The history of a reformation of the Church is never such that the picture of the ecclesia reformata, of the church that is reformed through strife and separation, can be painted in only bright colors; or that its history may be described only in terms that speak of brotherly love and peace, of joy and spiritual prosperity and of consecration and unselfish seeking of the things of the kingdom of God.
Always there is a dark side to the picture.
There are moments of joy and gladness, times of glorying in the Lord and of rejoicing because the Most High is with His Church and prospers Zion; times when hearts are united in Christ and ties of fellowship and love are strong; times of triumph even in the midst of apparent defeat; times of intense devotion, when, because all have in mind and heart the cause of God, it is easy to cooperate, and all are willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ.
But there are also other periods, when roots of bitterness that had before remained hidden in the soil spring up; when evil motives are stirred into more evil activity; when men that were supposed to be brethren prove to be enemies of the cause of Christ; when strife and dissension tears apart those that would appear to belong together; when what appeared to be zeal for Christ proves to be carnal; and when deep chasms of separation are formed that will never be removed or spanned.
Always there is bright sunshine and there are gloomy shadows.
The history of the Protestant Reformed Churches is no exception to this general rule.
There were in those first years, after the expulsion from the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924-25, many reasons to rejoice, many manifestations of spiritual life, of oneness in Christ, of consecration and devotion, that made it a joy to live.
Even though they that were sent out to speak in the interest of the truth often had to receive their audience in dilapidated halls, schoolhouses or even in old barns with hastily improvised, hard wooden benches and lanterns suspended from the rafters to give what light was needed, there was always an audience, and for this the Lord was thanked. There was zeal. There was determination to labor in the interest of the cause of God. And there was God’s evident blessing on those labors.
There was unity and brotherly love.
The principle of the truth were discussed freely.
Even those experiences that were anticipated as reasons to be grieved proved in reality to be causes to rejoice.
As an illustration of this last remark the congregation that is now the Fuller Avenue Protestant Reformed Church, or the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will always refer the inquirer to the never-to-be forgotten first service they held outside of their church building on Eastern Avenue.
It was on Christmas morning, 1925.
Early in the year the Circuit Court of Kent County had rendered the verdict that gave the church-property to the group that remained “faithful” to Classis Grand Rapids East.
The matter, however, had been appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan. And because this court did not render its verdict in the matter until the Christmas season of the same year, what is now the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids remained in possession of the property until December twenty-second of that year.
Then the news was published in The Grand Rapids Press that the Supreme Court of Michigan had sustained the verdict of the Circuit Court of Kent County.
And then the Lord used the hostile attitude and action of the opposition party to change what was considered a calamity into a reason for rejoicing!
By law, the expelled congregation and deposed consistory were allowed the use of the buildings until such time as the decree of the Supreme Court should be issued. Not until that time would the keys have to be surrendered and the property be delivered to the “faithful” group.
Normally this would have left the expelled congregation in actual possession of the church property during the holidays, at least. In this particular case, in fact, the “time of grace” would have been considerably longer, for the decree of the Supreme Court was not issued until several weeks after the news item concerning it was published in the daily papers. It also would have given the dispossessed congregation time to look about for a suitable place of worship. But, on the other hand, it might have been a time in which the congregation would have grieved at the thought that soon they would have to abandon the property for which they had labored and sacrificed and which had been theirs for more than forty years.
The Lord’s way, however, was different!
The “faithful” group could not wait!
They hired deputies and broke into the buildings, supplied doors and windows with new locks, and stationed their deputies in the basement of the church to guard against an attempt to recapture the church by violence.
This happened on Tuesday, December 22, 1925.
And on Friday it was Christmas!
The position of the expelled and dispossessed congregation appeared desperate.
No violence, however, was planned or committed. The “faithful” group, that had broken into the buildings and by force deprived the expelled congregation of their place of worship, was left in undisturbed possession of what they had taken by violence. They could have saved the considerable sum of money they had agreed to pay their hired deputies.
And the Lord provided for the ejected congregation.
They found a temporary place of worship in the Community Hall of Franklin Park.
