Editor’s Note—Rev. Hanko now goes on to tell us of the “Gideon’s Band,” out of which arose the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches. This small group eventually became a new denomination called the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.
The Lord had brought about a reformation. Yet at the time it seemed so small, so insignificant. We were like a small Gideon’s band over against the large host that still opposed us.
True, there had been other leaders, ministers, who during the conflict had encouraged Rev. Hoeksema to stand firm and hold his ground. One minister preached for us on the Sunday evening before Rev. Hoeksema’s suspension. At the close of his sermon he urged us to continue to stand with our minister in defense of the truth, regardless of the consequences. But he did not. Another minister preached for us on a Sunday evening after Rev. Hoeksema was suspended from office, but later he confessed to his churches that he had erred in doing so.
In this connection it may be mentioned that Rev. Ophoff had been requested to meet with a few ministers of the CRC in the Grandville Avenue Church. He attended the meeting while his elder waited outside, nervously pacing the street. The meeting evidently lasted quite awhile. When Rev. Ophoff made his appearance the elder’s first question was: “Did you give in?” To which he received the response, “Of course not.” Later Rev. Ophoff revealed that a rather large congregation was offered him if he remained in the CRC. Later, one of the ministers mentioned above accepted a call to this congregation.
There were still others who had given every indication of breaking with the CRC, if Rev. Hoeksema was cast out. But one by one they dropped away. Was it because the movement was much smaller than they had anticipated?
People on both sides of the issue of common grace wrote many pamphlets. Some of them were written before Rev. Hoeksema’s deposition, and some were written after. Rev. Hoeksema wrote a brochure entitled “In Defense of Justice and Truth” to explain the recent controversy and his plans for the future. Various other booklets were written in defense of the Three Points and the errors of common grace and the well meant offer. Prof. Bavinck in the Netherlands wrote on “Common Grace.”1 Rev. H. J. Kuiper published a series of three sermons, which he had preached in defense of the Three Points.2 Prof. L. Berkhof published a brochure entitled “The Three Points in Every Detail.”3 Rev. Hoeksema answered this in a brochure called “The Triple Breach.” Rev. J. K. Van Baalen4 wrote accusing Hoeksema and Ophoff of being anabaptistic. To that the ministers responded with “Not Anabaptistic but Reformed.” Van Baalen also wrote “Novelties and Errors.” Prof. W. Heyns wrote a series in The Banner on the preaching of the gospel, which was also published in a pamphlet.5 Hoeksema and Ophoff answered this in a brochure called “The Gospel.” Prof. Heyns also wrote a series of articles on the covenant, which was answered by our pastor with “The Believers and Their Seed.”6
In regard to the brochure of Prof. Heyns on the gospel, it is interesting to note that, completely contrary to the Reformed view that God has one will in Christ, he stressed the idea of two wills in God, that God both wills to save only the elect and also wills to save all mankind. It is amazing to see how this error developed throughout the years in the CRC. At a later date Rev. R. B. Kuiper7 spoke on “The Balance that is Calvinism.” In this address he completely undermined the five points of Calvinism by trying to point out that true Calvinism teaches total depravity, but also the good that sinners do; unconditional election, but also that God wills to save all mankind; limited atonement, but also that Christ died for all mankind; irresistible grace, but also that grace is resistible.
And still later the synod of the CRC took the stand that God loves and wills to save all mankind.8 There are even voices heard in the church world today, that since Christ died for all men and by God’s common grace loves all men, there is a possibility that some, possibly many, are saved outside of the preaching of the gospel, that is, without faith in Jesus Christ. This is so very obviously contrary to all the teachings of Scripture in which it is stressed that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone (Gen. 15:6, John 3:16, 36, Acts 16:31, Eph. 2:8-9).
As to the threat of worldliness, of which even the synod had warned the churches, soon the CRC spoke of the labor unions as neutral societies and allowed their members to join. Later the theater was condoned and the liturgical dance introduced. Evolution is now taught in the seminary and in the churches. And more recently, women are ordained as ministers, elders and deacons in the churches. It would seem as if Prof. Janssen lived too soon. The liberal theology has taken over in the churches even as Rev. Hoeksema had predicted.
We may well ask, since he was no longer in the denomination, why was there continued antagonism against Rev. Hoeksema and why were attacks made upon him? To that must be answered:
First of all, we must remember that the theory of common grace as developed by Dr. Abraham Kuyper was used to defend the inclination in the church toward worldliness and “culture.” Besides that, there was a strong element in the church that preached a general, well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God. Both segments tenaciously clung to their error. Rev. Hoeksema continued openly to deny and oppose both.
In the second place, Rev. Hoeksema was a staunch defender of the truth, even appealing strongly to Scripture and the Confessions, which teach no semblance of a theory of common grace, much less a general, well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God. His opponents realized that their appeal to Scripture and the Confessions was very weak, while his arguments could not be denied. Soon they gave up trying to answer his arguments and practiced the silent treatment to try to prevent him from influencing the church constituency.
