It would be profitable for Protestant Reformed young people if the Federation Board subjected the annual Convention to a thorough study. The lines along which the investigation might be carried out are these: 1) What is the purpose of conventions? 2) What ought to be included in and excluded from conventions so as to attain the purpose? 3) Concretely, how does this affect the present arrangement and how, if at all, can improvements be made? If the Board were to seriously discuss the matter, they could present, I feel, some pertinent proposals to the delegates.
The purpose of holding a convention centers around friendship. There are two specific aspects of this friendship, those who come together to establish and strengthen friendly ties are Protestant Reformed Christians and they are young people. The Convention program ought to be geared to these facts in form and in content. To the extent that this is done there can and will be meaningful praise to God.
Although not exclusive of, friendship, among Christians is and ought to be more than swimming together or playing ball together. The purpose of the convention is not exhausted on outing Wednesday. Rightfully, a large place has always been given to the three speeches, under the awareness that friendship is based on and rooted in the truth of the Word of God. Because we are co-confessors of the truth as maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches, we are friends indeed. This leads to the observation that the attitude of the young people toward the speeches is a healthy irreproachable one. They desire to be instructed and inspired, not merely amused or entertained. It is the response to this desire, the speeches themselves, that could bear closer scrutiny and, perhaps, some redirecting. Not, of course, because the speakers are intent on amusing but because the speeches indicate a lack of concentrated awareness, at times, that the audience is young people. Even on the evening of the Mass Meeting, when many older persons may be present, the audience is specifically, pointedly, youth. We request, not as if for a new thing altogether, for a special kind of speech. By all means the Word, but the Word directed to youth, youth united, youth exclusively, as circumstances permit only once a year. The special character of a convention speech does not consist in the speech’s being a forty-five-minute string of practical maxims, as if opposed to the doctrinal emphasis of a speech to adults. But the uniqueness must reside here: the whole of the speech, in whatever combination of doctrinal and practical content the speaker chooses to arrange it, is zeroed in upon the age group of fourteen to this side of twenty. Young people are quick to distinguish between a living address and a presentation of an idea or ideas to which they are expected to listen, or worse, to which they lend respectability by being in attendance. Subtle though the distinction may seem, a keen awareness of it by convention speakers is a requisite.
But the strongest rapport between speaker and audience will still fail the purpose of convention speeches if either party ignores that the audience is Protestant Reformed youth. The convention is no time for generalities. Everything that is said ought, with clarity, to be shown to be highly pertinent for us in our circumstances. More and more, we feel it to be true that no essential distinction holds between times of “special crisis” and times of “normality.” Quite concretely, our youth experience that it is normal to live in crisis and that crisis is normal. Men din into our ears with amazing constancy that we have no future, that we have no legitimate place in the Reformed sphere, and, in fact, that the handwriting is on our wall. Besides this local attack there rages a furious disavowal on every hand of everything we are taught to believe is true and good and beautiful. And his vision is ailing who cannot see the influence of all this on Christian youth. The tide of numbers and prestige rolls against us and if the breakers have not bowled us over, do not foster a false confidence, there are more to come. The last days are perilous times and, having drilled this unpleasant truth into youth’s consciousness, the inspirer-instructor must fit youth, not hoary and seasoned battlers, but impressionable, susceptible youth to continue in the things they have learned—today.
Some may protest (don’t we all, silently if not voluably?) that this is a gloomy and serious flag to fly at the gay occasion of a convention. But such an objector misunderstands the nature of happiness. An ostrich, that she may be happy, plunges her head into the sand when danger threatens and, happily, is devoured. None will achieve happiness that will not reckon with enemies and adverse realities in deepest, profoundest seriousness.
Suppose that the speakers and the convention-goers are duly impressed with this purpose of the convention – instruct and inspire Protestant Reformed young people with the Scripture so that they are happy in friendship with God and the Church, are these suggestions out of order? Dole out more time to group discussion that centers about the Word of God. Perhaps, the regular length of conventions is not sufficient and another day ought to be added. Perhaps, all that is called for is a different division of time among the activities. But what I have in mind is this. At a convention, the theme is, say, “Holding Fast the Truth.” The inspirational speaker sets the tone for the entire convention by addressing the audience, in an inspirational manner, on this entire topic. The following two speakers would deal with two specific subdivisions of this topic, e.g., “Intellectually” and “Morally” or “Of Creation” and “Of Redemption” or any number of divisions. The general topic, in the light of the speeches, would then be discussed in its different facets in seminar-type meetings led by capable young people or ministers. One group of ten or twelve young people would discuss our calling to hold fast the truth in the light of our shortage of seminary students, another group might discuss our relationships with those who, to a degree, hold down the truth, still another group might spend an hour on the subject of the effects of higher education on our calling to hold fast the truth. And topics could be multiplied.
Such an emphasis will not only more fittingly express the true character of conventions but will also achieve a closer, more intimate relationship between the young members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Nor will they, by the grace of God, fail to respond to the lofty challenges of Scripture, if only these challenges be directed to them in all their gravity and relevancy.