Hundreds of folding-chairs were purchased and fetched from Ionia, Michigan; a platform and pulpit were quickly built in the Hall; and there the congregation held its first service, after having been ejected, on Christmas morning, 1925.
And who shall describe the unexpected joy and cheerfulness that filled the hearts of all; that expressed themselves in words of gladness and that were reflected in the faces of all that congregation that assembled on that memorable Christmas morning? If the “faithful” group had expected that by their coup d’ etat many would be induced to stay with the “brick”, they must have been sadly disappointed, for the very last soul of them that had been cast out cheerfully abandoned the property and worshipped in the Community Hall that Christmas morning. And if there were any, who on that bitterly cold winter morning were of a heavy heart as they plowed through the snow to the Community Hall in Franklin Park, their gloom must quickly have been changed into joy and thanksgiving as they entered the Hall and came under the spell of the spirit of gladness that prevailed in the congregation.
The Lord had done all things well!
Soon plans were perfect for a new church building and parsonage, that were to be erected on the site that had been privately purchased by some members of the congregation, on the corner of Fuller Avenue and Franklin Street.
Unanimously the plans were adopted.
Everyone gave with a glad heart as the Lord had prospered him.
And building could begin almost at once.
For a time the congregation worshiped in the St. Cecilia building, which is located in the downtown district of Grand Rapids. On the first Sunday in April the congregation could already meet in their own church-basement. In the meantime the superstructure was quickly completed. And exactly one year after the congregation had been ejected they could hold dedication services in their own completed church building.
Such were the bright spots in the history of those days.
The dark spots, however, were not wanting.
And they were added through the attitude and activities of the Danhofs.
There were three of them. Besides the Reverend H. Danhof of Kalamazoo, there were B. J. Danhof and R. Danhof, both nephews of the former. B. J. Danhof, whose examination as pastor-elect of the Coopersville Christian Reformed Church Classis Grand Rapids West had refused, soon after became pastor of the Protesting Christian Reformed Church that had been organized in Hull, Iowa in March, 1925. During the summer of 1925, R. Danhof was accepted as a candidate for the ministry of the Word of God by the combined consistories of the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.
As the records show clearly, the Danhofs from the very beginning of the history of the Protesting Churches appeared to strive after the realization of their own personal ambitions rather than to labor for the spread of the truth and for the cause of God’s Kingdom. As an inevitable result there developed on their part a spirit of petty jealousy, envy partisanship and suspicion, that made it extremely unpleasant to labor with them and soon caused all cooperation to be impossible. And the Protesting Churches passed through a period of internal strife and trouble that may well be called the most miserable in their history. We shall confine ourselves to the narration of the most important facts of this internal friction.
At one of the first meetings of the combined consistories the Reverend H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof strongly insisted that R. Danhof should be ordained at once as a minister of the Word of God by the Churches in general, in spite of the fact that he had not received a call. Nothing appeared to convince that this was wholly contrary to the way of the Lord and in conflict with Reformed Church Polity. The combined consistories, however, did not yield to their demands. It was agreed, however, that R. Danhof should labor as their candidate in all the churches at a salary of two thousand dollars a year. This was, indeed, very extraordinary; it should never have been so decided; it became one of the causes of strife and misery; but it was adopted as a compromising measure.
Another matter that evoked the ire of the Danhofs was the fact that the Eastern Avenue Consistory had considered it inexpedient to organize a separate congregation from their own membership in the neighborhood of Dennis Avenue. With a view to the limited power of the Protesting Churches the consistory had deemed it advisable that a church should be organized first in Byron Center, where also several families belonging to the Eastern Avenue Church resided. For the latter it was far more difficult to attend the services in the Eastern Avenue Church than for those members that resided in the Dennis Avenue district. The Reverend H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof contended that the Eastern Avenue consistory had no jurisdiction in this matter, though it concerned their own membership. However, a place had to be prepared in the city for candidate R. Danhof!
