How can a Christian recognise that something is a true church, so that he can become a member?
To gain the proper perspective with respect to our subject, we must go back in our thoughts to Old Testament days. You will recall that in the land of the captivity in the days of Darius the Mede the enemies of Daniel persuaded the king to issue a decree that no one, for a period of thirty days, should ask anything of any god or man, except of the king. In that connection we read that when Daniel knew of the king's decree, he deliberately went to his house and prayed three times daily with his windows open toward Jerusalem, even as he did aforetime (Dan. 6:4-10).
What motivated Daniel?
The answer is undoubtedly expressed in the song of the captives, Psalm 137:5-6: 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.' That was Daniel's faith. He lived by this faith, so that he was ready even to die for it, as became evident when he allowed himself to be cast into the den of lions.
The situation of the child of God in the twentieth century is indeed different than was Daniel's. It is much more complicated. Then there was only one place in all the world where God's people could properly serve Him. Zion in that day was limited to the land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Today that is different. The church of Jesus Christ has broken through its national boundaries and is established throughout the world. Besides, there is the complication that there are many who claim to represent that church and who go by the name of that church and who claim as the church to proclaim the gospel and to administer the sacraments in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It does not require much insight, therefore, to discern that the situation is far more complex today.
But while the situation is different, the principle remains the same.
If things are spiritually right with God's people, if they live from faith and according to the standard of the Word of God, then the driving impulse of their life is the same as that of Daniel. It is faith's urge to seek Zion, the true church. Moreover, as it was with Daniel, so it will be with God's people today: if that is the driving urge of their life, then no sacrifice will be so great as to keep them from following that impulse.
The True and the False Church
In order to understand the meaning and importance of the marks of the church it is necessary to understand what is meant by the church which is distinguished and distinguishable by those marks. And while it is impossible to make a complete and detailed study of this important Scriptural idea within the limits of this pamphlet, it is important to note the following points in this connection:
1) It must be emphasized that it is the will of Christ that His body, the one, holy, catholic church, shall become manifest in the midst of the world as the gathering of believers and their seed. The holy catholic church is not some vague, spiritual abstraction which has no manifestation here on earth; but it becomes manifest, and it does so as the gathering of believers and their seed. This has been true both in the old and in the new dispensations. The church became manifest in Israel of the old dispensation; and the church became manifest in the various congregations which were established in apostolic times and which are addressed in the epistles as 'the church.' This truth is confessed by Reformed churches in our Belgic Confession of Faith, Articles 27 and 28.
2) Christ Himself instituted His church on earth and gave her the ministry of the Word, gave her, in fact, all the offices and their functions. Thus, for example, Ephesians 4:11 teaches us that Christ 'gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.' The same is true of the offices of elder and deacon in the church. This work of Christ has as its purpose the perfecting of the saints, the edifying, upbuilding, of His body. Christ, therefore, has thus instituted His church in order that His church, from the beginning to the end of the world, might continue to be gathered out of the whole human race by His Spirit and Word.
Let us bear in mind that when we speak of the marks of the church. we refer to the church from this point of view, that is, to the church as it is instituted by Christ and becomes manifest as an institution through its offices and through the functions of those offices in an organized local congregation, a certain local manifestation of the body of Christ on earth. If we keep this in mind, it will avoid the confusion and misunderstanding which frequently arises in connection with the subject of the true and the false church. The subject under discussion is not the marks of the true believer, the marks of the Christian. Neither is the claim of the true church in the world the claim that it is perfect, or the claim that it consists only of regenerated people of God, only of true believers, or that outside of a given congregation or denomination there are no elect people of God. This is not the question. But we confront this question: where is the church of Jesus Christ in this world from the point of view of its institution? Where is it that the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of His church, has instituted that church? Where are the God-ordained offices and office-bearers? Where does it please Christ as the office-bearer in the house of God to function and to bless and to gather His church? The church is manifest here in the world; it can be recognized and found and joined. And not all churches who claim to be the manifestation of that church are that church, or are so in purity.
3) Thirdly, there is at the basis of our subject the truth that it is the sacred duty of everyone to join himself to the true church. This is stated very succinctly in our Confession of Faith, Article 28, which we quote:
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them. And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.
