Interview with James Blankespoor (2)

MHH:  It is April 11, 2010.  I am at the residence of Mr. James Blankespoor in Lansing, Illinois.  When our last interview concluded, he was about to begin speaking concerning events in the late 1940s and the history that led up to the division of 1953.  And it’s at that point in this second interview that Mr. Blankespoor will take up his discourse.

MHH:  Now, Mr. Blankespoor, what can you tell me about events in the Protestant Reformed Churches in the 1940s, especially in the context of the division that occurred in 1953?

JB:  [JB reviews the history of John Vander Breggen before moving on].

Then we called John Blankespoor from Orange City (that was my cousin).  First sent a letter that he declined it.  But before the consistory got a chance to open the letter, he called them and said we’d better wait for the next letter.  And he took the call.  And he did a very good job.  He was at a church that was scattered to the point that nobody seemed to care anymore.  I remember that with the catechism class, Heinie Stellinga, who was very slouchy, would always come late.  And he lived right across the street.

About the end of the season, we had a short session and he [the minister] says, “Well, we will close.” But the door opened and there came Heinie.  “Oh, that’s all right, Heinie,” Blankespoor says, “You just sit down and we’ll close and go home together.”  John den Besten started to laugh and he couldn’t quit.  (Laughter)  He laughed all the way home.  He just couldn’t get over it.  Anyway, that was the condition we were in.  At least John did put the congregation back together from the social point of view, if you want to call it that, and we got to dig the basement underneath the church.  And he was pretty good on the pulpit, too.  I always did like John.  I still have no hatred for the man.

As time when on though, he started going off the deep end.  I told him I’d shake hands with him under protest.  So I worked with him, and he finally admitted I was right.  But, he said, “I’m not going to change.”  From then on I was on my guard.  But he already had contact with Schilder’s theology. I got some of the men in the church that had come to a men’s society to discuss this, because we were just totally different. Finally I said him in the society, “If you continue that way, John, the promise of God is not Yea and Amen in Christ.”

They still held John in high regard in Doon, but I was having trouble with him and he knew it. We did a lot of talking. Finally he took the call [details unknown].  He said to me, “What should I do with the call?”  “Well,” I said, “that’s not for me to decide either, but if you want to look at it from your point of view,I think you’d better go because you’re going to…what I meant to say was you’re going to be in trouble).”  (Laughter)  So he left.

He came back once about two years later, and he preached on that trouble with Rehoboam: “Back to your tents, O Israel.  We have no part in David.”  He made that the occasion.  He never mentioned that we had no part in David.  That’s finally then when Jake Van DenTop and others finally woke up.  But it took about two years after he was gone before they actually woke up to what was going on.  This was going on a long time already before Schilder came around.  .

Then we were without a minister for quite a while.

MHH:  This would have been in the late 1940s then?

JB:  Yeah.  About the time of Vander Breggen.  Then your Dad [H.C. Hoeksema] was asked to come and preach.

MHH:  I’m not familiar with that history, so you need to explain that.

JB:  Well, we were without a minister.  Doon was without a minister quite often.  Your Dad was helping his father [Herman Hoeksema] because he was getting to the point where he could hardly handle it.  I don’t know how long he was there.  Was it about two years?

MHH:  Well, he [HH] had had a stroke.

JB:  I know, but I mean that your Dad was helping in the seminary.

MHH:  My understanding is that he stayed over one extra year both to do some further study and to do some teaching.

JB:  Old John Kuiper was in the consistory.  He didn’t like Hoeksema to start with, which was kind of general anyway with a lot of people.  At any rate, he was at synod and the synod decided that it was not good that he was in the seminary.  So they put him out.  They weren’t going to give him the OK to stay there.

I remember John Kuiper was standing in the back of the shop[JB’s machine shop] and he was almost jumping around for glee.  He said, “Oh, boy.  That was the best thing that ever happened.  They put him out.”  I said, “Now what’s the reason for that?”  “Well, he’s too smart for his own good.”  He was real happy.