Another difficulty arose in connection with the temporary organization of the Protesting Churches. As was stated in a previous chapter the consistories appointed a committee to consider the question of possible cooperation between the different churches that had been expelled from the Christian Reformed denomination, as long as their appeal to the synod was still pending. The committee consisted of seven members, the Reverends H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema and G. M. Ophoff, and four elders, two of the consistory of Eastern Avenue and two of the consistory of Kalamazoo. The Reverend H. Danhof was strongly in favor of immediate organization of a classis, but he met with opposition especially from the delegates of the Eastern Avenue consistory. The behavior and language of the Reverend H. Danhof at the meeting of the committee evinced such an evil spirit and left such a bad impression, that the delegates of the Eastern Avenue consistory especially were filled with apprehension for the future. They even began to fear that any form of cooperation with the Reverend H. Danhof would be undesirable. Under this apprehension they traveled to Kalamazoo the morning following their first meeting, in order to have an informal discussion about the whole matter with the members of the committee from Kalamazoo. The final result of the deliberations was that the committee advised a temporary form of organization according to the Act of Agreement.
Still another part of the internal strife of the Protesting Churches of those first years of their existence is concentrated around the Theological School. As was stated in the preceding chapter, the combined consistories had decided to begin at once with the instruction of prospective ministers. The Reverends H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema and G. M. Ophoff were appointed instructors and their subjects were assigned to them by the consistories. From the very first day of school, however, the Reverend H. Danhof, who even at that early period was in a recalcitrant and very disagreeable mood, entirely disregarded the decision of the consistories regarding the curriculum. Without even consulting the two other members of the faculty, he proceeded to inform the students as to what he would consider a proper seminary course for them. And, accordingly, he taught whatever subjects he pleased, regardless of the fact that his subjects had been assigned to him by the consistories.
At faculty meetings, in order to force his will upon the other two members, he would threaten to resign and leave the school! This he did even as early as June, 1925.
Matters came to a head in May 1926.
The Reverend B. J. Danhof had come to Grand Rapids from Hull, Iowa, to attend the meeting of the combined consistories. Soon it was reported by witnesses, that he literally raved against the Consistory of Eastern Avenue and against the cause of the Protesting Churches in general. His language and behavior was as offensive as it was amazing to those that witnessed his fury. He appeared to be filled with hatred and envy.
And the “West” he stated was about to separate from the Protesting Churches.
Then another event happened that strongly suggested the evil influence of the Reverend B. J. Danhof.
It was reported to the Reverend H. Hoeksema that two students tried to secure the signatures of all the students to the following document:
“The Curatorium of the Theological Seminary of the Protestant Christian Reformed Church.
“We the undersigned, students of the above mentioned institution deem it necessary to bring the following to the attention of your honorable body:
“1) It is clearly noticeable that there is a division among the student body, which should not be.
“2) Towards late the situation has become so intense, that it is unbearable unless something is being done.
“3) The causes for this situation are primarily not to be found among the student body proper but must be sought elsewhere.
“a) Disharmony among our faculty members, namely, Reverends Hoeksema and Ophoff on the one hand, and Reverend Danhof on the other.
“b) From all evidence it is apparent that Reverend Hoeksema and Reverend Ophoff do not give impartial treatment to all the students alike.
“(1) Reverend Ophoff shows partiality in class.
“(2) Reverend Hoeksema seems to have a few pets whom he favors in order to gain his own ends.
“5) Unless counter-action is taken, before long we will have autocracy established in our own circles, which cannot but be destructive for our cause and should not be tolerated.
“6) We therefore wish to conclude urging your honorable body to investigate this matter and to take action accordingly.
“7) It is our firm conviction that unless drastic action is taken in this matter, our cause, speaking from a human standpoint, will suffer loss, and God’s name will be blasphemed for our sakes.
“8) This must not be taken as if this springs from antipathy or other unworthy motives, neither is it our intent to tear apart, but it is our sincere wish and prayer to save, and that the disharmony may be removed and may make place for peace, mutual love and fellowship, and unity in Christ Jesus our Lord and Master, and that His kingdom may come also through our instrumentality and God may be glorified.”
There was no more reason to expect this expression of dissatisfaction than there is to expect a thunderbolt from a clear sky on a cold, winter morning. No signs of disharmony or rebellion had become manifest among the students before that time. An evil spirit had been at work. It was quite evident that paragraph 8 of the above complaint had been rather consciously written for the purpose of hiding a very evil motive. Drastic action was required to protect God’s cause against the wicked operations of a very evil mind.
