(Note: This article presents the affirmative side of the question in what was originally planned as pro and con discussion. These articles are not intended to be a critique of our church services, but only to serve as an aid for possible debates, round table discussions etc. in our Young People’s Societies. The negative appeared last month. — Editor)
As Protestant Reformed Churches, we have not introduced the choir into our church services for various sound reasons (see Beacon Lights, Jan. 1957). However, for the sake of argument (see note above) we would like to present a few ideas which could be used to uphold the opposite view.
Throughout Scripture, the choir-audience relationship has been established as a desirable method of education, inspiration, and testimony.
A significantly large percentage of David’s Psalms were written for various singing groups, through which he passed to Israel the messages God had inspired him to write.
The choir of angels which sang praises to God at the time of the announcement of Christ’s birth, clearly indicated that the choir was a desirable, effective, God approved means of worshipping Him.
Congregational singing is an important part of the Reformed heritage, due to the personal nature of our concept of salvation. In our singing we often substitute sheer volume for skill as an indication of our sincerity, and forget that congregational singing, being both testimony and praise, is worthy of preparation and education. The function of teaching the congregation could become an important part of the choir’s duties, for not only does the Psalter grow in beauty when sung by trained voices, but the congregation could learn many of the now unfamiliar or incorrectly sung songs in our Psalter.
Just as some are given the talent of teaching to exercise in the church, so others are given the gift of singing to develop in the service of Christ’s church. What more fitting use of such a talent-could there be than to use this developed gift of singing as a part of the church services; never as a substitute for the congregational singing, but as a compliment to it.
Often objection is made to the performer-audience relationship into which a choir falls when introduced into the church services. However, this relationship is not as foreign to our services as we sometimes assume. The organist who plays the prelude, which serves to encourage a reverent atmosphere, also comes into this relationship and with definite beneficial results.
The choir, then, could benefit our churches as the highest exercise of a God-given talent; could serve to teach by example, how the Psalter should be sung and also teach us how to sing many presently neglected, but desirable numbers.
A popular style of memo pad in offices across the country carries the command “Write it—don’t say it!” Doubting Thomases around the world voice their suspicions with “I’ll believe it when I see it in black and white!” In order to save time, many business transactions are completed by telephone, yet the final exchange is usually, “We’ll confirm this with a letter.”
What is it about the written word that gives it such prominence over conversation? Why must other forms of communication be verified by writing?
And what has all this to do with growing in Christian conduct?
Chief of the several factors which contribute to the preeminence of written communications over verbal is the relative consistency of writing. Even a hastily scrawled note tells the same story a century later as it did the moment it was written, while each person’s conversation is subject to change from hour to hour. There are often as many variations of a verbal agreement as there were witnesses to it, but a written contract is so binding that no thinking person signs one without being certain of the “fine print.”
This permanence of writing, plus the multiplication of its effect through publication, demands that those who follow a writing trade be skilled in the art, or suffer the public consequences reserved for those inept persons who rush into print without adequate preparation. Solomon said it poetically: “Discretion shall preserve thee.”
It is regarding this preparation for the writing professions or trades which the Staff of Beacon Lights asked me to prepare this article under the above title. Many careers make use of backgrounds similar to that demanded by journalism but in the interest of making a long article not too much longer, only a few areas of development will be covered.
1. Broad General Background
In contrast to a strong trend in both educational and industrial fields, those who would follow journalism are urged to accumulate as wide a body of knowledge as possible and to continue to develop this throughout life. A young writer is expected to have general acquaintance with virtually every major division of philosophy, science, and art. Any areas missing from his formal education should be part of his continued education or private reading. Centuries ago Solomon presented similar instruction in many verses such as “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom.”
2. Highly Developed Sense of Curiosity
Coupled with the broad background should be an intense, childlike, sense of curiosity. Books on every subject from the training of turtle doves to studies of remote religions; from Syrian cooking to medieval mining methods provide the raw materials for this hungry mind.
This appetite for varied information is also reflected in the young journalist’s choice of activites. Taking a slice of hundreds of activities, he will attempt to bake French pastries, will try flying, hitch-hiking across several states or perhaps Europe, will find himself visiting factories, mines, slums, schools, jails, and trying his hand at several occupations just to gain the experience. The impressions from all these experiences are stored away against the occasion when it will suddenly prove valuable in the preparation of a news story either by providing direct information or by alerting the writer that there is more to this subject than he actually knows and the less he says about it the better.
King Solomon also possessed this sense of curiosity and wrote in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven.”
3. Analytical Observation
A young writer must not be misled by superficial appearances. During the first few months in his chosen career, he is apt to “have his eyes opened” most dramatically. Many events have a way of being something other than their commonly accepted image. For example, a “Spontaneous public uprising” against an official in office, is usually planned months in advance and all participants wait poised for action until some particular incident occurs which will be sufficiently controversial to sway the unsuspecting public. The cub reporter finds that so-called “juicy” trials which seem to appeal to the public’s sadistic imagination are anything but pleasant, and after fighting with his stomach during the first such closed trial, he is most content to obtain his information from the court records. All through Scripture sin is portrayed as being repulsive and ugly, and the young reporter very soon learns the truth of this. He soon learns to think like the Church at Ephesus, who was praised in Revelation 2 for not accepting everything at its face value, until they had examined it carefully.
4. Self Supervising
A reporter must often project himself into the heady confusion of emergencies where there are no rules and no supervision to make decisions nor to prod into productivity. Those who return to the editorial office with insufficient material for the news story due to the lack of direction on the job are called “unemployed.”
Saint Paul put it in fewer words in his letter to the Colossians: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh;… And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord…”
5. Willingness to Accept Correction
Every word of copy from the reporter’s typewriter faces the very real peril of the editor’s blue pencil. The pressure of the rapidly approaching deadline allows not ime for ego-saving conferences between editor and writer. A poorly written story is returned with a curt note: “Lousy copy, re-write.” Those who can take it grow in both skill and in determination to improve. King Solomon had quite a few comments about accepting criticism (or not accepting it), “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser” and a few verses later: “He that hateth reproof is brutish.”
Obviously there are many additional facets in the training of journalists. The few examples here with the accompanying Scripture reference tell a story often overlooked when we prepare or help other prepare for a career—and although crusty editors across the country will deny it, the basic qualities they look for in beginning reporters have been found in the standards of Scripture for centuries. Conversely, young people who consciously follow the teachings of Scripture in regard to character building, will find themselves in demand regardless of their chosen profession or trade.
The slow rain had been drizzling down for three days. The gray sky and the decrepit old buildings snuggled together, each matching the other shade for shade of the same weary color. A young sailor in a wet summer uniform shuffled along the sidewalk, stopping now and then in a deserted doorway. But they offered little and with a tired restlessness, he moved on.
