MHH: This matter of law?
BW: The law. I was in Kalamazoo at that time. There was a Tom Koning there who had gone to Calvin Seminary and then became Reformed Baptist and started a Reformed Baptist church in Kalamazoo. I had lunch with him a couple of times. He said, “You know, I have a whole bunch of sermons by Hoeksema.” I said, “Sermons by Hoeksema?” “Yes,” he says, “I got a whole pile of them.” I said, “I’d like to see them.” He came and he had one of these books of sermons. All hand written. Beautiful handwriting. I said, “Where did you get that?” “Oh,” he said, “we got them when we were in seminary.” I took them home and went through them, and man oh man, this is terrific. So I said to him, “If you ever want to get rid of them, talk to me first.”
About a year later, he said, “You know, it’s good material, but I never use it. For a hundred dollars, I’ll give you the whole pile.” So he gave me that whole stack. There were over 500 hundred sermons there. I started typing them out in the computer. I thought this was terrific. Every time I made a sermon, let’s see if I can find a similar one there and build on that. Then I came across a series on Romans.
Now, to get into that question of where he got them. These sermons were recorded by Martin Swart; we all know him in First Church. He always sat up in the balcony with a notebook and took notes on Hoeksema’s sermons. He had devised his own form of shorthand. Beginning in the late 1920s all the way to the mid-forties, he was taking down these sermons. From what the Swarts say, he would go home, and as soon as he got home, he’d write them all out in pencil. Then during the following week, he would write them out with a dipped ink pen in this immaculate handwriting. You can read it just about as easily as you can read type. Everything is that distinct. When I hit this sermon on Romans, I thought, here is the lodestone of them all. So I started typing those out. When I got it through, I sent a copy to [Prof. David] Engelsma. He said, “Get those things published!” [The result was the book titled Righteous by Faith Alone]
This stuff is immensely valuable. I started using them in the Men’s Society right away. It’s the best society material I ever had. Every time I go through it, there are insights there, and there’s the masterful way in which he analyzes the text. To my mind, it ought to be the basic study material in the seminary. Dogmatics, exegesis, hermeneutics, homiletics—you have it all there.
This was basically the success of Hoeksema’s teaching in the seminary. You were taken into his way of preaching, his way of analyzing the text, and how he could lay it out. You get the feeling of how he could hold that congregation. Once there was a whole row of Calvin students [in First Church] trying to figure out how he could be preaching on that heavy doctrine and hold an audience like that. They didn’t care about the doctrine, but they wanted to find out how he could hold an audience the way he could (laughter).
To get back to this difference between a legal covenant and an organic covenant. In Lord’s Day 34 he goes into it. He says, “Now, we’re not under the law any more. The law cannot tell us what to do, the law cannot curse us. It tries to get control of us and you must say, ‘No,’ to it. But we’re not against the law. The law is our friend.”
He follows that through. He was always against putting people under law. His whole principle is that your life has to come out of the heart. You deal with the heart, and don’t try to tell people how they should live. If their heart is right, they know it’s wrong to kill, to commit adultery, to steal, to lie. You don’t have to tell them that. They know that. If you put them under law, you’re going to aggravate what they’re doing rather than resolve it. He says in one of those sermons, “The law tickles sin into action” (laughter). There’s none of this long examples and stories. He drives the point home. Then he leaves it. None of this long application-type of thing. The people have to understand the text. When you preach, you take your text and explain the text as it touches the heart. He says, “There are people who ask, “May we do this or may we do that? I say to them, of course you may. But do you want to be part of that world for which Christ didn’t pray?
Then there’s the story of how the Tabitha Society (the young ladies’ society) came to him and said, “Dominie, we would like to have a sermon on whether we may dance.” As the story goes, he said to them, “You want to dance? Then dance” (laughter). The point being not that he approved of dance, but if you want to, the battle’s lost. Then you might just as well do it.
MHH: When you graduated from the seminary, what happened next? Where did you go and will you talk about your experiences?
