In Commemoration of the Twenty-Fifth Year of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America
At Thy command man fades and dies
And new-born generations rise;
A thousand years are passed away,
And all to Thee are but a day;
Yea, like the watches of the night,
With Thee the ages wing their flight -THE PSALTER
No issue such as this would be complete without special recognition of the devoted service rendered our churches by our friend and pastor, Reverend Herman Hoeksema. The Sonnet above was prepared expressly for publication in this Anniversary Issue and is a reproduction of Rev. Hoeksema’s own hand.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of our Protestant Reformed Churches we are pleased to present the story of our beginning and our development through these years as a Church of God.
Our denominational history is fully told in the book History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the first page of which is here photographed for you. The Standard Bearer also is an excellent source of historical data. The first Standard Bearer appeared in October, 1924. Rev. Ophoff and Rev. Hoeksema were both on that first editorial staff. It is interesting to note that in that first Standard Bearer, “God is God” appeared as the title of an article. Then as now it was our theme of truth.
The doors of the Eastern Ave., Church were closed to us just a day or two before Christmas. On Tuesday, December 22, 1925, hired deputies were stationed in the basement of that church to guard against an attempt to recapture the church by violence. No violence was planned, however, by the ejected congregation. The Lord provided them a temporary place of worship in the Community Hall of Franklin Park. “Hundreds of folding chairs were purchased and fetched from Ionia, Michigan; a platform and pulpit were quickly built in the Hall; and there the congregation held its first service after having been ejected, on Christmas morning, 1925.”
Our Sunday School program was also given in the Franklin Community Hall. Of course the little tots couldn’t figure it out but when they received their candy and orange as usual, they knew everything was all right.
For a time the congregation worshipped in the St. Cecelia Building which is located in the down-town district of Grand Rapids. Every Sunday the auditorium was crowded. Many stood through the entire service while others sat in window seats or on the platform. “Thus amid strife and trouble the new denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches was born. . . .”
However, to go back just a little, on the evening of January 29, 1925, the various consistories of the expelled churches, namely, Coopersville, Eastern Ave., Hope, and Kalamazoo, met in the basement of the Eastern Ave. Church to discuss the possibility of establishing some bond of union among themselves. It wasn’t their purpose at this meeting to organize into a new denomination, with a classis and synod. On the contrary it was only to seek a Temporary Union based on the common cause which they embraced. They had appealed to the synod, which was to convene in 1926, and it was their sincere desire that she would review the work which the classis had done and if possible show to the classis that she had erred in deposing these brethren. The synod of 1924 had declared the Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema “FUNDAMENTALLY REFORMED” yet they had also declared as reformed their theory of Common Grace. It was in the hope that the Synod of 1926 would clear up this inconsistency, that the abovenamed churches organized a Temporary Union. The very name which was chosen indicated their hope of uniting again with their Christian Reformed brethren if that would be at all possible in the light of the Word of God—The Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.
It was this organization of churches that planned our first annual Field Day on July 4, 1925, at Boynton Grove.
In 1926, after all hope of uniting again under the one ecclesiastical roof with our Mother Church had faded, the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches were organized on a permanent basis as the Protestant Reformed Churches. The Lord’s blessing rested on this newly organized denomination, and she enjoyed a steady growth. By 1936 the following churches were within her fold:
Fuller Ave. or First Church—1925
Hope — 1925
Doon — 1926
Hudsonville — 1926
Second — 1926
Sioux Center — 1926
South Holland — 1926
Hull — 1925-27
Kalamazoo — 1927
Oaklawn — 1927
Oskaloosa — 1928
Pella — 1928
Rock Valley — 1928
Holland — 1929
Creston — 1932
Redlands — 1932
Bellflower — 1935
Grand Haven — 1936
The Revs. R. Veldman, C. Hanko, L. Vermeer, B. Kok, J. De Jong, and A. Cammenga—is one of these men your pastor? If he is, did you know that your pastor was a member of the first graduating class of the Protestant Reformed Seminary
“The evening of the sixth of June was for our churches a joyous evening”—thus writes the Rev. Hoeksema in The Standard Bearer of June 15, 1929. And so it was, for on that evening six young men graduated from our theological school. The field was “white unto harvest” and now the Lord was providing laborers. The Revs. G. Vos and W. Verhil could now come back from the West where they had been laboring with a view to this day, to finish their studies at the Seminary.
The school from which this first class graduated in 1929 had opened its doors in June of 1925. The Revs. H. Danhof, G. M. Ophoff, and H. Hoeksema were appointed instructors. Instruction was given in the courses most necessary to prepare young men for the ministry of the Word: four languages—Dutch, English, Greek, and Hebrew; Old Testament and New Testament Exegesis; and Dogmatics and Homiletics. A very humble beginning, indeed! But God’s blessing rested upon this school. For here the Word of God was taught and expounded as in no other institution in the land—in the world!! Surely, “God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”
Our pastors also found time for a bit of relaxation now and then. Fishing seems to have been their favorite sport. “Van”, our ever faithful janitor at Eastern Ave., as well as at Fuller Church, was right in there with the “Dominees”. He attended a good many of our Young People’s Outings.
