Vol. 73; No. 18; July 1, 1997



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In This Issue... --Editor

Meditation - Rev. James D. Slopsema

Editorial - Prof. David J. Engelsma


Ministering to the Saints - Prof. Robert D. Decker

In His Fear - Rev. Arie denHartog

A Cloud of Witnesses - Prof. Herman C. Hanko

All Around Us - Rev. Gise J. VanBaren

Book Review

Report of Classis East - Mr. Jon J. Huisken

News From Our Churches - Mr. Benjamin Wigger

In This Issue ...

(by Prof. David J. Engelsma, editor of the Standard Bearer and professor of Dogmatics in the Protestant Reformed Theological School.)

... is a report of the 1997 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) in words and pictures. Synod finished its business late in the afternoon on Wednesday, June 18. This broadest assembly of the PRC met for seven days.

The editorial gives some of the more important actions and decisions. The full account will appear in the printed "Acts." Copies of the "Acts of Synod and Yearbook 1997 of the PRC in America" will be made available to all members of the churches later this summer. It is responsible church membership to read these "Acts." Copies of the "Acts" can be bought by others. Order from the Office of the Stated Clerk, 4949 Ivanrest Ave. S.W., Grandville, MI 49418. The cost is $5 per copy.

The meditation in this issue is a printed copy of the sermon preached at the pre-synodical worship service the evening before the convening of synod. As is the custom, the preacher was the president of the previous synod.

Synod declared the three graduates of the Theological School of the PRC candidates for the ministry in the PRC. These men are pictured, with their families, on page 418. With the pictures is given some biographical information, as well as the address and telephone number at which they can be reached. Incidentally, churches that desire to have these men supply their pulpits are now to address their requests to these men directly.

The other pictures capture some of the men and moments of the synod. The photographer was Managing Editor Don Doezema.

There were aspects of synod that are not recorded in the minutes and that cannot be protrayed in pictures. I think of the unwavering commitment of all the delegates to the creedal Reformed faith; of the profound unity that this commitment effects; of the many openings that the Lord is giving to the PRC, to witness to Jesus Christ; and of the readiness of the churches to obey Christ in these openings to the utmost of their power.

I think too of the fellowship among the delegates; of the interest of our people, especially in the examination and graduation of the seminarians; and of the gracious hospitality of the Grandville church, particularly the women who served with food and drink.

We have reason to be thankful to the God and Father of Jesus Christ who has been faithful to us in the covenant.


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Witnesses of Jesus

Rev. James Slopsema

[Rev. James Slopsema was president of the 1996 Protestant Reformed Synod. He is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.]

This is the text of the pre-synodical sermon preached on June 9, 1997.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Acts 1:8

These words were spoken by Jesus to the eleven apostles just before His ascension into heaven.

Jesus had trained these men during his brief earthly ministry. Now it was time for Jesus to depart from them into heaven. He had offered Himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice of sin to secure the salvation of the church. On the third day He had been raised from the dead. Now, 40 days later, it was time to depart to be exalted into heavenly glory and there continue His work as Mediator of the church.

As He was about to depart (He was with His disciples on the Mount of Olives), Jesus gave the eleven these final words of instruction. The Holy Spirit would come upon them and they would receive power. In the power of the Holy Spirit they would be witnesses of Him beginning in Jerusalem, then in Judea, into Samaria, and finally unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

As we consider these words we must bear in mind several things.

First, these words apply not just to the apostles but to the whole church. Often in the New Testament the apostles represent the church of the New Testament era. This is the case also here. Notice that Jesus speaks of being His witnesses to the uttermost part of the earth. This is something that the apostles alone could not do. It is the church of the New Testament that is His witnesses unto the ends of the earth.

Second, Jesus indicates what the church is. Through the power of the Holy Spirit which she would receive, she would become witnesses of Jesus. This implies a calling for the church. She must manifest herself to be what Jesus has made her to be through the Holy Spirit - witnesses of Jesus.

Finally, Synod must do its work in the awareness of what the church is and what her calling is. The Protestant Reformed Churches are also witnesses of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. The Synod must make decisions that will promote this very important work of our churches.

What is a witness?

The Bible speaks of witness in two different senses. Sometimes it speaks of those who witness an event, see something happen with their own eyes, have firsthand knowledge of something. In this sense Timothy made a good profession before many witnesses (I Tim. 6:12). The Bible speaks also of those who bear witness, i.e., who bring a testimony of what they have seen or know to be true. In this sense we are forbidden in the 9th commandment to bear false witness against our neighbor.

Sometimes when we speak of witnesses we emphasize both of these ideas. Think of a witness in court. He has seen something. Now he must testify about what he knows to be true.

When Jesus identifies the church and her members as His witnesses, He means that the church is a witness in both senses. She has not only been witness to something; she also has a testimony to bring. But the emphasis is on the latter.

The church and her members are certainly witnesses of Jesus in that they have knowledge of Jesus and His works.

This was true of the apostles. They were eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, His death, resurrection, and exaltation. Peter makes that clear to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, in Acts 10:39-41, "And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem...."

In a certain sense, also the church of today is a witness of Jesus and His works of salvation. Yes, the great works of Jesus took place long ago, before we were ever born. Nevertheless, all these works have been infallibly recorded for us by divine inspiration in Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are a complete and faithful record of all that Jesus came to do and teach. Those who know the Scriptures are just as much witnesses of Jesus' works as whose who saw and heard Him with their own eyes and ears.

The church and her members are witnesses of Jesus also in the sense that they bear witness, tell others of what they have come to know of Jesus.

This was true of the church during the apostolic era. Immediately after Pentecost, "with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33). This witness of the apostles began in Jerusalem, spread to Judea, then Samaria and Galilee, and finally throughout the Roman empire.

The witness of the apostolic church was also the witness of her members. It was not just the apostles that had knowledge of Jesus and who bore witness of Him in the official preaching of the gospel. Also the members of the early churches bore witness to Jesus. One outstanding example is the members of the church of Thessalonica. From them sounded forth (echoed) throughout Macedonian and Achaia the word of the Lord they had received from Paul. This was an essential element in the witness of the church. Without this the church of the apostles would not have been effective witnesses of Jesus.

This witness of the church continues to the end of time.

The Lord left the church on the earth to be witnesses of Him unto the uttermost part of the earth. The church of the apostles was able to bring the witness of Jesus to only a small part of the earth. It will take the church until the end of time to complete this work. Hence, the church of every age, also this age, has a great calling to be witnesses of Jesus.

This great work involves the whole church and all her members. To be effective witnesses of Jesus requires that the church preach the truth of Scripture both in her own midst and on the mission field. To be effective witnesses of Jesus also requires that the members of the church bring a clear testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They must do this in their homes to the covenant children God gives the church. They must do this in the community in which God places them. Should the church fail in any aspect of this work, she fails in her calling as witness of Jesus.

The work of synod is directly related to the calling of the Protestant Reformed Churches to be witnesses of Jesus. This is evident from a quick perusal of the agenda of synod. The bulk of the agenda for synod deals with our seminary, our mission work, and our contact with other churches. These are all directly related to our calling as church to be witnesses of Jesus. Our mission work as churches is an integral part of our witness as churches. Our seminary is vital for our churches to bring a witness. Our contact with other churches serves the purpose of assisting other churches and of being assisted in our calling to witness.

There are several other items that take less space in the agenda, but which are also directly related to the calling of our churches to be witnesses of Jesus. This includes our catechism program, Psalter distribution, and even the financial matters relating to the Emeritus Fund, Student Aid Fund, and subsidy for needy churches.

Let the synod do its work in the awareness of this so that decisions are made that will promote the great work given to our churches of being witnesses of Jesus.

Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.

Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit would come upon the apostles and church must be understood in light of the promise God made to the church of the Old Testament to pour out the Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28, 29).

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God operated in the hearts and lives of God's people to bring them the salvation of God. However, He did so only in small measure. And He operated only in one small nation - Israel. The reason for this was that the Christ had not yet come to obtain the salvation of God's people through the one great sacrifice of the cross. There was only the promise of these things.

Nevertheless God promised that there would be a day when the Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh. There would be given the full measure of the Spirit to bestow the full measure of God's blessings and salvation. This would come not just to Israel but to the nations.

Now, when Jesus speaks here to the apostles of the coming of the Holy Spirit, He is referring the fulfillment of that promise. This fulfillment took place just 10 days after this, on the Jewish day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2).

According to Jesus the apostles and church would receive power after that the Holy Spirit had come upon them.