BW: When I felt called to I go into the ministry, I really always wanted to be a missionary. That was my goal. The only thing was, in the context of 1953, with all of these churches emptied out and splitting all over the place, there just was no opportunity for it. My first charge was in Creston, and it was on the verge of dying, because it was on the north side [of Grand Rapids] and most of the people who attended the church were living somewhere else. The only people left in the north side were single people and broken families.
Then I got the call to Edgerton. The first week we were there, they were having a court meeting. They had been to court to try to get their building back. They had lost their court case. They had appealed to the Supreme Court and hired a high-pressure lawyer. They had lost the case. I came there in 1960, just when DeWolf was going back [to the Christian Reformed Church]. They wanted to try to get a new case, so we went to the judge and asked him to give us a new case on the basis of new evidence. He turned us down. We had Ben VanderKooi, a Christian Reformed guy, as our lawyer. Good-hearted fellow. He simply worked with us, really not charging us anything; he would charge us only if he won the case. We lost the first time around, and now he was ready to go again. Finally Ben and I went to St. Paul to the Supreme Court of Minnesota and there was a judge on duty—one of the Supreme Court judges, a Lutheran man who was acquainted with the controversies in the Lutheran church. We explained to him that those people had gone back to the Christian Reformed Church and they were giving the building away to somebody else. So we convinced the court to hear us out. We were allowed a hearing at the supreme court. We had to get prepared, briefed, to go to the Supreme Court. At that time they were having a special synod meeting in Grand Rapids. Ben VanderKooi was a pilot, so we flew over to Grand Rapids to get a decision about synod supporting our case. They were busy on theirs and they wouldn’t give it to us, so we flew back with nothing. Then we had to prepare a brief, and Ben wasn’t getting it done. Finally we’re up against a deadline. We had to have it in a couple of weeks, so I had written one. I think it must have been 9:00 at night, I had to go down to Luverne to his office. I said, “Ben, here.” I laid out on the basic principle that according to law a church belongs to its original commitment. By leaving and going back to the Christian Reformed Church, they had rejected the original commitment.
The court gave the lawyers five minutes to give their cases. So Ben gets up there and says, “You know we often say that it’s a shame when churches go to law. But if we were in Russia today, we couldn’t have a case.” The judge says to him, “Now forget that. What are you here for?” (laughter). Ben broke out in a sweat. He stumbled through the five minutes. The other lawyer got up and presented his case, and they began to tear him apart on the basis of the brief that I had written. We came out of court, and Ben says to me, “If we win that case, I’m going to tell your consistory they have to give you a raise” (laughter).
Well, six months later, we got a decision that they allowed us a new case, and it was written in such a way we couldn’t lose it. We had bought three lots of property next to where their school is. We were going to build the church on new digs. We convinced Ben to take those three lots for his pay. It didn’t cost us a cent, other than those three lots. We got the church back and the parsonage and the whole business.
The Supreme Court system in Minnesota is a rather high quality one, and it was kind of interesting that we got them to change their prior decision.
MHH: That’s unusual, to say the least.
BW: Yes, that’s a long shot.
My real interest was always in building the churches. One of the things that I was convinced of right from the start was that if we were going to do mission work, it had to be simply on the basis of teaching our doctrine, because that was our strength.
I got the call, to Lynden [WA]. They were totally disheartened. They hadn’t had a minister in years. Nobody would take a call there. They were down to five or six families. We went out there a couple of times and looked it all over. I thought, boy, this is a prime opportunity to test the system.
During those years I had been sent down to Houston to see what was going there. Those people were interested in our doctrine. There were wild radicals when it came to politics, because they hated the Jews with a passion. I went to one church there where a guy was teaching out of the Greek New Testament. He had a massive audience. They had a whole recording room where people had these big seven-inch recorders to record his sermons, and they’d take them home and play them.
Then I got the call from Lynden, and I thought, here’s an opportunity to test the system. So when I got out to Lynden, the first thing I did was to begin to write a study sheet, called “Studies in Bible Doctrine.” My idea was to teach Reformed doctrine out of the Bible. You follow the confessions, but you don’t preach them. In fact, the first sermon of HH on the Heidelberg Catechism makes exactly this point: You don’t preach the Catechism, but you follow the Catechism and preach from scripture.