It was in February of 1937 that Rev. Bernard Kok was installed as the first Home Missionary of our churches.
Missionary endeavors began with work in the vicinity of Chicago and Highlands, Indiana, and later in Northern Michigan near Cadillac. It pleased the Lord to show us no positive fruits on these first efforts of our missionary but finding comfort and confidence in the fact that God always accomplishes His own good pleasure, Rev. Kok left these places to take up his labors in Edgerton, Minnesota. Rev. and Mrs. Kok and their two children lived in a house trailer as they travelled from place to place.
In September of 1937 he began his work at Edgerton, and there a congregation was organized in April of 1938. The first meeting was held in Runals Memorial Hall.
In July Rev. Kok and his family travelled to Manhattan, Montana, which was the next field opened by the Lord to our missionary endeavors. Here the first meeting was held in the old store you see pictured oil this page. In Manhattan also the Lord blessed the preaching of His Word unto the hearts of some, and kindled in their hearts a new love for the Reformed truth, so that in September of 1939 they organized into the Protestant Reformed Church of Manhattan.
From Manhattan, our missionary moved to Lynden, Washington and spent the months of June and July of 1940 investigating a possible field of labor there. Finding none, Rev. Kok moved to Zeeland, Michigan. Approximately nine months were spent in busy missionary activities in Zeeland and then once again our attention was drawn to the West and Reverend Kok and his family moved to Iowa. In November, 1941, Rev. Kok received and accepted the call from our congregation at Hudsonville.
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The ministry of the Word of God through the medium of radio represents a missionary endeavor in the Protestant Reformed churches. It is carried on at present, however, by individual churches rather than as a denominational function. The Truth, as only the Protestant Reformed Churches possess it, is heard over many thousands of square miles of America each Lord’s Day throughout the year under the auspices of the Reformed Truth Hour, the Sovereign Grace Hour, and the Reformed Witness Hour.
The Reformed Witness Hour originates from Grand Rapids, Michigan and is heard throughout Western Michigan over a local station. At present a Chicago outlet broadcasts the Reformed Witness Hour to another considerable portion of the lower Great Lakes area. This program—now in its eighth continuous year on the air—was first known as the Protestant Reformed Hour and made its initial broadcast in October 1941 under the sponsorship of the Young Men’s Society of Fuller Ave. Church. Since its inception the Reformed Witness Hour has distributed the weekly message in printed form to many interested listeners. A copy of this message appears on this page.
The Sovereign Grace Hour very similarly had its origination through the efforts of our western young people who managed its affairs for a considerable period of time. At present this program rests in the hands of a Radio Executive Committee representing the participating churches in the west. The Sovereign Grace Hour, which was first heard in 1942, also prints and distributes its weekly message.
The churches in Oaklawn and South Holland, IL., jointly sponsor the Reformed Truth Hour which is heard each Sunday evening from Hammond, Indiana.
Through the efforts of our Young People in South Holland and their energetic pastor, the Rev. L. Vermeer, our First Young People’s Convention was held in August, 1939, in South Holland, Illinois.
The speaker at this first Inspirational Mass Meeting was the Rev. G. Lubbers, who spoke on the theme, “The Days of our Youth”. At this First Convention eight societies were represented. Here our Federation was organized with Mr. Homer Kuiper as president, and it was decided to hold annual conventions. Here, too, the Beacon Lights Publication Committee was organized. The first issue of Beacon Lights appeared in January of 1941.
Our Second Convention was held in First Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1940. It was at this Convention that the precedent was set of having Rev. Hoeksema as our Inspirational Speaker at the Opening Mass Meeting. All the activities of the 1940 Convention were recorded in the October issue of the Standard Bearer of that year which was dedicated to our Young People’s Organization.
Our Third Convention met in Oaklawn, Illinois. It was at this time that we decided to change the format of Beacon Lights. The original size was too large, the young men said. They wanted this handy pocket size.
Another very important step in our development is the building of our own schools. From the very beginning some had visions of organizing our own schools, but it wasn’t until recent years that most of our people realized that having our own schools is “A Promise” they make to God, and therefore, an absolute necessity.
The first grade-school for Protestant Reformed education opened its doors in the Fall of 1934. This was at Redlands, California. After having classes in the church basement for several years, a little white, two-room school was built on a vacant lot next to the parsonage, and there all nine grades are taught by two teachers. About forty students are enrolled each year. The “California sun” makes it possible for Redlands’ children to play jump-rope all years round.