“Only the second day of a week-end leave and after last night I’m too broke to pay for a room or buy a raincoat. Nobody goes back to the ship halfway through a leave, so I’ll just walk. Maybe something will show up. Somehow, when I keep moving it doesn’t seem quite as cold. There’s a rescue mission in the last block, but that’s for drunks…”
The sidewalk was littered with the usual debris that gathers in neglected downtown areas and after being wafted by capricious winds from doorway to gutter to sidewalk, is pounded by the restless feet of the derelicts of society who haunt these areas. To a head bowed with shame and remorse, these bits of litter pass by in a monotonous, never-ending symbol of departed usefulness: a candy wrapper, a torn tract, a flattened wad of gum, a broken pencil, a month-old newspaper. All past usefulness. All dismal. All dead.
“This headache isn’t the worst thing—it’s this…this…feeling way down that makes things so miserable.” Even in his own mind he suppressed the word “guilt” although he knew it to be the most accurate description of his feelings.
For a minute, Sid Van Bloom imagined himself as a prodigal son and toyed with the idea of calling his folks by long distance phone. But, somehow, it never jelled. The thought of his father brought to mind the “farewell sermon” as he had dubbed the anticipated “man to man” talk he had had with his father the night before he left for the navy. “Son, you are going to see things and meet people that today you’d say simply don’t exist. People of the world live differently, Sid, and I want you to be careful. Stay away from the beer gardens and girls who smoke and don’t forget you’re supposed to be a Christian.”
The “sermon” had been short, unorganized and poorly received by the audience of one. “Aw lay off it, will you, Dad? You brought me up right. I’ve gone through catechism, I sang in the choir, I’ve gone to Youth Fellowship meetings since I was fourteen. Just don’t sweat it, huh? I know things are going to be different, but I’ll take care of myself.”
He walked past a gray stone church and wondered how he could ever face his fellow church members again. He who had sung so piously in the choir was now nursing a hangover in a skid row area. On his first leave home, he had substituted for an absent Sunday School teacher and had basked in the wide-eyed hero worship of the youngsters who enjoyed the novelty of a Sailor-Sunday-School-Teacher. How could he face those youngsters again? The memory of those trusting up-turned faces seared like a firebrand into his reeling mind.
The rain freshened and snapped short the reverie. Sid found himself in a neighborhood made up of crumbling foundations, bits of building materials and tall stately elm trees. Obviously, a highway was to be built through this old neighborhood and although the houses had been removed, the trees remained like tall, proud giants, quite unconcerned by the petty hurly-burly of the several generations who scurried about under their branches—working, crying, struggling and dying. All important, but futile and temporal. The trees nodded easily in the light night breeze as if disdainful of all they surveyed.
At another time, Sid would have enjoyed sitting against one of these elms and would have savored the illusion of loneliness created by a long, almost sinister branches as they wafted themselves over the wreckage below. But this time the loneliness was more than illusionary; it was real. And it intensified by the memory of a nineteen year old fool who had sneered at his father’s naïve, but farewell admonitions.
“When the other guys want to do something that you know is wrong don’t be afraid to tell them ‘no’,” his father had said. Sid remembered nodding in bored acquiescence.
But once on board ship it hadn’t been that easy. Rushing to be off the ship for leave, but unfamiliar with the town and eager to be one of the crowd, he had allowed himself to be intrigued with the promises of the more seasoned crew members. “We’ll take you out and show you stuff you never saw in Sunday School,” one had bragged. “Yeah man, tonight’s the night we introduce Dutch to the big city”; bright lights, hot music, plush night spots and pretty girls. The promised panorama had raced before his mind, sped on by curiosity and anticipation. Now it dragged past, indefinite and fuzzy in the mind of a lonely, heavy-hearted sailor who was sitting in the rain under a dripping elm tree in a destroyed neighborhood. The bright lights had glared, the music blared, the drinks produced nausea and the pretty girls were fiction. Everything was fake, tinsel, cheap and transient. Like his “friends” who had promised the night of fun. Where were they?
Sid rubbed his hands over his eyes as if to clear his mind. He couldn’t remember the events of the evening. Which had he lost first, his friends or his money? He suspected they had disappeared simultaneously.
Friends gone, money gone, self-respect gone, wet, cold, lonely, dejected—like being in a deep crevice with no way out and the walls keep pressing together closer and closer until the will to live is gone while the actuality of life remains momentarily.
“The river—that’s the answer—I can be there in ten minutes and in eleven minutes I’ll be nothing but 97 cents worth of miscellaneous chemicals bobbing into oblivion with no remorse, no memories, no grinding feeling of shame.”
The price he was about to pay for his relief made the freedom bitter-sweet and he found himself hurrying towards the river in a panic like one rushing to complete a task in which he has little confidence, yet feels compelled to perform. “Gotta hurry—only nine minutes left.”
The rescue mission he had noticed earlier appeared across the street. A flickering neon sign through the misty rain asked those who passed by “Are You Ready?” A collection of cast-off kitchen chairs, forced into an uneasy uniformity by a coat of yellow enamel dominated the interior and were occupied by two dozen skid row habitués. A large Bible lay open in the window, flanked on either side by posters announcing a coming revival. A bent man wearing an out-of-style suit coat over a heavy knit sweater stood at the front door passing out tracts with a toothy smile.
“Even got the assistant barker at the gate” thought Sid, reflecting Citadel City’s general opinion that rescue missions and carnivals both make good entertainment, but in the comparison, the missions come in second. “Step right up folks, Salvation is just a prayer away.” Cynicism and imagination are dangerous when combined, but this time the combination served to convince Sid that it might be worth a minute or two to “watch the show.” “Once I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead a long time. Ain’t that right?” he asked a bus patron who waited nearby but moved away quickly when Sid appeared to want conversation.
His eyes seemed to lose their focus momentarily and Sid sat down on the step of a bank in order to get things lined up again.
“That head barker over yonder must be at least a hundred pounds overweight,” he told his audience which consisted of a parking meter and a telephone booth. “Never smoke, never drink, no siree, but eat like hogs. That’s funnymentalist for ya.” His audience remained quiet, so the speaker continued, “But that’s no worry of mine ‘cause in five minutes…kaput, alles kaput.”
His exposition was cut short by the hopeless attempts of the mission superintendent (who apparently had a tin ear) in leading the motley group of men in singing. Each man chose his own pitch and tempo and eager to impress the mission management with his zeal, (it’s raining outside) tried to pull the others along. The monotones outshouted the rest.
“Typical,” sneered Sid, “dinky shallow doctrine yet as happy as kids about the whole thing. But what a mess they’re making of that song. Why don’t they use the piano; it’s sitting right there! The least Ole Fatty could do, would be to give them the pitch. Probably just too plain stupid.
“Just once, just once, I’d like to tell a bunch of nuts like that what they really are.” He consulted his watch, but couldn’t focus on the dial. “Must have about four minutes left, but the bridge is only a block away. Better hurry!”
“Stop this hollerin’ and screaming,” Sid heard himself yell as he plowed through the door of the mission. “You guys sound like a bunch of sick dogs bellerin’ at the moon. If you’re gonna sing good songs, then sing ‘em right”
“Who made you a preacher, swabby,” a voice challenged from the back of the room, “the booze?”
“Shut up! Now listen you bunch of winoes and you too, Chubby,” he said turning to the leader.
“The name is Art, Brother Art.”
