1986 ICS Niagara Conference
Perspective report by Carol-Ann Veenkamp
Richard Mouw, Herman de Jong, Johanna Peetoom, Homer Samplonius, Mirth Vos. All these names and more are now part of a community of memory shared by those who attended the 28th annual ICS Niagara Family Conference August 1 through 4.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Richard Mouw, a professor of Christian philosophy and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Cal. described the conference as an important place to join into a “community of memory” — a phrase coined by U. S. sociologist Robert Bellah in his book Habits of the Heart.
According to Bellah, a community of memory is a place where we maintain the older ways of talking about citizen-ship and service to God. He suggests that in the present societal situation, the best places for these communities to thrive are churches and synagogues.
Contribute to memory
Since the Reformed worldview is not the natural way of speaking in our Canadian society, Mouw said we must contribute to our own community of memory by telling stories of the past, remembering the names of the saints, villains, heroes and heroines such as the pastors who served the immiyant families in Canada, and preserving the pedagogical memories of scholars like Dr. H. Evan Runner, Dr. Bernard Zylstra, and others.
“We are a people gathered here who have important memories to draw upon. We must be a people who recall the past, and be willing to listen to the ways our mothers and fathers struggled with change,” he said.
Described as a trailblazer
Introduced by Dr. George Vandervelde, ICS senior member in systematic theology, as a “trailblazer with a deer rootedness in the Scriptures,” Mouw said he was impressed with the “prophetic insight’ of the conference planning committee for choosing the theme “Changes and Choices” this year. A similar theme was featured in a recent New York Times article by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, entitled, “The Challenge of Change. “
In his article, Schlesinger describes the dizzying changes brought about by technology over the past 100 years and how it has effected both our inner lives and the institutions of society. He writes that in a swiftly changing society, children no longer look to the parents as models and authorities, but the parents to the children.
But Schlesinger also warns that we can’t ignore our history, for although technology has revolutionized our lives, memory, tradition, and myth continue to shape our responses to technology. He states we ought to think purposely about the past, Mouw said.
Change for Kuyper too
Drawing from Reformed history, Mouw said both Abraham Kuyper and Groen van Prinsterer dealt with the issue of change in their time. They began to see Scriptures as portraying the redemption drama of a God very much interested in change, in contrast to other contemporary Christians who adopted a cynical, apocalyptic view of progress. Kuyper and Groen recognized a God who created men and women with a mandate to be involved in the work of change, he said
Mouw speculated that had Eve peeled a branch to use as a hook to reach a fruit-laden branch above her head, she would have changed a raw created tree into an instrument of technology, and thereby begun to fill the earth with the instrumentality of human culture even before the fall.
However, Mouw pointed out that not all change is lawful, some is rebellious, and the formula for making distinctions can be misleading and seductive. While our Reformed tradition does offer us a framework for discernment, it is not an easy formula, and so we continue to disagree as to what the Lord is calling us to do, he said
Perspective on change
Also, while change for the sake of change is not always right, Mouw questioned whether we may totally ignore even the most radical challenges put on our agenda by the secularists.
“I’ve never understood why Christians think they can dismiss something because it comes out of the radical feminist movement. We ought to thank God that men and women today are insisting that we rethink older, destructive patterns where men weren’t allowed to be human beings and women weren’t allowed to develop their gifts by virtue of their creation and redemption.”
Mouw concluded his opening address by challenging the conferees to “seek discernment’ as people who remember the Reformed heritage and who are struggling together to gain the tools of discernment so that “we may be effective participants in the kind of change the Lord God is bringing to God’s creation.”
Journey with the Lamb
Two days later, Mouw wrapped up the weekend of workshops and fellowship with a speech entitled “Journeying With the Lamb in a Changing World” based on Revelation 14:4 and 5.
“It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless.”
Mouw said that if Christians march into new regions, following the Lamb, we wouldn’t be as confused by change.
“We should expect to run into new technology, new proposed patterns of worship, new ideas from ICS,” he said.
But he tempered his remarks by warning that the pilgrimage is not a “normless” one. There is a guidebook, the Bible, which illuminates the landmarks and pitfalls, and Rev. 14:4 very clearly points out that followers of the Lamb will exhibit certain characteristics.
Penetrate the world
Christians must follow the Lamb wherever He goes, penetrate the world, and travel into the uncharted territory of the “dark continents” of Canadian business, literature, art, and drama, convinced, as Kuyper was, that there isn’t one square inch of creation that Christ
But those of the Reformed tradition must also remember that the Lamb we follow is the Lamb of the whole Church, a much larger group than those represented at the conference, Mouw said, and urged the conferees to probe the communities of memory of other Followers.
He challenged everyone to leave the conference full of the confidence that empowers each one to go forth and proclaim that they have decided to follow Jesus no matter which way He leads.
“As we face changes, we have to move with the confidence that the Lamb is leading us through the changes,” he concluded.