The idea is that the Holy Spirit that would come upon the church would empower her and her members to be faithful witnesses of Jesus throughout the ages.

We see from the New Testament Scriptures how this was the case for the church of the apostles.

First, the Spirit enlightened the church to be witnesses of Jesus. The apostles had seen the works of Jesus and heard His teachings. But they did not understand. They did not even understand the purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection. But when the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, suddenly all is made plain. Read Peter's speech on Pentecost in Acts 2 to see how this was true.

Besides, the Spirit empowered the church to bring a testimony of Jesus to the people. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles in their preaching (I Cor 2:4), gave them great zeal to speak the gospel of Christ (Acts 4:20), gave them great boldness to speak in the face of persecution (Acts 4:31), and gave them what to say as they were hailed before rulers (Matt 10:18, 19).

And the Holy Spirit so empowers the church today. The Spirit works in the hearts and lives of every true member of the church. Graciously He leads them to understand the Scriptures. He also guides pastors in their preaching, works great zeal in all the members to speak the Word, and gives boldness to speak in the face of opposition.

So the church must pray for the Holy Spirit that she may be faithful and clear witnesses of Jesus.

The synod must also pray for the leading of the Spirit in her work. She must pray for insight into the Word of God, which is the sole guide for the church as she bears witness of Jesus. In that connection, the Spirit has given the church down through the ages much insight into God's Word. The fruit of this is found in the Reformed creeds and Church Order. The synod must be careful to do her work in the framework of that wisdom and insight. Finally, the synod must pray for the power of the Spirit to be zealous, bold, and fearless in her work, not concerned about the world's opinion and evaluation but about the approval of Jesus, who has commanded the church to be His witnesses.

The result of this witness of the church is the gathering in of the church.

God has eternally chosen a church to Himself in Jesus Christ. This church He has ordained to eternal life. In the Old Testament this church was limited to the Jewish nation. In the New Testament this church is found among the nations.

God will bring this elect number to faith and salvation through the witness of His church on earth. As we have seen, this witness centers in the official preaching of the gospel. But this witness includes the godly, daily witness of her members in the home and community.

What a glorious privilege God has given to the church!

The gathering of the church is God's great work in history.

God has seen fit to use our witness of His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish this work. Let us see the great distinction that is ours and be busy in this glorious work both as churches and as synod.

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PRC Synod 1997

Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Prof. David Engelsma is editor of the Standard Bearer and professor of dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.]

The spacious, comfortable church building of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, MI was the site of the 1997 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). Synod lasted seven days, from Tuesday, June 10, through Wednesday, June 18. Three days were devoted to the oral examination of three graduating seniors of the Theological School of the PRC. The 20 delegates from the two classes of the denomination finished all the other business of the 100-page agenda in four days.

In the pre-synodical worship service on Monday evening, Rev. James Slopsema preached on Acts 1:8, "… and ye shall be witnesses unto me.…"

The officers of synod were Rev. Kenneth Koole, president; Rev. Ronald Van Overloop, vice-president; Rev. Barrett Gritters, first clerk; and Rev. Steven Key, second clerk.


One of the most important matters on the agenda was the oral examination of senior seminarians Daniel Kleyn, James Laning, and Martin Vander Wal. The three preached before synod on Tuesday of the first week of synod on texts assigned them earlier. The whole of Wednesday was taken up with examination in dogmatics. On Thursday, they were examined in church history; church polity; New Testament history; Old Testament history; and matters of their own life and calling. In addition, the seminarians turned in written exegesis on assigned Hebrew and Greek passages of Scripture.

Synod approved the examination and declared the three men candidates for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC. They are eligible for a call on July 12, 1997.

Graduation exercises, under the auspices of the Theological School Committee of the PRC, were held on Monday evening, June 16. The families and friends of the graduates and many supporters of the seminary filled the auditorium of the Southwest PRC. Prof. Robert Decker gave a stirring address on the topic, "The Reformed Pastor: A Biblical Profile." In addition to the three who aspire to the ministry in the PRC, Darren Thole graduated. Mr. Thole intends to enter the ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Other decisions regarding the Theological School included synod's approval of the admission of three men in the fall of 1997. Two come from Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland; the other, from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. A fourth, from the "Bond" of the Hervormde Kerk in the Netherlands, had been admitted to the seminary in the 1997 school year by decision of the synod of 1996. A number of men from the Heritage Netherlands Reformed denomination will again take several courses at the seminary this coming year.

In response to information in the rector's report that no one from the PRC is entering the seminary this fall, synod urged consistories to bring the need for men for the ministry to the attention of their congregations. There will be three men from the PRC in the school this coming year, one in each of the last three years of training.

Contact with Other Churches

Synod heard an encouraging report from its Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) concerning a conference with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPCA). The conference was held in Launceston, Tasmania in January, 1997. Synod expressed its desire to continue to seek closer fellowship with the EPCA because of the agreement in doctrine and life between the two denominations, particularly as regards the gospel of salvation by sovereign, particular grace. Nevertheless, synod rejected the advice of the CC to establish "a less complete fraternal relationship" with the EPCA under the constitution of the CC. The ground was that there are "significant doctrinal differences between us, particularly … the matters of marriage, divorce, and remarriage; the EPC's interpretation of the regulative principle; and eternal justification." A major barrier to ecumenical relationship is the position of the EPCA that "purity of worship" condemns such practices of the PRC as the use of instrumental accompaniment of congregational singing, observance of Christmas, and the presence of crosses in and on the church buildings as sin against the second commandment. For this reason, synod authorized the CC to set up another conference with the EPCA on the subject of biblically regulated worship.

The EPCA will be sending another man to the PR Seminary for training in a three-year program. The PRC will help in the financial support of this man in the amount of $6,000 per year.

In response to information concerning the condition of the Protestant Reformed Church of New Zealand (PRCNZ), synod discouraged this sister church from calling a minister. The PRC in America will not financially support a minister that the PRCNZ might call. Out of concern for the spiritual welfare of the saints in the New Zealand church, synod advised the New Zealand congregation seriously to consider disbanding. A main ground was the very small size of the church.

Following the recommendation of the CC, synod extended the term of Rev. Jay Kortering as minister-on-loan to the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS) for five years. The ERCS have requested this, and Rev. Kortering is willing. Both the ERCS and Rev. Kortering are convinced that there is much work for him in Singapore and environs. Specifically, he will work at "the continued development of the ERCS as Reformed churches; theological training of future ministers for the ERCS as well as other churches; and assisting the ERCS in their mission work."

Synod authorized collections in the PRC for the support of foreign students (from Myanmar, the Philippines, and other places) who will study in the Bible School that is being set up by the ERCS in Singapore. A minister or professor from the PRC will visit Singapore this fall to help with the work.

Again in 1997, the PRC will send observers to the meeting of NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council). The meeting will be in Atlanta, GA.


The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) reported that the Hull, IA PRC continues to call a missionary to Ghana, Africa.

Synod heard a positive report from Rev. Jay Kortering concerning contacts in the Philippines. Rev. and Mrs. Kortering spent a week in the Philippines at the end of April and the beginning of May, 1997 at the request of the FMC. Rev. Kortering concluded his report to the FMC with the words, "I trust that God will inspire your committee and the PRC to take up this work in the Philippines." The FMC spoke of a "great opportunity" in the Philippines. Synod approved sending a committee to the Philippines before June, 1998. This visit will include a conference with several pastors and church leaders.

The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) recommended calling a second home missionary, to work in the eastern United States. Synod rejected this recommendation. It instructed the DMC to use the present home missionary for work that needs to be done in the eastern United States. It recalled the decision of the synod of 1994, that the home missionary is not to work only in Colorado but also in other areas. The report of the DMC concerning work in the San Luis Valley in Colorado informed synod that "numerical growth has been minimal."

The PRC learned from their DMC that there was fruit on their missions in Northern Ireland in that a church was organized. The congregation is the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland (CPRCNI). The date of organization was July 24, 1996. Synod disapproved the proposal that the CPRCNI enter into an "interim relationship" with the Hudsonville, MI PRC. Rather, the recommendation of synod was that the CPRCNI work toward the establishment of sister-church relationship with the PRC. A sister-church relationship expresses the unity of the church. Such a relationship with the entire PR denomination honors the principle of unity that is embodied in the federation.

There are many contacts and opportunities for preaching throughout the British Isles. Missionary Ronald Hanko is energetically developing these contacts. The British Reformed Fellowship, an organized group in the United Kingdom, have asked the DMC for another missionary from the PRC in the United Kingdom. Following the advice of the DMC, synod decided against this for the present. It instructed the DMC to pursue contacts in other ways and periodically to send a man to the British Isles to help in the work.

