A Critical Look at Young People’s Society

Apparently, the Young People’s Society is vigorously alive.  It has formed an association known as the Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies; the affairs of this Federation are constantly being conducted by a regularly elected Executive Board.  Each society has an integral part in the publication of the monthly magazine, Beacon Lights.  Each society participates in our annual convention.  Varying societies across the United States take turns at hosting this convention, to which each society sends delegates and to which all society members are invited.  The individual Young People’s Society is the source of all youth activity within the Protestant Reformed Churches.  And here, as elsewhere, it is true that the source is determinative of all which proceeds from it.  Inevitably, the various activities will be as healthy, as vibrant, and as alive as it is the source.  At present, this source, the individual society, is showing signs of an increasing sickness, and increasing apathy, and increasing deadening.

There may be exceptions.  There may be societies which are not very dangerously diseased. They are urged to examine the symptoms of their ailing comrades so as to better revive them and to avoid a similar condition.  Even then, the germ may be present.  For the sorry state of young people’s society is due to the attitude of the individual young person.  Just as the whole structure of Federation, Beacon Lights, and conventions depends upon the individual society, so the society depends upon the individual member:  YOU.

Society is lowly esteemed.  It has come to be regarded as a sort of grown-up Sunday School, and a Sunday School for “grown-up youths” is not highly regarded.  One goes because his parents force him, one becomes a part, an active part, in as much as the leader begs him, and one remains as short a time as a rather inactive conscience will allow.  Frank admission of dislike is becoming more common, although active hostility is not the characteristic trait of those who lowly esteem society.  The sure sign which heralds the crisis of young people’s society is lack of involvement on the part of the members.  It is not that society members are actively opposed to society; it is that society members are not active at all.  The lifeless attitude and action of the society member in regard to Bible discussion, after-recess programs, to society in general cannot be reflected by feebler efforts on the part of the Federation Board, Beacon Lights staff, and convention committees.

Our present situation should be seen as part of much broader problem.  The low ebb of interest on the part of the young people toward anything spiritual is a Protestant Reformed reflection of a 20th century movement.  Professor Homer Hoeksema commented on this pathetic movement in his Mass Meeting address and called it the “entertainment craze.”  The entertainment craze has roared head on into society life, shattering it to a million bits.  Has it shattered ours?  It has already demolished many societies in other churches, some not too far removed from us.  They still have a society, that is, the young people still meet.  But this society life has become a social whirl of roller skating parties, films, and athletic events with just a touch of “painless” Bible – teaching thrown in.  Such a solution is akin to pumping leukemic blood into a person in order to cure him of leukemia; It is absurd – and futile.

The cure which is to revitalize our societies must be one which is in harmony with the purpose of society.  Young people’s societies exist for the sake of young people who have become mature enough to realize that the whole of their life will be centered around the Bible.  Besides, these Bible centered young people in the course of their education have come to see that the teachings of their life’s standard must be discovered.  A child is not born with a knowledge of the Bible; he must investigate.  That opportunity is provided in society.

Any suggested cure must maintain that is, first of all, a duty of the young person to attend society, and, after becoming a member, a duty to become part.  There is no claim on your life which exceeds the demand that you be about your Father’s business.  Yet, it is probable that members have legitimate complaints to rise against the external form of society.  Society should not a stiff, stilted, forced thing.  Rather, it should be informal to a degree that a church service or catechism can never approximate.  The physical aspects should reveal this informality.  The meeting place should be free from tables and rows of seats.  Mutual investigation of the truth is enhanced when participants face each other.  At times, the leader should permit discussion between members directly.  Smoking may very well be allowed.  This, of course, although more important than usually though, is a rather superficial improvement.  In a reconstructed society, the brutally mistreated after recess program becomes a brilliant opportunity for young person to express to a sympathetic audience some pet peeve, some doctrinal or practical opinion at which his elders might laugh, some problem which puzzled him at school, or some research on ancient Church History.  For a moment, a young person can be creative, active and convincing.

Now, should the secondary benefits of society be disregarded?  For once a boy may ask (a rare occurrence) to take a girl out as a result of society discussion instead of a result of her cute face and figure.

Young People’s Society is in the realm of that which really counts.  Its purpose is lofty.  Perhaps, it does not achieve its purpose as well as possible because of stiffness and restraint.  If so, change the society, but do not change the purpose.  The entertainment craze will not slow down, one it has demolished your society.  The Church itself is next