1971 AACS Delaware Conference
A total of 885 persons attended the Ontario Study Conference of the Association. They came from such places as Memphis, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia , New York, from all over Ontario, and from different parts of the Eastern U.S. to hear Hendrik Hart and James Olthuis, to re-greet old friends, to seek out Christian community and the meaning of Christ, to find out what’s happening there, gain a Biblical guidance for marital and family problems, to have a vacation, and to take a weekend off , and to hear Larry Norman. 494 adults registered for the total conference. 176 visited for one or more lectures or some other activities. There were 215 children. Altogether there were almost twice as many conferees as last year for this conference. Praise the Lord for bringing us all together for this tremendous time of sharing and learning.
The lectures by Hart and Olthuis were packed out, with students and others sitting all around and on the platform; even in the heat, the attentive participants stayed as long as to 3 hours to listen and then to question.
What the participants heard were two sets of carefully developed lectures — James Olthuis on ‘Towards a New Biblical Life Style: Marriage, Family and Friendship”, and Hendrik Hart on “Raising Signposts of Christ’s Kingdom” .
James Olthuis lectures
Olthuis’ lectures were an elaboration of ideas which are now to be incorporated into his upcoming book, Towards a New Biblical Life Style: Marriage, Family and Friendship. At the Conference he set forth an elaboration of his basic conviction that all human ethical relationships are matter of fidelity between people, or, as he likes to say, of troth. The structures for friendship, family and marriage are grounded in the Word of God through which Jesus Christ holds together the whole creation. For Olthuis, friendship is a unique combination of psychic congeniality and ethical fidelity; marriage is a ‘room’ of the creation which is founded on physical intercourse and is directed by ethical faithfulness by each partner for the other; the family is a sector of life which is based on blood ties with the begetting of children by two parents, and it is led by the ethical faithfulness of love for parents by children and vice/versa.
Although it is impossible to relate the richness and variety of these lectures, among the provocative insights were these: “Marriage is not a legal institution. It has a legal aspect to it, but that is all. Marriage licenses are something of rather recent times. Marriage licenses are simply the state’s legal recognition of the fact that two people have given themselves to each other in marriage.
Olthuis showed from history and contemporary accounts that friendship is in eclipse, and that it is often considered to be homosexuality today. “It is high time that Christians raise their voices in favour of friendship and rehabilitate it. It was no one less than Christ who said to His disciples, “I shall not call you servants any more I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have learnt from my Father.”
Hendrik Hart lectures
Dr. Hart gave two extemporaneous expositions of notes taken from a sixty page manuscript dealing with two main items; first, considering the criticisms which have been leveled against the reformational movement so that we may learn from them and also how to deal with them; secondly, developing a thoroughly documented, fresh development, of the position of our movement on the fundamentals of the faith.
The first criticism that Hart considered at length was the charge that we believe that our way is the only way. He sketched different ways that we have probably added to this criticism, including a tendency to stress those things which we disagree on with our fellow believers, and a habit of stressing all of our ideas and points with equal urgency and equal importance, leading to overkill. Hart recommends that we concentrate on avoiding all unnecessary controversy over inconsequential points of disagreement, and that we attempt to understand the traditions which we have confronted in a more patient and insightful way.
Moving on from this set of accusations, he spent much more time in his first lecture analyzing what he considers to be a far more serious charge, which, if true, would lead to our total dismissal as a Biblically founded and guided movement for radical renewal and reformation within the Body of Christ; it is the charge that “our message is more philosophical than Biblical.” Hart answered this criticism in three stages: first, to continue making this charge when the movement has gone to great pains to explain why this non-philosophical , religious conviction — elaborated in Scriptures, and developed by such church thinkers as Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, Massey and Stringfellow, not to mention several speakers at the Minneapolilis Congress on Evangelism — (“a whole Gospel for a whole man” is equivalent to “Life is religion”.) to continue making this charge is to misrepresent us and to create a false image of us through gossip. The charge should be dismissed.
A second stage of consideration finds the charge that there is no theological basis for the confession, “Life is religion”. Professor Hart asserted that not only are there ample Scriptural passages under-girding this conviction, but that they have been referred to in many, many publications. If critics mean that there has not been mature theological, scientific formulation of the Biblical givens, then there is certainly validity in their charges. But the lack of mature theologizing is now being remedied by serious work at the Institute by a number of theological students with James Olthuis and others.