Here the calling of the child of God is very clearly stated. It is the will of Christ that the believer willingly submit himself to the instruction and oversight and government of that church of Jesus Christ as instituted in the midst of the world, wheresoever it may be. That is for his spiritual welfare and well-being and salvation. The child of God, therefore, certainly will not take his church membership lightly. He certainly will not be numbered among those who can change their church membership almost as easily as they can change their clothes. If he is a serious-minded child of God, he will not separate himself from that church for any earthly or carnal considerations, no matter what they may be. This lies in the very nature of his spiritual life. He is a member of the spiritual body of Christ. He is not saved as a mere individual, but as a member of Christ's body. He lives his new life not as an individual in isolation from all other regenerated children of God, but only as a member of the body. He possesses and enjoys and lives his life only in the body and thus in connection with the head, Christ. Even as the church of Christ is not a mere mass of members, but a body, so that church lives, and all the members live, only as a body and members, and, as members in the body in connection with the head. With all believers, therefore, the child of God confesses one Lord; with all believers he partakes of one Spirit; with all believers he shares a common faith in that one Lord. And for that reason it is the urge of his regenerated heart, the impulse of his new life, to seek and to join himself to the true church and to realize concretely, in as far as that is possible in this present world, the fellowship of believers. He belongs there. He cannot live alone. His life is a communal life.
4) There is a factor which complicates the situation very seriously, however; and that factor is the presence and development in this present world of the false church. From an historical point of view, this development is due to the imperfection of the church as long as it exists in the midst of the world. One element in that imperfection is the fact that the carnal seed continues in the course of history to arise from within the church, to arise (just as the spiritual seed arises) out of the generations of believers. The line of election and reprobation cuts across the generations of the people of God. A second element is the fact that believers themselves are not perfect, but have only a small beginning of the new obedience. They all still have in them the old man of sin. And in connection with this imperfection, the church is open to all kinds of evil influences from the world round about it. From that point of view, you can say in a sense that the position of the church in this present world is precarious. God wants His church to exist in the world, but not of the world. And because the church is itself imperfect, and because it exists squarely in the midst of the world, the church as it becomes manifest here in the world in any given congregation is open to influences from that world. It is open to the influence of the philosophy of this world, of the thinking of this world, of the striving of this world, open, too, to all kinds of influences which we may classify under the heading of 'allurements'—allurements to leave its position of spiritual isolation, to abandon its position as the holy church, and to make common cause with the wicked world.
As a result, there is throughout history a continual development. The true church manifests itself in the midst of the world. But always—because of the imperfection just mentioned—there is at the same time a development away from the truth, away from the calling of the church, a development in the direction of the wicked world, in the direction of vain and humanistic philosophy. Thus arises the false church, the pseudo-church. Besides, there is movement in history toward the goal of the end, the end of all things! And as far as the false church is concerned, this means that there is development toward the goal of the final, ultimate manifestation of that false church which is pictured to us in the Book of Revelation under the symbolism of the great whore, who is allied with the antichristian kingdom. There is development toward the ultimate realization of the antithesis, toward the realization of that situation when all of history must needs come to an end, when the false church has completely served the purpose of the manifestation of the sinfulness of sin, and when the situation of the faithful church in the midst of the world has become impossible, so that it is not able any longer to exist in the world: development toward the day of the coming of the Lord!
Thus, there is, in principle, an absolute cleavage between the true and the false church. We may notice, too, that our Confession of Faith speaks of this cleavage in such 'either-or' terms: the true church and the false church!
Further, there is between those two, the true church and the false church, a continual movement from the true toward the false. Churches, as everyone will realize, do not become completely false all at once. On the contrary, the completely false church, the church of which it cannot be said at all that Christ is present in it, is the product of a process. There is a gradual weaning away from the truth, a gradual increase of the power and influence of the lie and false doctrine, until finally a certain church becomes completely false. The practical result of this process of development is the situation in which the child of God finds in the midst of the world not merely two churches, a completely true church and a completely false church. Rather, speaking practically, there are between those two many gradations, so that it is possible and proper to speak of the purest, of varying degrees of less pure churches, and of the completely false.
