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Interview with Rev. Henry deMots (1)

 

This interview was conducted on April 5, 2008, at Raybrook Manor, Grand Rapids, MI. This was the first interview I conducted. Without intention on my part, this first interview and my last interview were with the two oldest people I encountered.

The value of this interview is that it gives the perspective of a Christian Reformed minister on the years following 1924 and surrounding 1953, both of which were definitive dates in the history of the PRCA. Rev. deMots was unapologetically a common grace man, and this comes out in the interview. Yet he also seems to have some reservations about its application. He did not press the doctrinal issues, since our conversation was not the appropriate forum to do this. But knowing my background because of my last name, he made me promise that in the fall of the year I would return to argue common grace with him. Unfortunately he passed away during the summer, so I was never able to fulfill that promise. Here follows his interview in two parts.

—MHH

 

MHH:  Rev. deMots, where and when were you born?

HdM:  I was born in Edgerton, Minnesota on January 16, 1911, so I’m 97 years old.  I was the next to the youngest in my family.  All of them are gone.  There were many of them—not all full brothers and sisters, but half-brothers, but in all there were thirteen.  There were five children from my Dad’s first marriage  Then he married [the woman] who became my mother.  She had two children.  And then to the union of my dad and mother, six more were born.  So that adds up to 13.  All of them, as I indicated, are gone.

I am the only one in the family who graduated from Calvin College.  My younger brother went there a year or a couple of years, I don’t recall, but never finished.  So, of that entire large family, I am the only college graduate.  Then, of course, I’m the only seminary graduate too (laughter).

We lived on a farm.  It was a good farm.  I think my father was considered to be an excellent farmer.  My neighbors thought that he was rather wealthy, too.  But he wasn’t, of course.  Perhaps by those standards he had some money.

In talking to my father about going to college, he said, “Well, if you go into the ministry, I’ll support you.  But if you have something else in mind, you’re on your own” (laughter).  I think he sort of forgot about what he said, because there wasn’t much financial support coming from my dad.

We were members of a church in Leota, Minnesota.  I remember the church at that time.  It was, I presume, relatively small.  Just an idiosyncrasy, the women would sit on one side, the men would sit on the other side on the row of pews, and the center was integrated—women and men together.  I think that was because the other parts of the church were filled.

Then we moved to Edgerton and became members of the Edgerton Christian Reformed Church. I went to catechism.  Most of that was all in the Holland language.  We spoke Dutch at home.  The services were in Dutch.  Also in catechism the minister used the Dutch language.  Ministers that I recall were Rev. Leek, Rev. VanderAark, and finally, when I was a young fellow and the person who married us was Rev. Ehlers, the father of Vern Ehlers, who is a [State] Representative here in Michigan.

I recall—and some of this is more hearsay or second-hand, because I moved out of the community—there were some who were really quite unhappy with the church.  They evidently did not preach (unintelligible) very much.  So they came together early to the services so they could all sit together under the clock.  That group, for example, was opposed to collection plates: the right hand did not have to know what the left hand was doing, you know—misuse of scripture.  They were opposed to bulletins.  They were opposed to standing up to sing.  I know my brother-in-law, who eventually went to the Protestant Reformed Church said, “No, standing up is wrong because then you’re thinking, Here I stand in my self-righteousness.”  I pointed out to him that if you really respect a person, you rise in the person’s presence.

It was at that time that Rev. Bernard Kok came to Edgerton.

MHH:  Approximately when would this have been?

HdM:  I don’t recall the exact date, but I was at Calvin already.  It could be 1930 because 1928 [he means 1924] was the time of the secession and the founding of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  So it must have been in the 1930s somewhere.

What Bernard Kok would do, so I was told, was to come to the services.  They were in the morning and the afternoon.  And then in the evening he would hold a service of his own.  They were all there—called the (unintelligible) Memorial Hall.  And this group particularly would go there to worship in the evening.

MHH:  Still in the Christian Reformed Church?

HdM:  Yes, they were still members of the Christian Reformed Church.  And he would analyze the sermon of Rev. Ehlers.  And he would point out how it was defective, so I was told, and point out where he had gone astray. These people, because, seemingly at that time, for some reason, they had banded together and didn’t particularly appreciate the pastor at that time.  And they were very receptive to what Rev. Bernard Kok was saying.  Gradually that group organized and became the Protestant Reformed Church, as I understand.

Among them were some of the older members of my family.  None of my full brothers or sisters went there.  My sister-in-law and her husband went there.  And, also, the son of my mother who was my half-brother, they also went there.  And then, from my wife’s side, also a couple (two or three) families joined.