The PRC are committed to help in the financial support of the two students from the CPRCNI who will study at the PR Seminary in the amount of $21,000 per year.

Synod received a warm letter of greeting from the CPRCNI over the signature of clerk John Clarke:

We rejoice that since the last meeting of Synod we have been organised as a true church of Jesus Christ on earth. Since our organisation we have been conscious of God's blessing upon us and are enjoying the benefits that church membership brings. The preaching and teaching of Rev. Hanko is highly esteemed by us all, as is the support and encouragement given by his wife and family. It is a privilege to have them live amongst us. We would again like to express our gratitude to the PRC and in particular Hudsonville PRC and the Mission Committee for all their faithful labours. So much of what we seek to do by means of outreach would not be possible without your help. We desire the closest possible bond between our church and your churches and hope that Synod will accept the proposals for future relationships that we have submitted. Our prayer is that God will bless you in all your labours and give you much wisdom in the decisions that you make.


Significant decisions were taken regarding the churches' financial support of "retired" ministers (emeritation). Synod decided that the net assets of emeriti ministers or their widows be used to determine their income and be used for their support. The portion of the assets to be used will be determined by the supervising consistory and the Emeritus Committee. Synod rejected the overture of the council of the Southwest PRC, to rescind the decision in Article 70, B. 2 of the "Acts of Synod, 1995." This decision urged all the churches "to insure that their pastors have a retirement program." The ground for the rejection of the overture was that "the decision of 1995, Art. 70, B. 2, calls the churches to face the calling of the churches to exercise legitimate stewardship and foresight in the issues of the retirement of our pastors." Synod 1997 went on to

instruct those churches whose pastors are not in the Social Security system and who are not contributing a reasonable amount (at least $2,000) to a retirement program for their pastors, to forward annually to the Emeritus Fund of the churches an amount equal to what otherwise would be paid in FICA taxes (the employer's portion).

This decision indicates that the occasion for the recent synodical concern over money to fund emeritation is the fact that many ministers do not participate in the Social Security program.

That part of the overture of Southwest that asked for a synodical committee "to study the advisability of investing a portion of the Emeritation Fund in mutual funds" was adopted. Synod appointed yet another committee to study the entire matter of support of emeriti ministers.

Gratefully, synod accepted a gift of $40,000 from the estate of Mr. Henry Koster. The money was deposited in the Emeritus Fund.

Other Decisions

Synod approved a number of corrections, mostly capitalization and punctuation, in the forms in the back of The Psalter. These are made with a view to reprinting The Psalter.

There will be a denominational celebration of the 75th anniversary of the churches in A.D. 2000, the Lord willing. The celebration will be held at Calvin College, June 19 - 23, 2000. The theme will be, "Living Out of Our Heritage."

The budget for 1998 will be $665 per family. This is an increase over 1997 of $15.

Hope PRC, Walker, MI is the calling church for the synod of 1998.

May the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who guided the synod according to Christ's promise and in answer to our prayers, make the decisions fruitful unto the gathering and preservation of Christ's church.

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Daniel Kleyn

Age: 30
Wife's Name: Sharon Kay
Membership: Hope PRC, Walker, MI
Internship: South Holland PRC,
South Holland, IL
University of Tasmania,
Hobart,Tasmania, Australia
Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI, USA
3818 Michael S.W.
Wyoming, MI 49509
(616) 538-8992
7 Lislunnan Road
Kells, Ballymena, Co. Antrim
BT42 3NR, Northern Ireland

James Allen Laning
Age: 34
Wife's Name: Margaret
Children: Benjamin, Heather, Peter, Amy, Michael
Membership: Hope PRC, Walker, MI
Internship: Southwest PRC, Grandville, MI
College: University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
709 Burns S.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49509
(616) 246-6489

Martin L. VanderWal
Age: 32
Wife's Name: Tricia
Daughter: Catherine Joy
Membership: Southwest
PRC, Grandville, MI
Internship: First PRC, Holland, MI
College: Calvin College, Grand Rapids.
113 W. Central
Zeeland, MI 49464
(616) 748-9447

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Seeing the Errors in Dispensationalism

I am a premillennial dispensationalist. I studied in a Bible school that upholds it. I thank God for the editorials, "A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism," in recent issues of the Standard Bearer. I learned a lot of truths from the articles. And now I am beginning to see a number of errors in dispensationalism. Please continue sending the Standard Bearer. Would you send the Standard Bearer also to these pastors…?

(Pastor) P.B. Tanierla
Camarines Norte
The Philippines

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Called to Rule the Officebearers

Prof. Robert Decker

[Prof. Robert Decker in professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.]

Not only are the elders of God's church called to rule the congregation, they are also called to rule the officebearers of the congregation. This is clearly stipulated by The Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Article 23 reads, "The office of the elders, in addition to what was said in Article 16 to be their duty in common with the minister of the Word, is to take heed that the ministers, together with their fellow-elders and the deacons, faithfully discharge their office.…" And Article 81 of the Church Order states that "The ministers of the Word, elders, and deacons shall before the celebration of the Lord's Supper exercise Christian censure among themselves, and in a friendly spirit admonish one another with regard to the discharge of their office." Among the "Questions for Church Visitation" are several which are directed to the elders and which cover all aspects of the minister's office. The elders are asked,

1. Does the minister in the preaching and in the administration of the sacraments do his work faithfully according to the Word of God, the Forms of Unity, and the Church Order?
2. Does the minister faithfully explain God's Word so that the congregation is built up through his preaching?
3. Does he regularly conduct the catechism classes, visit the sick faithfully, and does he take part in family visitation?
4. Does the minister reveal himself as a worthy example?
5. Is he devoted as much as possible to the exercise of his office?1 

There are also in these "Questions" several which are put to the minister and elders concerning the work of the deacons,

1. Do the deacons attend regularly the services for divine worship as well as the consistory meetings; and in case such meetings are held, do they attend the deacons' meetings?
2. Are they diligent in the collecting of the alms and do they faithfully realize their calling in the care and comfort of the poor and oppressed?
3. Are the collections counted in the presence of the minister or one or more of the elders?
4. Do they administer the finances wisely, in consultation with the minister and the consistory?
5. Do they, in their family and outward life and walk, reveal themselves as exemplary Christians? 2

The elders, therefore, are called to take oversight of the minister. The minister is a member of the congregation, and his life and walk are subject to the rule of the elders. The elders "have the rule over" the minister just as they "have the rule over" any other member of the congregation (Heb. 13:7, 17). But, as is obvious from the Church Order, the elders also "have the rule over" the minister as regards the duties of his office.

The elders are to see to it that the minister preaches and administers the sacraments faithfully according to Scripture and the confessions and the Church Order. Because catechetical instruction is an aspect of the preaching of the Word, also this aspect of the minister's work must be supervised by the elders. If the elders are to do this they must regularly visit the catechism classes. One visit per catechism season is not sufficient to determine if the minister is faithfully carrying out this part of his office. The elders ought to visit each class at least three or four times during the course of the season. They ought to encourage the minister in this work. If the minister is unfaithful in this work, the elders must admonish him. Regular visiting of the classes, we might add, enables the elders to determine whether the children are learning their lessons and behaving in class.

The elders must make sure that no heresy is preached or taught in the church. They must see to it that the minister diligently and faithfully expounds the sacred Scriptures as it applies to the lives and needs of God's people. Preaching must edify, i.e., build up the people of God. If this is to happen, the congregation must be warned against the false doctrines which abound in our day. They must be instructed in the truth of Scripture, so that, growing in the knowledge of the truth, they grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. God's people must be exhorted to holiness so that they grow in sanctification to the glory of God. To all of these the elders must give their attention.

This means that there ought to be ongoing discussion among the minister and the elders concerning the minister's preaching and teaching in the congregation. There must not merely be negative criticism of the minister's preaching, though there has to be this when necessary. Rather there must be on the part of the elders positive, constructive criticism, or, better, critique of the minister's preaching. Elders ought to encourage the minister in this work which is so crucial to the well-being, indeed the very life, of the church. The elders must speak to the minister concerning the needs of the congregation. They ought to help the minister discern and address the weaknesses manifest in the congregation. Elders ought to assist the minister in choosing his texts for preaching. Elders must not hesitate to point the minister to his own weaknesses and help him overcome these.