Yet we must be cautioned that in this situation the child of God must conduct himself in accord with the principle of the absolute cleavage which we noted earlier. In the light of this principle, there is always either a movement toward the true church or a moving in the direction of the false church. The question, therefore, from a practical, spiritual point of view is, to put it bluntly, not this: can and may I 'get away with' belonging to a church which is less pure, rather than to the purest manifestation of the body of Christ in the world? Such a question bespeaks deeply unspiritual attitude toward the holy, catholic church. But the question is: how and where must and can the believer seek and join himself to the true church?
As was suggested earlier, this question has become especially complicated since the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Not only are there all kinds of churches in the world which differ from one another in various natural respects: churches which differ as far as their national origin is concerned, which differ as to race and colour, as to language, as to geographical location. Things of this kind, after all, do not affect the spiritual nature of the church. But there are also hundreds and even thousands of churches which differ as to the essentials: they differ as to doctrine, as to confession, as to government, as to worship and liturgy, as to the sacraments, as to discipline. And in that mass of different churches you find a vast difference of degree. There are those, of course, who openly repudiate the Scriptures and who have long ago abandoned the Word of God completely, who deny the very fundamentals of the faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection Christ, etc. Practically speaking, such churches present no problem for the believer and his church membership. The life of regeneration simply cannot exist there, cannot find fellowship and sustenance there. Why not? Because Christ is not there!
The problem, however, becomes more complicated when we confront the many different kinds of churches who claim to hold—and to a degree do hold—to what are called the fundamentals, but who are nevertheless divided as to many important doctrines. They are divided, for example, as to the truth of predestination, divided with respect to the atonement, divided with respect to the doctrine of the Lord's return; or they may differ sharply with respect to the sacraments or the exercise of Christian discipline. Or, to make the problem more specific, there are the several churches which belong, broadly speaking, to the Reformed community, but who differ greatly and who are sharply divided.
It is at this point that the question comes into focus: where is the church? Where is the true church, to which I, as a believer, am called before God to join myself? And if it is anywhere—and it is—how can that true church be recognized? How can it be known? The question, therefore, for any serious-minded child of God, is not just an abstract, doctrinal question, but a very really practical, spiritual one. Where is the church? Where must I be joined as a member of Christ's church on earth?
The Distinguishing Marks
We may mention three commonly given answers to this question which will lead one inevitably to move toward and to serve in the cause of the false church.
The first is the answer of the ecumenicist. He wants to forget about ecclesiastical and denominational differences. The walls of separation must be broken down, he claims. Churches must unite on a broad platform. Once you start down that path, of course, there is no stopping. Nor do those who take this position want to stop! They want to go right on, until they have achieved the world-church. And remember: the world-church is the great whore of Revelation 17! It is, of course, impossible for the child of God who takes his confession seriously to assume this attitude.
The second is the answer of the traditionalist. He takes the stand that the church in which he was born and baptized, the church to which his parents belonged, is for him the church. And frequently his attitude becomes one of 'my church, right or wrong.' He holds to that church slavishly, trusts in it, frequently maintains that it cannot err. He puts his trust in an institution of men. Or he may simply be personally unconcerned about the course his church follows, leaving it to the 'leaders' to chart that course, while he ignorantly and rather apathetically follows. This is an attitude which is fundamentally idolatry. It is both erroneous and dangerous, and that, too, not only for one's self, but for his children and children's children. Any particular church in the midst of the world is able to err, and even to become wholly corrupt! It is able to become like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3. Jerusalem can become in the process of history spiritually like Babylon or like Sodom and Gomorrah. This is precisely what happens, in fact, when in the process of time the false church develops.