What I found is that it created a breach between that segment of the family that went there and we who were in the Christian Reformed Church, or a couple in the Reformed Church too.  And social contact practically broke off for that part of the family.  Because, as you know, Mark, when families get together and are involved in the church, it’s difficult to spend a social evening with them and never mention the church.  Because if the church were mentioned in that context, it obviously would become controversial.  So that part of the family simply didn’t associate with the rest of us and we didn’t associate with them.

They were members of the Protestant Reformed Church.  They built an old church there.  I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to Edgerton?  You’ve seen the little church there?

MHH:  I have.

HdM:  Well, then you’ve also seen the Free Christian School there, haven’t you?

MHH:  Yes.

HdM:  Again, so I was told, they were very much concerned about instructing their children in the first eight grades.  It was impossible in Edgerton, because of the financial undergirding, to have a Christian high school there.  So they sent their children upon graduation to our Christian high school.  And they were welcomed there.

I questioned the wisdom of that.  I was told they had commencement exercises in the Protestant Reformed Church for one graduate.  She was obviously the president of the class, the valedictorian, the salutatorian, the treasurer (laughter).  That was held there.  I don’t know who that first minister was there.  But eventually, I believe, Herman Veldman became their pastor.  I never got to know him, although I met him.  But I’m digressing a bit here.

MHH:  Go ahead.

HdM:  But I met and got to know Richard Veldman.  He became a minister in the Christian Reformed Church at Oak Lawn, as you may remember.  And I was in that classis eventually—my last church, Orland Park.

One of the young men of the Christian Reformed Church married the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Veldman.  And to add insult to injury, she transferred to the Christian Reformed Church—his own daughter.  Well, I assume that you know something about Herman Veldman, his character, his personality.  Well, I was told that in due process a child was born there.  But actually it took two years before he and his wife (the grandmother) went to see that child. I would think he was terrible unhappy and perhaps a bit of hatred entered in.

Richard was an entirely different personality.  I found him to be a friendly person.

Gradually, of course, time moves on and I entered the ministry.  But while at Calvin, my father and I were living on College Avenue.  And I would walk from the seminary to College Avenue, down Franklin Street.  And sometimes I would meet Rev. Hoeksema.  There was no conversation.  But his eyes bored into me.  I don’t know whether you can visualize that.  I felt that he thought, “Here comes one of these heretics (laughter) who’s going to preach in the Christian Reformed Church.”  I felt that that was a subjective reaction on my part the way he looked.  And you will remember that President Bush said rather early in his presidency that he had looked president of Russia right in the eye and he felt he could do business with him.  Well, later on, I felt Herman Hoeksema did the same thing with me (laughter).  That was the only time I met Rev. Hoeksema.

Eventually, after other places where I served (I don’t know whether you care to hear that?)

MHH:  Sure, go ahead.

HdM:  I served first of all in Delico, Wisconsin five years—a small church.  Beautiful area.  And then I went, of all things, to the Christian Reformed church in DeMott, Indiana.  And it took me a long time to live that down (laughter).  And I was there four years.  Then I went to Bellflower, California, which was at that time an enormous church of approximately 300 families.

MHH:  Wow.

HdM:  And I had to do all the work.  One of my neighbors there in the Protestant Reformed Church—they had a small Protestant Reformed Church in Bellflower—was Lambert Doezema.  Well, strangely, Lambert and I did not have much fellowship.  I was too busy, for one thing, I believe.  But I did hear that Lambert Doezema married a daughter of Rev. Hoeksema, and that he had come there to visit his daughter and perhaps grandchildren.  But, even although he had come all that way, he never met Lambert Doezema, because Lambert Doezema had gone over to the DeWolf faction of the church.  And he so resented that, evidently.

Well, Rev Hoeksema was a man of deep passion.  Perhaps he also felt that he had been wrongly treated by the Christian Reformed Church.  My brother heard a lecture one time by Rev. Doezema [he means Hoeksema].  That was in Edgerton, and it was in Dutch.  According to my brother who has passed on, he made the statement in Dutch—now maybe you can’t understand that—“That accursed offer of salvation.”  And then he characterized the preaching or the way the gospel was presented as hawking the Lord Jesus.  And he likened it, at least from what I understand, to a man who peddles his goods down the street with a little cart and tries to sell it to the people along the street.  So deep was his passion.

Eventually, after Bellflower, I became the pastor of First Dennis Avenue, but Dennis Avenue was in transition and we soon became Mayfair Christian Reformed Church, where I spent 15 years after spending 7 years in Bellflower.  Quite soon after we moved there, (perhaps I have this correct—the DeWolf faction disintegrated, didn’t it?  All right.) quite a few people from [the DeWolf faction]  became members of Mayfair.  I think it was 7 or 8 families.  And let me say, those were fine families.  They fit in well with us.  Several of the men served in consistory while I was there and were good consistory members.  Never once, that I recall, did they indicate that they were unhappy to be back in the Christian Reformed Church.