So I started writing these and, man, I had the crummiest mimeograph machine you could get (laughter). Maybe you don’t remember those mimeograph sheets…
MHH: I remember them very well.
BW: Oh, they were dirty outfits if you ever saw it. Terrible.
MHH: I used to work with them.
BW: Anyway, I started this, and I’d have a class during the week. So I sent these things out through the whole community. Got nothing back but a couple of letters: Don’t send me any more of this stuff. But I had built a mailing list—I don’t know where I got it all. That began to bring in response. So I would send it out and just say, we appreciate contributions to support this. Before long it became evident that this mailing list was growing. The amount of money that came in was sufficient to pay the bills, so it didn’t cost this little congregation anything.
Then I went to a motorized mimeograph machine, which was a big improvement, and an electric typewriter. But I figured something else has got to happen. There was a Dutch fellow there who had started a local radio station. I talked to him about the possibility of setting up an open-line telephone program in which I could explain our doctrine and take calls. He gave me an hour on Saturday night—I think it cost $12.00 for an hour. So every Saturday night I would go down there with my study sheets and build a discussion on that and take calls coming in. This grew quite well. Then we moved to a station closer to the border that covered all of Vancouver, and we would go down there on Saturday night. Then we came back to the Lynden station because they had built their bigger, more powerful station that covered Vancouver. Vancouver was an international city. You have all kinds of kooky people. You’d listen to them. The whole point is: get what they’re interested in, just let them talk, and then say, “What does the Bible say here?” You had to know your Bible pretty well. That was one thing I learned in seminary: I mastered all of my proof texts. I had them down cold. Then if I could get people who were interested, I would try to go out and see them personally. I would hold them to the end of the program if I could, and tell the operator who was taking care of the phone calls to try to find out who they were or keep them on the line. Then I would hold a Bible class wherever they were. One day a woman said, “Oh, you should have a church like that up in Canada.” She was from the Christian Reformed Church. “Oh,” I said, “You get a group together and we’ll do that.” She’d get together through the years. But I also started to go door-to-door. I would get the mail at 10:00 in the morning, and then I’d go out till noon. I seldom got past two or three doors.
Usually my opening was, “Do you listen to Christian radio? Do you listen to KLYN for a good station? I’ve got a program. Are you interested in the Christian religion?” That would build up into listening to what they thought and then dealing with it. Pretty soon I knew all the conservative people in the valley, and they were complaining, “Our own minister never comes out and sees us. You’re here all the time.” I got along with them very fine.
Then two things broke out. Some Christian Reformed minister had come into town and got a coffee shop for the young people. He’d played for them this “Jesus Christ, Super-Star.” So I put ads all around town: what about “Jesus Christ, Super-Star?” I think that night I must have had just about the whole town listening to the broadcast. I just let them talk. Some guy called up and said, “What is rock music?” Well, he says, “Rock music is the music that comes out of the jungle. It’s the African music.” That always struck home with me. I took other calls and they argued back with him. It was very evident there was a big division in that town.
At that time John Hofman was minister in one of the Christian Reformed churches. John Hofman had grown up in First Church. He was going to go to seminary because Hoeksema was right. When the split came, he stood up and told HH off out of the audience. He ended up going to Calvin, and he was minister there in a church in Lynden. I had my office down in the church basement. One day I heard somebody upstairs. I went up there and there was John Hofman, picking through the pamphlet rack. He had somebody who needed HH’s pamphlet on “Infant Baptism.” He got working with the Campus Crusade people. They came up with “Key-73.” They were going to save the world in one year with this Campus Crusade. They had those four spiritual laws. I was there in all the classes. I went and bought the books. They thought they had me on the hook.
