What, my brother or sister, who reads this pamphlet, do you know about the Protestant Reformed Churches?
How did they come into existence? What is their history? What is their basis of doctrine and church polity?
Perhaps you have at times heard something about these churches, for they are, indeed, the subject of much talk and all too frequent gossip. Perhaps you have been told that the Protestant Reformed Churches are a group of people who a few years ago withdrew from the Christian Reformed Church, and caused a breach under the leadership of a few ministers who could not have their own way. Or perhaps you have heard it rumored that those Protestant Reformed Churches advocate a doctrine that is very perverse, dishonoring to God, and extremely dangerous. They make God the author of sin, so this rumor has it, they deny man's responsibility, they preach for the elect only, do not believe in missions, and their preaching never has a word for the unconverted, etc. etc. Yes, it is even possible that you have been told, that the Protestant Reformed Churches, some years ago composed "three points", for which they were cast out from the Christian Reformed Church.
All of these things may have been told you, because it is often thus presented.
It is also possible that some well-meaning friend has presented it to you as rather regretable that a breach has come into existence between the Protestant Reformed and the Christian Reformed Churches, and that it is lamentable that we have left the Christian Reformed Church, for really, so he may assure you, we are undoubtedly soundly Reformed, but that the obstinacy of the leaders of the present Protestant Reformed Churches made it impossible to avoid the breach. For the rest there is really no difference of principle between the two groups.
If these things and more of the same nature have ever been told you, then you have simply been hearing falsehoods.
And if you have put faith in such false rumors, it is because you have failed to look into the case.
We, dear reader, we, Protestant Reformed, did not secede from the Christian Reformed Church, but we were cast out.
It is not true that we caused a breach, but rather have we done all we possibly could, and everything our conscience would allow us, to avoid a breach. But the Christian Reformed wanted the breach and caused it.
It is not true that we teach a dangerous, God dishonoring doctrine, but on the contrary, we maintain the pure, unadulterated Reformed truth. That is why the Christian Reformed Church, having violated and corrupted the truth by their theory of common grace, has cast us out!
It is not true that we separated from them and established our own church organization because of stubbornness and things of no significance; nay, but we are separate because of principle.
Therefore, against these slanderous rumors which are propagated against our churches, we send forth this Testimony.
For indeed you, my Christian Reformed brother or sister, for whom this testimony is designed (though it concerns all who love the Reformed truth) you cannot take the attitude of indifference. You cannot, nor may you, nor dare you excuse yourself before the face of God or men with the assertion that things do not concern you. You cannot excuse yourself before God and the church by lamenting the fact that these things are as they are and further resigning yourself to them.
You are responsible personally!
Your are responsible for the violation of the truth officially committed by your churches in the adoption of the "Three Points". Whether they are known to you or not does not affect your responsibility principally.
You are responsible for our ejection from your churches!
Therefore we direct this "Testimony" to you, so that you may become acquainted with these things and so become more consciously responsible, or otherwise may refuse any longer to share in the responsibility for these things!
Do not put aside this "Testimony" unread. For that will not avail you. Also then you will be responsible for its content. Consider that it has come to you. That it has been brought to your attention. You had opportunity to read but you were not willing! Read therefore! Read and investigate whether these things are true!
The Protestant Reformed Churches came into existence in the latter part of 1924 and early l925. At that time three consistories with their pastors were deposed from their offices by the Classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West of the Christian Reformed Church. These consistories and pastors, however, with the majorities of their respective congregations, felt that they might not recognize this deposition, but considered themselves called of God to continue in the duties and functions of their offices and to organize a self contained church-organization.
What may have been the actual cause and principle involved that led to this deposition of the consistories?
The answer is, that a controversy had arisen about the theory of common grace.
For a long time already this theory had been in the air. So long, in fact, that by many the idea had taken root that this theory was an essential part of the Reformed truth and confession. The theory was occasionally referred to in catechism books and also in the preaching. And Dr. A. Kuyper Sr. made an attempt to develop the theory as to its principles and practical implications in a three-volume work devoted to the subject, entitled: "De Gemeene Gratie". The fact is, nevertheless, that the theory was never incorporated into the official Reformed confessions. Fact is, moreover, that this theory is essentially in conflict with the fundamental line of Reformed faith and confession.
Of this theory there appeared to be three main elements.