The churches ought to retain the practice of having the elders shake hands with the minister after the worship service as an indication of the elders' approval of what was just preached. This ought to be done, not in the back, but in the front of the sanctuary so that the congregation can observe. And our churches ought to reinstate the practice of having one of the elders shake the minister's hand before he goes to the pulpit. Both of these practices are indications and reminders to the congregation of the elders' calling to take oversight of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

The elders are called to see to it as well that the minister faithfully performs the other aspects of his office. Among these duties are the visiting of the sick and taking part in the family visiting. In the larger congregations these duties can consume large amounts of time. Elders must be sensitive to this and assist the minister in these labors so that he has sufficient time to prepare for the pulpit and catechism classes. These latter must have priority.

Finally, the elders must be certain that the minister is, in his daily living, revealing himself to be a "worthy example" to the people of God. The minister will be a worthy example if he is devoted as much as possible to the exercise of his office.

The elders are called to rule the deacons. They must ascertain whether the deacons faithfully attend the worship services, and the council and deacons' meetings. The elders must make certain that the deacons are diligent in the collecting of the alms and faithful in realizing their calling to bring care and comfort to the poor and oppressed. The elders are called to see to it that the finances of the church are administered wisely by the deacons. They ought to encourage the deacons in their work.

And the elders are exhorted by the Lord through the inspired apostle to "take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed (shepherd, RDD) the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). In other words, the elders are to rule over themselves and see to it that their fellow elders faithfully discharge the duties of their office.

Through this office, the office of elder, Christ is pleased to rule and govern His precious, blood-bought church. What great and wonderful things Christ accomplishes through the faithful elders in His church! Let all of God's people pray for the elders of the church that God will give them the grace to carry out the duties of their sacred office. In this way the churches will be blessed, the truth of the gospel will be faithfully proclaimed, the cause of God's kingdom will be advanced, and God's name will be praised.

Samuel Miller points to a practice that obtained in the past in virtually all Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Whether the practice ought to be reinstated in our churches is a question we leave to the reader to ponder. The practice is this,

… that there seems to be a peculiar propriety in the Ruling Elders … having a seat assigned them, for sitting together, in a conspicuous part of the Church, near the Pulpit, during the public service, where they can overlook the whole worshipping assembly, and be seen by all. The considerations which recommend this, are numerous. It was invariably so in the Jewish Synagogue. The same practice … was adopted in the early Church, as soon as Christians began to erect houses for public worship. This official and conspicuous accommodation for the Elders is constantly provided in the Dutch Reformed Church (this would be the Reformed Church in America in the early 19th century, RDD) in this country, and it is believed by most of the Reformed Churches on the continent of Europe. It is adapted to keep the congregation habitually reminded who their Elders are, and of their official authority; and also to remind the Elders themselves of their functions and duties. And it furnishes a convenient opportunity for the Pastor to consult them on any question which may occur, either before he ascends the Pulpit, or at the close of the service. 3

 1 The Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, pp. 111-112. Return
 2 Ibid, p. 112-113. Return
 3 Samuel Miller, The Ruling Elder (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1984), pp. 214-215. Return

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Seek Ye First the Kingdom of Heaven and Its Righteousness (2)

Rev. Arie denHartog

[Rev. Arie denHartog is pastor of the Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Redlands, California.]

When we rightly understand the nature of the kingdom, we can also rightly understand what it means to seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. The most common errors in understanding this great exhortation of Christ are the errors that follow from an earthly and carnal conception of the kingdom. Many imagine therefore that they are seeking the kingdom when they get themselves involved in the great social and political movements of the day, such as protest rallies against the evils of our society. These will often even go so far as to condemn the churches that do not get involved in these activities as "do nothing organizations." Even ministers of the gospel have followed this error. They have forsaken their pulpits in church in order to get involved in politics and social action, imagining that they will have a greater influence for the cause of the kingdom of Christ by doing this. They are sadly mistaken.

The mighty power of the kingdom is the preaching of the gospel. By the power of this preaching, the cause of the kingdom of Christ is advanced and the citizens of the kingdom are gathered. Through the preaching of the gospel the citizens of the kingdom are instructed in the righteousness of the kingdom, they are furnished with the equipment they need to live in good works, and they are strengthened for the great battle for the kingdom in their lives.

The church is central to the kingdom of Christ. We may say that the church is the capital city of the kingdom. This is a wonderful thing. Not Washington, not Rome, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or London, or any other earthly city is the capital of the kingdom. The true church of Jesus Christ is the capital of the glorious kingdom of Christ. To the church Christ has given the great commission of preaching the gospel which is, as we said, the great power of the kingdom of Christ.

Seeking the kingdom therefore necessarily means that we must be members of the true church of Jesus Christ. No Christian who loves the kingdom may have a disregard for the church of Jesus Christ. Seeking the kingdom is not done by Christians individually, independent from the church, but by Christians as they are members of the church. We seek the kingdom when we are living members of the true church where the truth of the gospel is preached. We seek the kingdom when we are ready to stand with this church against the false doctrine and the false church of our age. The false church is always much larger than the true church. The false church is always the most zealous persecutor of the true church. The false church claims to be the great advocate of the kingdom of Christ, when at the same time it denies the truth and righteousness of the kingdom and is in fact an enemy of God and of Christ. Seeking the kingdom involves separating from the false church and opposing her.

We truly seek the kingdom of Christ when we stand together in the church with fellow believers, loving and confessing the truth for the glory of the name of God. The whole reason for standing for the true doctrine of the Word of God is the glory of God and of Christ the mighty and glorious Lord of His kingdom. Few today have any understanding or appreciation of this. Kingdom seekers must be ready to make all kinds of sacrifices for the sake of being members of the true church of Jesus Christ. If such a church is not to be found in the area where they live, they must move even great distances and at great costs in order to be part of this church. No one who belongs to the true church ought to move to an area where there is no such church. Not even job promotions by large and prestigious companies, or glorious and lucrative careers ought to override the great importance for the kingdom seeker of belonging to the true church of Jesus Christ. Young people, when they choose a college or university to attend, ought always to make belonging to the church the great consideration. Not even as a temporary arrangement should one move to an area where he cannot be part of the true church, or where he can continue to be so but only with great difficulty. Seeking the kingdom first means always fulfilling our calling as members of the church of Jesus Christ in worshiping God and serving the church and her members. Seeking the kingdom first means that we must set priorities right in all our life no matter what. Being always part of the true church is far more important than going to a prestigious school somewhere far away.

Being part of the true church will mean that we must be ready to be members of a small and despised organization, an organization that is ridiculed and persecuted in the world. The vast majority of the ridicule of the true church comes from the apostate church that is many times greater in number in the world than the true church and boasts of its fame and glory and power and influence in the world. For the love of the truth and for the glory of the name of Christ the King, the kingdom seeker remains steadfastly and zealously a member of the true church of Jesus Christ.

Seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness means that we stand firm on the righteousness of the kingdom. As regenerated children of God we desire to walk in that righteousness in every area of our lives. We seek the kingdom by personally and actively striving to live by true spiritual principles of righteousness in our lives. We seek the kingdom by opposing the wickedness and unrighteousness that is in the world, by condemning it and by separating ourselves from it. Seeking the kingdom involves us in a great spiritual battle with the ungodliness of this world and a struggle even with our own sinful nature that is deeply opposed to this kingdom. More and more in our day immoral life-styles are being flaunted. Even professing Christians imagine that an occasional immoral affair is not all that serious.

The righteousness of the kingdom is that of the purity of heart and mind as well as that of our outward life. One can have great boasting about following King Jesus and standing for His kingdom, but when such a person disregards the law of righteousness of that kingdom and lives a life of ungodliness so that he can hardly be distinguished from the world, this man is deceiving himself. Such a person is a hypocrite in spite of all his great claim for zeal for the kingdom. He is doing the cause of the kingdom great harm and giving the world occasion to blaspheme the name of King Jesus. To seek the righteousness of the kingdom of Christ one must be ready to suffer great loss in the world. The kingdoms of this world are characterized by greed, covetousness, and corruption of every sort. When the citizen of the kingdom refuses to join the world in its great evil, often he must suffer great financial loss. But what does this matter if our hearts are set on the righteousness and glory of the kingdom of Christ?

A great issue of righteousness in the kingdom of heaven is true and genuine love among the citizens of the kingdom. The citizens of the kingdom glorify Christ their King and serve the cause of the kingdom in a most wonderful way when they are meek and merciful, and when they are ready to forgive especially their fellow saints. The Beatitudes, which Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, certainly bring this out. Jesus further explains in the Sermon on the Mount what true love for the neighbor means. The Sermon on the Mount is not a charter for social concern and humanistic philosophy. The righteousness of which it speaks is a spiritual righteousness that only the regenerated child of God can practice.