After everybody went through these classes, they had the people go out on Saturday morning to witness. They went out everywhere. Some when up to Vancouver, and some went down to Bellingham, and groups went all over the place. Saturday afternoon, they had a final meeting, and these people had to give witness. This Christian Reformed minister said, “We stopped at this one house in Bellingham and the man was listening to the football game, so we had to wait till half-time” (laughter). But we witnessed to him and told him about these four spiritual laws.” One crazy story after another. Finally they said, “How many of you are filled with the Spirit?” A few hands go up. Then he said, “How many would like to be filled with the Spirit?” Everybody stands up but me. I just let them talk. At the end of the meeting, I said, “There’s a lot I could talk about here. But Wednesday night, in church, we’re going to have a meeting, and I will talk about witnessing in a Reformed way.” There were six Christian Reformed churches there, and that night I had that little church packed. That was a start. I said, “Next week we will continue.” A big part of them came the next week, and that kept up all through the spring, until the end of the season. From that time on, I had a lot of people coming in.
To me, the key to mission work is that you’ve got to start with simply teaching doctrine. When you go through the whole liturgy of a Protestant Reformed church and preach Protestant Reformed—it doesn’t get through to them. You’ve got to sit down and talk to them. That was always the heart of HH’s teaching—this dialectic approach. Get a question and answer that question. In fact, there is an interesting quote from one of his sermons on Luke 24 about the men on the road to Emmaus. He says how these men were walking down this road talking about what had happened in Jerusalem, and Jesus comes up and says, “What things?” Now, Jesus knew more about what happened in Jerusalem than any of them did. But he stops. HH said, “There is the most fundamental principle of education. Do listen to me. Whenever you’re talking to somebody, if they agree with you, or if they disagree with you, follow this advice: let them talk, because when you get them talking, with their opinion or with their question, then they are doubly interested in what you have to say about it.” If you just talk to them, they’re just listening. Your fundamental approach has to be to get the audience talking. This basic principle of getting your people involved is fundamentally important for proper education. Once people are convinced of your doctrine, then they can come and listen to a sermon and follow it through. But you’ve got to catch them with their questions at that time.
We were getting quite a few people attending church, and some of them joining. There were people coming in very regularly so that when we left Lynden, it was up to about 25 families, and it grew all the way to 65. When we left, I had a very good relationship with the whole town, even the people who disagreed with us, because I always treated them respectfully. I never openly put them down.
We had people coming in every once in a while from Canada, would listen to the radio program. One day we had a couple came in with two little kids. They were so persecuted because of their Christian faith. Every time this man had a job he would witness about it and tell people all about it. And they would fire him. They were finally down and out. They evidently just made themselves obnoxious wherever they went. I said to the little girl, “What’s your name?” “Repent from your sins.” I said, “I mean, what’s her name?” “Repent from your sins.” I said, “That’s the name you gave her?” “Yah, we had a hard time getting it on the birth certificate, but they finally did take it.” The little boy was sitting there and, swallowing, I said, “What’s his name?” “Or else you will perish,” they said (laughter).
Then I started getting letters from a guy. He was so in need of salvation. He was such a great sinner. If only I would come out and talk to him. So I went. He was living in a little trailer out near the bay. I went there and knocked on the door, and he got started talking. He started raving about you terrible people with your blood theology and on and on. He was just ranting and raving. He evidently knew about the religion, but all this terrible blood theology of ours was just a horrid thing. I got out of there as quickly as I could. Then I started getting letters from him. I answered some of the letters, but finally I just stopped answering them. Then I got a letter that said he was going to cause trouble in my church if I didn’t write him. He wrote a letter to the radio station threatening to blow up the towers for them. And he said that he had once threatened to kill President Ford and the FBI had come out to talk to him (laughter).
MHH: Wow! Strange people. Rumor has it that you were considerably influential in the formation of the Canadian [Protestant Reformed] churches. Is that so?
BW: That’s what I was getting to. I got side-tracked.
A Dutch couple from Edmonton came, and they wanted to see me the next morning. They said, “If we would have a church like [Lynden], we would have hundreds of people.” I said, “I don’t know if you’ll have hundreds of people, but if you can get a group together, I’ll fly up there and talk to them.” So they made arrangements for me to come, and I flew up there. They had a house jammed full of people, including their own minister. I just started talking. I said, “I come here because I’m concerned of the state of Reformed theology. Reformed theology is going by the way. People aren’t interested. They aren’t following it.” I talked about how important doctrine was, but I didn’t bring up anything controversial. The next night they had another group in another home. I said, “If you want me to come back in two weeks, I’ll come back.”