Firstly, the view that the grace of God, in relation to the things of this present life, is not particular, not for the elect alone, but that it is received in common by all men head for head, by righteous and unrighteous, by elect and reprobate alike. God, that is, sustains a certain covenant of friendship with natural man.
Secondly, the theory contains the view that immediately after the fall in paradise, and subsequently through history, a certain operation of grace has entered in whereby sin is retarded in its permeation of the human nature.
This grace which does not regenerate man, nevertheless so rules the mind and will, that that man does not become so corrupted as he would have become without this operation of grace.
Thirdly and closely related to the foregoing point, the theory teaches that by this general operation of grace upon the natural man, he can in the sphere of earthly life do very much that is good. He leads a relatively good life in his earthly sphere and relationships.
The above mentioned ministers, who were later to find themselves deposed, turned their attention to this theory and made a very careful study of it. Thereto they were compelled by the undeniable facts that the application of the doctrine of common grace in practical life led to an alliance of friendship and to conformity of the church with the world.
And their study brought them to the discovery that the doctrine of common grace is a thoroughly false doctrine, in conflict with the Scriptures, in conflict with reformed faith and confession and is dangerous for our practical calling of life.
Moreover they began to proclaim this conviction in their preaching, in speeches, in magazines and pamphlets and warned the churches of the wrong and the danger of this doctrine.
In the meantime the well-known Janssen case came into being in which the three later deposed ministers took a very active part. Dr. Janssen was deposed in 1922 by the Synod of Orange City. But he had many defenders and friends and thus it came about that after the deposition of Dr. Janssen, the two ministers were attacked with the deliberate purpose of ridding the churches of them. The point upon which they began their attack upon the two ministers was their denial of common grace. Dr. Janssen had already given the lead in this. He had frequently appealed to the "doctrine" of common grace for a defense of his own conception of the Scriptures and he had combated his main accusers on this theory of common grace.
What then might it have been that these two ministers taught ?
Their position was as follows: instead of the first main element of the theory of common grace, namely, that the grace of God is common to all men in this present life they posited that although things as such whether good or evil such as rain and sunshine, wealth and possessions, wife and children, health and sickness prosperity and adversity are indeed common to both righteous and unrighteous, nevertheless the grace of God is not in the things but is particular.
God loves the righteous but He hates the wicked. And things and means work together for good for those who love God, but for evil for the wicked.
Instead of the second main element of the theory, namely, that there is from the beginning of history a sin-retarding work of the grace of God's Spirit, whereby natural man is somewhat improved, they posited that there is increase in unrighteousness in connection with the organic development of the human race, that there is, indeed, also a bridling control of the sinner so that God controls his sinful thinking, willing and conduct, but that there is no operation of grace that works improvement outside of the grace of regeneration; man, so they hold, became and remained after the fall so corrupt that he is wholly incapable of any good and prone to all evil.
Instead of the third main element in the doctrine of common grace, namely, that by an operation of grace a natural man is able to live a relatively good life in this world, they posited that although the natural man can, indeed, discern and see that the law of God is beneficial for himself, and he therefore often reveals an effort to conduct his life formally according to the frame of the law "showing some regard for virtue. . . . and for maintaining an orderly external deportment", nevertheless he never wills nor is able to perform the good. In all his existence he always sins and does so in every domain.
Upon these positions the opponents made their attack upon us.
In 1924 they brought the matter to the Synod of Kalamazoo.
It soon became evident to them, however, that they would have no success against us with the Reformed Confessions. Indeed, did not one of our antagonists, in a social conversation drop the remark regarding the present writer: "Ousted he must be! But how? We cannot manage it with the Confessions."
It was because of this that Synod formulated the "Three Points", three doctrinal statements which could serve as a mediatorial proposal between the confessions and our condemnation.
In this way, you will notice, they, by letting the confessions teach something not contained in them, could, on the one hand, maintain the appearance of standing on the confessions, and on the other, cause us to appear as if we were contradicting the confessions.
And right through the midst of this, in her confusion and in spite of herself, she made the statement that we were fundamentally thoroughly Reformed!
Yea, throughout all this Synod never required of us any promise or confession of error!
Evidently she was afraid of her own work!
But the local classes thought otherwise. They did what Synod had not done and evidently had not desired to do. In a word, they demanded of us as pastors and consistories a declaration of submission to the Three Points!
That we could not possibly do.