“Okay, chubby Brother Art, I’ve got just three more minutes to live and if it’s the last thing I do, I’m gonna teach you guys how to sing that song you were just in the process of killing. Now listen! ‘Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory’ ain’t such a hot song as songs go, but it’ll do for your first singing lesson. Now, I’m going to play the first line of that song and when I nod my head like this,” and he demonstrated emphatically, “you all start singing and loud. If I see anybody not singing it’ll go hard on him.”
He snatched a book from a scared little man in the front row and spun towards the piano.
What was this crazy situation he got himself into? The fog had cleared away a bit, but he remembered his actions clearly. Sitting at the piano was at the same time familiar and strange. As a youngster he had agonized his way through three years of scales and arpeggios but hadn’t touched a piano since his enlistment. About a third of the ivories were missing and several dropped too far down to play. It reminded Sid of a piano in the basement recreation room of a friend of his. The youth group had met there for refreshments after a skating party and he had accompanied an impromptu quartet. The thought of the uninhibited singing and playing that night made the present tense situation a study in contrast, not similarities. Yet the warm glow of playing for the singing that night refused to leave his mind.
He braced the hymnbook between two others and slammed out the first line of the song, then in response to his nod the room erupted with a surprisingly coordinated sound as the twenty-some derelicts tried their best to humor one who had added spice to an otherwise dull meeting.
It was easier going by the time they came to the chorus and the pent-up agonies which had been building up during the evening found release in the feverish working of his fingers as they scrambled to find their own way up and down the keyboard.
“Hallelujah” yelled a man near the back when the song had ended. “We ain’t sung like that for a month. Play the second verse, Sailor Boy!”
Carried along in the enthusiasm he had strangely created, Sid played the song through again and was surprised to find himself humming along.
But bitterness leaves hard and when the mission superintendent suggested another number, Sid whirled at him, “You shut up, fat boy, this is my show. Your clue to come back on stage comes when I jump off that bridge in exactly one minute.”
“Yeah, so what!”
“So nothing, but we haven’t been able to get a pianist to come down here for weeks and the men would sure appreciate another song or two. What have you got to lose, this close to the end?”
Sid studied the man for several long seconds. He had taken off the bulky tweed sports jacket he had been wearing and Sid saw that he was of a stocky build, plenty husky and muscular, yet not overweight. His hands were calloused and belonged to someone who knew common labor. His eyes were narrowing as he waited for an answer.
“Oh, all right, one more, but make it a good one.”
Sid fanned the pages to the requested number and then slammed the book shut. “That’s trash. I ain’t gonna play it.”
“What’s wrong with ‘Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight’, Mr. Sailor Boy with the guilty conscience?” asked Art.
“It’s nothing but emotionalism; that’s what’s wrong with it,” snapped Sid with the conviction that the mere accusation would drown any possible opposition. But it didn’t.
“So emotionalism is what’s wrong with it, my wandering Sailor Boy; and Who, pray tell, made your emotions and why?”
Sid was over his head. The fog in his mind and the unexpected defense of something he had been taught to despise combined to leave him without an answer.
“I’ll tell you why you got emotions; it’s so that we show what’s inside us, ‘specially over against God. It’s emotions that make us feel guilty-like and talk about jumping off bridges.”
Sid cringed. The memory of what he had planned came back as if out of another world, but it came back strong and bitter.
“It’s emotions that make us mad about lousy singing and go barging into a meeting like you did a few minutes ago. So don’t sell emotions short, fella. God used ‘em to bring you in here tonight. And not just to give you a place out of the rain either, but to give you something to do in His kingdom, which always makes a guy feel better.”
Sid had turned towards the leader and with one hand on the rear edge of the bench, continued to stare at the painted floor. He wanted to answer, but couldn’t. It was easier to say nothing than to admit that there could be more truth in what he was being told by this husky preacher than in his own actions. By this time Art had walked to him and placed his hand on Sid’s shoulder.
“Okay, I’ll play it,” he said quietly.
“Please don’t. It’s a lousy song, but tonight it filled a very good purpose.”
Sid didn’t remember much about the remainder of the service except that he looked forward to the occasional song which punctuated the mission superintendent’s speech. Each time he stepped forward to the piano, he felt a sense of purpose he had never experienced before. The little mission needed help that night and he knew he had been led to furnish the help. And yet, he couldn’t help but wonder who had received the most help, the men or he himself. In his own mind the answer was obvious.
“I don’t see how I could have gone so far off beam,” Sid told Art after the meeting as they sat around an oilcloth covered table and drank strong black coffee. “I have good parents, who brought me up with a strong sense of right and wrong. I’ve gone to church all my life. I guess I’m just not as strong as I thought I was.”
“That’s just the trouble, we all think we have a certain amount of resistance to sin and it seems as if we do, as long as there’s no temptation around. But just as soon as things get a little rough our imaginary strength lets us fall flat on our faces. Right?”
“Right. But I came storming in here, messing things up and although I can’t remember anything of our lesson, I began to feel better when I realized that I could be of some use here and I began to take a real interest in the singing.
“I don’t want to sound preachy, Sid, but take it from this part-time brick layer and part-time preacher, there’s spiritual therapy in helping others. End of sermon. Now scram upstairs. Brother George has some dry clothes and a bed set aside for you. Says he’ll do anything legal to keep a piano player from catching pneumonia.”
“It’s impossible to be an honest businessman.” “Well, you just have to close your eyes to some things; that’s business.”
Two common statements — the one a categorical accusation, the other a half-hearted attempt to justify dishonest. Both stem from the assumption that one must be dishonest to succeed in business. If the business world cringes a bit under this accusation, it can blame those of its own members who have added to this reputation by their questionable behavior and themselves, for business has not always been quick to discipline its own members.
Nor have farmers, doctors, fishermen, or lawyers, for that matter. However, to charge that dishonesty is a necessary requirement for success in business is unfounded and often the result of a most superficial acquaintance with business.
For example, I have been asked, “Is it Christian to covet your neighbor’s business?” and as a Christian businessman I answer, “No, it is not Christian to covet my neighbor’s business, nor his car, wife, or anything.”
“Well, then,” the conversation may continue, “you are in the advertising business; is it Christian to try to take his business away by underselling him or by some other means?” About then my would-be accuser might lean back smugly into the depths of his reclining chair while I grope for the words to explain politely that his second question is filled with all sorts of inferences which are not at all valid, etc. etc.
First, I must agree, however, that if a businessman acts competitively for the sole purpose of taking away business (used in the sense of transactions, not the physical store, etc.), then his actions are completely non-Christian; he is acting covetously.
Not satisfied, my prodding friend continues. “Even when his motives are not covetous, but rather a Christian attempt to make an honest living, isn’t every bit of business he obtains taken from a neighbor merchant?”
In a certain sense it is, just as when two children are picking berries, the berries one picks the other cannot. Are both to be accused of taking berries from the other and therefore guilty of non-Christian behavior?
