This address was given at the 25th Anniversary Mass Meeting of all Michigan Protestant Reformed Young People, held in Hudsonville, April 11, 1950.
Young people, I feel extremely out of place, speaking to you this evening. I do not speak to you tonight as an authority, but it is my sincere hope that what is said is not an authoritative dictational, popish presentation of certain facts which you MUST accept by virtue of the fact that they come from the lips of a supreme authority, but rather that it is a presentation of the sincere and most earnest convictions of us all! Still more disturbing to me, however, is the fact that I speak to you on the same evening in which you have been privileged to hear two most inspiring addresses by two men who, by the Grace of God, have such a clear insight into the truth of the Gospel, by two men whom God has used in such a striking and evident way to defend and maintain His church here on earth—the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff. It is, therefore, in all humility, with fear and trembling that I speak tonight on the subject “Why?”—“Why are you and why am I a member of the Protestant Reformed denomination?”
Superficially, there are many reasons one could propose for his membership in this particular denomination. One might be a member merely out of tradition. We are now removed from 1924 a sufficient distance that this reason for denominational membership is very real and possible from a historical standpoint. Of course, in the years immediately following 1924 purely traditional membership was not possible—that stands to reason, there was no tradition to follow. However, things are much different now. Those of us who have matured during these past 25 years might possibly join that church to which our fathers belonged. We are used to going to that church; we have our friends there. Furthermore, we have attended the Sunday School there since we were very little; we have gone to catechism classes there, beginning with the youngest class and each year graduating to the next higher class until finally we are face to face with the so-called pre-confession class, and it is but natural that we follow the ordinary course of history and that we also attend that class and finally make our public confession of faith in the midst of the congregation and thereby receive the blessings and obligations of a member in full communion. If this is the case, you realize that the individual is merely passive and is simply being pushed along by the rushing stream of traditionalism.
Or one might possibly become a member by virtue of the bonds of holy wedlock. After a reasonable amount of time has been spent in courtship, a young couple decide to become man and wife. (The young man and young woman, you understand, are members of different denominations). After many of the problems are solved, such as whether or not they should build immediately, whether or not she should work after the marriage, and a host of others, then they finally begin to discuss the question: To which denomination shall we belong. The different angles, as it were, are discussed and finally it is agreed upon who should have his or her denomination. Piously they contend that certainly for the peace and harmony of the home, one person must give up his or her church. Peace and harmony for the home apparently is the essential thing, and it makes little or no difference whether the church of God dwells in unity! The question whether or not, in view of their religious convictions, they should marry at all is not even considered. And so for some, possibly, we have as a reason for denominational membership, the fact that they married into it—much the same as one marries into another family.
Another possible reason for our membership in the Protestant Reformed denomination might be that we are following a man. Many of our parents were members of the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in 1924 when the Rev. Hoeksema was deposed. They undoubtedly loved their pastor, which in itself is certainly as it should be. However, it is possible that because of their admiration of their pastor they naturally “sided with him”. When they saw him ridiculed and condemned, they felt a personal hurt. And finally when he was deposed, they expressed their disapproval to the Classis, disapproval of the unfair classical treatment to the man, by going with their pastor. This fanatic love of the man, rather than love for the truth which this man, by the grace of God, has so courageously maintained in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, becomes the basis for their membership in the denomination in which he has such a prominent place. This reason, I realize, was possibly more prevalent in the years immediately following 1924. However, it is very well possible that through well intended, but certainly highly erroneous indoctrination, this same attitude may be given to us who are a generation removed.
We may not be a member of a church merely because our fathers were. Such a condition inevitably leads to dead orthodoxy which is an abomination to the Lord. When we live out of tradition, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of the Lord.
Neither should we marry into a denomination as we do into a certain family. For if one joins a denomination merely to maintain peace and harmony in a family, that person will never completely divorce himself from his first love and though there be peace and harmony in the family (which is, by the way, very doubtful when one joins another church on such flimsy grounds), there certainly will not be peace and harmony in the church. When because of a close contact between two persons of different denominations, one joins the denomination to which the other belongs, that person must not feel that he or she is giving up—that is giving up with a feeling of sorrow or regret—the church to which he or she formerly belonged, but on the contrary that person rejoices that God through this courtship has brought him or her to a purer light. There is here, you realize, a warning especially to our young women.
It seems from past history that usually in a case where young men and young women are of different denominations are united in marriage, the young woman is the one who forsakes her church. Woe! unto you, young ladies—you who leave at marriage—unless you can honestly say you have been brought to a purer light. But the warning comes also to the young men. Essentially the sin is just as great if you induce your wives to join the church of your choosing knowing that they cannot confess that truth from conviction.
Why are we members of the Protestant Reformed denomination? The only answer we can give to that question is that we believe that the Prot. Reformed truth is the purest manifestation of the Word on earth. Reflect on that for a moment—the Protestant Reformed denomination is the purest manifestation of the word on earth. What a tremendous statement!! It is the chief calling of the church of God to maintain the Word of God purely. It is not the calling of the church to save souls; it is not the calling of the church to provide entertainment for its young people; it is not the calling of the church to be a society which provided for its members financial benefits. The call of the church is to preach the Word. Throughout the ages the church has departed to a lesser or greater degree from this calling.
Each time—that His truth might be preserved—the Lord has raised up unto Himself men through whom He might call back His church, or more correctly through whom He might call out His church from the midst of the apostatizing church. This happened in 1924. 1924 was not a battle of personalities as some would have us believe—God was working then and God has given to us young people, that we might defend and preserve it, the purest manifestation of His word on earth. If the saints of the Old and New Testaments were living today, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the rest, they would be members of the Protestant Reformed denomination. Such should be our subjective convictions,—based upon an objective standard—the Word of God. As the Rev. Vos said, when the local congregation here in Hudsonville celebrated the 25th anniversary of our churches, “The Protestant Reformed denomination is the easiest denomination in which to preach; there is not a text that stands in our way from Genesis to Revelation—we’re standing on the Word of God. The almighty God has given unto us that purest manifestation of His truth which He has preserved throughout all the ages, so that in 1950 the Protestant Reformed denomination has the guardianship of that particular truth.”
Do you, dear friends, believe this? If not, and you are a member of the Protestant Reformed denomination, it is better that you leave—for even as it is the calling of the Church to maintain the truth, so it is the calling of the believer to affiliate with the church where the truth is maintained in its purest form, and if being a member of the Protestant Reformed denomination it is not your conviction that she is the purest church, then you have no business in her fellowship. But if that is your conviction KNOW that truth. Study that truth as if is developed and love it.
And loving that truth, let us defend it against all heresies repugnant thereto. And when doctrinal controversies arise in the church, let us study these controversies. Study them on the basis of the Word of God and our Reformed confessions and not take the attitude that after all these controversies are for our ministers and leaders to “fight out”. But having studied them, let us also join the struggle for the maintenance of the truth. Let us defend that truth in our every walk of life.
Let us maintain that truth as it goes out from Sabbath to Sabbath through the medium of the radio; let us maintain it by active membership in various societies—by supporting the efforts which your Federation Board makes to propagate, preserve and proclaim it by means of the “Beacon Lights”; mass meetings and singspirations. The auditoriums of our churches should be filled and overflowing when our young people gather to sing the praise of their Maker!
Finally, if it is your conviction that the Protestant Reformed denomination is the purest manifestation of the Word on earth, you will never, never leave her. Church membership is not something that can be lightly considered.
“Therefore, . . . . be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye knew that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. . .” that at the last day it might be said of us, as it was of the church at Philadelphia—“I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee, an open door and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”