On Monday, May 3, the Reverend Hoeksema had school. He discovered that a certain student named Mellema was the author of the above document. He gave him an opportunity to reveal in writing whatever he knew about the matter and to apologize for his evil work. He failed to sustain with proof any of the accusations brought against two of the instructors in the protest he had composed. He knew nothing about the matters alleged therein. But he refused to apologize for his wickedness. And the Reverend Hoeksema expelled him from his classes.
But it was quite evident that the plot had a darker and deeper source.
For this reason the Reverend Hoeksema requested the combined consistories, which assembled the following day in Kalamazoo, to investigate the matter. The procedure was somewhat extraordinary, but the matter itself was far more abnormal; the result fully justified this step. The request was granted. The committee that was appointed to investigate the case reported:
“A. That not one of the students was able to mention any facts to substantiate and prove the statements made in the document of complaint by the students.
“B. That students Mellema and Kuivenhoven, the former from the West, the latter from Kalamazoo, were the instigators of the plot.
“C. That the Reverend B. J. Danhof had evidently advised the plotting students and even pressed one of the students to sign the complaint.”
The committee advised that the two instigators be expelled from school immediately and unconditionally.
The report was accepted and the matter of the expulsion of Kuivenhoven and Mellema was referred to the faculty.
At a meeting of this body soon after the May meeting of the Combined Consistories, Reverend H. Danhof attempted to defend and maintain the two guilty students and to prevent their expulsion from school, while the Reverends Hoeksema and Ophoff insisted that they should be removed from our institution. Besides, the entire attitude of Reverend H. Danhof was hostile and suspicious. The Reverend Hoeksema begged him to reveal what he had on his mind, if anything at all; asked him if he knew of any wrong he, Reverend Hoeksema, had done to him; and offered to apologize if this should prove to be the case. However, the Reverend H. Danhof knew of nothing and said nothing. Only, he continued in his attitude of hostility and as the three pastors went home together he finally expressed what had been felt for a long time: “I don’t trust you anyway.” The Reverend H. Hoeksema then felt that it was psychologically impossible to co-labor with Reverend Danhof under such conditions and he withdrew himself from school. His resignation was sent to the Curatorium of the school, to take immediate effect. Soon after Reverend G. M. Ophoff resigned also. However, later in the summer, Reverend Hoeksema decided to make one more attempt at healing the breach. He went to the home of Reverend H. Danhof and tried to persuade the Reverend Danhof of his wrong. The latter finally retracted his statement of distrust and the Reverend Hoeksema withdrew his resignation.
In the meantime still another cause of trouble came to a head.
At a May meeting of the Combined Consistories, R. Danhof had to be re-appointed for a year to serve the Churches in general. Objections were raised to this reappointment by the Consistory of Eastern Avenue and by the Consistory of Waupun. R. Danhof was accused of repeated lying. Besides, in Grand Rapids a rumor had spread that he had attended theatres.
The “Theatre-case” developed as follows. Two young men, members of Eastern Avenue, informed Rev. Hoeksema that R. Danhof had been seen by them to attend the theatre. The pastor urged upon the informants not to spread this information, but rather to speak to R. Danhof about the matter. However, others also appeared to know about the matter and the rumor spread. The Consistory of Eastern Avenue, without accusing R. Danhof in this matter, was of the opinion that a preacher of the Word must be blameless and of good reputation. Hence, they asked his cooperation to clear up the matter and promised that they would publish a statement in the Church bulletin exonerating him if possible. R. Danhof, however, revealed himself as very unwilling to cooperate with the Consistory in this matter. Besides, in the development of this case it was proven that he lied deliberately. The Consistory of Eastern Avenue felt that under the circumstances he could not be permitted to preach the Word of God in our Churches and requested the Combined Consistories to investigate this matter before deciding to re-appoint him. This was decided and a committee was appointed to investigate the matter and report at the next meeting of the consistories.
This next meeting of the consistories was held in August, 1926.
