1987 ICS niagara Conference
Perspective Report by Carol-Ann Veenkamp
In some cultures it is considered taboo to photograph someone because it's believed that by doing so one tampers with the spirit of that person. As I look through the reams of negatives I have from the 1987 niagara family Conference, I find that my camera has indeed captured something of the spirit of those who attended.
But by committing the Sunday morning worshippers or the workshop leaders or the volleyball players to film, my camera hasn't diminished the spirit of the conference participants. Rather, it has merely recorded many ways in which conferees expressed their innate spirituality — the central theme.
Most of those who attended will have received an extra helping of the Spirit over the holiday weekend as keynote speaker Rev. Derk Pierik defined spirituality and explored avenues of reception of the Spirit. The theme was probed further at both Sunday services by Rev. henry lunshof of Meadowvale Christian Reformed Church and Rev. john vissers, professor of theology at Ontario Theological Seminary, and at the various workshops.
Search for spirituality
A campus chaplain for the Christian Reformed Church at the University of Toronto, Pierik said the authors of a book, Understanding Cults and New Religions, noted that currently there is a frantic search for new spiritual ideas by Christians and others as the Christian systems are being eroded by modernity. The influx of world religions into our society and the enormous variety of views on spirituality, even among Reformed Christians, have challenged traditional ways of thinking.
In his keynote address, Pierik strove to define spirituality. Simply stated, he said spirituality is our response to God's calling us to be holy.
Being close to God means being holy or pure. In order to become pure, we must confess our sins because the forgiveness of sins is as important as our daily bread as Jesus indicates in the Lord's Prayer, Pierik pointed out.
The first step toward holiness is “knowing God,” he added. To know God means that “you must believe what the Bible says about God, about Jesus Christ, about you and that following Jesus is the sum total of your life,” he said.
Must come to God as child
Pierik told how he knew about God as a child; but that knowledge was clouded by a sense of fear. He compared that feeling to the fear he had for a grandfather whom he also loved. In his teens, Pierik rediscovered God, but feelings of anxiety and guilt held over. Gradually he realized that there could be no doubt that a God who would join us in our humanity, as God did in Jesus Christ, could love him.
He confessed that as a pastor he had tried to operate out of his own strength until in his late 30s he realized that it was all right to have weaknesses and to allow God to be a father to him.
“Only when we become as a child can we become one with God,” he stated.
Becoming a child of God isn't a patchwork process, but requires a radical change inside, Pierik said.
“If you are in Jesus Christ, you are a new creation.”
He cautioned that we must not ask what is included in spirituality, but rather, what could possibly be excluded from our lives. The Bible addresses aspects of our lives ranging from prayer to sexuality, from farming to international relations. Our spirituality also gives definition to every area of our lives. However, it is not always easy to translate spirituality to life, he said.
Human nature resists takeover
Since the fall human nature has not been inclined to God. It resists the radical takeover God requires, Pierik said. He compared our resistance to renting our entire house to God, but only letting him occupy a few rooms or areas of our lives such as church, tithing, or devotions.
Similarly, in his work as a chaplain at the university, Pierik said that while he is encouraged to counsel students and to say public prayers, he is not welcome to comment on educational matters. He is expected to restrict his Christianity to certain acceptable areas.
“Christianity,” he said, “has become a chaplaincy.”
This divided view or dualism is the result of the human sinful tendency to limit God so he won't make disturbing claims on our lives.
Discerning God's will
Tied into receiving spirituality is discerning God's will, which can be known through the Bible, creation, history, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, he said.
The closest way to talk with God is through reading and listening to the Scriptures, and taking to heart the summary of the Ten Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” he said.
The revelation of God is so clear in creation that it leaves humanity with no excuse for failing to acknowledge God as creator. Pierik compared the inter-connectedness of creation to the workings of a clock. He admitted that he loves to take a clock apart to see how it works. But he also knows that if he doesn't put it back together correctly, it won't work. Creation is the same, he said. You can't violate the laws of God's creation and expect things to work.
The Bible is a book of history written by people inspired by God. The Old Testament prophets spoke out of a deep sense of God's righteousness in the world.
“We need prophets who can read God's history,” Pierik declared. “If the Old Testament prophets could speak to us, they could take the Old Testament books and send them right back to us.”
Jesus Christ is the revelation of God Himself. He is God made flesh. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” Pierik said, quoting John 14:9.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God and of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is that which moves us. It is Christ embodied in us; we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, he explained.
It's important to listen to the “murmurings of your own soul and to stay attentive to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Listen also to the voice of Christ inside you,” Pierik counselled.
worship cultivates spirituality
“Worship should stir us, increase our heartbeat — it is a way to meet with God in a most intimate way.” Worship is something that arises from spending 72 hours together at a conference, singing through the night, coping with an all-day downpour, and grappling together with questions, he said, referring to the shared experience of those at the niagara campus.
In wrapping up his address, Pierik urged the 1,000 conferees to take some of what they had learned over the weekend back to their home congregations. “Now take it back and you may stir up things. The only people who do not disturb are dead people,” he concluded.