They would like to have that, so two weeks later I came up there again. Now it was a much smaller group. I said, “Let’s follow the basic principles of Reformed theology. What we’re concerned about is maintaining Reformed theology, so let’s talk about total depravity and go through the five points of Calvinism. I’ll come up two weeks from now and we’ll have another class.” So I kept on coming up every two weeks, and that brought us through about the end of the summer. They got a letter from their consistory: those meetings had to stop. I said, “It’s up to you. If you want to stop them, that’s your privilege. But if you want me to come back, I’ll come back.” They wanted me to come back.
Then I developed a different twist on the tapes. This was rather soon after cassette tapes came out. I would write a study sheet, and a week later I would make a tape. On that tape I would read some letters for fifteen minutes, and I would have a half-hour lecture. On the reverse side I’d put a sermon. I developed a little mailer of my own design so that I could send these out in the mail. I think they cost me 7¢ at the time. I’d put a little envelope in there that was just marked “contribution envelope.” That’s the only thing I would say about it. When I started working up in Edmonton, I would bring them a study sheet and a tape and say, “Now, take the study sheet and follow the tape. Then I’ll come back and discuss it.” I did that all through the winter and for two years. Right away there was one guy wanted to start a new church. This church is no good. Let’s start a church. “No,” I said, “you don’t know anything about our churches. That’s not the point. The point is, are we agreed on Reformed doctrine, and do you believe the doctrine? That’s the only thing I’m here for. You keep going to your church, you pay the budget, you be there at all services, and talk to the people about doctrine. If you want to invite them here, that’s fine too.” And they got other people in. An elder from one of the churches came there quite early, with the purpose of breaking this thing up. He was going to point out what was wrong with us. Well, I talked to him. I said, “What’s your problem? Let’s talk about it.” He was so interested he was there the next week. Pretty soon he was one of the most regular attendants. His wife didn’t want anything to do with it. but he was always at the meetings. Finally with their eight or ten kids they became part of the group there, and he’s still there today.
This thing kept on going about an even two years. Then my dad got cancer, and Mom was alone. I got permission from the consistory to come and stay with mother through Dad’s illness because there was nobody else around. Prof. Decker went out and filled the pulpit [in Lynden]. Before I left, I said [to the Edmonton group], “You can just wait till I come back and we’ll take up again, or we’ll have Prof. Decker come out and hold some meetings. Or, if you want, you can ask for a missionary to come. Or, if you want, there’s even the possibility of going to the Classis and asking them to organize you into a congregation.” When I got back there in July, they said that they’d been thinking it over and they would like to be organized.
When they asked to be organized, Classis organized them. And that’s how they started.
It [the meeting arrangement] was a real neat setup. I could leave Thursday morning, drive to the airport in Vancouver, fly to Edmonton. They would pick me up early afternoon, drive me out to where we were going to have supper and then go to the meeting. Early Friday morning they’d drive me back to the airport. I would land in Vancouver and by noon on Friday I’d be back. The cost ran around 70 bucks. I think the Mission Committee picked up the tab on less than half and the people up there paid for the rest of it. All told it cost the denomination only two or three thousand dollars.
MHH: That’s pretty amazing.
BW: But we’ve lost the feel for the importance of the value and the validity of our doctrine.
That comes straight from Bavinck. Although HH was an admirer of Kuyper as an organizer, his theology came from Bavinck.
I have an unpublished dissertation by Hoekema on Bavinck’s view of the centrality of the heart— that the heart is central, and it’s the heart that determines what a person thinks, what a person wills, what a person does. HH always said, “If people have a good relationship with God, you don’t have to tell them what to do. They know. You don’t have to convince people that it’s wrong to commit adultery. They all know it’s wrong.”
After your dad [H. C. Hoeksema] got sick in Tasmania and flew home, there was a question of what to do there. They asked me to go there for a year.