On the evening before that meeting a combined meeting of the faculty and the curatorium of the Theological School was held. A very good spirit seemed to prevail at this gathering. All the real and imagined difficulties were threshed out and removed. Complete harmony seemed to be restored. The Reverend G. M. Ophoff withdrew his resignation. Student Mellema also appeared before this meeting and confessed that his protest had been nothing but a concoction of lies and that he repented of his evil work.
The Reverend H. Danhof as rector of the school for that year composed a report of the schoolwork of the past year in which he stated that all the difficulties were removed, and in which he expressed his confidence for the future under God’s blessing.
All felt relieved and happy.
How could they anticipate that this joy was to be of very brief duration and was to suffer shipwreck on the rock of personal Danhof-interests the following day?
Yet thus it was destined to happen.
The following day the combined consistories appointed a committee to take cognizance of all the matters that appeared on the program for that meeting, and to arrange them in order. All the pastors and some of the elders were members of that committee. Also the report of the committee that had been appointed to investigate the case of R. Danhof was read at the meeting of that committee. The report was as mild and favorable to R. Danhof as was possible under the circumstances. The committee expressed, that although they were unable to exonerate R. Danhof in the matter of his alleged theatre-attendance, they did not consider the accusation proven. However, they had found him guilty of lying. And they advised that R. Danhof be requested to clear up this matter of lying with the consistory of Eastern Avenue Church, that had jurisdiction over him. As soon as he had given satisfaction to this consistory he might receive his reappointment.
This report caused a sudden change in the attitude of the Reverends H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof.
All their apparent goodwill of the previous evening suddenly disappeared, and all their bitterness and hostility returned in a flash.
At that moment they plainly revealed that they would fight for a Danhof first and last, regardless of the evident truth. And it also became evident that they would not hesitate to forsake and destroy the cause of the Protesting Churches for the sake of their personal ambitions. Practically all that were present at the meeting of that committee will witness that this is the sole possible explanation of their actions.
For, what happened?
At the meeting of the combined consistories that was held in the evening of the same day, the Reverend H. Danhof read his favorable report on the work of the school-year that was past, the report in which he stated that al the difficulties were now removed and in which he expressed the confidence of the faculty that the blessing of the Lord might be expected in the future. But immediately upon the reading of that report he informed the meeting that he resigned as instructor at the Theological School!
When the case of R. Danhof was being discussed by the combined consistories both the Reverend H. Danhof and the Reverend B. J. Danhof took the position that R. Danhof could not properly be requested to make his confession of lying before the Consistory that had jurisdiction over him. They tried to defend the position that if a confession was in order, it had to be made before the Combined Consistories. Their arguments were that R. Danhof was the servant of all the Churches and that the matter concerning him had been referred by the Consistory of Eastern Avenue to the Combined Consistories. Both these arguments were very evidently false. As to the first, it is true that R. Danhof was appointed to serve the Churches in general. Hence, by the Combined Consistories he had to be re-appointed. But this did not alter the fact that discipline over him could be exercised only by the Consistory that had jurisdiction over him and that the matter between that Consistory and him could not be settled by a confession before the Combined Consistories. And as to the second argument, it is not true that the Consistory of Eastern Avenue had referred the matter to the Combined Consistories, as afar as discipline was concerned. How could it possibly have done this according to any sound rule of Church-polity? It merely had brought these matters to the attention of the Combined Consistories as an objection against the reappointment of R. Danhof. However, both H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof fought for hours to defend their position. They failed, however, to convince the Combined Consistories and the advice of the committee was accepted.
With regard to the resignation of the Reverend H. Danhof as instructor at the Theological School, it was decided not to accept the same, but to appoint a committee, consisting of the Curatorium to confer with him about this matter and try to persuade him to reconsider and withdraw his resignation.
In this attempt the curatorium failed.
By the same meeting of the combined consistories in August, 1926 it was decided to accept a proposition by the consistory of Kalamazoo’s Protesting Church relevant to permanent organization. A committee was appointed to consider this matter and to report at the next meeting.
After the August meeting of the consistories matters developed rapidly.