Even in the Netherlands his writings were reviewed, particularly the brochure entitled “A Power of God unto Salvation,” yet no one entered into his arguments or tried to refute them. Well aware of the decision of the CRC in 1924, they ignored the whole issue with a pompous wave of the hand.
In the third place, we know that Rev. Hoeksema had employed some very strong language in his defense of the truth. He had told the members of Classis Grand Rapids East that the Reformed truth had to be sought among them with a lantern. Twice he had become so aggrieved by their obvious efforts to cast him out that he had walked out of the assembly. He had also walked out of Synod when they refused to allow him to defend his own case after he had spoken once. Rightly or wrongly, the members had taken offense.
In the fourth place, his journalism was powerful and would surely influence those who seriously read his defense. In his writing, he plainly revealed his disgust with the flimsy arguments that were used by his opponents against him. They felt hurt, if not ashamed. They continued to refer to him as stubborn and self-willed. Often he was called a dictator, and it was commonly known that they referred to his church edifice later built at the corner of Fuller and Franklin Streets as “Pope Herman’s Cathedral.”
We can only conclude that Rev. Hoeksema was the man appointed and prepared of God for his time. God prepared a Luther who did not compromise like Melanchthon, a Calvin who was not a proud boaster like Servetus, and a Gomarus who was not a suave individual like Arminius. Surely reformers are human, and their strength is often their weakness as well. But their honest, undaunted spirit is guided by the Spirit of Jesus Christ in preserving the truth of the Scriptures.
Yet the history immediately after 1924 was not all strife and grief. There was also a bright side. Soon after the expulsion of Revs. Ophoff, Hoeksema and Danhof and their consistories from the CRC, a meeting was held by the three consistories in which it was decided to send a protest to the 1926 Synod of the CRC and in the meantime to adopt the name “Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.”
The congregation loved Rev. Hoeksema dearly. They saw an aspect of his character that did not always become evident in the public debate. In the Sunday services, in the catechisms and societies, they learned to know him as he was. In the public worship on Sunday, his prayers were a sincere pouring out of his soul to God. He never failed to emphasize the greatness, glory and blessedness of our God. Over against that, without fail, he made a humble confession of his and our sins. In his sermons he expounded the text thoroughly, was strongly doctrinal, yet presented the truth in such a clear and concise manner, that all were edified. His preaching was God-centered, antithetical, with the proper emphasis on predestination and on God’s providence.
He made it a practice to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism in a Dutch service in the morning. Later when supply was available, an English morning service was added, which he also took when the need demanded.
In the afternoon he preached a Dutch sermon for those who had difficulty understanding the English. This service was also well attended. For some time he expounded the prophecy of Isaiah in this service to the delight of his audience. Often he used such down-to-earth examples that smiles would appear on the faces of the audience, and sometimes a slight twitter passed through the congregation. On one occasion, when he had not conducted this service for some time, he came on the pulpit and expressed his joy at being able to preach for them once again. A spontaneous voice arose from the audience, “We also are glad.”
The evening service was in English and was also well attended. He preached on the history of the Old Testament from Genesis to the Judges, not only explaining the historical event but also interpreting it in the light of the whole of Scripture. He enjoyed preaching series. He carefully and thoroughly expounded such epistles as Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, James, I and II Peter and Revelation. In fact, he made a life-long study of the book of Revelation, the fruit of which now appears in the incomparable volume, Behold He Cometh.
The ministers were kept very busy. Rev. Ophoff remained a faithful and diligent laborer among us. He also worked hard as co-editor of The Standard Bearer. Besides the work in their congregations, writing articles and giving lectures, there were requests from various areas for more information and possible organization. Soon a congregation was organized in Byron Center, Roosevelt Park (this later became our Southwest Church) and Hudsonville, Michigan. In answer to a request from the Midwest, Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Danhof went to northwest Iowa and organized a congregation in Hull. Later Doon, Rock Valley and Sioux Center were added. A church was also organized in Waupun, Wisconsin.
It was to this fledgling denomination that God called me for my life’s work.
1 Prof. Bavinck was professor in the Free University of Amsterdam.
2 Rev. Kuiper was a minister in the CRC and editor of The Banner.
3 Prof. Berkhof was professor of Dogmatics in Calvin Seminary.
4 J. K. Van Baalen was minister in Munster CRC in Indiana. He was one of Hoeksema’s fiercest opponents and probably wrote the most against him.
5 William Heyns taught in Calvin College and Seminary. He popularized the conditional view of the covenant.
6 The pamphlets mentioned in this paragraph were originally written in Dutch. The author included the Dutch titles as well, but here I give only the English translations of the titles.
7 Rev. R. B. Kuiper was a minister in the CRC who later taught in and was president of Westminster Seminary. The speech referred to here was given at a Calvin College graduation exercise in 1952.
8 The CRC took this stand in the mid-60s when they dealt with the “Decker Case.” Harold Decker defended the proposition that the atonement of Christ was for all men with regard to sufficiency and intention, but not efficacy.