1973 AACS Niagara Conference
On Friday evening, August 3, 600 people began to eagerly gather at Niagara Christian College near Fort Erie for the 14th annual Ontario AACS conference. Hundreds of little children darted through the crowd lending cheer and happy confusion as farmers from Pennsylvania, ministers and teachers from Alberta and Connecticut, students from New York and British Columbia — persons of all ages and occupations — mingled in joyful reunions to spend 3 days together at lectures and bonfires, in worshiping and swimming .
The conference was a variety of impressions and activities but everything cohered around a central theme —he Lordship of Christ over all creation and our cultural response to Him. The lectures by Drs. Ken Piers and Evan Runner pointed out the devastating ways that secular men have distorted political, scientific and social development because so many Christians have neglected to do anything to carry out their faith commitment in these areas. But from the amount. of literature they bought on economics, education and politics, and from the concerned questions they asked, the conferees were very concerned about Christian action. Fred Tamminga’s presentation of poetry and mime made us aware of the powerful aesthetic redemptiveness taking place in these art forms. On Sunday, the worship service offered vital new ways to praise the Lord in song, Scripture, prayer and response. And perhaps most constructive and encouraging were the conversations everywhere about teachers working on curriculum reform in Christian schools, about the book exchange which will spread reformational literature throughout the Pittsburgh area, about Christian social action movements and a hundred other exciting activities.
This conference was seriously constructive, joyfully relaxing and showed a true consciousness of beating swords into ploughshares; spears into pruning hooks. Everywhere there were people wearing “shalom” imprinted T-shirts, a constant reminder of the healthy peace-bringing wholeness that God’s people should develop.
The Dragon Conquered — A Variety In Images
On Saturday night the expectant conferees gathered to see and hear Fred Tamminga grip us in poetry reading and mime. The background effects of Matt Cupido on the drums, expressive lighting, and slides of Matt’s artwork all combined to create an original dramatic art form. Fred made us laugh with a light poem about naming a child and led us through a poetic exploration of many experiences. We became terrifyingly absorbed in his Ballad of the Dragon, a selection just oozing evil imagery about the destroyer-dragon Satan who is conquered by an overpowering Light. Fred’s expressive mime movements were so graceful and exact that both children and adults could understand the body- pictures he was painting. His final presentation was a multi-media interpretation of the Apostle’ s Creed, an appropriate ending for a program which proclaimed a biblical view of life in an unusual aesthetically exciting manner.
A 5 Hour Lively Worship Service
Praising Him with cellos and cymbals and voices and violins, guitars, trumpets and dance, with clapping and tambourines – this was what the worship service was about. Choir and musicians led by Helen Breems put all their hearts into a variety of vocal and instrumental music. Taking the advice of Bert Polman who at last year’s Ontario conference delivered lectures on hymnody, Dr. H. Hart and a committee carefully chose a collection of songs which would show a more scriptural normativity than many traditional hymns, in their words and tunes. One powerful song which the choir sang was written by a musically inclined conferee, Joyce Recker from Toronto.
The Word of the Lord spoke for itself as Dr. Hart led us in reading portions of Deuteronomy. We learned of the blessing which God gives His people if they obey His commandments, but of the curses which fall upon them for disobedience. Some excerpts of Deuteronomy were chanted by the choir and other portions were read responsively by the congregation. The readings were punctuated by instrumental and vocal selections which reinforced and set the tone for the scriptural passages on the law, sin, God’s love and restoration.
Part two of the service was a fellowship meal shared by the congregation on the lawn of the conference grounds. As we broke bread, sang and prayed together we began to see how even our eating is a redeemed activity done in praise to the Lord. Finally the congregation gathered inside again for a response service of singing, dancing, prayer and testimony and encouragement. “The originality and spontaneity gave me a better understanding of what worship means”, was one conferee’s concluding remark.
Freeing The Factory Worker And The Student
Dr. Ken Piers, a chemistry professor from Calvin College, began with a shy smile and a low-keyed introduction, but delivered two eye-opening lectures with clarity and poignant humour, showing us the “Expressions of a Scientistic Faith” in North America.
