Reformation of Our Social Contacts (5)
B Holwerda - published in Una Sancta Volume 53, Number 5, 17 December 2005
This is the translated title of a speech held by Prof. B. Holwerda at the League Day of the Reformed Girls' Bible Study Club in 1947. Original title: De Reformatie van onze 'omgang'.
Paul motivation was completely different. He was very concerned about the church's internal needs and about her calling with regard to discipline. And that is exactly why he continued to take the church's mandate very seriously, also to the outside. It is very remarkable that this same man who takes such a severe stand against the brothers who lead offensive lives, can at the same time be so forthcoming regarding the world. That is to say, not only regarding the decent people, but also concerning decadent and immoral figures. Says Paul: don't turn up your noses at them; you can have a relationship with them. Do not refuse their invitation to visit them or have a meal with them. We even have to look for, and maintain the contact with them. If not, 'you would need to go out of the world'.
Here it is again, that famous Bible-text, often quoted when dealing with today's awkward questions: 'we cannot go out of the world, can we?' But if you want to make use of those words, they should be taken literally. It does not mean that we can make light of our principles, or take things easy when dealing with the world. For remember, only a few verses earlier the apostle wrote: 'Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feastů in sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8)'. We cannot lead a double life or halt between two opinions. Our Christianity should not be a superficial show, a coat that is taken off as soon as we find ourselves in different com-pany. It has to be absolute earnestness because it is all connected to Christ's death on the cross. That is why we are to take church life so serious, also in matters of discipline. Do you really think that Paul would add, as an afterthought: it doesn't matter what you do in the world? There you can denounce your fundamental principles? On the contrary. He persists in retaining the high standards. Because of Christ's cross, the relationship with people outside the church demands a very precise attitude. And Paul explains his meaning further by writing: 'For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? But those who are outside, God judges!' (vss 12, 13)
Relationship with godless persons in the church? No, for God gave you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. And when He gives the command to exclude, be obedient and take it seriously; do not hinder Him.
Relationship with godless people in the world? Yes, for if you refuse that contact, you have to leave the world. And thereby you would be judging the world and pronouncing sentence upon them, condemning them to hell. Such a sentence you may and must pronounce within the church, for there God gave you the command and power. However, He did not give this legitimate power with regard to the world. That judgment belongs to God only, and not until the last day will believers also be invol-ved in that judging (1 Corinthians 6:2). Today He allows those godless people to be our neighbours; He does not yet execute His judgment. Hence we are not allowed to do that either. Therefore, do not sever every relationship we have in the world, do not withdraw from today's society, for by doing that we pronounce a sentence, a verdict, where our God, in His mercy, still delays it.
So it is quite contrary to what we always make of it. For when we walk on the edge of wordly amusement, we are quick to state that the Bible tells us that we cannot go out of the world. With those words we pacify our conscience. But we make sure that we get our portion of the fun, or we might miss out on too much. However, Paul says: do not distance yourself, for then the world misses out!
Not go out of the world? Oh no, that does not give us a passport to grab all that the world offers, to enjoy everything our fancy takes us, fearing that, otherwise, we might miss out on so much. It is just the oppo-site. Withdrawal from the world means that the world misses out on everything. 1 Corinthians 5 is not a licence to accept and copy a wordly style, for our 'feast rules' dictate: be pure and true. The text is a mandate to approach the world. God has not con-demned them yet; they are still living in the time of grace. Be careful not to abandon them before that time. By all means, exercise discipline in the church and be positive about that, remembering Christ's words: 'what-ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Matthew 18:18)'. Do not hinder God with this command by being affable. However, do not separate yourself from the world, and do not withdraw yourself.
Is this double-sided morality? Being strict in church and lenient towards the world? Not at all, for both are exactly the same. Discipline in church should be so radi-cal that contact is no longer possible, so that the sinner may be saved. No discipline towards the world, but association with them, so that the world may be saved. We should always seek to save by living our personal lives in a pure and unmixed manner, but we ought to keep in mind where we are: in the church or in the world. Connections with the world? Yes, provided that we are always aware of the fact that we are missionaries who are seeking to save those whom God wants to deliver from the power of sin. If you visit them or go out together every now and then, that is okay as long as we do not forget that we are on God's 'business trip' and not on a mere 'pleasure cruise'. Because we are always in the service of Him who saves, we should not damage the disciplinary actions of the church by an easygoing attitude. For the same reason we do not refuse to have contacts in the world, as long as Christ gives us His mandate.
The ABC of it all is: we belong to Christ, and this joy will turn our lives into a celebration of pureness and truth. If we let go of that aspect, it is meaningless to even think about questions concerning relaxation, for you would not be able to get an answer. A second important point is: believe the church, uphold her testimo-nials, and keep her discipline pure. Whoever does not have great interest in issues concerning confession and discipline, cannot say a sensible word about cinemas, etc. Thirdly, do not abandon the world, be moved with mercy for them, and make contacts with them. Whoever has no heart for evangelisation, may get very excited about questions on culture, but lacks the ability to answer even one of them. He does not know his place and task on earth.
Young people who reform their relationships according to God's law, have indeed understood the saying: 'not of the world, and yet always in the world'. They have found their own life-style once and for all.