The day following that meeting the Reverend H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof revealed their destructive intentions by resigning as editors of The Standard Bearer. Neither of them offered any reasons for this action.
A few days later the Consistory of the Protesting Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo sent a circular letter to all the other consistories, convoking a special meeting of the combined consistories for the purpose of making an attempt to settle the difficulties that had arisen. This meeting was called for a date not later than ten days after the date of the letter.
The reader must bear in mind that there were no more difficulties to be settled. The difficulties existed only in the minds of the Reverend s H. Danhof and B. J. Danhof. And they consisted merely in dissatisfaction on their part with the decisions of the combined consistories in the case of R. Danhof.
Besides, the consistory of Kalamazoo had no authority to call a special meeting. The date of the next meeting had been fixed by the consistories.
All the consistories refused to heed this call for a special meeting.
Then a storm broke loose in the “West”.
In the Sioux County Index of September 17, 1926, there appeared the following notice, signed by B. J. Danhof:
“This congregation is really no longer a Protesting Church. Since its organization more than a year and a half ago, it has been an independent congregation. Also independent from other Protesting churches in the East. A new name is being discussed and considered by a committee, but it is not probable that the local congregation will adopt any other name for a while.”
The reader understands that the reference in the above notice is to the Protesting Christian Reformed Church at Hull, Iowa.
It appeared, then, that Hull’s congregation contemplated seriously its separation from the Protesting Churches; in fact, the notice implies that it had already seceded, even though its pastor and consistory still pretended to cooperate with the combined consistories of these churches.
The statement that the local church in Hull had always been independent, also from other Protesting Churches in the East, was, of course, utterly false. It had been organized on the basis of the Act of Agreement. Its consistory had always attended the meetings of the combined consistories. Various matters pertaining to the churches in general had been discussed and decided by a majority vote, and the consistory of Hull had always taken part in the deliberations and decisions. Even in the matter of the proposed permanent organization Hull’s consistory had voted with the rest.
The notice in the Index was, therefore, as false as it was brazen.
The public notice in the Sioux County paper by the Reverend B. J. Danhof, that Hull had always been and still was independent from the Protesting Churches in the East, did, however, not prevent this gentleman to appear as a regular delegate at the next meeting of the combined consistories, which was held in Kalamazoo in November, 1926. He even had the audacity to open the meeting with prayer and Scripture reading and to take part in the proceedings as if nothing happened!
Happily his stay was of brief duration.
He had come to the meeting under condition of an overture of his consistory, that first of all the “difficulties” must be removed. For a short time he succeeded in holding up the regular proceedings by insisting that this overture should be considered before anything else was done. The meeting, however, was convinced that the “difficulties” did not exist, refused to be held up any longer by the Reverend B. J. Danhof and proceeded with its business. Whereupon the latter left the meeting in anger.
Soon after this it became evident that the Reverend B. J. Danhof had undergone a change in convictions.
As early as December 8, 1926, a congregational meeting was held in Hull, at which the Reverend B. J. Danhof made an attempt to defend the “Three Points” of 1924 and to persuade the flock to return with him to the fold of the Christian Reformed Churches. From which it follows that his conversion to the “Three Points” had taken place between the November meeting of the combined consistories and that congregational meeting on December 8. From which it also follows that he was desirous to return to the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches, preferably, however, not alone, but with his congregation at Hull.
He did not, however, succeed in this last attempt. He did, it must be stated, almost succeed to destroy a flourishing congregation. However, a sufficient number of the members of that church remained faithful and soon were reorganized as a Protestant Reformed Church.
About the same time there appeared in De Wachter, official publication of the Christian Reformed Churches, a confession by the Reverend B. J. Danhof. And as, undoubtedly, he himself is more able than anyone else to tell us about the change of mind he underwent in those days, we here publish that confession in full:
“Of a few things I must disburden my heart.
“I must acknowledge that after proper consideration and constant deliberation I cannot be satisfied with the standpoint of Reverend H. Hoeksema and others. To my consciousness there are elements in Holy Scripture for the which they cannot find a place in their theological system, not, at least, the proper place according to Scripture. Therefore, I have a desire to confess that I went much too far in my condemnation of the Christian Reformed Churches, also with respect to the decisions of the Synod of 1924, namely, with regard to the Three Points. And since in the past I slandered persons and churches, therefore I also make a public confession and at the same time seek forgiveness.