I don’t think it was over two weeks later and we had to have a minister, or at least try.  Whoever was in control of it in Michigan, I don’t know.  But anyway, there comes your father.  He was just a young-looking man at that time, too. He came through down Main Street and saw our name on the shop:  Blankespoor.  He stopped in the shop and he wanted to know where John Kuiper lived.  I told him.  And he left. Lou, my brother-in-law, who was working for me, asked, “Who was that man?”  Just a small town like that—we knew everybody around, of course.  Well, I said, “That’s our minister for tomorrow.”  He said, “That kid!” (Laughter)  I never forgot that.

He had a call from Oskaloosa at the same time.  But we got to talking one night. I had asked him to come over for supper.  We were sitting outside of the shop there in Doon. At that time that letter was in the Standard Bearer about Kok and DeJong.  They said that all people didn’t think alike as Hoeksema did, or something to that effect. I got to talking to him.  I thought that was awful.  He finally opened up,  but he was very careful.  When he first came to me, he would first find out what people thought before he ever opened his mouth.  Then we really got to discussing that.  From then on we were pretty much together. Some people accuse me that I was being a “preacher’s man.”  That was not true!  Because I don’t believe in that “man” business.  I don’t. It became very evident what was coming. Finally we had Schilder on the pulpit and all that.  That was after your Dad had left.

MHH:  After his temporary assignment was finished?

JB:  No, he took the call.  I was afraid that he was going to go to Oskaloosa, but he didn’t.  He took the call to Doon, which was a life-saver for Doon.

MHH:  So, did Doon call him while he was serving, or right after he went back to Grand Rapids?

JB:  Yeah, nearly right after.

MHH:  OK. And he did take the call to Doon?

JB:  Oh, yeah.  I looked it up the other day…

MHH:  1949.

JB:  He was there several years.

MHH:  Yeah, till 1955, I believe.

JB:  The split was kind of going on—the church divisions.  I remember that he was more in Washington [the reference is to the church in Lynden, WA]than in Hull and Edgerton and in Doon there for quite a while.  They worked him to death.  Really.  I don’t know what they call that anymore—on the train you could have a little room…

MHH:  Oh, yeah, a sleeper berth—a Pullman.

JB:  Yeah.  And then he had a little room there for a typewriter.  He worked about day and night there for awhile.  Hull split then, and they met in Doon on Sundays for quite a while.  That wasn’t so good either because there weren’t too many from Hull that came.  It was split about down the middle.  Edgerton went about down the middle.  Then they had the court trial in Edgerton— in Pipestone.  And it was a mess.  Really!  As far as Doon was concerned, it was not too bad.  There were three families that left.  One was Sam VanKetel because he was really a big friend of John Kuiper.  He really wanted to be in the consistory,  but he never was.  And a good thing he wasn’t because if anything was decided in the consistory it would be downtown the next morning.  That was the kind of guy he was.  He always had his mouth open when he shouldn’t have.  And the other one was John Kuiper and his son.

And he [HCH] said from the pulpit, “If you don’t agree with this doctrine,just come to the consistory.   We’ll give you your papers.”  He said that right from the pulpit. I don’t remember what text it was on. And that is exactly what happened.  John Kuiper, at the next meeting of the consistory, got his papers.

MHH:  Really?

JB:  Oh yeah, yeah.  He went to Hull.  He was a big friend of Rev. DeJong.

John wouldn’t shake hands with your Dad.  He said to him at that time, “You better take care of that, John.”  John thought that he was just going to be able to say that and that would be the end of that.  But that got to be a consistory matter and we had to go see John.  I said, “ I can tell you a story, John.  There was a time when HH was so down and out he said he couldn’t preach any more.  So Verhil had to go see him.  And he said to Verhil, “I think I’m going to try to get in some smaller congregation and try to do more work there.”  “Well,” says Verhil, “you go ahead and get a big railroad spike tomorrow, and you take that spike and you nail the door shut of the church. (Laughter)  That’s what it took.  I said to John, “That’s the way it is.  If you don’t want to have any doctrine proclaimed anymore, you might just as well quit.”  Well, he didn’t think so.

