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Rev. Steven Key

I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 25, 1955, the first-born child of Roger and Florence Key, and was baptized in Wyoming Park Christian Reformed Church.

As a toddler through junior high school I grew up in Jenison, Michigan. I went to Jenison Christian School through the eighth grade. When I was 13 years old my father took a job in Petoskey, Michigan, and we moved to Charlevoix, a beautiful town nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. I didn’t go willingly. I was very unhappy about being uprooted and removed from my rowdy junior high school buddies. Looking back, however, it was a very beneficial move in the providence of God.

Already in junior high there were peer pressures that I was not standing up to very well. God used this move to work a change in direction in my spiritual life—the beginnings of a change that would culminate several years later in my entrance into the Protestant Reformed churches.

Although several years later my parents would join Atwood Christian Reformed Church where Reverend Audred Spriensma was serving his first pastorate, upon first moving to Charlevoix our church home became the Community Reformed Church (RCA). There I immediately established new and in fact healthier friendships. I learned that one of the most important influences in standing up to various peer pressures are the friends you keep. I am reminded of what we read in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” It is critically important that the friends we have are godly, and show a desire to walk in the way of the Lord even over against the trends. All the more important were those church friends because I was no longer in the setting of a Christian school either. My high school years were spent in Charlevoix Public School. Certainly my experience both in grade school and high school have contributed to my zealous appreciation and support for our Protestant Reformed schools, and my fervent desire to see also our high school students receive a distinctive Christian education.

Through my high school years and first two years of college, I worked in a lumber yard in Charlevoix, and found much enjoyment in that work. I decided to go to college to pursue a degree in business. After graduating from high school in 1973, I began my college education at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, a two-year school. To save costs, I continued to live at home and commuted each day to school. In 1975, I transferred to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where I continued my studies in the School of Business at WMU. I was also able to get a job with a retail and wholesale Building Supply Center that I had come to know while working in Charlevoix.

Growing up I was a very active in sports, especially baseball and football. I did pick up another hobby that I am able to continue to some degree today, and that is photography.

Those interested in Protestant Reformed Church history may find it interesting that, upon moving to Kalamazoo, I lived in the old parsonage of First Christian Reformed Church, where Reverend Henry Danhof was pastor in 1924. The parsonage had long been vacated, and was rented out by the church. My bedroom was Rev. Danhof’s former study. That didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but little did I know that I would someday be a member in the churches that found its origin in the controversy of which Rev. Danhof was a part.

Upon moving to Kalamazoo, I re-established relationships with a couple cousins who lived there at the time. There was a young woman living with my cousin, Mary Key, whom the Lord in His good providence brought into my life. Nancy Bosch and Mary were best friends. After getting to know Nancy, our acquaintance began to blossom. We were able to discuss spiritual things freely and openly. On November 27, 1976 we were united in marriage at the Third Reformed Church in Kalamazoo.

The Lord has blessed our marriage richly, beyond measure, especially by the spiritual growth He has given us. We have been through many trials together, drawn closer by them all. By God’s grace we were led to a richer understanding of the truth of God’s Word, and came with unity of heart and mind to the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1979. God has also blessed our marriage with four daughters, and now a granddaughter. Stephanie is married to Andy Lanning, a seminarian, and is prepared to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a pastor’s wife, God willing. They have been blessed with a baby girl, Jessica. Our daughter Michelle just completed her first year of teaching in the Northwest Iowa Protestant Reformed School in Doon. Elisabeth works as a dietary technician at Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids, while Mary Anne just graduated from Western Christian High School in Hull. The words of III John 4 ring true: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

