.F.C. is guilty of this latter charge (world in the qualitative sense, retaining M. K.’s interpretation of the term “reprobate”) without presenting substantiating data is to beg the question.
In re: “We do not have . . . . or any other kind of testimonies.” Although the language is vague, from the context we may assume that Mr. Koerner felt that the absence of testimonies among us was desirable. Contrast this sentiment with that of the preceding …. “Certainly we can present Christ to the youth of today. We can do this by our walk, manifesting that Christ is our Lord and Saviour.” To this I would reply, is not one’s walk a testimony? Is not the first statement so interpreted, contrary to the latter? Granted that by our walk we should testify, must we then desist with our tongue: should we not sing and shout and be glad for the work of grace in our hearts and feel compelled to tell others about it? Surely if we can walk in that narrow way we shall be able to speak about it. Let us not shun so rich an opportunity, such an impelling necessity because others have abused it. You and I must give testimonies reflecting God’s goodness.
Having then shown that the method whereby Marve reached his conclusion is inconsistent, it is not my intention to disagree with this conclusion, but rather to show that this conclusion can be drawn from legitimate premises. Because of the looseness in organizational structure, another point not in its favor, it is difficult to evaluate Y.F.C. without becoming lost in objections to a particular rally. We must evaluate broadly enough to include all of the various articulations of the organization without criticizing generally on the basis of a particular rally which we have attended. We must attack a constant factor, Youth for Christ International, rather than individual meetings which change their color with the various speakers.
It is my conviction that Y.F.C. lacks a sound foundation in virtue of its extra ecclesiastical existence. This is its basic error. Y.F.C. is a group which arose spontaneously through the efforts of such men as Torrey Johnson and Jack Wyrtzen in conjunction with others who led small independent youth movements which in turn developed into an international youth organization. Rather than such an independent movement, it is the Church of Christ which has received the command to gather the elect and to preach the word: in this respect Y.F.C. is an imposter, a competitor of the Church. Together with Dr. P. Jasperse, commenting on this point in “De Reformatie”, June 7, 1948, I would like to maintain that God always addresses Himself to the Churches as the recipients of His benediction and the executors of His mandate. (Als Jezus Christus Zijn Openbaring aan Johannes gaat geven (die Openbaring is dus de eigen openbaring van Jezus Christus aan Johannes, zie Hfdst. 1 vs. 1), BEGINT, BEGINT, BEGINT Hij met Zijn positie te bepalen tegenover Zijn kerk. Vs. 9 e.v. Het eerste, dat hij neerschrijven moet, moet zijn aan de gemeenten in Azie, de kerken van Efeze, Smyra, Pergamus, enz. Deze kerken noemt de Christus-in-verhooging Zelf: “gouden kandelaren”; zij, die kerken, zijn de lichtdragers; zij hebben het Woord; daarbuiten is geen licht. Temidden van die “gouden kandelaren” is Hij. de Zoon des menschcn; daar is Zijn plaats; Hij, en Zijn lichaam behooren bij elkaar en zijn daarom bij elkaar! Aan het hoofd van die kerken staat een predikant. een “engel der gemeente”; die predikanten worden verzinnebeeld door “sterren”. Die “sterren” nu houdt Hij blijkens vs. 16 in Zijn rechterhand!)
Observe that the New Testament epistles and particularly the Revelation of St. John (chap. 1:4: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: . . . .”) are predominantly addressed to the churches. The Church is the only institution which can properly preach and bring Youth to Christ.
Yet, we must face the facts. Even though Y. F. C. functions in a capacity not rightfully its own, it must be admitted that its results are astounding. It cannot be denied that in America and in England hundreds and even thousands of young people have come to the realization of their sins through the influence of Y.F.C. Neither can the sincerity of these individuals be doubted, for what greater can any man say than that God is his Lord. Youth for Christ is helping to gather the Church of Christ through its truths and in spite of its errors. This is the fruit of an organization so insecurely founded. Oh, how great is the power of our God who in spite of man’s sin and error has seen fit to use vessels fit to destruction for the salvation of His Church.