A third stage of consideration has to come to grips with the understanding which many of our critics have of the content of Scripture and the meaning they give to the Christian religion. This is perhaps the crux of the whole problem, including the frequency with which the first two charges have been brought to the fore. Hart pointed out that pietism, or man-oriented Christianity, has a tendency to see the central meaning of the Good News not as the Scriptures do — “the Kingdom of God is at hand”, but pietists rather see it as: “Jesus came to save sinners like you and me. I am saved.” The absolute sovereignty of God is then not denied, but put in a wrong light. This is especially the case when the view of man is very individualistic and personalistic. This does not mean that the Scriptures are not personal and concerned with man’s individual responsibility. But it does mean that in this view the meaning of salvation becomes limited to the salvation of individual personalities, repenting from vices and turning to virtues…. The Gospel is seen as focusing mainly on virtues of personal conduct: honesty, integrity, kindness, etc. But not on the complex manners in which humans order their public, societal lives…. After one’ s conversion the affairs of our present lives somehow no longer seem to count except in a very personal context.”
“Now let me yet mention a few points on which our view is badly misunderstood and try to show that some of the truly Biblical devotion of the pietist is by no means excluded. We do indeed strongly believe in the need for salvation from sin through repentance and conversion of persons and we also find a strong personal relation to Christ of inestimable importance. But we take the Scriptures to say that this salvation and this relationship implies very much more than individual persons in their individual personalities. Indeed, it all begins in the heart, on that basic, personal level. And the fruits of faith will first be felt where a person is most in control of his life: his speech, his disposition, his personal relation to others, his personal relation to what the new life requires.
“But what, after all, is a person? He is unthinkable apart from his relation to others in a highly structured manner far exceeding his merely personal influence and control. What, concretely, would we have left of a 25-year-old Christian man, who is neither father nor child, teacher nor student, ordinary citizen nor government official, buyer nor seller of goods, reader nor writer , speaker nor hearer, traffic participant nor traffic cop? I imagine a person like that would either be in jail, or hospital or in an insane asylum. In short, he would be leading a frustrated existence. If not, all those other roles are part of his own life. And repentance, conversion and salvation, the Bible says, includes those. Thus, personal piety, personal faith and personal witness to us become meaningless when so frustrated. But that does not mean we do not find them very important in their proper context.
“And again, we are thoroughly convinced that a Christian task in this world can be summed up by the words evangelization, witness, spreading the Good News. But we take the Scriptures to mean that this Good News is about a new life in God’s Kingdom starting here and now as a witness to that Gospel. It must be proclaimed, yes! But then also in the context of the meaning of that new life. In short, when our stress is on structural and communal evangelism, that is not to be contrasted with personal and individual witness, but is to be seen as the Bible’s own context for them.”
Continuing on in this direction, Hart demonstrates that the pietists have given rise to their opposite, the social gospelers, those who over-stressed social witness in the world. Both are sides of a false dilemma, he asserted, and they cannot and should not be welded back together because both have become unbiblical and totally separate entities. • The solution to the problem for the reformational movement is to go back to the Scriptures and ask the Spirit to open them up to us afresh, giving us a totally integrated view of the Christian way of life.
In his second lecture Hart does precisely that — following the Biblical account from Genesis through Revelation, sketching the essence of covenantal religion through creation, fall, redemption and communion with the Holy Spirit. This section gives in embryo form a fresh understanding of God, man and the world.
The last section of the second lecture dwells on the signposts to God’ s Kingdom that we can and ought to raise in our day — in other words, how we ought to live as a covenant community, as Christ’s Body in this contemporary world. The spiritual battles in our culture, Hart asserts, are in the “supra-individual, very impersonal structures of society. They are the big salvation roadblocks, the redemption brakes, the shalom destroyers: If the covenant community understands its task in our age, if it is spiritually sensitive as to where the Spirit of God is contending with Satan, it must begin to see that our greatest calling for witness lives in the spiritual antagonism of Christ’s Body to the idols of our civilization. The spiritual battles today are fought in the political arena, in the techno-industrial marketplace and in the temples of learning. And it is in this context that we must become letters of the Spirit of God, signposts of the Kingdom of Heaven, witnesses to the Resurrection.”
Finally, Hart reiterated that he felt that the reformational movement “will have to call Christ’s people to a renewed confrontation with God’s Word and Spirit according to the Scriptures, in order that spiritual awareness of our task may come about” . In our day this can be best done through organizations, historically conditioned forms of cultural witness which become necessary when present structures become so powerful that God’s people cannot witness properly through them. Thus organizations are nothing but channels, and must be quickly discarded when they become establishmentistic and idolatrous. Counter-cultural organizations are not meant to protect believers, but to equip them to be witnesses through those structures.
“If the covenant community is to remain true to the Word of life and if it is to keep moving with the Spirit of life, i.e., if it is to be truly reforming, — radically Biblical, it will require new wine skins at short intervals . A reformational movement will be sensitive to the groaning of creation and will know that salvation is not really here, except in principle, except in signs here and there. None of our ways of covenantal living is a fully redeemed way.” (Romans 8:24 , 25)