The principles of righteousness of the kingdom mean that we must be ready to bear wrong and to suffer for Christ's sake. The citizens of the kingdom do not avenge themselves. They turn the other cheek, not rendering evil for evil. They are always ready to go the second mile. They love even their enemies, blessing those who curse them and praying for those who despitefully use them and persecute them. This is the righteousness of the kingdom. The citizens of the kingdom do good unto all men as children of their Father in heaven. This is the perfection which Christ the King demands of the citizens of His kingdom.

Seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness is the opposite of materialism and covetousness. The love of money and the desire for the glory and riches of this world is the chief sin that destroys in the heart of the child of God the purpose to seek the kingdom of heaven first. No, riches and material things are not wrong in themselves. They are good gifts of God and must be used to help us seek the kingdom. But we must pay attention to the many, many warnings of Scripture against the great evil of covetousness and the love of money which is the root of all evil. The love of money makes a man compromise on the righteousness of the kingdom. The love of money makes a man greedy and self-seeking and self-glorying. The love of money makes men corrupt. The love of money fills a man's heart with anxiety over the things of the world. This anxiety soon takes over the great spiritual concern and zeal that ought to occupy the hearts and souls of the citizens of the kingdom. The love of money destroys genuine spirituality. It has done that for many professing Christians, probably more than anything else. The church must never cease to warn her members of the great evil of the love of money.

Seeking the kingdom first must be evident in marriage and the Christian home and family. The desire for the kingdom of heaven must control the young man and young woman when they begin to look for a life partner. One of the great purposes of marriage is that husband and wife might assist each other in their kingdom calling. This is of course impossible if one of the partners is not truly and spiritually a citizen of the kingdom of Christ. This is so obvious that it is hard to believe that it is so often ignored by young people in their dating practices. How easy it is to be motivated in dating by the same things that motivate the world. The chief concern then is physical and sexual attractiveness, popularity in the world, and the enjoyment of the pleasures and sinful life-style of the world. We live in an age of the worship of the human body and the idolizing of sexual attractiveness as more important than anything else in life. Citizens of the kingdom must realize how absolutely antithetical the culture of the world is to the righteousness of the kingdom of God in this area. Young people seek the kingdom first in their lives when, already in dating, they fellowship only with those who by their confession and walk demonstrate that they are truly citizens of the kingdom of Christ. Scripture, after all, speaks of husbands and wives in Christian marriage as joint heirs of the kingdom of Christ.

Sometimes seeking the kingdom is imagined to be something done only in some faraway place and by becoming a missionary or minister of the gospel or a Christian school teacher. There is no doubt about the fact that the ministry of the gospel is the highest and most blessed calling in the kingdom. Young men seeking a life's career ought to consider the will of the Lord for them, whether the Lord has not called them to this great occupation in life. There is a great need for Christian school teachers. Being a Christian school teacher is a noble kingdom profession in which many faithful children of God have served well. On the other hand, it must be said that every Christian, in whatever occupation to which the Lord has called him or her, must seek the kingdom in that profession.

Many have mistakenly imagined that one seeks the kingdom of Christ by joining a humanistic organization whose only objective is to alleviate world poverty and the social evils and injustices of this wicked world. In the eyes of the world this may be considered to be very noble. But such organizations as the Red Cross Society and the Peace Corps and other worldly organizations fighting hunger and social injustice are not organizations promoting the cause of the kingdom of Christ. Sometimes such organizations claim to be promoters of the kingdom of Christ. They go by high sounding Christian names. However, before the Christian ever joins such an organization and devotes his life to it, he or she must be sure that it is not merely earthly and carnal in its objectives, as noble as those objectives may seem in the eyes of the world.

Let no one forget that seeking the kingdom must be our calling in our daily lives in all the common spheres of our life, in our homes, in our occupations, in church, and in society in general. We seek the kingdom by living according to the principles of righteousness and for the glory of Christ in every one of those spheres. This is greatly significant. Let none imagine that this means nothing and does nothing. Christ the King is glorified especially by this. Anyone who compromises the principles of righteousness of the kingdom, no matter how great he may imagine his earthly occupation to be, has lost sight of the great calling to seek the kingdom.

The husband and wife who bring forth covenant children not for their own glory but for the sake of the church and covenant of God are seeking the kingdom. The godly mother who resists the temptation of the world to get a glamorous earthly career but instead makes great personal sacrifices and works hard day and night in her Christian home to raise a God-fearing family, such a woman is great in the eyes of the Lord and does truly great things for the kingdom of Christ. The husband who is a citizen of the kingdom shows this in his deportment to his wife and family. He rules over his wife with love and tender affection, honoring her for her important place in the kingdom. He supports his wife. He knows his calling to lead his family in the fear of the Lord. He does not commit himself to carnal pursuits of his earthly occupation to such a measure that he does not have the time and energy to rule his children and teach them the principles of true godliness. Also for the husband it is urgent that he realize that money and career in the world are secondary, as important as they may be in themselves. By really following this perspective of life the godly man seeks the kingdom first. Even if that means that he has a less lucrative and glorious occupation in the world.

Many more practical things could be said. Let us examine our whole life and judge ourselves whether the kingdom of heaven is truly central and primary in all our life.

We seek the kingdom first, knowing the glory and blessedness of the kingdom. All the glory and riches of this world shall pass away. The things of this world are only of temporary and very limited significance. Our hearts are set on the glorious and blessed things of the kingdom of Christ. These things shall be our possession through all eternity. Our hearts are set on the blessed and glorious appearing of Christ our heavenly King. We know that some day we must leave all that we have in this world behind. But then we shall inherit the glory and blessedness that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive. We shall live forever with Christ our blessed King to praise Him for His glory and grace.

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George Martin Ophoff:Humble Servant of the Truth (3)

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Prof. H. Hanko is professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary and teaches Greek and New Testament studies.]

Ophoff As Professor

Throughout his life in the ministry, the center and most important aspect of Ophoff's work was his labor as professor. I am compelled to look at this aspect of his work from my own perspective because it was in the seminary that I best knew him.

In the first year I attended seminary, the school was rather large, with students from our own churches, interested young men and college students who audited various courses, students from the Netherlands, and students from the Eureka Classis of the German Reformed Churches. After the controversy of 1953 the number of students was significantly reduced.

My first impression, formed already in those years, and one which continues to the present, is Ophoff's immense dedication to the cause, a dedication which became especially evident in his willingness to sacrifice almost all earthly goods and position for the sake of the truth. Such enormous dedication left an indelible mark.

My second impression was that our education was of the highest possible caliber. This was true even from an academic viewpoint. Ophoff, e.g., taught us our Hebrew grammar and reading. He taught it well and he taught it thoroughly. We learned our Hebrew under his instruction. We could not have learned it better anywhere else. We had to study and we had to study hard. The sleepless nights were many and the work was demanding. We had good courses.

But the education was especially good because it was taught throughout from the perspective of Scripture and the confessions. Ophoff had insights into things which were unique and powerful. In Old Testament studies he opened to us the history of Israel in a way which could not be learned from any book. He did not rely upon what others had said; he did not use the same old notes over and over, year after year. He was fresh, vigorous, new, insightful, and interesting. In Church History he showed us something I had never learned in all my college days: the fundamental spiritual difference between the Reformation and the Renaissance which created sharp antithesis between them. And this is but one example.

My third impression was that Ophoff was disorganized in much of his life. It must be remembered that the workload he carried was enormous and the obligations many and varied. It must be remembered too that Ophoff's absorption in a given subject at a given time made him so preoccupied that he was often oblivious to what was going on about him. Nevertheless, he was not a man who claimed organization as his strength. His study was to anyone entering it a disorganized place (although he seemed to know fairly well where everything was). His notes were disorganized so that no one else could possibly have used them. His instruction was disorganized, and the students used to joke that we stayed longer at Mt. Sinai than the children of Israel. We never covered all the material. The clock, governing the beginning and the end of class periods, did not exist for him. I am sure we would have had the same class all morning if we had not reminded him of the time. But we received from him insights which were principial; we learned viewpoints and methods of working that were distinctively Reformed; we were subjected to a man whose concentration on a given subject was at any moment total; and we could not help but be moved repeatedly by a spiritual dedication that stood above all else. If later in life we had to continue our studies in subjects we only began with him in seminary, we knew that we had been given the proper starting point and the way was carefully charted so that we would never get lost. And that, after all, is what counts.