It is not inconsistent to contend that God uses Y.F.C., an inherently wrong organization, to gather His Church, but this is merely the application of the accepted truth that God uses all things to accomplish His purpose. God uses sinful men to work out His counsel. Think of Judah, who actually carried out the work of the Kingdom he tried so hard to destroy. Judas, through his own wickedness made possible for us the redemption he did not share. Judas himself sinned, but the result of his sin was our salvation. The Devil tempting Eve tried to set God’s plan at nought, but through the execution of his plot enabled us to enjoy life everlasting. Even as we may not disapprove of the existence of Judas and Satan, so also we may not disapprove of the existence of Youth For Christ.
We must not, however, make the mistake of concluding that the result God wishes to achieve, ethically effects the nature of the acting agent. Even though the results of an organization are good for the Christian, we may not infer that the character of the organization is good. Y.F.C. is not sponsored by the church and is therefore basically unsound. But this does not exclude the desirability of our recognizing the apparent truth that God is using Y.F.C. to a good end. Y.F.C. is fundamentally wrong, but its fruit accomplished in spite of itself is worthy of our recognition. This, I think, should be our attitude toward “Youth for Christ.”
Whatever our attitude, let us always be guided by the sentiment of the Psalmist in the following words:
O Lord, how shall a youth preserve his way,
At every turn by vanity surrounded?
In truth, if he Thy statutes will obey,
If on Thy Word his attitudes are founded,
Thou whom I’ve sought, O let me never stray
From Thy commandments, lest I be confounded.
O let Thy Spirit be my constant aid.
That all my ways may ever be directed.
To keep Thy statutes, so to be obeyed,
That from all error I may be protected.
I shall not be ashamed then or afraid,
When Thy commandments I have e’er respected.
“Fellowship in Christ”—that is the theme of this year’s Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention. Fellowship in itself is a subject which is of special interest to youth. But this is not enough. We are a particular type of young people and thus the theme of our convention must also be of a particular type. Therefore, we have specified the medium and the basis of our fellowship, Christ. As your representatives, the convention committee has attempted to center all the activities around the complete theme, “Fellowship”, yes, “Fellowship in Christ”.
So that the latter portion of the theme may not be forgotten, we have not provided merely periods of entertainment of indistinctive recreation. On the contrary, our aim has been the growth and edification of Protestant Reformed Youth in order that we may through communion with our God be drawn closer to Him. We feel that our conventions should have a spiritual tenor. Your committee has tried to attain this. Its final realization, however, still depends upon you!
While visiting one of the convention committee meetings, Mr. E. J. Knott, President of the Federation, made this remark which I think should aid us in clarifying our conception of our Young People’s Convention. Said he, “Delegates from Manhattan, Oskaloosa, Pella and from many of our other churches do not come to Grand Rapids to go to outings, to go swimming or to be amused. This they could do at home. They desire to be edified. If their desire is not fulfilled, our convention will have been a failure.” Well said.
Tuesday will be highlighted by the Inspirational Mass Meeting. At every previous convention, Rev. H. Hoeksema has delivered the inspirational address. We will miss his presence this year, but with joy do we recognize his speedy recovery. We hope that if the Lord may continue to give him strength, his name may reappear on the program next year and that he may fill that place which has for so long been his alone. Although Rev. H. De Wolf is really supposed to be vacationing, he has agreed to interrupt his vacation to be with us as our speaker at this opening meeting. Everyone is invited to attend this meeting which will be held in the Fuller Church auditorium Tuesday evening. An excellent program has been prepared.
Wednesday morning our business meeting will be held. If all business cannot be taken care of at this time, the remainder will be considered Thursday morning. Don’t miss this meeting! Much important business, including the revision of the Federation Constitution, will be treated.
Wednesday afternoon and evening will be spent at Townsend Park. See Convention schedule for further details.
Thursday will be a big day. At 8:00 AM, pancakes will be served in the church basement. Breakfast will be followed by a business meeting if necessary. Next, Rev. B. Kok will introduce the subject: “Fellowship and our Entertainments”, which will be supplemented by a discussion of this very timely subject.
The climax to the convention will be, of course, the convention banquet which will begin at 6:30 PM Thursday evening in the church basement. Rev. L. Vermeer, our after dinner speaker has chosen the subject, “Fellowship and our Friends”.
These, in brief, are the plans for our 7th Annual Convention. Like them? The committee is looking forward to executing them. We hope you are looking forward to enjoying these Convention Days with us and that you may really experience “Fellowship in Christ”.
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