The Hope School Society was organized on March 4, 1946, and two weeks later a decision was taken to build. After much red-tape with C.P.A., State Board of Education, etc., construction was begun in the Spring of 1947, and in September of that same year, after much financial sacrifice and hard work by the men of Hope church, the school was opened. This also is a two-room school, with two teachers and approximately sixty-five pupils. A school bus brings these children from surrounding rural districts. Eight pupils graduated from the ninth grade in 1948 and in 1949 there were four graduates.
On April 15, 1937, a society for Protestant Reformed education was organized by churches of the Grand Rapids area. It was decided at that time to work for a high school, but in 1941 this High School disbanded and a society was organized with the purpose of beginning a grade school. In the year 1944 the building site on Adams Street was purchased and on the suggestion of our architect, much of the work of building was done by our own people. The school building has eight rooms and will accommodate three hundred pupils. Bus service is being arranged for those pupils who live too far away to walk to school.
When the Adams St. School opens in September there will be classes from the kindergarten through the ninth grade and the Board has been authorized to make plans to add one grade each year so that pupils may continue at this school through the twelfth grade.
A Teachers’ Club, under the capable leadership of Rev. Ophoff, has been meeting for the past five years in order to prepare prospective Prot. Ref. teachers.
The Free Christian School Society of Edgerton, Minnesota was organized during the pastorate of the late Rev. Wm. Verhil, about ten years ago. During the pastorate of Rev. Vos the society purchased three lots for a school site. In June 1948 the society decided to build. The original three lots were sold, and eight other lots bought, which will allow room for expansion. Here, too, much volunteer labor is being donated by members of the church, and very likely the entire building will be paid for when the doors open in September.
This school will be similar to that of Hope. It will be an eight-grade school. The prospective enrollment is 60 pupils. It is expected that all the school-going children in the Edgerton congregation will attend.
As our grade-schools are training our children in the Truths maintained by our churches, so also, our Theological School is training young men in these same Truths, preparing them to take their places as future ministers of the Word.
The Protestant Reformed Seminary which had such a lowly beginning in 1925 has expanded. The instructors now include the Revs H. Hoeksema, G. M. Ophoff, R. Veldman, J. Heys, and G. Vos. The Rev. H. C. Hoeksema also works diligently in the interest of the school, preparing notes from material sent to him, by means of a wire-recorder, from his father’s desk. We have at present three full-time students and four students who are attending classes both at Calvin and at our Seminary. In the very near future the school expects to receive some students from the Netherlands as well as some other brethren who, by the grace of God, have become very enthusiastic about the truth of the Word of God as He has entrusted it to our care.
Instead of the few courses with which we began, the school now has a full seminary course and also a pre-seminary course. As of July 14, 1948, the school has been recognized by the Michigan Department of Public Instruction, thus enabling the veterans of World War II to receive the benefits they are entitled to under the law.
In May, 1940, after fifteen years of existence, our churches met for the first time in synodical gathering. In the June, 1940 issue of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Hoeksema wrote: “We have good reason to rejoice, because we may look upon all that has thus far been accomplished as the work of God, as a sure token of His grace to usward. Only in the confidence that our churches are the work of God in Christ, that our privilege to institute a synod is the gift of His grace to us, can we really be glad. . .”
Another interesting development in our Church History was a conference held in 1944 between members of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the Synodical committee from our Churches. Dr. K. Schilder visited our country and our churches in October and November of 1947. A conference was held to discuss views held by the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands, and to compare them with the views held by our own churches. A spirit of harmony and brotherly fellowship prevailed at our meetings with Dr. Schilder and since his return to the Netherlands, our churches have exchanged Church papers and are now planning to carry on correspondence.
Rev. Walter Hofman and Rev. Edward Knott were installed as Home Missionaries in October, 1947, being called to this work by First Church. After working for some time in Byron Center, they left for Lynden, Washington. Rev. Knott left Lynden in February, 1949 to help in our vacant churches. A few weeks ago he accepted a call to our Kalamazoo Church.
Rev Hofman continued in Lynden until November 1949. Since that time he has been working with Rev. A. Cammenga in our Canadian Mission Field. Our Mission work in Canada has resulted in the organization of two churches, one at Hamilton and one at Chatham.
Our church in Hamilton was organized with eighteen families. Services are held in the Labor Temple, where Rev. H. Veldman preaches from Sunday to Sunday. The parsonage, the home of Rev. Veldman, is pictured here. An English speaking Young People’s Society, with eighteen members, has already applied for membership in our Young Peoples Federation.
Our congregation at Chatham was organized this past week with fifteen families. More families are expected to join in the near future. Other congregations are trying to help the missionaries buy a station wagon or bus in which distant families can be brought to and from church for service. Rev. Hofman is at present working in Chatham while Rev. Cammenga is working in and around Alberta. The families of both missionaries are living in Grand Rapids.
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We have tried to tell the story of the beginning and of the development of our churches—the story of growth in grace and knowledge; — a story of growth through grace and knowledge.