Granted, all analogies limp, and nothing is proved by examples, but the parallels can be seen: neither child can be said really to own the berries until he has completed the transfer of the berry from the bush. Neither can a businessman be said really to own the business (customer loyalty and potential sales) until the transaction has been completed. So then when merchant “A” offers superior merchandise, or demands a lesser price for similar goods, and several of Merchant “B’s” customers take advantage of the opportunity, Merchant “A” cannot be said to have taken away something that belonged in any sense at all to Merchant “B.” Neither can Merchant “B” be said to have lost the business, since it never belonged to him. Every businessman knows, or finds out very soon, that customers are free agents, able and willing to take their business to any other competitor, with or without reason. They are not owned, bound, or obligated.
Yet it is often possible, through completely honest and legal means to reduce the income of a neighboring merchant to thie extent that he is harmed and this points out one of the greatest pitfalls in being a Christian businessman — the lure of unlimited business through the reduction of neighbor-competitors.
It is not a simple question.
Scripture admonishes us in various passages to be diligent in our work, so as to be able to give good account of the opportunities given us. Furthermore, a slovenly workman (or businessman) certainly does not reflect well on the name “Christian.” The problem is this: where does ambition end and greed begin? How hard does a merchant “push” before his diligence becomes nothing but pure greed?
There are various approaches to this problem (and it exists for the craftsmen as well as businessmen). One might apply the Golden Ride to the situation, or decide to grow competitively only so long as the business remained a means to his Christian witness, and to refrain from gaining business when this activity became an end in itself. These approaches have merit and are readily applicable.
But the Scriptural passage that I find most helpful in formulating a Christian business philosophy is found in Lev. 19:9. Here the Old Testament Hebrew farmers were admonished to plant and cultivate their entire fields, even the corners, but not to harvest the corners nor to pick up grain dropped by the reapers. The crops growing in these comers and what was dropped were to be left for the poor, the widows, and others who had no means of support, or perhaps a lesser source of income. This law taught the Jews several valuable lessons: it taught charity which reflects God’s charitable attitude towards His church. It taught efficiency of operation: a farmer could harvest the vast majority of his crop in a reasonable amount of time if he omitted the corners. To gather this small fraction of his harvest would perhaps double the time consumed in harvesting. But most important, this law gave the Hebrew farmers (as well as all of us) a practical guide to help us distinguish between ambition and greed.
There are corners and dropped stalks of grain in every business, and the businessman who would follow Christian principles in his business life will find them a helpful guide in maintaining the balance between ambition and greed.
Today, just as in the Old Testament, there are those with less skill in business or with reduced opportunities for growth, and it is these who complete the application to modern business of the Old Testament precept. Often, they can operate in the fringes of an industry far more effectively than could larger members of the industry. For example, a semi-retired couple can often operate a neighborhood grocery store which caters to small “fill-in orders” far more efficiently than a large chain store which tries to scale down its operation to fit the same need. And the Christian businessman will not begrudge those who “glean in the corners” but will encourage them and aid them when the situation demands it.
So much for the defense of the Christian in business.
Because business and Christianity have seemed poles apart to many of our people, it may stretch the imagination of some when I suggest that the application of Christian principles to business not only can, but has led to the development of large, successful businesses. However, these principles were not always applied conscientiously by Christian businessmen in an attempt to glorify God — but the effect of them can easily be seen.
Christ promised, “Give and it shall be given unto you.” In addition to its spiritual applications, the Christian businessman finds that when he applies this to his work, when he sells his product for as little as he can, reserving only a modest profit, or when the manufacturer builds as much quality as possible into his product without increasing the price, the consuming public responds most generously in increased trade. These businessmen gave, and they were given unto, many-fold. Whether believers or not, they illustrate the effectiveness of the application of this divine promise to business.
The application of the Golden Rule to business practices may sound both trite and naive in this super-sophisticated era of business surveys, market studies, and efficiency procedures. But while it is trite, it certainly is not naive. It is rather most basic. For what is a market survey if it isn’t an attempt to determine what “others” want? And what would be the necessity of efficiency investigations if each of us gave our employer the kind of loyalty and effort we would like to have if we were in his position? And where would be the demand for labor unions if employers practiced this same thinking? Repeatedly businessmen have adventured very successfully into fields other than their own, armed with nothing more than the determination to give to their customers the kind of product or service they themselves would appreciate.
The Christian businessman is not only possible, but successful, both as a businessman and as a witnessing Christian — and not by ignoring his Christian mandate, or in spite of it, but through it.
Nero read his music by the light of burning Rome and the city itself fell, not because its walls were low, but because its citizens were low. The conservative element in the United States, made popular by Senator Barry Goldwater et al, is predicting a similar, if somewhat more sophisticated end to the United States. That is, unless we again recognize such old-fashioned concepts as sin, sloth, greed, selfishness and dishonesty for what they really are.
One of the most eloquent and frequently quoted messages which falls into this category is an address by Mr. Jenkin L. Jones, Editor of the Tulsa Tribune, which he gave to the Inland Daily Press Association entitled, “Who is Tampering with the Soul of America?”
“Our Puritan ancestors, were preoccupied with sin. They were too preoccupied with it. They were hag ridden and guilt ridden, and theirs was a repressed and neurotic society. But they had horsepower. They wrestled livings from rocky land, built our earliest colleges, started our literature, caused our industrial revolution, and found time in between to fight the Indians, the French, and the British; to bawl for abolition, women suffrage, and prison reform. They were a tremendous people.
“In recent years, all this has changed in America. We have decided that sin is largely imaginary. We have become enamored with ‘behavioristic psychology.’ This holds that a man is a product of his heredity and his environment, and his behavior to a large degree is foreordained by both.
“Well, the theory that misbehavior can be cured by pulling down tenements and erecting in their places elaborate public housing is not holding water. The crime rates continue to rise, along with our outlays for social services. We speak of under-privilege. Yet the young men who swagger up and down the streets, boldly flaunting their gang symbols on their black jackets, are for more blessed in creature comforts, opportunities for advancement, and freedom from drudgery than 90 percent of the children of the world. We have sown the dragon’s teeth of pseudo-scientific sentimentality; and out of the ground has sprung the legion, bearing switch-blade knifes.
“Relief is gradually becoming an honorable career in America. It is a pretty fair life – if you have neither conscience nor pride. The politicians will weep over you…nothing is your fault. And when the city fathers of a harassed community like Newburgh suggest that able-bodied welfare clients might sweep the streets, the ‘liberal’ editorialists arise as one man and denounce them for their medieval cruelty.
“I don’t know how long Americans can stand this erosion of principle. But I believe that some of my starry-eyed friends are kidding themselves when they pretend that every planeload of Puerto Ricans that puts down at Idlewild is equivalent in potential to every shipload of Pilgrims that put into old Plymouth. Nations are built by people capable of great energy and self-discipline. I never heard of one put together by cha-cha-cha.
“Can anyone deny that movies are dirtier than ever? But they don’t call it dirt. They call it ‘realism’…
“And we of the press are a party to the crime. Last year the movie ads in our newspaper got so salacious and suggestive that the advertising manager and I decided to throw out the worst and set up some standards…
“Within a couple of hours the exhibitors were down with much milder ads. How was this miracle accomplished?
