Rev. Arie den Hartog (1)

I have probably lived in more places during my life time than most people. This has made my life exciting. Most of all, I am thankful to the Lord for His providence and the many things I have learned and experienced in all of these places. I was born in the Netherlands in a small town called Lexmond. My family immigrated to Canada when I was just one year old. Life in Holland was difficult at the time we immigrated, and it seemed there was great promise, adventure and opportunity to immigrate to Canada. We settled in Canada near Edmonton, Alberta. We lived among a very large Dutch immigrant community, so I learned the Dutch language well. By the time I went to first grade, I still did not know one word of English. We had some very hard times in Canada. Our family was large and we were quite poor. Part of the time, my family homesteaded. When we were still in Holland, all of this seemed very exciting and opportunistic. Reality was quite different. The weather was extremely cold and the homestead was far from civilization. There were no roads to our homestead and, of course, no running water or electricity. Finally, when we could endure it no longer, we moved to a farm near Edmonton where by father was employed by a farmer who was in a better financial situation than we were and managed to build up a large farm, at least for those times.

I am thankful that I was raised in a strong Reformed home. I never saw my father with any other book in his hands than a theology book. He did a lot of reading. Theology was often discussed in our home. Doctrinal issues being debated in the various Reformed denominations were often talked about in the home. We also learned practical Godliness, love for the truth and love for the true church of the Lord. My mother especially was the great influence for Godliness in the years of my childhood. As a result, the church was always central in our lives as a family. The second result of this was that I felt very early already, in my mid teens, that I was called to the ministry and began to pray that the Lord would guide me and enable me to sustain the rigors of study and preparation for the ministry.

I can remember how very real peer pressure was in my teens. How often we went along just to be accepted and to receive the approval of our peers. How often we said and did things just for this reason, sometimes also wrong things that we were later ashamed of. It takes a lot of spiritual courage to be different even from your peers in the church when this is necessary for the Lord’s sake. Often it was not considered very popular to be talking about wanting to be a minister later in life. Furthermore, there were high expectations that we did not always live up to. By the grace of God, we learned a lot as we grew up.

In 1964, we immigrated to the United States, to the state of Washington. I will not tell you the whole story of this. It all happened in part because of the ministers we talked to and friendships which were made by my father, with theologically inclined men who were one in the truth of God with him. Shortly after our immigration to the state of Washington, we came in contact with the Protestant Reformed Churches. This took place during the ministry of Rev. Bernard Woudenberg in Lynden, Washington. At the time, we were Christian Reformed.

Convinced of the call to the ministry, I left Washington in 1967 to study in Grand Rapids at Calvin College. Through the years I was at Calvin, I became more and more seriously troubled by the theological and even the philosophical and practical direction which the CRC was going in. Many people during these years had a wonderful influence in my life, for which I thank God. Rev. Woudenberg was one of these.

In 1970, I married my wonderful wife Sherry. We became acquainted with each other in the days when compulsory chapel attendance was still in affect at Calvin. We were assigned seats next to each other in the Fine Arts Auditorium where chapel was held. The Lord gave us love for each other which led to marriage the summer before our last year at Calvin. During the same year, I began to audit classes at the Theological School of the PRC which at the time was still meeting in the basement of First PRC on Fuller and Franklin. I attended the classes at the seminary which fit in to the schedule of classes at Calvin. During the third year of Calvin, I applied and was accepted in Calvin Seminary; but we were already in the Lord’s providence, through the influence of several people as well as our family in Washington, being more and more drawn to the PRC. We began worshipping in First PRC during the time of the ministry of Rev. Gise Van Baren. Through all these factors, and after many prayers, Sherry and I came to the conviction that we must leave the CRC and join the PRCA.

I spent three wonderful years studying at the Theological School of the PRCA. The Lord more and more convinced me of the call to the ministry and also led me into an ever deeper love and appreciation for the heritage of the Reformed Faith which the Lord has given to the PRC. Lots of details could be told about this. How thrilled we were in those days at the sound instruction and preparation for the ministry we were receiving at the seminary, and how encouraged we were also by the preaching we heard each Lord’s Day. We certainly enjoyed being in school with a number of other men preparing for the ministry and we had some great times together. I still have the nostalgic memories of classes in First Church basement. I can remember that in some classes I was the only student. You really had to be prepared for every class. There was no hope of someone else being called on to read their assignments. I could write a long story about the fears and rigors of practice preaching. Sometimes you would think you had a good sermon, but it would be torn to shreds by professors and students and humbly you would have to pick up the pieces and try to reconstruct another sermon. But when you had a passable sermon, at least you could preach it sometimes as many as ten times in all different congregations.

What a joy to sit at the feet of our professors and learn from them. I often imagined how different it would all have been had I studied at Calvin. What kind of minister of the Word would I then have become? The Lord gave us the opportunity to receive training in sound doctrine which would immensely benefit me during all the years of my ministry.

The summer after I graduated from Seminary, I was asked to help the new small congregation founded in New Jersey. When I sustained the synodical examination of the PRC and was declared a Candidate for the ministry, the congregation of Covenant PRC in New Jersey called me to be their first pastor.

Our first years in the ministry were wonderful, but there was also so much learning and developing to do as a minister. Many mistakes were made, and I struggled and labored with my own personal weaknesses while serving as a minister of the Word of God and pastor of the flock of God placed under our care. We did learn to love our first congregation very dearly.

 (to be continued in December)