His two lectures focussed on scientism as it expresses itself in our technology, our working conditions, and in our educational system. Dr. Piers defined scientism as a view over-emphasizing the place of science in life; as the view that through science, man can find truth and save himself. Faith confessions are always worked out in human culture, and one doesn’t have to hold a scientistic confession to be effected by it. So Christians, as well as humanists, have been molded by and feel the effects of scientism in their economic and educational conditions and must be aware of the spirits at work.
Those holding a scientistic confession attempt to predict and control the creation with absolute certainty, and this has been made possible with 20th century technology. The greatest area effected by this control is in industrial relations. The phenomena of mass production and assembly line work is a devastating expression of the scientistic faith. When human work is broken down into isolated components it is more predictable. But when the planning of the work is isolated from the labourers and restrictive specialization of factory work is practised, the workers’ commitment decreases and their tasks lose meaning. Workers lose the freedom to explore and unfold the creation in their jobs and their work becomes a curse.
Piers’ second lecture showed how education as well as work is made meaningless in the attempts to indoctrinate children with the scientific method — the creedal statement of the classroom. He explained how Auguste Compte in the nineteenth century theorized that since the scientific method could bring progress to the physical sciences, it could equally and as usefully be applied to the social sciences. The only meaningful subjects to pursue are ones in which persons can measure facts and predict results. An end result was that philosophy disappeared as a meaningful endeavour since it didn’t deal with fact. Philosophy was transformed into the positivistic science of logic. Further, the integrality of the creation was systematically eliminated in the university. The university curriculum shows the faith commitment of educators concerned with specialization and their inability to relate and integrate the sciences meaningfully. If university students find their education meaningless, children are equally effected. Assuming that theory orders life, educators teach children to be young scientists and to order all their experiences through use of the scientific method. By second grade children begin to see the creation as a number of abstract, unrelated systems to be defined only in terms of scientific truth. This molding deadens playful exploration and inhibits creativity.
Dr. Piers urged Christians to develop more Christian schools and most importantly, to help Christian educators to redefine curriculums so that there are ways of teaching science that do not limit and shackle, but direct our children to explore and develop the creation which is theirs in Christ. His lectures sparked immediate response and discussion, the desire to learn more and to begin work on solutions and alternative systems.
A Stream Of Christian-Consciousness
Dr. Runner’ s lectures are a “stream of Christian-consciousness” conferee’s apt description. And the forceful handwaving, fist-pounding professor of philosophy at Calvin College, stirred the audience with his rapid fire lecture style on “The Radical Christian Facing Today’s Political Malaise” and “Christian Political Action Now? In What Sense?” Dr. Runner would hop from politics to a note on education and then back , always showing new insights on what direction Christians should be taking — streams of thought and knowledge of scriptural consciousness.
In his first lecture, Dr. Runner presented two often-asked questions; “What should the role of the Christian politician be?” and “What is the distinctive Christian contribution to politics?” “These two questions,” Runner explained, “show a serious misunderstanding. They suggest that Christianity and politics are separate, and have to be brought together. But the truth is that politics show religious direction. Life is religion and every aspect of life reflects one’s religious direction and commitments. We must become aware that all of life is under Jesus Christ and should be radically driven by him.” There has been a gross misunderstanding of religion in that people identify the cultic side of life — the going-to-church side with religion instead of seeing man as a totally religious creature. In politics as in everything else, the Kingdom of God — not the state — is the all-encompassing authority of man’s life.
In his second lecture Dr. Runner showed how conservativism and progressivism have become the terrible political choices directing men and how these terms get away from religious roots. He traced the dilemma of this “terrible political choice” of liberal/conservative back to the Enlightenment when Christians withdrew themselves from cultural affairs and the concept of Reason as the path to Truth altered man’s religious commitments. The French Revolution had a radical effect in shaping future political categories, by dividing men into three categories; those in complete agreement with the Revolution’s principles (liberals) , those against the bloodshed but for the principles (“resigned believers”) and those opposing these concepts of progressivism but who are still fundamentally in agreement with the intelligible humanistically conceived Enlightenment world-order (conservatives). Conservativism failed to dig deeply into the faults of liberalism, but because it held on to an earlier European social order where Christianity had been more influential, Christians identified with conservatives and generally still do so. Dr. Runner encouraged us to learn what confessing Christ radically will mean politically and to come to terms with the present situation by forming an alternative Christian political consciousness.