“Well, it seems that the exhibitors are supplied with several different ads for each movie. If the publishers are dumb enough to accept the most suggestive ones, those are what they get. But if publishers squawk, the cleaner ads are sent down. Isn’t it time we all squawked?
“I think it’s time we quit giving page 1 play to the extramarital junkets of crooners. I think it is time we stopped treating as glamorous and exciting the brazen shack-ups of screen tramps. I think it is time we asked our Broadway and Hollywood columnists if they can’t find something decent and inspiring going on along their beats…
“We are drowning our youngsters in violence, cynicism and sadism, piped into the living room and even the nursery. The grandchildren of the kids who used to weep because the Little Match Girl froze to death now feel cheated if she isn’t slugged, raped, and thrown into a Bessemer converter.
“Don Maxwell, of The Chicago Tribune, has recently asked his book department to quit advertising scatological literature by including it in the list of best sellers. The critics and the book publishers have denounced him for tampering with the facts. I would like to raise a somewhat larger question: Who is tampering with the soul of America?
“For nations do have souls. They have collective personalities. People who think well of themselves collectively exhibit clan and enthusiasm and morale. When nations cease believing in themselves, when they regard their instructions with cynicism and their traditions with flippancy, they will not long remain great nations. When they seek learning without effort and wages without work, they are beginning to stagger. When they become hedonistic and pleasure-oriented, when their Boy Scouts on their fourteen-mile hikes start to hitch, there’s trouble ahead. When payola becomes a way of life, expense account cheating common, and union goonery a fiercely defended ‘right’, that nation is in danger. And when police departments attempt to control burglary by the novel method of making it a department monopoly-then the chasm yawns.
“Do not let me overdraw the picture. This is still a great, powerful, vibrant, able, optimistic nation. Americans – our readers – do believe in themselves and in their country.
“But there is rot and there is blight and there is cutting out and filling to be done if we, as the leader of free men, are to survive the hammer blows which quite plainly are in store for us all.
“We have reached the stomach-turning point. We have reached the point where we should re-examine the debilitating philosophy of permissiveness. Let this not be confused with the philosophy of liberty. The school system that permits our children to develop a quarter of their natural talents is not a champion of our liberties. The healthy man who chooses to loaf on unemployment compensation is not a defender of human freedom. The playwright who would degrade us, the author who would profit from pandering to the worst that’s in us – these are not friends.
“It is time we hit the sawdust trail. It is time we revived the idea that there is such a thing as sin-just plain old willful sin. It is time we brought self-discipline back into style…
“Let’s quit being bulldozed and bedazzled by self-appointed longhairs. Let’s have the guts to say that a book is dirt if that’s what we think of it, or that a painting may well be a daub if you can’t figure out which way to hang it. And if some beatnik welds together a collection of rusty cogwheels and old corset stays and claims it’s a greater sculpture than Michelangelo’s David, let’s have the courage to say that it looks like junk and probably is.
Give Decency a Chance
“Let’s blow the whistle on plays that would bring blushes to an American Legion stag party. Let’s not be awed by movie characters with barnyard morals, even if some of them have been photographed climbing aboard the Presidential yacht. Let us pay more attention in our news columns to the decent people everywhere who are trying to do something for the good of others.
“In short, let’s cover up the cesspool and start planting some flowers.
“I am fed up with the educationists and pseudo-social scientists who have underrated our potential as a people…
“And again I am genuinely disturbed that to idealistic youth in many countries the fraud of communism appears synonymous with morality, while we, the chief repository of real freedom, are regarded as being in the last stages of decay.
“We can learn a lesson from history. Twice before our British cousins appeared heading toward a collapse of principle, and twice they drew themselves back. The people rebelled. They banged through the reform laws, and under Victoria went on to the peak of their power.
“In this hour of fear, confusion, and self-doubt, let us learn the lesson for America. Unless I misread the signs, a great number of our people are ready. Let there be a fresh breeze, a breeze of new honesty, new idealism, new integrity.”
Dr. Abert Schweitzer in his book “The Philosophy of Civilization” points out that the promoting of Christian virtues has become fashionable in many areas even by those who do not believe in Christ. Mr. Jones’ comment in some ways could fall into this category, since his concern for Christian virtues is limited to what it could do for America rather than the ideal Christian hope that returning to this fundamental ideal would be uplifting to the honor of God.
And once again we see a demonstration of God using all things (even newspaper editors who have very different intentions) to tell His truth.
Glimmerings of relief from “Union Shops” are appearing on the labor relations horizon!
“There are only two countries in the world where a man may legally be forced into union membership as a prerequisite to maintaining his employment: The United States and Russia.” With these words a Grand Rapids lawyer specializing in labor relations pointed out the paradox of compulsory union membership in “the land of the free.”
Many of our young people have been forced to change their choice of occupations as the trade of their choice fell under the cloud of forced unionism, and heads of families have seen their incomes substantially reduced as they turned their backs on positions they had held for many years but were forced out of by their refusal to join a union.
Opposing this growth of compulsory unionism is an organization known as the National Right to Work Committee. As implied by the name, this group has dedicated itself to the promotion of laws which guarantee the right of any qualified individual to work in his chosen trade or profession without belonging to the union holding the pertinent contract. Several states now are enforcing “right to work laws” and others are considering them. (This group carries on an extensive mailing campaign, and anyone interested in knowing which states honor this concept may write them at 1025 Connecticut, Washington 6 D.C.).
Current comments on the Right to Work Movement are by Mr. Reed Larson, executive vice-president of the National Right to Work Committee:
“Union membership should be voluntary, not compulsory: that is the Right to Work principle. No individual in order to work at his job should be compelled to belong or not belong to a labor union.
“The National Right to Work Committee believes in, and will defend the right of workers to join, unions – to organize and bargain collectively if they choose.
“We likewise defend the right of workers to stay out of unions if they choose – without losing their livelihood.
“In many areas of our nation, citizens are in the process of erecting safeguards against…’laborism’…
“The AFL-CIO at its recent convention, launched an unprecedented all-out drive to destroy state Right to Work laws.
“In order to evaluate the arguments raised by those who advocate forced unionism, we need only three basic facts:
- Unions are PRIVATE organizations, not governmental units…Compulsory unionism is governmental power exercised by a private organization.
- Unions want to bargain for non-members…Under federal law, when a union is chosen by a majority of workers to represent a given group, it is permitted to represent all employees…in that bargaining unit, union members and non-members alike…Having stripped those in the minority of their freedom to bargain for themselves, union officials now…demand taxation of these non-union members.
- Human progress depends on individual freedom…The Bible teaches us that God created man. Man is the sacred unit in the whole scheme of human progress. Groups, organizations and governments can only reflect the advancement of men as individuals.
“…Who should decide whether or not an individual joins and supports a particular private organization?…We believe that this is the individual’s God-given privilege and that it must be protected.”
Although we are in sympathy with at least most of the goals of this organization, which God may yet use to reduce the burden placed on us by compulsory unions, it must be noted that their basis for action is humanistic, that is, man-centered, and in that way, is a variance with Scripture.
I see old people;
When I am old
May I be
But not forgotten.
