I was musing the other day, as old (I can remember when we used to spend an evening looking at stereopic views through a stereoscope made of solid walnut, with extra large lens, which sold for 60 cents at Sears) men often do about the long-ago-past. Way back when I was a teenager in that memorable year labeled 1924. I was, I like to believe, a normal young man who was very interested in sand-lot baseball, horseshoe-pitching, swimming and other activities that were open to us, but we enjoyed the conversation around the supper table which would eventually swing around to the newest developments of “the case against Rev. H. Hoeksema and his consistory”.
That was an exciting time at my house. My father was elder in our church and with our neighbor on the north, we were keenly aware of the controversy which centered around the minister of the Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church of Grand Rapids. We were celery farmers in Byron Center, and though we did not go into town very often we did get to hear the news about a controversy regarding the theory of “Common Grace”, and my Dad followed it very closely. He and his neighbor managed to attend some of the Classis meetings, and even went to Kalamazoo Synod meetings in 1924 where that theory was elevated to a Confessional status.
The fact that our fathers took time out to travel to Grand Rapids and to Kalamazoo by car (thirty-five mile per hour top speed) was not too much of a hardship for our two families. We had three stalwart sons to keep out the weeds, and our neighbors had four energetic weeders. Soon the whole neighborhood was discussing the pros and cons, and very soon definite lines of demarcation were observed. One was either “for” or “against” the decision of Synod. In the eyes of some skeptics it was a “monstrous war about small points of doctrine”; others said it was an “earthquake of emotion about a gesture or a word”. True. But our family saw it as a matter of an inch, the inch which is everything when one is balancing. We agreed that the church could not swerve a hair-breadth on some things when she was to maintain an equilibrium. Dad saw clearly that a slight mistake in doctrine might cause a disastrous apostacy to develop. We were all agreed that “a sentence must be formulated properly” in the matter of a church’s confession.
Not only was such discussions heard around the supper tables, but also in the grocery store, the feed mill, the shoe-repair shop, and on the street corners. And, as usual, the doctrinal differences were sometimes lost sight of when personalities became involved. We young people felt sorry about that, but, you see, young people didn’t feel the pressure as did our parents. With their experience, they envisioned the dire consequences of deviating from the straight line of the Truth of Scripture. We were but babes-in-the-woods in that realm.
So we, too, placed our allegiance in the pastor of the Eastern Ave. Church in Grand Rapids. We began attending the services in his church and paced the family in the car early every Sunday morning; attended the TWO morning services in succession with a scant half-hour recess. In the evening, we young people made the trip again to attend the 7:30 evening service. In that way, the folds could attend two services a day, aw was their wont, and we did them one better. Probably you have already guessed it, we attended the Dutch service each morning, which was the early one. But we were able to understand our father’s mother tongue for we had our first few years of catechism in that foreign language. I can well remember the first question and answer in the Beginners Book: “Wie was de eerste mensch?” translated, “Who was the first man”. And the answer needs no translations: “Adam”. Now you see where my musing led me to 1910.
The upshot of the matter was that I drove tot eh Eastern Ave. Church every Wednesday evening to attend a pre-confession class taught by Rev. H. Hoeksema, and was in that group that made public confession the last Sunday we were to occupy that building. The same week we held Christmas services in the Franklin Community House across the street from our new church’s location (then yet unknown). How vivid is my memory of one question asked by Rev. H. H., before the consistory, of one of the class: “Who teach that God wants everybody to be saved?” The answer given (which raised a hearty laugh amongst the consistory members) was, “The Christian Reformed Church”. You will have to admit that (though he was making what he thought was a safe guess) the lad was prophetically correct!
But why am I writing about the old-old history? Because in your Convention you will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our church, which all began in 1924. That was such a memorable time in my life, and I hope that your convention celebration will be a memorable time in your life so that you will be able to write all about it to your grandchildren when they celebrate the Centennial Year, if the world lasts that long. I sincerely hope that your celebration may be upon the goodness of our Covenant God who has so lovingly led us as a denomination of churches to be able to show the Three Marks of the True Church in the midst of an every-developing apostate church. Let me close my letter with Paul’s advice to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”