God’s faithfulness shows itself to the church in so many ways and it seems at differing degrees throughout history. The older members can testify to the battles that they have had to fight in their days. The younger members do well to listen for their own spiritual well-being. What follows is the recollection of such a battle story as told to me by father, Henry John Holstege. The year 2000 marks the 75th anniversary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, but it also marks the 75th anniversary of the Holstege family having its membership there. God in his grace chose to reveal to Lambert Holstege, my grandfather, the truth of sovereign grace over against the error of God’s grace being something simply common and mundane. The occasion for this piece of writing is that my Aunt Florence asked me to recall in writing what I remember being told by my father concerning the facts and events that led up to the Holstege family’s joining the denomination of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Aunt Florence Haveman (Mrs. Marvin Haveman, nee Holstege) was born on May 29, 1922 and therefore was only two years old when the events of 1924 happened. Although I, Leonard Holstege, was not yet born, my father Henry Holstege had gone through the struggle. Many times he talked about the events with his children. In fact he talked about it so much that I often felt as if I had personally gone through the history of 1924. It seems that my father, being so much older than his little sister, was closer to his children than to his sister (at least with respect to conversing about the so-called common grace struggle of 1924). Therefore Aunt Florence asked me to write this piece so that she could have a better understanding of her own family history. Before proceeding, I must comment how amazing it is that my aunt and others see that the important thing concerning her family history is how we have become members of the PRC, rather than being related to someone famous or very wealthy. Aunt Florence has it correct. Our importance lies in the fact that we are fellow soldiers in the church militant.
So Aunt Florence, here it goes. In the period around the years 1920—1924, your father and my grandfather lived near the small little village of Beaverdam, MI. He and his wife Elizabeth (nee VanderMeulen) lived on New Holland Street, just a wee bit west of 56th Avenue. This was in the Hudsonville Post Office district. They were humble farm folk who took very seriously their calling as being part of God’s covenant. They had 15 children (many hands make light work on a farm) whom they instructed in the truth of God’s sovereign grace.
In the late teens and early twenties the Janssen controversy was going on at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. Professor Janssen was a professor at the seminary. For more information on Professor Janssen and the controversy, I refer you to Prof. Hanko’s master degree thesis (available from our seminary), The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches by Rev. Herman Hoeksema in the March 1, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer, and the first issue of the Calvin Theological Journal, 2000. Now although Beaverdam and Grand Rapids may have seemed to be universes apart, they were connected. Prof. Janssen had relatives in Beaverdam, namely, the Smits, who were rather influential in the church. And, they were neighbors to grandpa and his young family. Needless to say, much serious communication and argumentation was going on in the Holstege neighborhood at that time.
However, the Smits were not the only ones grandpa talked to. He often conversed with his father-in-law, Steven Vander Meulen, who lived nearby. Great Grandfather Vander Meulen, whose wife passed away in 1922, agreed wholeheartedly with grandpa that Rev. Hoeksema was correct with respect to the common grace issue. My father remembered that grandpa had asked great grandpa who was correct according to the scripture—Hoeksema or the synod of 1924.
Around the time of the famous Christian Reformed Synod of 1924, grandpa bought the book written by the Rev’s. Hoeksema and Danhof entitled Van Zonde en Genade (“Of Sin and Grace”). Grandpa had heard that this was an important book, and so it was. It was fairly well known throughout the area, and it became rather influential as well, so grandpa bought a copy. Sometime after the Synod of 1924 and before the January 13, 1925 meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West, it was time for the Beaverdam Christian Reformed Church consistory to conduct house visitation at the Holstege residence. Aunt Florence, you were about 2 ½ years old, do you remember it? The minister noticed this book on grandpa’s reading table. He then praised the book up and down, saying that he had read it and believed that Hoeksema and Danhof were correct as far as the truth was concerned. He said that it was a really good book and was happy to see that grandpa was reading it.
After the Synod of 1924, when Rev.’s Hoeksema, Danhof, and G. M. Ophoff refused to stop preaching, teaching, and writing against common grace, they were put out of their respective offices along with the majority of their consistories and members. Rev. Hoeksema was deposed by Classis Grand Rapids East in December of 1924. Rev’s Danhof and Ophoff were deposed by Classis Grand Rapids West at its January 1925 meeting. Shortly after Classis GR West had taken their action against the two ministers and their churches, the consistory of Beaverdam CRC sent a committee of elders to meet with Grandpa Holstege. They simply told him that if he insisted on taking and propagating the views of Rev. Hoeksema he would be barred from partaking of the Lord’s Supper at the next celebration of that sacrament.
A few days later Grandma Holstege had the evening meal prepared and ready to eat. But she did not know where “Pa” was, since he was always very prompt. Grandma said to my father, “Hank Jon, go find Pa, it’s time to eat”. My father looked high and low throughout the farm buildings. He finally found “Pa” in the hay mow on his hands and knees praying. That night at supper, grandpa announced to his family that they would be going to church in Grand Rapids. But in order to do this, he had to buy his first automobile and his son (my uncle) Steve had to get a driver’s license. He and his family became members of the church ministered by Rev. Hoeksema until the PRC of Hudsonville was organized.
Life around the farm and the neighborhood was anything but peaceful. The neighborhood kids were mean to my dad and his brothers and sisters during this time. They called them names and made fun of them for being kicked out of the church. Nevertheless, Grandpa had the peace of God with him. And that is all one needs in this life. This is how I remember my father explaining to me the history of my grandfather becoming Protestant Reformed. My children also remember hearing these stories from their Grandpa Holstege.
Thus it was for the Holsteges. But the story goes about the same for my mother’s side. Her father & mother Schut were told to stay away from the Lord’s Supper also for the same reason. I am sure that there are many others who have similar stories. God grant that we may continue to pass these stories from generation to generation.