The stillness of the night clearly indicated it to be a night for wandering and for unscrambling crisscross thought; a quiet valley in the jagged range of helter-skelter living; a time to be spent evaluating and categorizing the impressions and experiences of the recent overcrowded weeks.
These busy weeks had also left a residue of personal problems which could be resolved only in unhurried solitude. But in a society of togetherness, solitude is a plague to be avoided at any cost against the telephone, door to door commerce, and well-intentioned friends. It is available, however, to one who pursues the maligned practice of strolling through darkened city streets during the small hours of the night. For then each person is an island in the encompassing sea of night – free to ponder without distractions.
As this particular night came on, the city huddled under its raven wing and thick clouds held back the moon’s second-rate light. The birds had long ago stilled their impromptu concerts. Each tree was a collection of friends nodding in the most gentle sort of conversations and only briefly were any urged into more agitated exchange by scampering, short-lived breezes.
The slow pace I find most conducive to nocturnal wanderings brought the first real relaxation I had experienced for some time and set the mood for solving the four problems which had been clamoring for their solution with increasing vigor during the past few days.
The first of these problems concerned an article I had been asked to write for a church paper; the second was a pending history exam; the third, my draft status in the relation to increased international tensions; and the fourth, that nagging reoccurring problem of most young people: “What am I here for?”
The last question, being the most general, I decided to schedule last. The relation of my draft status quickly cancelled itself, since short of switching to a pre-seminary course there was little I could hope to accomplish by pondering the matter.
With these two problems committed to a sort of procrastinator’s limbo, there remained only the pending history exam and the article for the church paper. Although both were to be completed on the same day, when viewed together, the deadline gained in flexibility while the pressure of the exam remained rock solid.
The exam, then, would receive first attention, to be followed by planning the article. Any remaining time could be spent on the sometimes stimulating, sometimes frustrating question, “What am I here for?”
By the times my schedule was completed, most of the window-diamonds had been plucked from neighboring homes and buildings by unseen hands. The soft, all-enveloping darkness had arrived and brought with it the isolation I was seeking. The times for the solving of problems had arrived.
After I had spent considerable time reviewing the material presented in the history courses, I became aware of several interrelated trends upon which specific information hung like pearls on a string. These trends had eluded me diring the semester, yet suddenly they appeared, as if generated out of the stillness of the night, and pointed to the material which needed additional study: which lists should be memorized and which terms the class would most likely be asked to define in the exam.
At the next streetlight I scribbled a few notes to preserve this newly discovered illumination. I checked my watch. It was already after midnight, but the time had been well invested.
I stopped for coffee at an all-night restaurant. The yawning waitress obviously hated her work and even more, the night hours. How could it be otherwise? The charm and soothing isolation of the night was denied her by the glare of the cold fluorescent lights and the wailing juke box. I too hurried from the place, afraid that the tyranny of the blare and glare might have struck again and robbed me of the detached mood so necessary in solving the remaining problems.
But it hadn’t. The matters to be acted upon came quickly into mind as I turned in the direction of home; thankful that the night was still dark, the wind still a whisper, and I still awake to enjoy it.
The second problem to be handled involved the assigned article for the church paper. It was to be a warning against the growth of a particular ecclesiastical ideology, and although several possible outlines suggested themselves, they lacked the spontaneity I felt the subject deserved. Then, as if from the darkness itself, a most satisfying outline appeared: open the article with a shocking, specific incident close to the experience of the most probably audience. Keep the opening brief, punchy, with short words, short sentences. Identify the subject quickly, stun the ready with several valid projections, then move quickly to the conclusion, omitting insignificant details and excess verbiage.
There was my answer! Suddenly the assigned article changed from a chore to be completed with toil and frustration into an entity demanding expression in words and phrases that its message might be shared with others of the faith.
As I stopped again under a convenient streetlight to scribble a few notes regarding the matter, the bell in the downtown cathedral struck two a.m.
Elated over the satisfying solutions my lone wolf style of meditation had produced, I resumed walking but now at a quick buoyant pace. The increased exercise generated a warm glow that matched the inward comfort of having solved troublesome matters. In quick succession I walked through the blocks which led home and for the first time that night allowed a threatening yawn its rightful but brief existence. I had my answers – it was time to relax.
Or was it?
My elation slipped off in to the darkness when the thought came to mind that I had left the real problem, the most basic of all, completely unsolved.
The matter of the exam and the article would soon be accomplished and forgotten. But the question that outweighed the others I had left unanswered. “Who am I, what is the purpose of my sometimes satisfying, sometimes pointless existence?”
Just what AM I here for? To stomp and stumble around town all night planning soon to be forgotten history exams and feeble articles in church papers with microscopic circulations? To consume my share of bread and wine and then stand in line for the next open grave? Was this the grand total of my existence? Is this what I have been so “wondrously made” for? What a waste of effort on God’s part?
Why couldn’t I have been denied existence itself rather than to experience this senseless, pointless one? Or if I must be, why couldn’t I have an obvious mandate, a clear insight into my identity and purpose? Why couldn’t I also see the letters “P C” formed by the clouds of heaven and go forth preaching Christ till the day of my death believing in my simple, uninitiated min that I had performed my calling as a faithful servant? Why couldn’t my life be molded into some definite shape by some external forces, yes even by tyranny or persecution? Why must I endure the curse of limitless opportunities shackles to such a lack of understanding that not one of theme stands out as the purpose of my life?
Deep in the quagmire of despair I neared my home and then deliberately walked on past. And why not?
Almost an entire night of meditation had produced nothing but quick answers to transient problems and a fake, fleeting sense of accomplishment. And now even that was gone. Impulsively I continued on into the night as if somehow physical exercise would produce a blueprint for my life.
Groping for any shred of comfort, I recalled the sense of accomplishment I had experienced earlier. Was It really as fake and temporary as it appears now? T had seemed real enough at the time, and even quite satisfying. This feeling of accomplishment had generated a cozy sense of pride in my ability to supply the answers to my own problems.
Then in an indefinite sort of way I began to sense, rather than recognize, the answer I was seeking. This satisfaction had been focused upon my individual accomplishments. Since both they, that is the accomplishments, and I are rather transient sort of things, any satisfaction resulting from my accomplishments are doomed to be hollow and of no lasting value.
But what then was worth pursuing? What sort of activity or life or goal would produce a more durable satisfaction?
In the stillness of that dark night a multitude of half-understood sermons evolved with endless catechism classes and family devotional periods to burn into my mind the world and life view that produced both self-identity and the purpose of existence.
It was this: I was part of an eternal system and not an end unto myself. I was a student attempting to develop whatever talents I had for use in this Christian system we call The Church. That is why the solution to the exam problem gave no satisfaction but only for a moment. Outside of being part of God’s plan it meant nothing. But now it took on a small, but eternal value.
Not only was I a member of a church, a college, but also an occasional contributor to one of the church papers; which again was of no real consequence except when viewed as part of an eternal chain of events which irresistibly were being used to develop the church.
Here was both my identity and purpose: to function as part of this eternally preordained system call The Church in whatever capacity I would be led. I could not effectively fit anyone else’s identity, not could anyone usurp min. In a word, I belonged – I fit. And the purpose of my existence, although still hazy as to the details, pointed clearly in one direction, towards my Creator.