My whole life, in God’s wonderful providence, was a preparation for ministry, even when the ministry was the farthest thing from my mind. Although thoughts of the ministry had crossed my mind when I was probably a junior or senior in high school, I was quickly able to wash those thoughts out of my mind. Occasionally, they would come to the fore again, but I was able to find many excuses to suppress those thoughts. Ultimately, however, those thoughts were not able to be suppressed. After being married, moving to Grand Rapids from Kalamazoo for a job, and returning from the RCA to the CRC, I began to think more seriously about the ministry. The major hindrance, however, was what I perceived to be a significant and rapid departure from the historic Reformed faith in the CRC. I was troubled enough by what I saw and by what I heard from several seminarians with whom we associated in our church, that I was not at all inclined to attend Calvin Seminary. At this time my wife and I began visiting other churches, considering whether it was our spiritual obligation to leave the CRC, and struggling with the question of “Where to go.” Bear in mind that at this time we were yet unfamiliar with the Protestant Reformed Churches. I became a member of the Reformed Fellowship, what many considered the ultra-conservative group in the CRC, which was attempting to maintain the old paths. Of concern to me, however, was the fact that I was the youngest member of that organization by about 25 years, and the men who were in their 40’s were all ministers. That was not a good sign, either, for the future of the CRC.

There were several significant events that happened in the course of a couple years, which God used to lead us to the PRC. To go into them in detail would require a book, so I will single out only a couple.

In 1978, my wife and I received our first exposure to the PRC, when a friend of ours invited us to a lecture held in Hudsonville church. Professor Hanko spoke on “The Pleasures of Babylon in Jerusalem.” I recall very distinctly two things about that event. First, the attendance at that lecture was astounding to us. The church was packed. And it was not just elderly in attendance, but young families and young couples. (I wonder if that is the case in the Grand Rapids area any more among our Protestant Reformed people.) The second thing that stands out in my recollection is that Prof. Hanko, while focusing on the dangers of worldliness in the Protestant Reformed Churches, made a passing reference to the Christian Reformed Church and the loss of the antithesis. He attributed that loss to “common grace.” That passing reference struck me and my wife. It was our first acquaintance with the term “common grace.” It also put the question in our minds, “Was this just some Protestant Reformed propaganda, or was there truth to the statement that the loss of the antithesis (very evident to us as members of the CRC) was to be attributed to the Christian Reformed adoption of this doctrine called “common grace.”

I set out to study the issue. Over the course of the following few weeks, I spent time in the Calvin College library and before Scripture studying the history of the common grace controversy. It was as if the lights came on—and shone brightly. At the same time, in the church where we were members, we began seeing the influence of common grace in the preaching as well as in the Bible studies or adult Sunday School classes. Three different 6 or 8 week classes, each led by different Calvin College or Seminary professors, brought out various aspects of the influence of common grace, and even criticisms of the Protestant Reformed Churches. God was using all these events to point us in the direction of the PRC—especially when, upon investigating some of the criticisms of the PRC, I found the charges against the PRC to be slanderous caricatures and false representations of what the Protestant Reformed churches teach.

Another event, out of many, that played a part in our change of churches at this time was a brief conversation held with Rev. John Byker, a minister in the CRC at that time. I spoke with Rev. Byker after a speech he had given under the auspices of the Reformed Fellowship. He was forthright about the departure of the CRC, and questioned the future of the denomination. After his speech, I spoke with him, explaining that my wife and I were expecting our first child, and wondering what to do about our church membership. He advised me that, for the sake of our children, we had a calling to look for a church that held more faithfully to the truth of God’s Word. He gave me that advice, even though at that time he felt his own office compelled him to stay in the CRC until it was no longer possible for him to serve. Although we were still unsettled as to where we would go, we were convinced that there were more faithful churches where we should be members.

Once we had opportunity to hear the distinctive preaching of the PRC, it was only a brief time before we were able to come to a clear understanding about other teachings of the PRC, and make a decision that this is where we belonged. And while we soon found out that sin abounds also among the Protestant Reformed people, and the devil is always seeking to destroy the church and her unity, we rejoice for the place God has given us in the PRC. Once settled in our church membership, I also was compelled to submit to that subjective calling God had given me to study for the ministry.

There are many memories of seminary, although most of the memories of practice preaching have long ago been suppressed. I have fond memories, though, of receiving instruction under Professors H. C. Hoeksema, H. Hanko and R. Decker, as well as the fellowship of my fellow students. The faithfulness of our seminary in preparing preachers is something for which the churches must be thankful and for which we must continually pray.

Upon graduating from seminary in 1986, I received a call to Southeast Protestant Reformed Church. We were thrilled to take up the labors there, having been members there for a while under the ministry of Rev. Haak and having gotten to know the congregation a bit prior to my call. We had a blessed ministry there, being extraordinarily well-received by God’s people, and finding strong support from the elders. It was most difficult for us to say good-bye to the saints there, when in 1991 I accepted the second call that the congregation in Randolph, Wisconsin extended to me. Our family was young enough yet to make the adjustment well, and grew to love the small town life of Randolph, let alone the congregation there. We were in Randolph for nine years, during which time we were blessed with the establishment of Faith Christian School and significant growth in the congregation. In 2000 I accepted Hull’s call—also the second one that the congregation extended to me—and have labored here now for three years.

I have always found young children a joy to teach. While I haven’t written a book of stories from my catechism classes, children often say or ask things that are not only expressive of a child-like faith, but that will also bring a smile to your face. I also enjoy immensely the opportunity to teach young people who have come to some maturity and see the importance of their own spiritual growth. Because of the proximity of Southeast PRC to Calvin College, and now Hull to Dordt College, I have also had many opportunities to meet with young people from outside our churches, and to open the Bible to them, showing them the consistency and beauty of the Reformed faith.

At this stage in the history of our churches, we who serve in the ministry do little more than build upon the foundation laid by other men. But one of the most rewarding things in my ministry was to see the people of God come together in Randolph and begin a Protestant Reformed school. That work of God, together with the influx of new members that it brought to Randolph’s congregation, brought a significant and healthy change to the congregation. We pray that God will bring about the same fruits in a Protestant Reformed high school in Northwest Iowa.

Although our churches have enjoyed 50 years of relative peace since the schism of 1953, the churches repeatedly face controversy. A man doesn’t need to be in the ministry long to face controversy—whether disputes over various issues, or opposition to the exercise of discipline, or the verbal rejection of the Word preached because it impinges too much upon a person’s walk of life. In recent history we have even grieved over the schism of a minister and congregation. All such controversies are sorrowful for those involved. As churches we must remember how susceptible we are to the attacks of Satan. The devil doesn’t need to focus his attention on churches that have already departed from the truth of Scripture. His attention is focused upon us. We had better live in that awareness, praying always to be kept from the snares of the evil one. We must remember the urgency with which Scripture exhorts us to maintain the unity of the church.

I have seen several comical things happen while leading worship services. I’ll relate just one of them. One Sunday, during the sermon, a child who was about three years old, decided he had looked at the walls and ceiling long enough, and certainly had sat long enough. It was time to run. To his parents’ horror, he jumped out of the pew on the side aisle where they were sitting, and began his run. He ran down the aisle toward the front, turned and ran across the front, in front of the pulpit—by now with dad after him—up the opposite side aisle all the way to the back of the church, and around the back, circling the church until he reached the pew where his family was sitting, and climbed back onto the pew as if he had just accomplished a major fete. I’m sure he had second thoughts about that “fete” after his dad took him out of the sanctuary for a little “father-son chat.”

Another story I can’t resist telling involved a family visit. While conducting family visitation, I held a 3-year-old boy on my lap. And as I’m leading the family visit, I felt his little fingers go into my mouth, where he rubbed my teeth. To his parent’s everlasting embarrassment he blurted out, “Do your teeth come out? My grandpa’s teeth come out!” My elder just about fell off his chair. He was laughing so hard!

The ministry has to be a matter of heart-felt conviction, an unshakable desire to preach the gospel, and a deep love for God’s people. There are challenges in the ministry unlike any other vocation, as well as a deep trying of the faith always. A young man who will pursue the ministry must know humility, and must realize that it is God alone Who calls and qualifies according to His will. During the years that I was studying in our seminary there were 16 young men who did not make it through, some of whom have been able to give useful service to the church in other areas. Those who pursue their studies with passion and yet who do not make it through are not to be ashamed. God alone calls. And those whom He does not call can yet occupy a very important place in the church.

Any faithful minister prays for the spiritual growth of our youth and evidence of spiritual maturity. There are always young people that are the focus of many prayers and much concern because they choose to walk a pathway that bring many sorrows. But I am encouraged always to see many seriously-minded young people in our churches, who long to live in gratitude to their Redeemer, and who are not afraid to seek help in the many difficulties and temptations that they face. So long as we give our young people faithful preaching and a godly home life, God will continue to show His faithfulness to His promise to gather His church from believers and their seed.