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Through Strife to Victory: Chapter 7 – Storm Clouds Gather

If you were to take a trip and were traveling along the freeway, sooner or later you would come to a crossroads. Imagine for a moment, that you either took this crossroad inadvertently, or that for some reason it appealed to you, so that you found yourself off your course. At first you would be only inches and feet from the freeway, then yards and miles. In fact the farther you traveled in that wrong direction the farther you would get from your highway. Unless you stopped and retraced your steps, you would never reach your destination.

The same thing happens with churches. Possibly unawares, possibly in the search for something different, the church departs from the way of Scripture and the Confessions. At first the difference is minimal, but the church is nevertheless apostate, and if it does not repent it will ultimately, under the righteous judgment of God, be given over to its sin and become the false church.

It was January of 1924 and the unrest in the churches had become a tempest. There seemed to be great haste.

Three members of the Eastern Avenue congregation, who were seen to meet in the Hoeksema Shoe Store with Wabko Hoeksema’s brother, now came to the parsonage to present a protest to Rev. Hoeksema.

This was a rather strange procedure for a couple of reasons. First of all, they had never spoken to the minister of their grievances. Secondly, this formal protest was addressed to the consistory. There was no effort made to come in a spirit of love and discuss this matter with their pastor.

When Rev. Hoeksema asked that the protesters discuss the matter with him, two of them refused, while the other came to him, but was not able to defend the contents of the protest. What was even more serious was the fact that the protesters accused the pastor of being guilty of a public sin, for denying the theory of common grace in his preaching and his writings. This presumed an official stand by the denomination in regard to common grace, which had never happened.

When this protest came to the consistory of Eastern Avenue C.R.C., the consistory realized that if it treated this protest it would in effect be agreeing with the protesters. The consistory would be agreeing that their pastor was guilty of a public sin in his denial of common grace and with this they could never agree. The only procedure left was to demand that the protesters recant. Since the protesters refused to do so, they were placed under censure for unjustly accusing the minister of a public sin, but, ignoring the action of the consistory, they appealed to Classis East in May.

At this classis there were three more protests. First, there was one from Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen, who, as mentioned before in previous chapters, had written two brochures against Rev. Danhof and Rev. Hoeksema. He demanded of Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Danhof that they “take back your unreformed utterances and your slanderous remarks respecting Dr. A. Kuyper, Dr. H. Bavinck and a host of your fellow ministers.” Rev. Van Baalen’s protest raised the following objections:

  1. They (the two ministers) contend that God is never kindly, mercifully, graciously disposed toward the reprobate.
  2. They place election and reprobation on a par, as though they came forth in the same manner from God’s counsel.
  3. They deny that God restrains, holds in check, the evil, sin.
  4. They contend that the unregenerate can do absolutely no good.
  5. In a rash and improper manner they accuse a number of office bearers in our churches, and also in sister churches in the Netherlands, as being unreformed in doctrine and guilty of worldly-mindedness.

There came a second protest from Rev. J. Vander Mey, who was a member of the Eastern Avenue congregation and who had left the ministry to become donation collector throughout the churches for Calvin College. At an earlier time he had written Rev Hoeksema: “Of all your beautiful sermons this one crowns them all” but now he had a protest against his pastor. Rev. Vander Mey also failed to inform his pastor of this protest and had some 500 copies of it printed even before the classis met, some of which he had distributed. He charged the following:

  1. He accused the minister of having a wrong conception of God. (The delegates were shocked by this charge, yet there was truth in the fact that his pastor had a different God than he had.)
  2. He objected to “excessive” emphasis on the doctrine of predestination and the counsel of God. Conversely, he felt that man’s responsibility was not emphasized strongly enough.
  3. He objected that his minister did not sound the true gospel note in his preaching.
  4. He charged that his pastor made the second table of the law of none effect.

The third protest came from Rev. Schans. Rev. Schans, at the time a minister in Kellogsville, presented his protest as purported to be from his consistory. In actuality his consistory had refused to sign his protest, but he presented it regardless. Incidentally, Rev. Hoeksema became aware of this protest of Rev. Schans when he preached in one of the neighboring churches. The elders of Classis East had all received a copy, but Rev. Hoeksema had received nothing and had known nothing about it. Schans had a two-fold request:

  1. That the two ministers, Danhof and Hoeksema, be examined as to their orthodoxy on the following subjects: The general offer of the gospel; Election and reprobation; The restraint of sin; Civil righteousness; The responsibility of man; and God’s providence and government over all things.
  2. To examine and test the writings of these two ministers on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions.

The classis meeting was held in the Eastern Avenue church. During the noon meal, one of the women of the church who was serving the meal made the remark that she could not see why the women should feed the delegates when they were planning to kill their minister. Whether this was the reason or not, the classis moved to Sherman Street church to continue its meetings.

Classis wrestled for some time, trying to declare these protests as being legally before their gathering. By doing this, Classis would ignore the fact that the protestants had not walked the proper way of church polity in refusing to discuss the matter and even neglecting to notifying Rev. Hoeksema of their protests against him. Article 30 of the Church Order states that “In the major assemblies (classis and synod) only such matters shall be dealt with as cannot be finished in minor assemblies (the consistory or classis).”

Rev. Hoeksema informed the classis that he would have no part in their unjust dealings and he left the meeting, refusing to return unless they declared the protests illegally before the classis. After much dispute classis finally did decide to declare the protests as illegally before them.

At one point during the course of the discussion, the pastor of Eastern Avenue made the remark that one would have to search with a candle in order to find true Reformed preaching among the ministers in the churches. One of the delegates made a motion to demand a retraction of this statement. After a bit of discussion Rev. Hoeksema suggested that they add the amendment: “Unless he can prove it.” Thereupon the motion was dropped.

All the protestants appealed to the upcoming synod, which was due to meet on July 18.

We should notice:

  1. That the protest of the three members of the Eastern Avenue congregation had not been finished by the consistory, nor by the classis.
  2. That the pastor and the consistory were not even notified, still less had time to treat these protests. None of the other three cases had been finished either in the consistory or in the classis.
  3. That in two instances, copies of the protest had been made and distributed without the pastor and consistory that were involved being informed.
  4. That all the material for the synod should have been in the hands of the stated clerk of synod by May 1, in order to give the delegates to synod time to study the material that was to come before the meeting. The classis met in the latter part of May, too late for any material to be forwarded to the next synod.
  5. That in spite of all this, the protestants forwarded their protests to synod. There was great haste with these matters. ❖