I felt elated, almost transported as my despair and lack of direction were swept away by this long know, but only recently understood truth!
Let the secular philosophers continue their fruitless questionings about the identity and purpose of the human race. As long as they refused to admit the existence of God, Who tailors every existence to fit His purpose, they would never find their own identity as I had found mine. True, I would join them in their discourses, but for exercise; the answers they sought in blind vanity were everlastingly mine!
Out of the still of the night.
The cathedral bells rang four a.m. as I turned home for the second time. A milk truck swung into view, stopping, starting, twisting, and turning like a clumsy giant bird courting the dawn.
Don’t do this and don’t do that,
Don’t annoy or tease the cat,
In fact, don’t do anything at all!
This poetic (?) bit of negative thinking (recalled from a childhood rhyme) is one way of observing Sundays.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
It’s the wrong way.
“Don’t skip church,” we’re told. So we don’t. Parental pressures being what they are, we languish in the pew for the required time and after the service we ascend to the heights of doctrinal awareness with an “I blew out the muffler on my car last night.”
“Don’t work on Sunday.” So we don’t. In fact we sleep the afternoon away and feel quite smugly that this activity is not working on Sunday and no doubt is far above reproach. Well, we don’t want to spoil any fun, but . . .
It’s the pathetic truth that many of us can mix services (mere attendance) with an afternoon of sleep and come up with a typical Sunday. As each Sunday arrives, our minds seem to creep a foggy circuit: “so today’s Sunday – so we’d better go to church – take a nap – go to church again – visit awhile – and that’s another Sunday.” There’s no doubt about it, it was another Sunday, but was it a Sabbath?
All of which may sound rather preachy for a young people’s magazine, but let’s stick together, the best is yet to arrive.
It seems the Jews of Christ’s time also thought of their Sabbath in much this same way: if they paid a visit to the temple or synagogue and spent the remainder of the day in NOT doing this and NOT doing that, they would by this action fulfill their mandate to observe the Sabbath.
Christ contradicted this with, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27); in other words, you are not placed here for the benefit of the Sabbath, but rather, the Sabbath was instituted for your benefit.
Properly understood, this changes Sunday – Sabbaths from fun depriving weekly events (weakly observed) to a stimulating experience which is both enjoyable and spiritually strengthening. Sunday-Sabbaths should be a day in which our spiritual life is charged with new vigor rather than a day in which boredom is the most outstanding feature. When we learn to view Sunday-Sabbaths in this Biblical (take your choice of texts) and Reformed (check Question and Answer 103 in the Heidelberg Catechism) manner, we learn that Sunday is a day in which to accomplish something and not a day which is to be spent in intentional laziness. It is a day especially set aside for spiritually rewarding activities. What sort of activities? You be the judge!
How long has it been since you made a real effort to be prepared for the Bible discussion in Society? Too busy for this? Doing what, napping Sunday afternoons away? Let’s cut a little off that nap time for a look at a commentary regarding the lesson. And isn’t it a bit silly to turn down requests for participation in an after recess program because you “simply haven’t the time to prepare for it,” and then spend much of Sunday afternoon logging sack time on the sofa? (There just went another bit off that nap. Right?)
Then there are the various societies themselves which suffer from legitimate conflicts throughout the week. Wouldn’t it make sense to change the meeting time of some of these to Sunday afternoon? The Protestant Reformed Men’s Chorus and several Young People’s Societies now meet on Sunday afternoon with very satisfactory results. After all, Sundays were set aside for this sort of activity. (There just went another bit of that nap – it’s getting shorter all the time!)
High on my list of worthwhile Sunday activities is visiting friends who have been out of circulation for a while; either in the hospital or simply confined to their homes. Long visits are both uncalled for and un-welcome, but a brief visit from friends and acquaintances if often the only break in a monotonous routine and is regarded by those visited as the event of the day.
Then there’s an old-fashioned activity called reading (other than the sports, comics and society pages) which in exchange for a very little effort, and a bit of discrimination is illuminating, comforting, stimulating and inspiring. What more can one ask of a Sunday activity?
The Reformed Witness Hour is broadcast in most of our localities. What could be easier than a sermonette served up to you right in your own living room, and garnished with the finest music in our denomination?
Church and school committee work seem to me to be worthy of our attention on Sundays, although by now we are beginning to descend on our scale of desirability. Yet I mention this to illustrate the criteria to be used in judging Sunday activities.
When Christ was criticized by the Jews for the works of mercy he performed on the Sabbath, he told them that it was good and admirable to engage in charitable activities on the Sabbath. By the same thinking, if the committee assignments we have received from church or Christian school societies are for the benefit of God’s kingdom as organized here on earth, they may very well receive some attention on Sunday, if necessary. However, since the direct spiritual value of many such assignments is often close to nil, the time could better be spent in more profitable ways. Yet it is most obvious that planning a program for a society meeting is very much in keeping with the New Testament idea of Sundays.
When the early Christian Church was in the formative years and the leaders began to ignore the now useless restrictions of the Mosaic law, they continued to recognize the value of setting aside a day for spiritual activities as first hinted at in Gen. 2:2 and most symbolically chose Sundays as their day of communion and intensified church orientated activities.
Although we are not told whether the early Christians applied themselves to their trades on that day or not, I am convinced that they tried to keep such conflicting matters to a minimum in order that they might spend Sundays in concentration on spiritual matters. The real essence of the New Testament Sunday is not that we cease our weekday activities, but that we use this day to concentrate on activities which promote spiritual growth.
If you’ve grown accustomed to sleeping away the Sundays, this may seem radical and un-Sunday-like. But just it give it a try for a few weeks, and you’ll soon appreciate the extra spiritual boost you get from a Sunday with a purpose, a Sunday with planned activities, a “Positive Sunday.”
Start making plans for next Sunday!
The popular concept of a reformer is usually of a person with sterling, dynamic personality who slashes right and left with the sword of truth in strong, accurate, purposeful stokes while astride the white charger of righteous indignation. He thus brings absolute light to millions who had been existing in absolute darkness, and every innovation accomplished by this hero was a product of his most astute mind and existed there in dazzling brilliance and clarity from the moment of his first enlightenment.
Our own thinking has been so steeped in humanitarianism that we even think of Luther in this warped manner. Such unmitigated hero worship also surrounded him during his own lifetime and he answered it thus: “I began this business with great fear and trembling…no one can know into what despondence…I sunk… At that time I was ignorant of many things which now, thank God, I know.” Does that sound like a typical Reader’s Digest hero?
In order to view Luther as he preferred to be considered (as perhaps a small, weak flame of fire introduced into a combustible situation) it is necessary to understand his times.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the various nations of Europe were beginning to experience the heady wine of nationalism. As they began to exercise this new strength, they conflicted with the powerful Roman Catholic Church who claimed ecclesiastical, political, and secular rights. The Romish Church maintained a surprising degree of control through threats of personal excommunication. A large portion of the Romish Church‘s power was the result of the considerable flow of funds into her coffers as the result of the sale of indulgences.