Such a declaration we might not make, since we were convinced from the depth of our being that the Christian Reformed Churches had by these Three Points violated and corrupted the Reformed truth, and because we felt it to be our solemn calling, in accordance also with the vow spoken when we set our hand to the "Formula of Subscription" to combat the doctrine of the Three Points and to warn the churches of this dangerous doctrine. Of our intention to sound this warning, we had already given notice in the magazine, which had in the meantime appeared, namely, The Standard Bearer.
For had not the Christian Reformed Church in the Three Points adopted all the elements of the theory of common grace and given them the sanction of dogmas?
Yea, worse, in their futile effort to base the theory of common grace upon our confessions, the Synod had declared that the proclamation of the Gospel is grace of God to all who hear.
Herewith they had also in principle adopted the Remonstrant doctrine regarding common grace and thus drifted aside into Arminianism!
Hence we could not possibly promise to subscribe to the Three Points.
Also to promise silence regarding these false points of doctrine was both impossible and unjustifiable. Impossible it was, since it was our calling to proclaim the Word of God every Sabbath and this proclamation would inevitably be controverting the Three Points. Reformed preaching is simply impossible on the basis of the Three Points. And silence was unjustifiable for that would be a breaking of our solemn promise to combat all heresies conflicting with the Reformed truth as expressed in our Three Forms of Unity.
Hence we had no choice. If the classis pressed her demands we had no alternative but to refuse definitely to comply.
And thus it was to be. All our pleading with the classis not to continue in the course she was pursuing, did not avail us. It did not even avail that the undersigned finally offered to submit to an examination on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions. The demand remained: profess agreement with the Three Points or at least promise silence regarding them.
And this we refused.
And on this ground we were deposed from our offices!
Three ministers and their consistories deposed, mind you, because they refused to profess agreement with the violation of the Reformed truth, above all, such fundamental truths as God's sovereign grace and the total depravity of the natural man!
You will say that is almost unbelievable. And you are right. And yet that is the simple and unvarnished truth. These things, my Christian Reformed brother and sister, these things the churches of which you are members, have dared to do in 1924-25. And for these actions you are responsible personally, as long as you choose to bear that responsibility.
We did still appeal to the Synod of 1926, but that Synod simply laid our protest aside. And that on the ground of the simple fact that we had not submitted to our suspension and deposition from office but had continued serving in our offices.
But how could we have done otherwise? How could we possibly have surrendered our congregations to their own lot for almost two years?
Hence we have formed our own church organization.
And we have chosen the name Protestant Reformed Churches.
By this name we meant to express that we stand on the historical basis of the Reformation of the sixteenth century and specifically on the Reformed line of that Reformation.
Thus in short is the history of the organization of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Since that time much has taken place.
The stream of history does not pause in its unceasing flow, and our history has been living and eventful.
We might remain faithful to our calling, though with many faults and weaknesses. By means of books and pamphlets, in preaching, by lecturing and instruction we might continue to maintain, develop and proclaim the truth. And in this we were not limited to our own circle only, but also had the privilege of propagating this truth in response to many requests especially in the circle of the churches who had cast us out.
Our calling was first of all to proclaim and develop the Reformed truth in opposition to the evident departure in the direction of Arminianism.
That was our "missionary-calling" in the first place.
And the Lord has been with us.
At the present time we number twenty-two congregations comprising all together approximately 1200 families [as of 1941]. Of these congregations three are in Grand Rapids, six are in Michigan outside of Grand Rapids, two are in Illinois, seven in Iowa, one in Minnesota, one in Montana and two in California.
Immediately at the organization of our denomination we established a school for the training of ministers. We may now have 19 ministers of the Gospel serving our churches and each year there are new applicants for admittance to the school. Further our internal vitality manifests itself in a full time missionary and several publications serving our own people in general such as the Standard Bearer, Our Church News, Beacon Lights, a paper for our Young People's Societies, and a Sunday School Guide.
With the above life activity and organization it may further be stated that we have as our solid basis the Netherland, or Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt. Besides this we have the official Church Order of Dordt as our accepted standard of Church Government.
We are therefore evidently confessionally Reformed.
And in that sense we are a conservative group.
But it is also our desire to spin further the thread of Reformed truth. Especially as we believe that the doctrine of the covenant must be maintained very distinctly and is in need of development. And then we desire and purpose to maintain the antithesis for every domain of life.