MHH: You were where at this time?
BW: In Kalamazoo. I was willing to do it. Then all of a sudden they canceled that and they wanted to send [Prof. Herman] Hanko there, and then synod decided Hanko had to stay in the school. So we went there in the fall of 1990, and we were there till April of 1991. At that point the question was whether their students could come to our seminary or not. The biggest part of the people were dead against it. So I went there and then I stayed, just like your dad did, in Burnie. But I got on the telephone, and I talked to all of the ministers.
MHH: In Tasmania?
BW: Oh, no, through the whole country. They had churches in different places on the mainland. I got around and visited everybody. Here again: talk things out. Get to be a friend of everybody. Finally they had the presbytery meeting and they voted that their students would come here. Ina Kleyn said to me just a few weeks ago, “I thought, why in the world is he on my phone all the time. It costs so much money.” “But,” she said, “if you hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have come.”
MHH: And we wouldn’t have two Kleyns in the ministry today. You filled the pulpit also while you were there?
BW: Yes, I filled the pulpit in Burnie. We had a wonderful time there. They are the most gracious hosts and hostesses you could get. They took you all over the place; you saw everything.
MHH: Rev. Woudenberg, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?
BW: It’s quite a different church. But it’s quite a different world too. The whole culture has changed completely. What you had when I was a child and particularly in the environment in which I lived, was a constant preoccupation with doctrine. The folks would have visitors over, and they would talk doctrine all night. That is gone almost completely. You just don’t get into conversations about that. Even among the ministers, they don’t talk doctrine. I think that this is crucially missing. [Rev.] C. Hanko said somewhat the same thing in 1995 when he wrote in the anniversary book that you just don’t have the doctrinal preaching we used to have. This is one of the reasons why I consider these sermons of HH so valuable. To me, that’s the most valuable part of my library. I wish like ever that somebody who has some influence would get those originals released, put in the archives, and put out digitally. But people have to realize the importance of it. The difficulty is that it’s not something that you just sit down and read through. You can read through Righteous by Faith Alone, and nod your head and say, “Yah, yah, yah, yah.” But there’s a profundity to it that you have to realize. That’s true of doctrine all the way through. You’ve got to search into it and to get into its depths. When this type of preoccupation disappears, then you’ve lost what was the strength of our denomination.
MHH: Why do you think that it was so strong in your youth and that it is no longer strong today?
BW: Through 1953, we drifted out of this focus on doctrine into a focus on church polity. Now it’s preoccupation with what Classis and Synod says or does.
They can say or do anything they want, but that doesn’t put it into the heart of the people. If it’s just what you are doing that preoccupies everybody, you’re back into works. You can say, theologically, we don’t believe in conditions, but if you get preoccupied about what things people have to do, you are preoccupied with the behavior of people. Look at the subjects they have for conference and lectures. Again and again, it’s on marriage, raising children—all these practical subjects. If you go back to the late 1940s, when the whole controversy was building, that was when it came to the top. We have to have more practical preaching. We’re sick of this doctrine. That was the leading objection against HH in those days. That was the real point. In a very subtle way DeWolf played into it. If you would hear his sermons today, they would be doctrinal sermons compared to what we have.
I think one of the things that has affected this is the preoccupation of the ministry with counseling. Some years ago now, Jay Adams started this matter on counseling, with his book Competent to Counsel. You may be familiar with it.
MHH: I am indeed.
BW: His starting proposition is, you’re competent. If you had a good seminary education, you are more competent to counsel than any psychiatrist. What’s his method? His method is simply get people in every week, talk to them, and give them a worksheet. For example, you may recall, this lady comes in. She’s depressed. You say to her, “How much ironing have you got that’s not done?” “Oh, I got piles of all over the place.” “Well, here’s your worksheet for this week. Go home and get your ironing done. They come back and you’ll feel better.” But every week it’s a work program. Do this, do that, which ends up with a kind of trickle-down theology. If you’re living right, it’ll somehow sink down into your heart, So that it goes into your heart rather than coming out of it.
