A History of the Protestant Reformed Churches
TEMPORARY ORGANIZATION: EXPANSION
Just as it was, from a practical viewpoint, inexpedient and impossible for the deposed consistories of Coopersville, Eastern Avenue, Hope and Kalamazoo I and their deposed pastors to submit to their deposition, refrain from functioning in their respective offices and abide in the final decision of the synod that would not convene until a year and a half later; so the very course of events made it imperative that the expelled congregations should seek one anothers fellowship and establish some bond of union among themselves.
They embraced a common cause.
They stood actually united by a common faith, the Reformed faith as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Netherland Confession, the Canons of Dordrecht.
They had a common battle to fight as they stood opposed to the corruption of the pure Reformed faith, represented by the Three Points adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924.
And they had a common history: they were all expelled because of their stand for the Reformed truth from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches.
Besides, they stood on the basis of a common appeal to the synod of the Christian Reformed Churches that would meet in 1926. It had not been their own desire to become separate churches and to form a separate denomination.
They had not sought the breach that had been made. All that could possibly be done consistently with their consciences, the Word of God and the Reformed Confessions, to prevent the schism, had been attempted by them. Long before they had been deposed by the classes they had appealed to synod, in order that synod might interpret its own rather ambiguous decrees and decisions of 1924. The classes should have refrained from final action until synod had spoken and acted on that appeal. In spite of all this the two classes had stubbornly refused to regard the appeal, and had proceeded on their own evil way to the very end. Now it was the desire of the expelled churches, hopeless though the case might appear, to maintain this stand on the basis of their appeal. And also in this appeal they had a common cause.
On the other hand, with a view to their appeal that had been utterly ignored by the classes, the situation had become abnormal through no fault of their own; because of that appeal the establishment of a new denomination was, for the time being, impossible.
It was decided, therefore, to form a temporary organization until the synod of 1926 had definitely decided the matter of their appeal.
On the twenty-ninth of January, 1925, the various consistories of the expelled churches held their first combined meeting in the basement of the Eastern Avenue Church. The matter of organization was discussed. The Consistory of Kalamazoo I favored immediate formation of a classis. With a view to maintaining the appeal to synod, however, the majority proved to be in favor of forming a union of combined consistories. No definite action was taken at this meeting, but a committee was appointed to consider the matter and to outline a program for future action. This committee reported at the meeting of the combined consistories that was held on March 6, 1925. It was decided to form a temporary organization, pending the appeal to synod, consisting of a union of combined consistories and on the basis of an Act of Agreement, proposed by the committee.
Of this Act of Agreement we here give a copy in full:
ACT OF AGREEMENT
Whereas the Synod of 1924, assembled in Kalamazoo, Mich., adopted three points of doctrine which, according to our most sacred conviction, are in direct conflict with our Reformed Confessions and principles;
2. Whereas, by the actions of Classis Grand Rapids East and Classis Grand Rapids West, we are denied the right to discuss and interpret said three points of doctrine of said synod;
3. Whereas, by the actions of said Classes, the pastors, elders, deacons of Kalamazoo I, Hope and Eastern Avenue, together with their congregations cannot simply submit themselves to the action of said Classes until such time as Synod shall have considered their appeal, which they made in a legal way to Synod, but were forced by circumstances to continue to function in their respective offices as pastors, elders and deacons of their respective congregations;
5. Whereas they are informed and know positively, that hundreds of our people outside of our own congregations share our convictions and with us cannot acquiesce in the actions of Classes and Synod, neither from a doctrinal nor from a Church-political viewpoint.
6. Whereas the above-mentioned matters concern us as appealing churches in common, and demand our cooperation and united action;
Therefore, be it resolved by the Combined Consistories of Kalamazoo I, Hope and Eastern Avenue, assembled March 6, 1925 in the Eastern Avenue Church:
a. That we adopt as our common basis the Three Forms of Unity and the Church Order of the Reformed Churches;
b. That at the same time we stand on the basis of our appeal and intend to address our appeal to the Synod of 1926;
c. That we unite as Consistories for the following purposes: (1) To unitedly bring our appeal from the actions of Classes Grand Rapids East and West to the Synod of 1926. (2) To decide on such matters as have reference to the interests of our congregations in common; (3) To decide in all matters pertaining to the furnishing of information and advice to others, outside of our own congregations.
d. That whatever shall be decided by said combined Consistories by a majority-vote, shall be considered firm and binding.
In view of the considerable difference in the number of the various consistories, it was decided, that in case of friction and upon the request of any consistory, besides the majority vote of the members present, also a majority of at least two separate consistories would be necessary to reach a decision.
The name that was adopted was, like the organization, temporary: Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.
Even before 1926, and before they decided upon a permanent form of organization, the Protesting churches grew in number.
The very meeting of the sixth of March, that had adopted the Act of Agreement, reached another decision of far-reaching importance. They agreed on a plan of action with respect to propaganda for their views regarding the Three Points outside their own circle.
This action by the combined consistories was occasioned by several invitations from different parts of the Christian Reformed Church to deliver lectures on the controversy that had led to the deposition of so many office-bearers. Requests of this nature had been received from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The consistories decided to delegate the Reverend H. Hoeksema in order that he might inform those that evinced interest in the cause about the things that had taken place relative to the origin of the Protesting churches; that he might explain to the people the significance of the Three Points adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924; that he might inform those interested about the organization of the expelled churches as outlined in the Act of Agreement; and that he might serve and aid those that should declare their intention to join us on the basis of the Act of Agreement and to be organized as Protesting Christian Reformed Churches. An official copy of these decisions was given the Reverend H. Hoeksema and he was given power to act according to circumstances as he should find them.