A third answer is that of indifferentism. After all, the indifferentist says, it does not really make any great difference what one believes. We all believe in the same God and the same Christ; and we are all going to the same heaven. And our salvation does not depend upon what church we belong to; people in all churches will be saved. And in this day of the social gospel, the indifferentist likes to stress, besides, that it isn't so much a question of what you believe, but of how you live! But we should remember, in the first place, that ultimately our salvation does indeed become involved. You and I cannot deny the faith and be saved! Our Confession of Faith stresses this too: outside of the holy congregation which is an assembly of those who are saved there is no salvation. Secondly, from a spiritual point of view this attitude of indifferentism (which frequently manifests itself as bitter intolerance toward those who desire to be faithful to the Word of God) betrays an altogether wrong approach. It is not the attitude expressed in the words of Psalm 137 which were quoted at the beginning of this pamphlet, but a selfish attitude, concerned only about one's individual salvation and about how little Christianity is necessary for that salvation—not concerned about the church, about the truth, about the cause of Christ and the glory of God. In the third place, it is frequently exactly such neglectful indifference which more than anything else helps in the direction of the false church. When people do not care, when a church is not on guard, then the way is open for false prophets to introduce all kinds of error into the church with impunity, and thus to lead the church in the wrong direction.
The Reformed and Scriptural answer to this question is furnished in Article 29 of our Confession of Faith. It is the bounden duty of the believer to join himself to the true church; and there are three marks by which that true church is recognizable. Those marks are described in our Confession as follows:
The marks by which the true church is known are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only head of the church. Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.
A few explanatory remarks are in order.
In the first place, we should notice that in a sense all three marks are comprehended in the first mark. The sacraments and Christian discipline have no meaning without the preaching of the Word. The sacraments depend on the Word because the sacraments do nothing else than represent and seal visibly and tangibly that which is set forth in the Word. And Christian discipline depends on the Word because the very content and power of Christian discipline is the Word of Christ. Besides, the preaching of the Word is chief because where the Word is purely preached, there neither the sacraments nor Christian discipline will very readily be corrupted. There is instruction; there the will of Christ is made known; there the truth is proclaimed. And where this is done, the sacraments are not likely to be profaned, nor Christian discipline neglected. Principally, therefore, we may reduce these three marks to the one, all-important mark: of the preaching of the Word. And we may say that where the Word is preached, there is Christ and His church. Where the Word is not preached, there the church is not present and there Christ is not. And where that Word is adulterated in the preaching, there the church is faced by the alternative of either repenting or dying!
In the second place, notice how our Confession describes that first mark, in language which is almost strange in our day: 'If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached.' This emphasizes that the very structure of the gospel is doctrine, teachings. The true church is not characterized by the preaching of a 'thumb-nail' gospel. It is not marked by preaching which is in a broad and loose sense evangelical—whatever that may mean—or evangelistic in the popular 'soul-saving' and crusade sense. It preaches the pure doctrine of the gospel. Lose that, and you lose the gospel! And lose the gospel of the Scriptures out of the preaching, and the preaching has lost its fundamental character. We must not have mere preaching, as to form. We must not only have some doctrine. We must have the doctrine of the gospel, and that, too, the pure doctrine of the gospel. Preaching is basically exposition of the Word of God, proclamation of the whole counsel of God according to the Scriptures.
In the third place, we can only rightly understand and apply these marks when we understand that they are fundamentally antithetical. That is, we must consider them and apply them in the light of what are the marks of the false church. Of this Article 29 speaks also:
As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry.
In other words, the basic, either-or issue is: the Word of Christ or the word of man!
The reason why these are the marks is connected with the very nature of the church. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. There simply is no other foundation possible—not for the true church! If the church is to be built, it must be built on that foundation. And whoever proclaims anything else than the pure doctrine of the gospel is not building upon that foundation; he builds on another foundation, and he builds a mere human institution. It pleases Christ to call and to build His church through the preaching of the Word. Men may raise all kinds of objections against preaching and against sermons—as they do nowadays. They may devise various glamorous substitutes for the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel. The fact remains that it pleases Christ to gather His church through the preaching of the Word! You can never change that! Where the Word is preached, there is Christ; there is the voice of the good shepherd; there the sheep hear His voice; there they follow Him; there He gives them eternal life! Don't ever forget that! For remember: the church needs Christ! It is only in living connection with that Christ that the church is the church, and that the members possess the life of Christ. And the only contact which we have with Christ as long as we are in this present world is through His Word (not man's word), through His sacraments, and through His government and discipline. Where these are missing, Christ is missing. Where they are corrupted and to the extent that they are corrupted, there I am being separated from contact with Christ my head! This is the life-and-death seriousness of this entire question of the marks of the true church!