The same characteristics appeared in his writings. He wrote syllabi for classroom use and wrote volumes for the Standard Bearer. But what was true of his teaching was equally true of his writing. I worked in my seminary years in the print shop which printed the Standard Bearer. Ophoff's material was always late. His typewriter always needed a new ribbon. His manuscript was so heavily edited by pencil or pen it was difficult to make out. Arrows directing one to all other parts of the manuscript, pieces chopped off or cut out of pages, pages renumbered, bits of paper glued on to other pages - all of these made setting his articles on the linotype a real challenge.

His writings were studded with startling insights into the text of Scripture and magnificent truths developed at length in stirring rhetoric. But the organization was uniformly poor and the writing impossibly long-winded and detailed.

His writings remain a treasured part of our heritage. But someone needs to take his best pieces and edit them by a rigorous shortening process. The Reformed churches could benefit tremendously from such work.

Ophoff, the Polemicist

Deep commitment to the truth of Scripture leads to warfare, for there are not many who love the faith with fire and passion. Ophoff fought for the Reformed faith.

He did that already in the years surrounding the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He wrote oftentimes in a polemical style, for he saw in so many writings by men who claimed to be Reformed froth and blather, talk without substance, higher critical attacks upon Scripture. Against all these he raged with vehemence.

But Ophoff led the fight in 1953 when conditional theology threatened to engulf the churches. He was the first to detect a different "spirit" in the churches than that which had characterized the PRC at its inception. When Dr. Klaas Schilder came to this country from the Netherlands, Ophoff saw what most did not see, that Schilder's covenant views were at odds with those views developed in our churches. Schilder promoted a bilateral and conditional covenant, and such teachings, Ophoff saw, were directly in conflict with the truths of particular and sovereign grace.

In fact, when Hoeksema urged Ophoff to be cautious and to withdraw charges against a minister (Hubert De Wolf) in First Church, Ophoff persisted in pressing the charges, and these charges eventually became the occasions for the minister's suspension from office. And when defenders within the PRC openly wrote with approval of a conditional covenant, Ophoff's defense of the Reformed faith was vigorous and unyielding.

At the same time, Ophoff never attacked someone's person. He wrote against false views, and he often did so in such controlled fury that his enemies were incensed. But it was heresy against which he wrote, not people. He was often a prophet whom few would hear.

Yet his work was extraordinarily important, for it was used by God, not only to defeat a calculated attempt to drive the PRC in a direction different from that in which it had gone, but also to develop truths which became the heart of the Reformed faith as taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Ophoff's Last Days

The valiant defense of the faith which led to the split in the PRC in 1953 was his last battle. It seemed as if God had preserved him for it, and that when the shouting and the tumult died and peace returned, Ophoff's work was over.

Already prior to the split in 1953, Ophoff for almost the first time entered the hospital for stomach surgery. Although the surgery was successful, the doctors warned him that he would have to lighten his work load. He never did. A lifetime of work had developed a habit which could not be broken.

In the summer of 1958, while Rev. and Mrs. Ophoff were returning from a vacation in Canada, Rev. Ophoff suffered a massive stroke in Toledo. He was moved by ambulance to Grand Rapids, but the stroke proved the end of his work. Although he recovered from some of the effects of it, he gradually lost his sight. While it was possible for him to think theology and understand the theology which others read to him, it was no longer possible for him to read or write it.

In February of 1962 Rev. & Mrs. Ophoff were moved to a nursing home. One week before he died, Rev. Ophoff was moved to Pine Rest. His death came on June 12, 1962, and a little more than two years later, his wife followed him to glory. It was a little more than three years before his colleague, Rev. Hoeksema, went to his eternal reward.


George Ophoff stood about five feet, nine inches tall and was rather well proportioned. Although he surely put on weight in his later years, he was never overly heavy. He had a natural dignity in his bearing, in the look on his face, and in his head of pure white hair. He was a handsome man, although he was completely oblivious to it. His eyes behind iron-rimmed glasses were sharp and penetrating. His head was massive and his chin had the set of a bulldog so that his whole appearance was one of tenacity and courage.

On the one hand, Ophoff could be surprisingly indifferent to his appearance and he often came to school looking rumpled and disheveled - most often because he had been in his study all night. His wife had a difficult time of it keeping him presentable. But he could also be startlingly concerned about his clothing. If we would comment that the tie he wore did not go well with his suit, he would never wear the combination again. And his wife took great pains to attempt to keep him in clean, neatly ironed shirts and suits.

An outstanding feature of his life was his meekness. We often thought of Moses when we thought of Ophoff. Of Moses it is said in sacred Scripture that he was the meekest man on the earth. Ophoff came in, we thought, a close second. His meekness was expressed in his total dedication to the glory of God not only, but in his willingness, all his life, to labor with his considerable gifts in the shadow of Herman Hoeksema - and to do so without a word of complaint or a tinge of jealousy. He never received the recognition which was due him, and his considerable gifts often went unnoticed. But the deeds of a man are noted in heaven, and records there are kept with infallible precision that God may reward His servants in due time.

The relation between these two men was unique. They worked together over 35 years in the seminary and in the work of the churches. They were about as different as it is possible for two people to be. They worked in harmony and unison, with a common cause and purpose. And both had nothing but respect for the other. Each always called the other by his last name.

But that meekness, as was the case with Moses, could sometimes be dispelled by a burst of fierce temper and violent rage, although it was an attack on the truth which most often provoked it. But if he did wrong to someone, he would be the first to apologize, beg forgiveness, and express heartfelt sorrow for his bad conduct.

His forgetfulness is legendary and remains to this day the subject of loving conversations that turn to his work in the churches. But that forgetfulness was often the fruit of total absorption in what was occupying his thoughts at the moment. His concentration was total. I personally witnessed, more than once, evidences of this. In the course of an ecclesiastical assembly a motion would be vigorously discussed, into which discussion Ophoff would enter. But while Ophoff was pondering the implications of the motion, it would be passed and the assembly would go on to other business. Suddenly he would jump to his feet and ask for the floor to discuss the recently passed motion. He never noticed the progress of the body, and if the matter was important, did not notice what else was happening on the body as he sank back into his own thoughts.

He had a tenacity that showed in remarkable ways. He could be relentless in pursuing the logical consequences of a proposition; he could hold to a point like a bulldog when others abandoned it; he could maintain a position against everyone else. But it was this very tenacity which enabled him to be the fit servant of Christ that he was in the defense of the faith. Yet, when he became convinced that he was wrong in his thinking, he was quick to admit it, for he was, above all, loyal to the Word.

And while he seemed so often to be completely oblivious to all that was going on around him, he had a penetrating insight into human nature and events in history. He taught me things about the powers of sin, human character as depraved and saved, relationships in life, which I shall never forget.

In the second chapter of the book of Judges we read that when Joshua died and all his generation, "there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel" (v. 10). That is Scripture's way of introducing the sad history of the judges. The generation that led our churches to the marvelous truths of Scripture which are our heritage has died and been gathered unto their fathers. Shall another generation arise which knows not the Lord? May God forbid it.

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Rev. Gise J. Van Baren

[Rev. Gise Van Baren is pastor of the Loveland Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, Colorado.]

Divorce - Roman Catholic Style

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Protestant Reformed Churches have one thing in common - at least I always thought so. Neither recognize the legitimacy of divorce and remarriage. A good Roman Catholic who divorces cannot remarry nor take of communion-unless the first marriage was not, in fact, a marriage at all. The RCC does not recognize a civil divorce as the breaking of the marriage bond.

In a number of high profile cases some well-known Roman Catholics have had their first marriage annulled by the RCC. A number of years ago Senator Ted Kennedy, after many years of marriage and several children as a result of that marriage, divorced - and subsequently had the RCC declare an annulment of that marriage. In recent years two other cases have been reported in news accounts: that of U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and that of U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Both were married a lengthy period of time; both have a number of children. Both have sought or are seeking an annulment of the first marriage.