These indulgences had originally been intended as a papal declaration that if the bearer died in battle during one of the Crusades against the Turks, he would obtain immediate heavenly bliss. Since under Germanic law (as well as under our own) the payment of a fine can be substituted for penance or imprisonment, these indulgences soon became marketable property and were sold and bartered throughout Europe. The church, with unlimited power to issue these indulgences, put herself in the “Salvation Certificate” business and authorized the Dominican monks to as a sales organization and travel through the various provinces. This they did, and playing upon the ignorance and superstition of her parishioners, the Dominican monks increased the emphasis on these indulgences until they became a substitute for the clergy and thereby made pastoral work by the priest almost impossible.
There were small inklings of intelligence and discernment, however, even in the great writhing masses of fifteenth and sixteenth century ignorance, and these enlightened individuals were as flies in the sweet financial ointment of the Dominican Monks who promoted the sale of the indulgences. One knight in what is now Germany, approached the master salesman of indulgences, Tetzel, and asked him if an indulgence would absolve a person of guilt even if he committed the sin intentionally. “Certainly,” replied Tetzel in gleeful anticipation of another sale. “Fine” continued the knight, “I wish to take a little revenge against an enemy of mine just short of taking his life, and I would like a letter freeing me of any quilt in this matter.” After agreeing on the price, Tetzel filled out the letter properly and sold it to the knight. Sometime later as he was traveling to the next town, Tetzel was attacked by this same knight and robbed of the money he had collected from the sale of indulgences. When hailed into court by Tetzel, the knight admitted the action and then showed the court the letter of indulgence Tetzel had given him to cover his “little revenge.” Upon reading the letter, the court found the knight not guilty of the crime as charged.
Another example of these tiny glimmerings of discernment occurred when a young university student dickered with a priest over the price he should have to pay for a letter of indulgence. When he had the price down to six deniers (a very small sum) he told the sellers that they should give him one or they would have to account to God in the judgment day for having kept a soul from his salvation for only six deniers!
The uneducated masses, however, purchased the indulgences to use as substitutes for contrition of heart and penitence for sin. It was this attitude towards indulgences that brought the entire matter to a boil in Wittenberg.
One of his duties, as priest to the church at the university, was to hear confessions. After hearing their confessions, Luther would upon occasion, admonish the wayward members. Upon this, they would simply show him the letters of indulgence they had purchased and tell him that as long as they had them, they saw no reason to change their way of living. The indulgence assured them of a swift entry into heaven without strain or pain.
This interference in his pastoral work convinced Luther that this misuse of the indulgences must stop. Since the official Catholic doctrine regarding salvation was “justification through a penitent and contrite heart” Luther was convinced that this malpractice was in opposition to the official doctrine. With this in mind, he wrote the ninety-seven and later the ninety-five, theses which he nailed to the church door at Wittenberg, fully expecting the church from the Pope on down to support his contentions.
Theoretically he could expect this, for nowhere in his ninety-five theses did Luther attack or even question any official doctrine held then by the Romish Church. He simply set himself to the task of defining the true character and use of the papal indulgences. In fact, shortly after he had posted these theses, and the matter was brought to the attention of the theologians and jurists of the University of Mainz, they declared that they could find nothing wrong in any of the theses.
Luther, however, had not reckoned with the impact on Rome of the possible loss of revenue from the reduced sales of these indulgences, nor had he figured with the political animosity that would arise between the Dominican Monks (who were in charge of the sale of indulgences) and the Augustinian order of which Luther was member. As events developed, various church officials declared there was no doctrinal heresy in Luther’s theses, yet the Dominicans (of considerable influence in Rome both because of their financial contribution to Rome’s wealth and because the current Pope was a Dominican) forced action against Luther, claiming that he had attacked the authority of the Pope and should be killed as an heretic.
The events that follow are involved, disgusting and smell of crooked church politics. It’s only a short while and Luther finds himself excommunicated from his once beloved Romish Church. The protest he had made against the indulgences in an attempt to bring about a reformation from within had become the spring-board of an ecclesiastical revolution without his ever having intended it to be so.
Of this fact Luther said, “This is all the more proof that this movement was not my doing, but the Lord’s.”
As can easily be imagined, Luther’s name was defamed by the Catholic Church at every opportunity and in a thousand different ways during the reformation and the years immediately following. One comment about him was that he was the offspring of the union of his mother with the devil himself; that at his death the Devil appeared on the scene to carry him away to his home in hell. This view of Luther continued well into the eighteenth century. Other writers spoke of him as “the godless heretic, the stinking profligate, the filthy ragamuffin, and the ribald brawler, the obscene slanderous and execrable Luther.”
In spite of their attempts to defame Luther, the Catholic Church was brought to their sense by the Reformation and sometime later stopped the sale of indulgences. This tardy recognition of Luther’s protest and doctrine brought with it a revolution in the Catholic Church’s opinion regarding Luther himself. In the Age of Enlightenment the educated Catholic view of Luther comes very close to our own. They have even referred to him as “a precious instrument of God,” the “greatest benefactor of humanity,” is a “great spreader of light.” The current opinion of the Catholic Church is probably somewhere in between these extremes.
As stated by one Roman Catholic scholar recently interviewed during the preparation of this article: “Martin Luther was right in every doctrinal point. Our only objection is that he had no business protesting because by doing so he was placing himself against the authority of the Mother Church.” In other words, Luther, as an individual, and even as a member of the clergy, had no right to question any action of the Roman Catholic Church according to their doctrines.
The Protestant concept that the divinely enlightened mind is the final authority regarding doctrinal matters over against the Roman Catholic’s doctrine that the final authority in doctrinal matters is the organized Roman Catholic Church, is to my mind the most important product of the Reformation. For in the place of complacent lethargy, we many now exercise individual imitative in the study of scripture and approach God directly in prayer. No longer are we bound (through the threat of condemnation) to any doctrine superimposed by a heretical or mistaken clergy. Under the Protestant concept of the authority of the regenerated heart, we are free to select any church or clergy that preaches and practices the doctrines we consider most proper according to our own individual interpretation of scripture.
Luther himself did not recognize this most fundamental concept when he began his protest against the selling of indulgences. In Thesis No. 38 he declared: “Still we should not condemn the papal dispensation and pardon; for this pardon is a declaration of the pardon of God.”
From this it can be determined that he still respected and clung to the Romish concept of church authority when he wrote his thesis.
That the most significant fruit of the Reformation was not the result of human labor and striving, is another instance of the fact that God often works in very mysterious ways to perform His own good pleasure.
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The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]
The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]
As we examined the first eleven chapters of Genesis last month, we took note of the fact that the book of Genesis is theological, meaning it helps us to grow in our knowledge of God. In addition, we noted that the book of Genesis is historical, meaning that the events chronicled in it are the […]
The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]
This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]
Although it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been immersed in news coming from Japan about the 2020/2021 Olympic games, it’s still worth considering how these events are understood in the modern worldview of our country. The “Top Story of the Day” on Monday, August 9 (at least according to my newsfeed), was how […]
One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]
At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]