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Concerning Memorials

During the past few years, we as Protestant Reformed people have come face to face with the idea of memorials on two occasions.  The first occurred approximately three years ago when it was announced in our church bulletins that an offering would be taken for a memorial library, a collection of books to be housed in our Theological School and to be used by our seminary students.

The second contact that we as young people have had with memorials is to be found in the minutes of the business meeting of the 1961 PRYP Convention (or see Beacon Lights, Vol. 21, p.9).  There you will discover that it was proposed to the convention that the recently established scholarship fund be named in memory of a late, beloved teacher.

The reader should clearly understand that the following remarks have no connection with the persons involved.  The ideas that follow concern themselves with memorials per se.

We have then these two exposures.  I believe that our young people have dealt with the problem very satisfactorily when the delegates to the convention decided that the scholarship committee should simply be called the Protestant Reformed Scholarship Fund Committee.  This was a very proper decision.  It is a decision which has Scriptural basis.  And it is a decision which prompted one parent to remark, “I was delighted to hear that our young people did this.”

However, one finds no such delight when he reckons with the history of the memorial library.  It is because this problem remains in our churches that I write these lines in response to a request for an article of general interest to our readers.  I propose to do the following:  make it clear that memorials honoring men have no place in our churches, and secondly, arouse into action enough of our people to cause this attempt to introduce memorials to fail also.

Holy Scripture is abundantly clear on memorials in two respects.  First, negatively, nowhere in the entire Bible do we find an occasion in which God’s people decide to honor a man.  And certainly they had plenty occasion for it, had this been proper.  Think of the work unto which Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David were called.  To these could be added many more from both the Old and New Testaments.  How important the labors of these men must have seemed to the church at that time!  Let me give two, one from each dispensation.  In I Samuel 7 we read of an Israelite victory over the Philistines, after that Samuel had appealed unto the Lord on the behalf of the people.  Notice then verse twelve: “Then Samuel took a atone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”  Here we have a memorial, yea; but unto God!  Then as now, God doeth all things and is worthy of all honor.  And in Acts 14:11-18 we have Paul’s refusal to have any part of the honor which was due to God for the works He had done through His missionary servants.

Thus, there is no Scriptural precedence for man-honoring memorials.  Let us look further to see what Scripture has to say concerning this in a more direct or positive respect.

The beautiful Psalms describe to us clearly what man is by nature.  For example, Psalm 144:4, “Man is like to vanity:  his days are like a shadow that passed away.”  Again in Psalm 103L15-16, “As for man, his days are as grass:  as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.  For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”  So the Bible teaches here and elsewhere that man is something which is soon forgotten.  That is the natural way for man to go.  Why then do we try to change this by attempting to make man long remembered?

Finally, how can memorials of this type be harmonized with our Protestant Reformed doctrine, which is the only Reformed doctrine, and which is, in the final analysis, the correct interpretation of the same Scripture quoted above?  If we were to characterize our Truth with a very short statement, I believe the following would suffice:  God is all; man is nothing.  This is also what our seminary teaches.  Why then should our students study in a library which contradicts this by its very name?