From that time until the present the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches, and after 1926 the Protestant Reformed Churches, have enjoyed a steady growth.
The Lord has been with them.
Always He has pointed out to them new fields of labor through the means of requests that were received from various Christian Reformed communities to lecture and to preach for them.
And churches were soon organized in different parts of the country.
We shall not weary the reader with a detailed account of the organization of these different congregations. A general sketch of the work and its result may suffice.
The very first field of labor the Lord pointed out to the brethren was Sioux County, Iowa, a community where several Christian Reformed Churches are found. There the brethren and their stand were well-known to many. And the call came from Hull, Iowa: Come over and help us! Soon after the meeting of the combined consistories on March 6, 1925, the Reverend H. Hoeksema responded to the call. He was accompanied by W. Verhil, now one of our pastors, who went along to labor in the interest of The Standard Bearer. The reception the brethren received will never be forgotten. Those were the days of keen interest and marked enthusiasm. Meetings were held in the Town Hall of Hull, on week-days and on Sundays, and always the Hall would be filled to capacity. Similar meetings were held in the Town Hall of Sioux Center and in that of Doon; and later in Rock Valley. On Sunday services were held in the same halls. During the week it was always the Three Points that were the topic of discussion; on Sunday the Word was preached. At the end of three weeks of labor a Protesting church was organized in Hull consisting of almost forty families; and, besides, many more had heard the truth. The brethren felt that the Lord had prospered and comforted them, and that their labors were abundantly blessed above all expectations. And they went home rejoicing, because the Lord had opened a door for them and prepared a field for the defense of the truth of His sovereign grace.
Soon after the organization of the church in Hull, work was begun in Chicago and vicinity as well as in Waupun, Wisconsin.
In Waupun a Protesting church was organized as early as May 1925. The brethren there, however, soon revealed that they were of a different spirit than the Protesting churches. There was an influence of sickly mysticism that soon prevailed and led to the destruction of the congregation. They soon seceded; and their secession cannot be considered a loss to the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The labor in Chicago and vicinity gradually became concentrated in Lansing, Illinois. There a small but healthy group of Reformed Christians soon were organized into a Protesting Christian Reformed Church. The church is now the flourishing Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
Still later, a faithful group in Oak Lawn, Illinois, requested to be organized as a Protesting church, which request was granted and executed. It still is known as the Protestant Reformed Church of Oak Lawn.
In the meantime Grand Rapids and vicinity were not neglected. In Byron Center, Michigan, Roosevelt Park, Grand Rapids, and Hudsonville, Michigan, churches were organized. In 1929 the brethren in Holland, Michigan, that had agreed with the stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches from the beginning, took courage and became organized as a church. Creston Church was added to the group of Protestant Reformed Churches in Grand Rapids; Doon, Sioux Center, Rock Valley, and later Pella, Oskaloosa and Orange City joined the ranks in Iowa. Also from California came the call! Redlands took the lead. A church sprang into existence there with nearly forty families as charter members. Los Angeles followed suit. Bellflower was organized in 1925. And when the Reverend H. Danhof refused to join the final and permanent organization of the Protestant Reformed Churches, a small group left him and is today the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo.
There is, therefore, abundant reason for joy and gratitude, because the Lord was with the brethren that were cast out, prepared the field of labor for them and caused the Word that was preached to find a place in the hearts of many.
To Him alone be the glory!
One more matter of great importance was decided by the combined consistories at that meeting of March 6, 1925.
The consistories clearly realized from the beginning the need of a trained ministry.
If the Lord would bless their labors, kindle in the hearts of others a new love for the Reformed truth, and churches would be organized, these churches would have to be shepherded. There would, therefore, be need of ministers of the Word of God. There were at that time only three ministers and one candidate, but these were needed in the congregations they served. R. Danhof, a brother of the candidate, would soon graduate from the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Churches, and by his attitude gave every reason to believe that he would join the movement of the Protesting churches, as, in fact, he also did, for a time. There were also several ministers in the Christian Reformed Churches, that had left the impression of being convinced of the error of the Three Points and had given abundant reason to expect that they would join the ranks of the expelled group; but every one of these proved to be a disappointment. The consistories, therefore, confronted the task of preparing young men for the ministry of the Word. They felt the need of a theological school. And they took immediate steps to establish such an institution. The school was opened as early as June, 1925. There were eight students. The Reverends H. Danhof, G.M. Ophoff and H. Hoeksema were appointed instructors. It was decided to offer only such courses as were immediately most necessary to prepare young men for the ministry of the Word. Instruction was given in four languages, Dutch, English, Hebrew and Greek; in Old and New Testament Exegesis; in Dogmatics and Homiletics.
Other subjects were gradually added to the curriculum.
The school has proved to be a great blessing for the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Sixteen young men have thus far been prepared for the ministry and are serving different churches in that important office.
Looking back upon that meeting of the combined consistories on March 6, 1925, we must thankfully acknowledge that the Lord gave them wisdom clearly to discern what would be to the well-being of the churches; and He directed them and inspired them with the courage of faith to decide upon some very important measures, in spite of the fact hat it appeared well-nigh impossible for that small group to execute them.
And the Lord richly blessed their efforts
At the time of this writing they may set up their stone of remembrance, bearing the inscription, as an expression of gratitude and hope for the future: