Memorials to Man

You are still wondering, aren’t you, about a situation that continues to exist in our churches?  We refer to the matter of condoning the establishment, or endeavors to establish, by whatever group or agency, memorials to man within the sphere of our churches.  Your wonder, evidently, does not stem from a lack of conviction concerning the matter; for you, as young people of our churches in Convention-1961, have emphatically demonstrated, as previously recalled, that your conviction is that such memorials are not to be instituted nor condoned.  We begin to share with you in wondering.

Rather, our wonder about this situation stems from the fact that we have noticed specific objections raised, pointed questions asked, (Beacon Lights, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 1-2), and a subsequent total lack of answers which would refute the objections, replies which would answer the questions.  That is the source of our wonder!

Yet, before we make any further comments, positive comments, on the subject itself, perhaps we ought to check with ourselves for a moment as to that wondering.  We should be careful and sure that we have a right to so wonder.  For instance, perhaps we feel that we have the right to hear the other side of our arguments (let them be what they may), which have been set forth in opposition to this matter, which matter subsequently continues unaltered.  Do we have the right, after having voiced opposition to the lack of Reformed principles inherent in this “project”, to expect an answer, a word of enlightenment and instruction, from those that promote it?  It seems that that is the usual, courteous and brotherly course.

Further, it also seems that when there are cogent grounds and support for a matter under attack, there accompanies the attack an immediate and open reply to that attack.  But we find no replies.  Our wonder grows, then, from the lack of reply and also leads us to speculate negatively upon the existence of suitable grounds for the proper support of this matter.

You, as a Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies, were faced with this problem a few years back, were given strength and courage to wrestle with it, and were rewarded with a solution which you feel to be in harmony with the Word of God.  We share that conviction with you.  Now, we hear, that some of our churches announce in their bulletins that collections will be taken toward the support of a cause, identical in nature.  Now, we see, from time to time, in some of the periodical literature of our churches, an encouragement of the very type of practice which we have thought un-Scriptural, without any evident regard for the pointed questions directed against it (most recently:  Standard Bearer Vol. 39, No. 8, p. 190).  This is extremely difficult for you to comprehend, understandably.  It is our hope that all of our leaders, who are interested and concerned with this question, will publicly express themselves on this matter, which, only a generation or so ago, was condemned for the vicious threat to our doctrines that it is.  And thus we hope that there may be, as before, a oneness of mind in this matter.

Our positive remarks on this matter of memorials to man, or named in honor of man, are extremely simple.  In addition to considering the texts mentioned in the first article cited above, our attention was forcibly directed, sometime ago, to the beautiful passage found in Joshua 4:5-7 and 19-24.  We heard certain aspects of that passage serve as the basis of a dedication speech for one of our own Protestant Reformed Christian schools.  We feel that the instruction of that passage should be our guide in the establishment of any memorial in our midst.

We notice then, first of all, that there we do have a memorial, a pitching at Gilgal of the stones taken from the bottom of the Jordan River, set up by, or rather at the command of, the servant of God, Joshua.  Thus we submit that to institute a memorial is in itself not wrong, since it was not subsequently forbidden or replaced by another practice.

Secondly, we notice that this memorial, set up by man, was not some abstraction, simply some intangible retrospection, but a very real, tangible thing.  Thus also, we have no objection to the proposal that a memorial library as such be set up, that is, a library that is intended to serve as a memorial, whether it be instituted in a home, a school, or a church, all of which being in the sphere of the Church.

Thirdly, we notice that there was no name attached to this memorial.  We simply do not read of such a thing.  How correspondingly appropriate it would have been, humanly speaking, to have called it “The Joshua Memorial”, or perhaps, in another sense, “The Moses Memorial”!  I repeat that there is no mention made here of man’s name at all, as being part of that memorial.

Fourthly, it must be noticed that the very nature of the structure and placement of that memorial caused it to be a memorial.  One did not have to say that it was a memorial.  With this proposed memorial we would have to do that.  No, its very presence there at Gilgal would prompt the following generations to ask, “What mean these stones?”, and then it has already functioned as a memorial, as they received answer to their question.  There is that difference.  Finding this proposed memorial library in a school, do you suppose that when the students go to it to read and study they will say, “What mean these books?”  If this proposed memorial, even though not named in the honor of man, would not in a certain manner serve to direct our thought to some past event, it quite automatically ceases to be a memorial.  We see that, don’t we?

Fifthly, we notice that the only name that was mentioned in honor, in connection with that memorial in Gilgal, was: “the Lord your God”!  Read the prescribed answer in verses 22-24 that God gave unto the children of Israel, which they were to render in the hearing of their children who would make inquiry concerning those stones:

  1. Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
  2. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up from before us, until we were gone over:
  3. That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty; that ye might fear the Lord your God forever.


Finally, we note in this passage the purpose of that memorial, given by the entire 24th verse.  Would the proposed memorial answer to that purpose?

In conclusion, we believe that memorials to man are wholly un-Scriptural.  We believe that, although there may be no specific directive against a memorial as such, the time of the value of memorials had long since passed.  We have the Written Record of the wondrous works of “the Lord our God” and have received the unction from the Holy One.  Let us be diligent therewith in study and godly conversation.  We believe that we should beware that we do not become engrossed in erecting “devices” with which to serve our God.  May that which is right in His holy sight prevail.