These cases have raised the issue of annulment as granted by the RCC. A report in USA Today, as reported in the Denver Post, May 10, 1997, stated:

The number of U.S. annulments, rare 30 years ago, has exploded - as has interest in the subject after a high-profile battle within the Kennedy family over annulment made headlines last week.
Nearly 75 percent of all annulments worldwide are granted to U.S. Catholics. Soaring divorce rates among Catholics and changing church law have increased demand at a time when getting an annulment has become easier. And as more lapsed Catholics seek to return to the church, they find they can't remarry or take communion unless they have their first marriages annulled.
Because divorce is not recognized by the church, annulment has become known as "divorce - Catholic style." Some people, even loyal Catholics, have begun to question the honesty of the practice.
"The whole question of divorce, remarriage and annulment is a real hot-button issue," says Frances Kissling of the liberal group, Catholics for a Free Choice. Annulments are "just a way for the Catholic Church to not have to accept that marriages do fail. Instead of saying, "'This marriage failed,' the church has to say, 'This marriage never existed.' It's really the source of so much hurt and anger for people."
Since the 1960s, when only a few hundred annulments a year were granted, the number in the U.S. has jumped 12,000 percent. The Roman Catholic church grants more than 50,000 annulments to Americans each year….
An annulment is a declaration by a church tribunal that decides if a fundamental flaw existed in one or both partners at the time marriage vows were exchanged.
Immaturity, drug or alcohol abuse and psychological problems are among grounds for annulment if they prevented a true "sacramental bond." Annulment doesn't mean an emotional or sexual bond never took place or that children from the marriage are illegitimate.

So, the RCC can declare that marriage cannot be broken except by death. But those who have divorced can request of the Romish Church a declaration that the marriage was, in fact, never a marriage. That is truly an interesting way to get around the teachings of Scripture. It would seem less cruel and more honest simply to say: "We recognize divorce and remarriage as legitimate in the church."

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Emotional Rice - Or Spiritual Rot?

The Grand Rapids Press, May 13, 1997, reports on a speech by the Rev. Robert Schuller, Reformed minister of the Crystal Cathedral of Garden Grove, CA., given at Hope College.

It's a scene the Rev. Robert Schuller cannot forget. He was standing at the pulpit when he looked at the woman in the front pew. Suddenly, he knew he had to throw out his Scripture-saturated sermon.
The woman didn't even know the difference between the Old and New Testaments, Schuller told an audience at Hope College Monday. He had to reach her another way.
"There is something missing in your life," Schuller told her. "You don't know what it is, or you'd be going after it.
"It worked," added Schuller, recalling the early days of his ministry after graduating from Western Theological Seminary in 1950.
In Holland to receive Western's first Distinguished Alumni/ae Award, Schuller explained how he built his little church in Garden Grove, Calif. into the nationally renowned Crystal Cathedral. He treated America as a foreign mission field.
"The church age is dead," Schuller told nearly 500 people in Dimnent Memorial Chapel. "The new age is the mission age. I wish every church in America could die tonight and be born again next Sunday as a mission station."
Schuller said America's mission field is full of people who don't know the Bible and don't care - but are as hungry for meaning as some Third World people are for food.
"I've been giving in my ministry rice to hungry people - emotional rice," Schuller bellowed in the voice familiar to millions through his "Hour of Power" television show. "Self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth."

After the talk, Schuller was asked about the Rev. Richard Rhem.

…Schuller called the rift between the Rev. Richard Rhem and the RCA "sad," but declined to comment further. Schuller last year canceled an appearance at the church because of the controversy.
Schuller said his own differences with RCA members haven't been major.
"I very strongly believe in belonging to a denomination," Schuller said. "I trust the denomination so much, because look how much freedom they've given me to be creative in ministry."

I suppose one can only have a heavy heart in hearing how a woman was proudly given stones for bread - or gravel for true "rice." Schuller may have built up the "self-esteem" of a woman who needed help - but failed (if the report of the article is correct) to present her with the cross. In fact, Schuller would "throw out his Scripture-saturated sermon" in order to provide that which could neither give hope nor assurance of eternal life. Schuller, it seems, is wiser than God, who gave His infallible Word exactly to supply comfort and hope to the "hungry and thirsty."

And it is sad that Schuller can insist that his differences with the RCA "haven't been major." If Shuller is speaking truthfully, then the Reformed Church in America is in a sad state indeed. And if the Reformed Church in fact has granted him "much freedom" to be "creative in ministry," then one would wonder about discipline and good order within the RCA. We need indeed churches to be "mission churches," but that has become necessary exactly because of places such as the Crystal Cathedral. May God graciously grant repentance!

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Lies About Abortion

Cal Thomas, well-known columnist for the Los Angeles Times, writes some hard-hitting articles exposing the hypocrisy of many, especially politicians, today. He lists in an article printed in the Loveland Reporter-Herald, March 5, 1997 many of the lies told by abortionists which have been used to support their evil cause.

The admission by a prominent abortion advocate that he lied about the number of babies killed during the procedure called "partial-birth abortion" is surprising only in its candor. Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, said he misled the public because he feared the truth would damage the abortion rights cause.
Recalling a November 1995 appearance on ABC's "Nightline," Fitzsimmons said, "I lied through my teeth" when claiming the procedure was rarely used and that the only women who sought such abortions were those whose lives were in danger, or whose unborn children were severely damaged. President Clinton used nearly identical language in explaining his veto of a bill that would have outlawed the procedure….

Thomas points out many other lies spoken over the years. The "Jane Roe" (Norma McCorvey) case that went to the Supreme Court was presented as that of a woman who demanded abortion of the fetus conceived as a result of rape. Only later did she admit that it was not rape after all.

Planned Parenthood, a leading advocate of the "right" of abortion, published a pamphlet, according to Thomas, in 1965 in which they advocated "family planning" through use of contraceptives. In the pamphlet they stated, "An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it…." Today the same organization maintains essentially the opposite of that original claim.

Thomas continues in the article citing several more of the "lies" which have been told to convince people that abortion is simply removal of unwanted "tissue."

So the evil of murder of the unborn continues. It is based on a foundation of lies. The consequences of this evil are seen today in the lack of concern about human life and family values. These lies which support the "right" of abortion are rooted in the lie of the devil who would insist that man has the "right" to determine the good and the evil. But God is the final Judge - something which ought to strike terror in the hearts of all murderers.

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"Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism: The Battle for the Preaching of the One Scriptural and Reformation Gospel," by John Calvin and others. Lewes, E. Sussex, England: Berith Publications, 1997. 35 pp. $4 (surface mail)/$6 (airmail) (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

This booklet is genuine Calvinism's response to the recent Banner of Truth's publication, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching. In the 1995 Banner of Truth book, Iain H. Murray wheeled out the English Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, to defend Murray and the Banner's doctrine that God in Christ loves and desires to save every human without exception. With astounding disregard for Calvin's own writing in the Institutes, 3.21-24 and in "A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God" (to say nothing of Dordt and Westminster), Murray charged the teaching of particular saving love and a discriminating will to save with hyper-Calvinism. The Standard Bearer examined Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism in the editorial of the April 15, 1996 issue ("Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: the Alternatives?").

The English response to Murray's book consists of a significant evaluation of Spurgeon by a contemporary, A. J. Baxter; the reprint of a critique of Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism by the editor of the British Reformed Journal, Hugh L. Williams; and John Calvin's sermon on I Timothy 2:3, 4.

The sermon by Calvin is the heart of the brief rebuttal of Murray's universal, ineffectual love and will to save, just as Spurgeon's sermon on the same text was the centerpiece of Murray's work. Murray entitled the chapter in which he reprinted Spurgeon on I Timothy 2:3, 4, "A Crucial Text." Murray approved Spurgeon's interpretation of "all men" in I Timothy 2:3, 4 ("God … will have all men to be saved") as every human without exception. This is the "crucial" basis in Scripture for Murray's universalism. According to Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth, the doctrine that God wills to save every human without exception is Calvinism. Denial of this doctrine brands one as a hyper-Calvinist.

But John Calvin himself rejected Spurgeon and Murray's interpretation of the "crucial text." Calvin denied that "all men" means every human without exception. Calvin taught that "all men" means elect persons from all classes of humans.

We must mark that Saint Paul speaks not here of every particular man, but of all sorts, and of all people. Therefore, when he says that God will have all men to be saved, we must not think that he speaks here of Peter, or John, but his meaning is this, that whereas in times past he chose out one certain people for himself, he means now to show mercy to all the world, yea to them that were, as it were, shut out from the hope of salvation. … Therefore, Saint Paul's meaning is not that God will save every particular man, but he says that the promises which were given to one only people, are now stretched out through all the world. … As Saint Paul speaks now of all nations, so he speaks also of all estates, as if he should say, that God will save kings and magistrates, as well as the least and baser sort. … True it is, that at the first blush, they think they have fair show, and some good resemblance (for explaining "all men" as every human without exception-DJE). … You say well, if we knew not Saint Paul's meaning: but the very asses may have a bit there, as we say in common proverbs. If a man will read but three lines, he shall easily perceive, that Saint Paul speaks not here of every particular man; … but he speaks of all people, and of all states, and shows the case stands not as it did before the coming of Christ, when as there was but one chosen people; but now God shows himself a Saviour of all the world ("Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism," pp. 13-15).