A Matter of Easy Discernment
While the believer today faces a complex ecclesiastical scene, the difference between the true and the false church is nevertheless a matter of easy discernment. Our Confession of Faith emphasizes this: 'Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.' And again: 'These two churches [i.e., the true and the false—HCH) are easily known and distinguished from each other.'
Why is this true?
In the first place, it is true because God has given us a clear and infallible standard by which the true church can be known and distinguished. That standard is the Word of God. That Word of God is perspicuous, clear, so that the simplest child of God can understand and discern the truth of the gospel. In the light of that Word the simplest child of God can discern the truth from the lie. That Word of God is unambiguous: it is not capable of two meanings. It does not teach, for example, that God loves all men and that He does not love all men, or that Christ died for all men and that He died only for His elect. God's Word is clear, crystal clear, as to the truth and the lie. This is the objective reason why it is possible to distinguish when a church begins to depart in the direction of the false church, and why it is possible to discern when that primary mark of the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel is corrupted. We have an infallible, objective guide! And the second, subjective reason is that every believer, as a member of the body of Christ, has the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the church, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of discernment. By that Spirit and in the light of His Word he may view the ecclesiastical scene today and may easily discern the true from the false church.
Judged in the light of these marks, that ecclesiastical scene today is, negatively, one of appalling apostasy. One need not look far afield to notice this. Look at the Reformed scene, at those who are generally classified as belonging yet to the tradition of the Reformation. There is tremendous doctrinal apostasy, frequently under the guise of theological freedom: all kinds of error is increasingly tolerated and allowed to go unpunished and unrebuked, while what has always been the faith of our fathers is lightly set aside. There is apostasy as to the preaching: preaching as proclamation of the pure doctrine of the gospel, expository preaching, has largely become a rare article. Topical preaching, moralism, the social gospel are the replacements. Besides, people become tired of preaching and busy themselves with devising new and glamorous substitutes for the simple and pure preaching of the Word of God -- hippy services, dialogues, dramas, modern, revisionistic liturgicalism, and every new and different thing imaginable. Then, too, there is the encroachment of the ecumenical movement, at the expense of true unity and at the expense of the truth of the gospel. Or there is the modern striving after the so-called 'de-institutionalization' of the church: the cry that the church must break out of its instituted form, the cry that the church must 'be where the action is,' the emphasis on 'doing' rather than 'believing.' In brief, there are all kinds of adjustments and adaptations today which have but one goal: to make the church according to man and pleasing to man.
Along with all this, there is decay and degradation as to the very standards of Christian living. The keys of the kingdom are no more employed, or they are totally corrupted. Regardless of the requirements of faith and repentance, of uprightness in doctrine and walk, anyone is welcomed into the membership of the churches. The table of the Lord is opened to all, and thereby profaned. The Sabbath is desecrated. The church pews become empty. Members of the church seek their enjoyment elsewhere. They become friends of the world, singing and dancing and carousing with the world, speaking and acting and looking like the world. Christian morality and sanctification according to the precepts of the Lord have become old-fashioned, and the devilishness of situation-ethics has found its way into the church. Church and world, believer and unbeliever, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, are made to walk hand in hand in almost every sphere of human life. For the most part, that which calls itself church today presents but a sad caricature of the holy, catholic church of Christ.
All these phenomena have come about gradually, almost stealthily, though especially in recent years with rapidly increasing tempo. And they are sad realities today in churches which by name are of Reformed persuasion!
At the same time, do not forget, the true church is also present in the world, And it also is easily discerned, discerned by its distinguishing marks!
Where is it?