I think our people expect ministers to be counselors. I wouldn’t say, don’t go to a counselor. But you have to recognize that that’s not the job of a minister. You preach the scriptures. And expository sermons are losing out—good, expository sermons. And we’ve got the perfect example of it there. That’s why [Hoeksema’s sermons] ought to be all typed out. Not all should be published. They vary in quality, they vary in their usefulness. But they are a real pattern of how it ought to be done. And it’s a different day and a different preoccupation. You have different problems today that they didn’t have in those days. It’s the difference between the poverty of the depression and the wealth that we’ve become accustomed to. Pretty hard to fight that. You’ve got the media, you have the television. There’s an interesting book going around: Young, Restless, Reformed. There are Reformed people going back to Reformed doctrine all across the country. They’re using rock music and they’re using rap music and all the stuff that makes a bad show. But they’re talking their doctrine. It’s a perfect opportunity for us to play into. In fact, the last chapter of the book is about the people around Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who are delving into Reformed doctrine, and we don’t even know it.
MHH: Do you feel that our churches are weaker than they were when you were young? Is that a correct inference for me to draw from some of your comments?
BW: If HH is correct, this is the food of life. The big problem we are dealing with is we have a lot of people who are not interested in doctrine, who don’t want doctrine, and who are saying these practical sermons are wonderful.
They’ve been led into that gradually. One of the advantages of 1953 was that a lot of them just left. So to a degree, it was purification. But a lot of them came out of a blind loyalty, and we carried along a lot of legalistic tendencies.
I had the call to be missionary. We didn’t have any place to work at the time, but they had to have a missionary. I said, “I’ll do that, but then I want to settle down in Grand Rapids and prepare material along the line of what I have been sending out.” This material started the work in Ghana and started the work in the Philippines, and worked very early with Paul Raj in India and with my contacts in Hungary—just teaching plain doctrine. I never, never bring up the Protestant Reformed Churches as Protestant Reformed Churches. That’s incidental. Sure, there’s a strength to our background. But our strength is completely in the theology that we received through Hoeksema, which represents the mainstream, the central, strongest stream of Dutch Reformed theology.
MHH: Are there any other issues that you would like to address or any other opinions that you would like to express concerning the churches?
BW: We’ve got some serious thinking we should do on our past. The Reformed Free Publishing Association was called “Free” because it was to be open to everybody. Here was to be a paper in which everybody would be free to express their opinion. We have a kind of cloak of silence that has spread through our churches. You don’t talk about anything we differ with. HH invited discussion on things he differed with. But somehow, if you have questions about something, then you’re not being loyal, and then you’re not really PR.
We have almost drifted into what Calvin called an “implicit faith.” You have faith in belonging to the right church. If you’re in there, you belong there. Just because someone joins the church, they can teach in the school. If they don’t belong to our church, they can’t teach in the school. Just because they’ve joined the church, does that make them competent to give good Reformed instruction? Iif our school system is so important to us, why aren’t we spending time discussing and studying what is the Reformed attitude or position in education, as far as what you teach? Are we capable even of discussion?
In our origin we maintained strongly the autonomy of the local congregation. Now we have had Classis and Synod override consistories in repeated cases that have really hurt the churches. We’ve closed down New Jersey. We’ve closed down Pella against the wishes of the people. Lynden was broken apart over against a vast majority of consistory members. That was not what we were built on. We were built on the idea that Classis and Synod are advisory bodies.
MHH: The advice of Classis and Synods seems to have a bit more teeth than it did…
BW: Oh, sure. It’s got strong teeth, to the point if you disagree, you’re out.
A lot of this is hidden. To have a closed session of Classis or Synod was almost impossible. If it was very personal, they might for a brief while. Now we have a lot of closed sessions. It’s not intended evilly, but it’s a lack of proper respect for what has gone before. And we have numerous times when Classis will make a decision, and sometimes within the same session, they make the opposite decision.
Anyway, I think that’s about it. We have a lot to do, and we’re not doing very well.
MHH: Thank you, Rev. Woudenberg, very much for the interview, for your time, for your comments and your views. This concludes this interview.