“To my consciousness the views of Hoeksema and others can only end in dead orthodoxy and philosophical determinism. Many psychological conceptions have been discarded and I have experienced that this is true not only from a theoretical, but also a practical viewpoint.
“I am sorry that I ever went along and thus became a schismatic. My prayer is that all the involved brethren and sisters in the Protesting congregations will follow my example, as several members of my own congregation already did, and return to the Christian Reformed Churches.
“Asking you, Mr. Editor, to allow this a place in De Wachter, and thanking you for its publication, I am with loving regards,
B. J. Danhof.”
Let us learn from this confession how radically, under certain circumstances, human convictions may change! In November it was only certain “difficulties”, that had nothing to do with “dead orthodoxy” and “philosophical determinism”, and that had everything to do with “flesh and blood”, that caused B. J. Danhof to leave the meeting of the combined consistories of the Protesting Churches in anger; in the beginning of December he has already become fully convinced that the views he once zealously defended must needs end in “dead orthodoxy” and “philosophical determinism”. In November a public prayer for a blessing upon the meeting of the Protesting Churches; in December a sincere prayer that those same churches may be destroyed!
R. Danhof had a similar change of heart.
The Protesting Churches never regretted their conversion.
But we must return to the committee that was appointed by the August meeting of the combined consistories for the purpose of advising them about a plan for permanent organization.
The Reverend H. Danhof was chairman of that committee. For a long time the committee did not hear of him, and it seemed that he had no intention to call a meeting. Finally, however, after Reverend H. Hoeksema had reminded him of the committee and its charge and had requested that the committee meet on a certain date, a meeting was held. At this meeting, which was held at the home of Reverend H. Hoeksema in Grand Rapids, the Reverend H. Danhof constantly dissented from the committee and opposed its every action. For hours he took the stand that the committee should advise the Combined Consistories not to proceed to permanent organization at all. This was entirely out of order and outside of the jurisdiction and task of the committee for the simple reason that the matter of permanent organization had been decided by the Consistories themselves. When the committee, therefore, expressed their determination to proceed, Reverend Danhof suggested that, before we could agree on any basis of organization the question ought to be decided, whether a classis is authorized to depose a consistory. Asked to express his own opinion on this matter, he replied that he was not certain in his own mind about this question. The committee felt that Rev. H. Danhof merely served a negative purpose at the meeting and decided to proceed in spite of his opposition. By a vote of four against one they then decided to advise the Combined Consistories to organize as a Classis on the basis of the Forms of Unity and the Church Order of Dordrecht. The Reverend Danhof still insisted that he would defend his position before the meeting of the Combined Consistories, which position implied the advice not to come to permanent organization of the Protesting Churches.
The committee also proposed two names from which the combined consistories were to choose one as the official name of the new denomination, namely: Reformed Protestant Churches or Protestant Reformed Churches.
At the November meeting of the combined consistories it was decided to adopt the advice of the committee and to organize as a classis on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity and the Church Order of Dordrecht.
After the Reverend H. Danhof had tried to present and to defend his view of the matter and it had become plain that the meeting did not agree with him, he and some of his consistory left the meeting.
They were never to return.
The name Protestant Reformed Churches was adopted. By this name the churches meant to express that they stand on the basis of the Reformed Churches of the Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, officially adopt the Reformed Standards as their basis of unity and are devoted to the maintenance and positive development of the Reformed truth as embodied in those Standards.
The November meeting of the combined consistories also decided, in order to remove all possible excuse on the part of the Reverend H. Danhof and the Kalamazoo Church for separation from the Protestant Reformed Churches, once more to appoint a committee to consider the alleged “difficulties of the Reverend H. Danhof and his consistory and if possible to remove them.
At the first meeting of the new classis of Protestant Reformed Churches, which was held in February, 1927, this committee reported complete failure. They had not even been able to persuade the Reverend Danhof to state his “difficulties”.