We of the Protestant Reformed Churches claim and testify that we represent that true church, represent the purest manifestation of the body of Christ on earth. We make that claim in all humility, without boasting, without a holier-than-thou attitude, in humble acknowledgment that we are what we are only by the sovereign grace of our God. But we make this testimony also without hesitation. You can discern this and test it by the marks of the church. And is it not a striking thing that whatever opponents have said or still say about us—and admittedly there have been a good many unflattering things said—they cannot deny that those marks are present in the Protestant Reformed Churches. They are not able to say that in the Protestant Reformed Churches, according to the standard of Scripture and the creeds, the pure doctrine of the gospel is not preached. Small though we may be, by the grace of God we preach the pure doctrine of the gospel, administer the sacraments purely, and exercise Christian discipline faithfully.
The Calling to Observe the Marks
What is involved in our calling to observe and to apply the test of these marks? Briefly, we point to the following:
1) The faithful church must not only hold fast that which it has, but must positively increase in knowledge, must become stronger in the truth, must grow in the faith, and must thus become more firmly rooted in Christ. Besides, the church must faithfully instruct the covenant seed, the future church, in the faith of the gospel, lest God's people be destroyed for lack of knowledge. Moreover, the faithful church must always watch and be on guard against the enemy. This is the calling of the watchmen on the walls of Zion, first of all; but it is the calling of the entire congregation with them.
2) What is the calling of the departing church? That calling, at the very first sign of departure and unfaithfulness—not when that church has already gone a few miles down the road of error, which historically has always been too late—is in one word: repent! You have only to read the Lord's letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to confirm this.
3) What is the calling of the faithful church toward the unfaithful? Of the seven churches in Ask Minor, two were without rebuke; three were departing in various respects; and two were almost dead. What must the faithful churches do with respect to those who depart? They must not give them up; neither must they ignore them; surely, they must not amalgamate with them and become corrupt like them. Their calling is, first of all, to remain faithful; and, secondly, no matter how distasteful this may be to the unfaithful, to call all the rest to repentance! And if this fails, they must call the faithful remnant to separate themselves from the apostate church. Is not this what the Lord Christ Himself does?
4) As far as the individual child of God is concerned, he may place nothing before his duty to seek and to join himself to the true church. To this end, the believer must become spiritually equipped and prepared and thoroughly established in the knowledge of the truth of the Word of God. And for no reason may he turn away from this sacred calling to seek the true church. This may bring on various practical problems. It can be a problem when employment opportunities open up to you which will be closed to you if you insist on joining yourself to the true church. Or, for young people it can create problems at the time of courtship if they insist that the 'church question' has priority. And, in general, insistence upon seeking the true church frequently involves being reproached and despised and ostracized by church and world. But remember: there is no shame in being despised for the sake of faithfulness to the Word of God and love of His Zion! And: the yoke of Jesus is easy, and His burden is light! Let your stand be that of Psalm 137: 'I prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy!'
5) For the individual child of God when he comes into contact with corruption in the church, this calling implies that he must strive for reformation. He must do so either in cooperation with the institution of his church, or in protest against it. But reformation is his sacred duty! Moreover, if protest fails, and the carnal element begins to dominate in a church, and the institute will not listen, his calling is not to protest endlessly and at the same time to bemoan the frustrations of protest. In such a case his duty of reformation means, in obedience to the will of God, that he must separate and institute the church anew if necessary. This is a very painful and also a very serious matter, a step which may not be taken for any carnal considerations. But for Christ's sake, for the truth's sake, for the love of Zion's sake, if he prefers Jerusalem above his chief joy, he will do it. He will refuse to promote the false church, and he will seek and join himself to the true.
Always we are called to be faithful unto death. In that way we have the sure promise of the Lord: 'I will give you a crown of life.'
Homer C. Hoeksema was born in Grand Rapids, MI on January 30, 1923. He was the second son of Herman Hoeksema and born during the turmoil of the Common Grace controversy which led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
He graduated from Calvin College and then the Protestant Reformed Seminary. He served the Protestant Reformed congregation at Doon, Iowa from 1949 to 1955 and later the Protestant Reformed congregation at South Holland, Illinois from 1955 to 1959.
In 1959 he was called to serve as professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary, a position he held until his emeritation in 1989. He taught the departments of Dogmatics and New Testament studies. He served for many years as the editor of The Standard Bearer and wrote various significant books--the main one, a study of the Canons of Dordt titled: The Voice of the Fathers.
He was taken to glory on July 17, 1989.