Calvin also pointed out, in the blunt language that our compromising age desperately needs to recover, what the real issue is in the controversy, whether God wills every human without exception to be saved. Those who explain "all men" in I Timothy 2:3, 4 as every human without exception oppose God's election of grace:

It is good to beat down the folly, or rather the beastliness of them that abuse this place of Paul, to make the election of our God, a thing of nought, and utterly take it away. For see what they say: if God will have all men to be saved, it follows that he has not chosen a certain number of mankind, and cast away the rest, but that his will remains indifferent. So then, these beasts which are nothing exercised in holy writ, and will, notwithstanding, play the Doctors, pretend that it stands in the choice of men to save themselves, and that God leaves us alone, and waits to see whether we will come to him or not, and so receives them that come unto him (pp. 14, 15).

Truly, ours is an odd age. Men of scholarly and theological renown embrace and propound a doctrine that Calvin attributed to asses, beastliness, and enmity against the gospel, and call it Calvinism. Calvin's own doctrine, they condemn as hyper-Calvinism. Virtually the entire Reformed and Presbyterian church-world vigorously assent. The reviews of Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism in the Reformed and Presbyterian periodicals have been glowing.

Who can understand this?

"Calvin v. Hyper-Spurgeonism" can be ordered from Berith Publications, 6 Orchard Road, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2HB, UK. The phone/fax is 01273 472279.

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May 14, 1997

Hope Protestant Reformed Church

Classis East met in regular session on Wednesday, May 14, 1997 at the Hope Protestant Reformed Church. Each church was represented by two delegates. Rev. C. Terpstra was the chair for this session.

Classis dealt again in this session with the ongoing problems that Covenant PRC, Wyckoff, NJ has in trying to remain a congregation. At the January 1997 meeting, classis decided to advise Covenant to disband and to report their decision at the May 1997 meeting of classis. Covenant's decision, however, was to remain a congregation. At a congregational meeting held on March 27, 1997 the consistory of Covenant PRC brought a motion to the congregation to disband. This motion failed. The congregation then adopted a motion to continue as a congregation on the following grounds (summarized): 1) the issue of having a plurality of elders has been resolved; 2) thirty visitors at a recent lecture shows interest by the community, and they now need a pastor committed to mission work; 3) they need a pastor's presence on the pulpit to insure continuity and not rely so much on tapes and reading sermons; 4) they have a full-orbed congregational life; 5) they have need of a pastor to help them grow - growth will come since they have resolved their internal difficulties; growth will also help relieve their financial burdens. On the basis of this evidence, and at the request of Covenant, classis adopted the advice of its committee of pre-advice to rescind the decision of the January 1997 classis urging Covenant PRC to disband. Classis decided this on the following grounds (summarized): 1) the problem of plurality of elders has been resolved; 2) Covenant has the ability to address their financial needs by selling their property; 3) there is evidence, even though some members are moving, that there is interest in the area; 4) the present consistory has the resolve to deal with their internal problems; 5) their continued existence will allow the PRC to have a witness in this area; 6) there is a commitment in the congregation, as evidenced by their recent decision, to continue. Classis further advised Covenant to sell their property on these grounds: 1) their property forces them to live beyond their means; 2) this would relieve an ongoing financial strain on the denomination; 3) this would remove a source of discord in the congregation. Classis also decided to request Synod of 1997 to restore subsidy, with a pastor, as requested by Covenant at the January 1997 meeting of classis.

Rev. Richard Flikkema requested that classis approve continued financial support for him for another year. Covenant PRC supported this request and classis decided to grant his request. The synod of 1997 will have to give final approval. The money for his support is proposed to be taken from the Needy Churches Fund.

In other business, several matters involving discipline were treated in closed session. Classis also approved classical appointments for Hope PRC and Covenant PRC. The schedule adopted has been sent to the churches. The expenses of classis amounted to $1,596.00. Classis will meet next in Kalamazoo on September 10, 1997.

Respectfully submitted,

Jon J. Huisken,

Stated Clerk

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Mr. Ben Wiggers

[Mr. Ben Wiggers is elder in the Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church at Hudsonville, Michigan}

Congregational Activities

This summer the consistory of the Hudsonville, MI PRC has encouraged all the members of their congregation to put to memory the Word of God from the book of James, a part or the whole. This program, entitled "In My Heart," had a part for both young and old. Good quality Bibles will be awarded to those who recite their chosen portion by the end of the summer, whether that is a small part of the book or the entire book.

Hudsonville's consistory's goal was twofold: that the people of God memorize the Scriptures, so that the Word is "in their heart," and that the people of God have Bibles in their homes, sufficient that each person has one by his bedside for personal devotions when retiring at night.

Memorize the whole book of James? Impossible you say? Well, maybe not. James has five chapters with a total of 108 verses. Divided by the 10 weeks of summer, that is only about 11 verses per week. And divided by six days per week (figure one day off), that is only two verses a day.

And, really, what better way to spend some spare time this summer, considering that we usually get a break this time of year from school, catechism, and organized Bible study. We are happy to say that almost 90 members of Hudsonville did sign up for the program by the June 1 deadline.

The council of the Byron Center, MI PRC decided to add an elder to their consistory, bringing the total number of elders to six.

The choir of the First PRC in Edmonton, AB, Canada presented their annual spring concert on Sunday evening, May 18.

All of the moms of First in Edmonton were extended an invitation to a Mom's Morning Out. They were invited to come out, with their children six and under, for a morning of fun and fellowship, swimming together at the West Edmonton Mall Water Park.

The council of the Bethel PRC in Itasca, IL decided to change the starting time for their morning service to 9:30 A.M., from 10:00 A.M., starting June 1. Their primary reason for this was that it was better to start their morning worship service a little earlier at the Holiday Inn to avoid breakfast or lunch buffets. And when Sunday School is in session it can be over before running into the Sunday lunch time.

School Activities

There was a meeting on May 16 at the home of David Benson of our Bethel PRC to discuss the possibilities of starting a PR Christian School Association in the Northwest side of Chicago. All interested parties were invited to attend. While their group understood that a school may be a long way off, they also believed that a job never begun is a job never completed.

We pass along our congratulations to Miss Agatha Lubbers, who is retiring this spring after 45 years of teaching and administrating in our Christian schools. An Open House, followed by a short program, was held May 30 at Covenant Christian High School in Walker, MI to mark the event.

Evangelism Activities

It is always interesting to see how our churches' evangelism work can develop into other areas. Along these lines you may remember that about a year ago the Evangelism Committee of our Randolph, WI PRC received a request for blueprints for their church from the Church of the Covenant (OPC) in New Jersey. Members of that church became interested in the plans when they saw a picture of Randolph's church building in some of the literature distributed by their Evangelism Committee. They now write Randolph that "the consensus of the Building Committee was that the plans were appealing both functionally and aesthetically. These plans have been submitted to a builder for an estimate."

The Evangelism Committee of the Bethel PRC in Itasca, IL set aside two Saturdays in May for members of the congregation to distribute tracts and invitations door to door in the Elk Grove and Itasca areas.

Mission Activities

Our minister-on-loan to our sister churches in Singapore, Rev. J. Kortering, along with his wife, Jeanette, recently returned to Singapore after a six-week absence. They left Singapore on April 28 and spent a week in the Philippines with three pastors who have shown an interest in learning more about the Reformed faith. They would like to have someone come to teach them, or go to Singapore themselves to study in their Bible School.

Then it was on to Grand Rapids, MI for three weeks, followed by ten days in Loveland, CO, four days in Hawaii on their return, and then back home in Singapore by June 11.

Minister Activities

Our Hope PRC in Walker, MI has extended a call to Rev. Gritters, who was chosen from a trio which included also Revs. Koole and Houck.

Rev. A. Spriensma declined the call he had struggled with to serve as our churches' missionary to Ghana. And, subsequent to his decline of that call, Rev. Spriensma received the call from Covenant PRC in Wyckoff, NJ.

Rev. Lau Chin Kwee, pastor of one of our sister churches, the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore, has declined the call from the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore. Hence, Candidate Cheah Fook Meng now has the call to Covenant Church.

Food for Thought

"Whosoever hath Christ, cannot be poor; whosoever wants him, cannot be rich." - Dyer

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Last modified, 21-Sep-1997