Any one who is truly Protestant Reformed is ruled by the will to live everywhere and in every domain of life from the principle of regeneration, as guided by the Word of God, for His glory and as of His party, in the midst of, and in opposition to the world that is inimical to God.
It is, therefore, a matter of course that the Protestant Reformed man is an ardent supporter of the cause of Christian instruction in both primary and secondary education.
Not as though we would leave the impression that we as churches had attained to near perfection. Far be it from us to flatter ourselves with such a thought. We know very well and also experience that the Church in the world has a battle to fight also within; that there are always new elements revealing themselves, both from within and from without, who very actually do not love the Reformed truth, the Truth of God, and will not have it. The Church here below never attains to perfection. Unceasing watchfulness and prayer is our calling. Continued reformation is the only course.
However we do contend for the truth with all the capacities and means that God has given us.
And in the consciousness that the cause of the truth is God's cause we look to Him for the blessing.
And we commit the cause, as to its outcome, to His care.
Why Protestant Reformed?
So the heading of this "Testimony" reads.
And this question may be understood in more than one sense.
It may be understood to ask a personal declaration or testimony from us as to why we are Protestant Reformed and why we can noy nor may be otherwise.
It may also be understood to ask: why is it your calling, my brother and sister to become Protestant Reformed?
I desire now finally to answer this question briefly in this double sense in the light of the above pages.
We are historically no longer Christian Reformed but Protestant Reformed because we were deposed from our offices and cast out for the sake of the truth we maintained. And you are called to become Protestant Reformed because you are personally responsible for that deposition and ejection, as long as you by silent consent give your approval thereto; because, moreover, you may not before God and your conscience bear that responsibility; and because all possibility of protest against these actions has long since been cut off.
Therefore, Protestant Reformed!
We are as to principle no longer Christian Reformed but Protestant Reformed, because the Christian Reformed Church has in 1924 denied and corrupted the truth by the Synodical adoption of the Three Points, and these did not pertain to irrelevant points but to the fundamental doctrines of God's sovereign grace and the total depravity of the natural man and because we on our part desired by the grace of God to maintain the Truth.
Today the Christian Reformed confession is that God's grace is common to all men; we maintain that it is particular, that is, for the elect alone.
They teach that the proclamation of the gospel is divine grace to all who hear; we maintain that it is grace for those alone to whom it is applied unto salvation by irresistible grace, while it is for the godless reprobate always a savor of death unto death.
They teach that there is an operation of grace by the Holy Spirit, which though it does not regenerate him, yet so improves him as a natural man that he is able to live this his present life in the world virtuously; we maintain that the natural man as he actually exists in this world is wholly incapable of any good and prone to all evil.
They teach that the natural man is in this life able to do that which is good before God; we maintain that he is wicked in all his ways, wholly perverse and that he only and always performs that which is evil. For all that is not of faith is sin.
Therefore we on our part are Protestant Reformed.
And, therefore, we state with all seriousness and in fullest confidence that it is your calling before God and the Churches to become Protestant Reformed not only in your thoughts and the conviction of your soul, but also actually in the manifestation of your life.
Or perhaps you are also, after reading the above, in full agreement with the declarations and actions of the Christian Reformed Church.
Then this testimony does not apply to you.
This testimony is directed to persons who love and desire to maintain the Reformed truth. Our aim is not play "church". Our aim is not external growth. It is our aim to open the eyes of people who are Reformed. Are you, therefore, after reading this, still in agreement with the position and acts of the Christian Reformed Church, then this is as far as we are concerned, our last word to you.
You remain responsible and God shall be the ultimate Judge between you and us.
If, however, this last is not the case with you, then this testimony appeals to your conscience.
The cause of the truth concerns you!
If you are not convinced by this pamphlet, very well, then it remains your serious calling to investigate further. Ask your own pastor whether these things are not truly as they are presented in this "Testimony".
He will not be able publicly to deny it. Study the Three Points. Do not read your church paper only but read also The Standard Bearer. Request our mission committee to send you all available literature on the matter.
And become convinced!
And when you have become convinced, act according to your conviction. For is it not your own confession that you have a solemn calling to affiliate with that church on earth, that is the purest manifestation of the body of Christ?
Do not stand opposed to us any longer, even though you do not mean to do so. You occasion harm to the cause of the truth.
But stand with us and strive shoulder to shoulder with us for the faith once delivered to the saints.
That it may be well with the Church of Christ!
And that no one take your crown!
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer