MHH: Those were some excellent answers. I do have a couple of questions, though. Still on this subject of common grace (and in the context of your comments about what Bavinck wrote), after having lived a very long life and having been in the ministry for as many years as you were, when you look back over the years and you look at the common grace controversy, what are your feelings about that? Do you think that common grace, on the part of the Christian Reformed Church, was a mistake or it wasn’t? I’m curious as to your thoughts regarding not just the theology of it, but the practical implications.
HdM: No, I believe that the three points are valid. I believe that. But what I think has happened (and I’m not very happy with that), is that in so many instances, consistories in our church—abdicated is too strong a word—but that they don’t exercise discipline, at least you never hear of it, and I think the church is perhaps directed too much by committees. Let me give you an illustration. When the church is vacant, what used to be done was that the consistory would determine who is to be placed on a trio, or who was to be called. Now that is placed in the hands of a search committee. Young people are on that. Calvin [Christian Reformed] Church has been vacant for two and a half years, and a search committee is working on it. They have come close, a couple of times to recommending somebody. And there’s more of that. Another thing is the Heidelberg Catechism isn’t preached in our churches—very little, at least. I think as far as going to movies, why, they watch all the movies they want on TV. To see a good movie, I think that’s perfectly fine. A lot of trash, I’m sure. I think that, as far as discipline is concerned, a lot of that has been neglected.
But on the other hand, I think the church has been more open. Many of the young people have been more ready to witness than I ever was ready as a kid. The statement that I heard when I was younger is, “In isolation lies our strength.” And so people were opposed to introducing English sermons because then the American church and the American world would come in. So, there are pros and cons here, as I see it, Mark. And the three points—I hold to them. I think there is a lot of good out in the world. Things we can enjoy. But I do think, for example, Sabbath observance has declined considerably. Our people travel on Sundays.
Did the three points make a difference? I think Agatha Lubbers intimated that to me one time, while we were in the condos. She intimated that in a sort of off-hand way. No, I still hold to it. But I think Bavinck’s admonition was valid. And I think perhaps it has been forgotten. Perhaps a lot of people don’t even know about the three points today in our church. I don’t think they do.
MHH: It’s not an issue.
HdM: No, that’s right. Even the three creeds are not an issue, really. People jump from church to church easily. I don’t know, maybe not much church loyalty. I’m amazed at the loyalty of the people when I was a pastor. I wonder if I would have been as loyal. I was always there twice a day, but the people were there, maybe less in the evening, but people were there. Today, quite a few of our churches have only one service, or they combine, or whatever.
Yet I think as far as missions is concerned—home missions, foreign missions—they are more involved than we were at that time. So that’s a good sign. I have some grandchildren who are really involved. I have some who are not so much involved. That’s sad. And things have happened in my family that I never thought would happen, like divorce—my grandchildren. Some are justified. When I say “some,” that means there was more than one.
MHH: The situation then is very different from what it was many, many years ago even with regard to divorce?
HdM: I don’t know. Of course divorce at that time was unthinkable practically among our older people. But on the other hand, I know how some have stayed together, and how they lived together was perhaps an even greater sin. But I got involved with these families. And that was not because of adultery. So, I still maintain the three points. Do you feel that that is a mistake, Mark?
MHH: Personally, yes.
HdM: Well, of course, how could it be the other way?
MHH: If I thought that the three points were correct, I would probably be in the Christian Reformed denomination (laughter).
HdM: What would Homer [Hoeksema, my late father] do to you?
MHH: He would not have been happy.
HdM: No, he wouldn’t.
MHH: But I appreciate your forthrightness. I want to ask you one more question. Backing up in this history a little bit, let’s go back to Edgerton because I’m not quite clear on how the Protestant Reformed congregation in Edgerton was formed. You told me about the group that was not happy with the preaching of Rev. Ehlers and that met under Bernie Kok’s leadership. But I’m still not quite clear. Was the formation of the PR church in Edgerton a result of a definite doctrinal difference, or was it more a matter of antipathy toward or unhappiness with some of the practices in the Christian Reformed Church? How did that happen?
HdM: They said it was because of the three points. Whether they understood the three points, some of them, I’m not sure. I wasn’t there when these churches was organized, but my understanding of it was that that was because of doctrine. And, of course, the fact that they were unhappy in their own church fed into that and maybe they justified their act by saying that it was a doctrinal matter. I question whether a couple of them really understood what the three points were all about. Even as a lot of people who remained in the Christian Reformed Church didn’t understand what the three points were all about (laughter).
MHH: Well, perhaps not all of the events in Grand Rapids filtered down to the West.
HdM: That’s right, Mark.
MHH: When you were in the ministry, did you preach the Heidelberg Catechism?
HdM: Always, always.
MHH: The Protestant Reformed Churches still do.
HdM: I know they do. I see it in the [Grand rapids]Press. I have preached some from the Belgic Confession. And I made an attempt to preach on the Five Points of Calvinism. I have no problem with preaching on total depravity, because there’s a lot of it around (laughter).
MHH: Good point.
HdM: Where I have some difficulty, actually, is limited atonement. There was an article in the Reformed Journal, written by Jim Daane (hmmm). Are you familiar with Jim at all?