Of course, they didn’t come directly from the Protestant Reformed Church.  They came by way of the DeWolf faction.  They were never a denomination.  They were real good members—faithful in attendance.  I don’t know whether you knew Frank Doezema.

MHH:  I’m not sure.

HdM:  Well, Frank was very much in love with the Protestant Reformed Church.  But he had gone through the DeWolf experience.  He was a member and became an elder.  But I remember one time—and this indicated how Frank thought that was, in a sense, the glory time of his spiritual life (in the Protestant Reformed Church).  I told Frank, “You know, I was in your former church the other day. And I sat on the platform.”  I said, “We had convocation for Calvin.  They still didn’t have their facilities and so we met in the First Protestant Reformed building.  Being president of the board, I led in prayer, and Dr. Spoelhoef gave the address.  And I sat there on the platform.  And those balconies to the sides—why, everything was packed.  And my mind went back to you, Frank.  I thought, “That must have been an exciting time for Frank.”  And Frank became almost euphoric (laughter).  And he told me about Rev. Hoeksema.  He said, “Oh, yeah, he was a great preacher.”  I said, “Yes, I understand that he was.”  He says, “He had little white handkerchief, I think it was a white one, in his pocket (you know, to adorn himself, which was fine).”  And then he said, “When he’d come near the end of his sermon, he would take that handkerchief out of his pocket and wave it.  And then when he’d really come to the end, he would throw it down on that ledge on the side of pulpit.”  That must have been dramatic, you know (laughter).  Oh, undoubtedly he was a great preacher, a dramatic preacher.  And that’s why it was so amazing that actually so many left him.  I understand that it was due to a sermon that DeWolf had preached there in which he preached what Hoeksema considered “conditional theology.”  And the rest, you would say, is history.

I got to know a couple of other Protestant Reformed people.  Rev. Lubbers, you know him?

MHH:  Absolutely.

HdM:  I got to know him because we lived together in the Beckwith Hills Condominium complex.  I got to know Agatha a little bit.  I think she became the principal of Covenant Christian high school.  Agatha?  A very able person.  And Rev. Lubbers, a very fine…we had a very cordial relationship.  We rarely talked about the church.  He would bring me a Standard Bearer once in a while, and he did that in a very cordial fashion.  So we had a cordial relationship.  And his wife was not well, as I recall, and she eventually died, as did Rev. Lubbers.

So, my relationship with the Protestant church has been not extensive, but it’s been somewhat on the edge, if you will.  Most of what I’ve said here is pretty much hearsay from others.  But I felt that it was pretty much what I would expect, knowing Rev. Hoeksema and having heard about him.

I translated (and I did that for Heritage Hall), the 1924 Acts of Synod[from Dutch to English]. so I got a little bit more of what happened (VanBaalen, and so forth and so on).  And I think that it wouldn’t have been so good if it had not happened.

But I recall—and perhaps there’s some truth in this—that in those Acts of Synod was a rather lengthy statement by Rev. Herman Bavinck of the Netherlands.  And this was, in essence, what he said (and that was after ’24 that he dealt with this.)  He said, “I agree with the stand on common grace.  But I want to say this (and that was incorporated in the Acts), I want to say this: Don’t emphasize common grace.”  He went on to say, “Remember (and this is in a sense rather amusing) the world comes into our homes by way of the public press.”  And, as I translated that, I thought “Herman, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”  (laughter). Talking about the world! And his warning was, if we allow the world to enter too much, we say, “Yeah, there’s a lot of good out there, you know, in common grace.”  If we emphasize that, then we are in peril of over-emphasizing perhaps even the acceptability of things that happen out there in the world.

And I think maybe some of that has happened.  Now we have that stand (that’s interesting, too, Mark) the stand of amusements that took place in 1928, four years after 1924.  I don’t know, but I kind of thought at times that that was set up for what they thought would be a safeguard against worldliness, worldly amusements. We believe common grace, but as Herman Bavinck says, don’t emphasize it.

MHH:  As a young man at that time who was nearing college age, or you were perhaps in college, how did you personally react to some of the events that were happening, or weren’t you aware of them?

HdM:  Oh, I was aware of the matter of the common grace issue.  Yes, I was aware of it.  And I was in the ministry part of that time too.  I entered into the ministry in 1938.  But yet I didn’t contact it head-on. A lot of this, as I would come back to Edgerton and talk to my relatives, I would hear these things.  And I believe them to be true.  I never felt animosity.  But neither did I fraternize.  No, I didn’t.  I suppose the closest I came to that was with Richard Veldman.  And yet we didn’t talk about it either.

So, briefly, unless you have questions—ask me. That in substance is what I know.  And it’s much second-hand about that period of time.

To be continued…