Finally it got so bad that Mrs. Kuiper said to me that they were having trouble.  They thought they had better go to another church because catechism wasn’t working anymore for the children and so on and so forth. But finally it all got patched up somehow or another, and they stayed in the church.

Jake Mantel wanted to be an elder. The trouble was that the same ones were almost always getting in.  It was just a rotation—one year and then back in again. I remember Jake came into the shop one time and I said, “Well, can I do something for you, Jake?”  “Yeah, you don’t have to come by me on house visitation now on Wednesday night.”  I said, “Oh, OK.  What’s the trouble?”  “Well, you’ve been to the fair.”  Then he says, “Are you going to tell the minister?”  I said, “No, it’s your problem, not mine.  I have no problem with that.”  “All right, I’ll do that.”  He gets out of the shop and goes to your Dad and talks there.  Pretty soon, here he comes back and apologizes.  He just stepped out of the door and the phone rang.  It was your Dad laughing his head off.

MHH:  He said he thought it was wrong of you to attend, a county fair?

JB:  Yeah.

MHH:  That’s interesting.

JB:  That was kind of the idea, though, with a lot of people in those days.  If they have a celebration of the town, you mightn’t go downtown where the celebration was.

MHH:  Really?

JB:  Yeah, that was quite strong in the West.

RBH:  What was the reasoning for that?

JB:  Well, the sin in the thing. That’s the world out there in the street.  Anyway, I said to Ed Van Egdom (me and Ed were the only two elders). “You just about had to go for me to Mantel on family visitation.”  He said, “How come?”  “Well, he said I was to the fair and I mightn’t come.”  And Ed, he started a-laughing and said, “I was there the day before you were.”  (Laughter)

[I have redacted several narratives of a personal nature that are interesting but inappropriate in this context]

MHH:  During those years of the “trouble of 1953,” do you think that there was an element of personalities and personal animosities that entered in, in addition to the doctrinal issues?

JB:  Oh, yeah, there was some of that, too.

MHH:  In what sense?  Who was involved?

JB:  Well, people took the opinion (I suppose even my mother was a little bit guilty of that too) because your Grandpa was really quite determined.  They agreed that the impression sometimes was that he was a little bit like a pope. It always kind of burns me up.  If you start that, Mark, where are you going to end?  If you don’t want to listen to the doctrine, you have nothing left.  It wouldn’t be hard for them to find something wrong with me personally.  That’s no problem at all.  I’ll readily admit that I make a lot of mistakes.  Oh, yeah, that thing was very strong: hate Hoeksema.  I even mentioned that to your father one time.  “Yeah,” he said, “my name is Hoeksema.”  That’s all he said.

MHH:  Was there a lot of personal animosity in Northwest Iowa between congregations and between ministers or officebearers at the time of the split?

JB:  Yeah.  The whole West was really pretty much against HCH.  That became so evident.  You could talk about that for hours, but what value does it have, you know?  Finally you get to the point that, where do you quit?

MHH:  But, yet, Doon was the only congregation that held together?

JB:  And if it hadn’t been for HCH coming, we wouldn’t have done that, either.

MHH:  Really?

JB:  No.  They were also set on John Blankespoor that they would have gone along with him.

MHH:  Do you feel that the character and emphasis of the preaching has changed over the years or is it pretty much the same, or how do you view that in terms of the history that you have lived and compare it to today’s situation?

JB:  Well, it’s the same old story which has happened, I would say, in all of church history.  Your father had a lecture on the Secession of 1834.  He mentions that there is no church that stays very strong after they’ve hit the peak. I think that’s what’s happened in the Protestant Reformed Churches.  They really want more responsibility.  We’re going way too strong on responsibility.