The classis then decided to express that as long as the Reverend H. Danhof would not change his attitude, it was neither possible nor desirable to seek his cooperation. A copy of this decision was sent to the consistory of the Kalamazoo Church.
Since that time the Church of Kalamazoo has led a separate life. It is known as the Protesting First Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo.
Thus, amid strife and trouble, the new denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches was born.
At the time of this writing it counts within its fellowship twenty churches. Of these eight are located in Michigan, three of which are in the city of Grand Rapids; the other five in Byron Center, Riverbend, Hudsonville, Holland and Kalamazoo. Two churches were established in Illinois, both in the vicinity of Chicago, viz., the churches of Oak Lawn and South Holland. Seven are in Iowa, the churches of Pella and Oskaloosa, of Hull, Doon, Rock Valley, Sioux Center and Orange City. And, lastly, three congregations are in the State of California, the land of continuous sunshine, viz., the churches or Redlands, Los Angeles and Bellflower.
The Protestant Reformed Churches believe in a trained ministry and maintain a theological school.
They are engaged in missionary activity, even though this is until the present time limited to Home Missions. This limitation is partly a matter of principle with them. The Protestant Reformed Churches have a peculiar history and a specific calling. This calling is the maintenance and spread of the Reformed truth in a time that is characterized by indifference and opposition to true doctrine. And they try to be faithful to this calling by preaching and teaching within and outside of their own circle, and through the means of the printed page. As far as this work is performed by the Church as institute, it is under the supervision of a Classical Mission Committee. Yet, this limitation of missionary activity to Home Missions also has a practical reason. The strength of the Protestant Reformed Churches is as yet too small to assume the responsibility of a foreign field. For this, therefore, the time is not yet come.
Finally, the Protestant Reformed Churches have no official publication. The Standard Bearer is a semi-monthly and is published by the Protestant Reformed group, but it is not published by the Churches as their official organ but by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. The paper is wholly devoted to the development and dissemination of Reformed principles.
In conclusion, we may for a moment consider the question whether the breach between the Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed Churches is not to be deplored.
All separation and division in the Church of Christ is deplorable. For, first of all, the Church as the Body of Christ is essentially one. And her unity ought to be manifested in the world. The prayer of Christ Jesus our Lord certainly is the sincere prayer of every one that professes to be and is a living member of the Church: “That they may all be one!” Beside, all division in the Church of Christ in the world involves a departure from the truth on the part of them that are the cause of the separation.
It is because the Protestant Reformed Churches realize how deplorable it is, when it must repeatedly be written of the Church of Christ, “that there are divisions among you”, that they neither desired nor sought the breach of 1924-25, but, on the contrary, did all they conscientiously could do to prevent the breach.
The Christian Reformed Church caused the separation.
They adopted “Three Points” that are Pelagian and Arminian in their real tendency. And they were determined to shut the mouth of their faithful members, who raised their voice in protest against that triple corruption of the Reformed truth that was officially coined as true doctrine in 1924.
And from this viewpoint it is not deplorable, but a cause of rejoicing and thanksgiving, that the Reformation of 1924-25 took place and the Protestant Reformed Churches were called into existence.
For, more precious than any external unity is the truth!
And while the former must often be sacrificed on the altar of the latter, never may the truth be sacrificed for the cause of external oneness of the Church as an organization in the world.
Lamentable it would have been if, after the Synod of Kalamazoo in 1924, had adopted the “Three Points”, no voice of protest had been heard at all; or if, when the Christian Reformed Churches insisted that their ministers and elders should subscribe to the “Three Point”, no breach had come at all. It would have been a sign of a general deadness and indifference with regard to the Reformed truth.
Considered in this light we consider the breach of 1924-25 a cause for rejoicing.
As long as the Christian Reformed Churches maintain the “Three Points” in addition to the Standards of the Reformed Churches as their official basis of unity, the Protestant Reformed Churches are able to serve the cause of Reformed truth much more efficiently outside of than in union with the Christian Reformed Churches of America.
For the sake of the truth, therefore, a healing of the breach between the two Churches would not be desirable.
When the truth of God is concerned every form of compromise is accursed!