HdM: And the title of that article was “Timeless Logic.” It was a critique of the theology of Herman Hoeksema, and the point was that the theology of Rev. Herman Hoeksema is very logical. One step follows the other. Total depravity, irresistible grace, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints, and so forth, that all follows. What we say what we preach sometimes doesn’t seem to be logical. People say, On the one hand you say Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But then you say, “But Jesus didn’t die for everybody. Atonement is limited. He never intended to save some people.” And so it isn’t logical what you say. But Hoeksema’s logical. You know, you probably read this discussion between Dr. [Richard]Mouw and David Engelsma [deMots refers to a formal public debate between Mouw and Engelsma]. Now, I heard a tape of it. I wasn’t there. And from a debate point of view, I think you can say that Engelsma bested Mouw because he was logical. Mouw tries to take in the broad scope of the gospel. And yet to reckon with limited atonement, that couldn’t be logical.
I recently read a little book by him, “TULIP in Las Vegas.” Did you see that?
MHH: I don’t believe so.
HdM: It’s about the Five Points of Calvinism.
MHH: The author is?
HdM: Mouw. His point is this. According to the setting (and that’s in the movie), a stripper (I think a stripper, but anyway, a questionable woman), is sitting with an old man. And she asks him, “What do you really believe?” And he said, “We believe TULIP.” That stripper, why she said, “TULIP, what’s tulip all about?” Well, see, then he goes on that that was not the way to present your faith to that kind of person. You should have presented the gospel to that person instead of the Five Points of Calvinism. And then he discusses the Five Points. And then he comes to Limited Atonement. And he said he has problems with that, just like I have some problems with that. I don’t reject it. But I have problems with it. And he said, “I accept limited atonement, but I put it on the shelf” (laughter).
MHH: That’s an interesting way of saying it.
HdM: Yeah, that’s right. So that article by Jim Daane I thought hits the nail on the head. “Timeless Logic.” It’s logical. And therefore presenting the offer of salvation to a mixed group isn’t logical because of election. Yet, I maintain this. I’ve never preached a sermon on reprobation.
MHH: Why not?
HdM: What could I say? What could I say to my church? Election? Yes. And you will find that throughout the Bible, too, that election is much more emphasized than reprobation. “I have no pleasure,” says the Lord, “in the death of the unrighteous, but that he turns from his wicked way and lives.” That’s my problem.
MHH: That’s very interesting.
HdM: Yes. What would I say to my congregation? There are people who are reprobate. Be sure you’re not. Well, one would say, If God has rejected me, I’m rejected. I remember in Bellflower there was a man. He was about sixty years old. Never made profession of faith. Came there on family visiting. I said, “Case. Do you ever think of making profession of faith?” “No, why should I? If I’m elect, I’ll get to heaven even if I don’t make profession of faith. And if I’m a reprobate, even if I do, it won’t get me to heaven.” Time went on. Case became terribly sick. In fact, he had cancer. He said to me, “I’m going to have them remove my stomach. I want you to be there at the surgery so that you can tell me what they’re doing.” I said, “Case, I wouldn’t know. And, furthermore, they wouldn’t let me.” You know, it was a Seventh-Day Adventist hospital, and they welcomed me. I sat on a little balcony above them. And the doctor would stop every so often and tell me what he was doing. I sat there for about five hours. Case survived the surgery, but it wasn’t successful. And then I would visit him often. And what he would bemoan was that he hadn’t brought up his children better. He never, never mentioned election. He was just simply concerned about his spiritual well-being, and what he had done to his family by neglecting to really be an example and by leading them. And he had reason to be concerned about his family. One of them died in a drunken state—frozen to death in a parking lot here in Grand Rapids.
But what Case was at that point, beforehand he was absolutely logical.
MHH: I take your point. But there is certainly more to salvation than logic.
HdM: Absolutely. And Rev. Herman Hoeksema was logical.
MHH: Do you feel that he and others were logical in, let’s say, too much of a one-sided sense? That that aspect of salvation was emphasized, perhaps, to the detriment of other aspects?
HdM: I wouldn’t draw that conclusion. Because I am sure that they also preached the gospel. But how did he preach it? I don’t know. I never heard his sermons. Did he bring the offer of salvation? No, he said that was accursed. So, I would judge, personally, he never preached one-sided. We’re not all as balanced as we ought to be. But that logical system, that’s what I have in mind. I can’t judge his preaching because I never heard him. He was a gifted man of God, no doubt about it. If this common grace problem had never risen, he could have been a very successful professor in our church, because he was gifted. Very much so. I’m not critical. But I’m trying to be objective, Mark.
MHH: I appreciate that.
HdM: I think of I’ve been fairly objective, because that’s the way I’ve seen it. You know, Peter says, “Make your calling and election sure.” How do you do that? By believing the gospel. Make it sure. You know, Jim Daane in that article “Timeless Logic,” makes the point that people jump on that: Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. That was not said in connection with their birth. That statement comes way over in Haggai. There’s where it says, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” And there it refers not to them personally but to the nation, because immediately it mentions Egypt in connection with it. In other words, a lot of history has taken place between where God saying the elder shall serve the younger and this saying Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. But that’s another story (laughter).
MHH: That’s very interesting.
HdM: Even Paul, when he picks up that, he is still talking, in my judgment, about the people of Israel when he quotes “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” He is speaking about Israel as a nation and all that history.