For the past year we have spent a great deal of time among the Holland immigrants in Canada. More particularly our contacts have been with those of the Gereformeerde Kerken (Art. 31), who are more popularly known as the “Liberated”. Our work has taken us from the St. Lawrence River in Eastern Ontario through all the Canadian Provinces to the West Coast. We have met people from every walk and position; farmers, laborers, professional people, married and single, young and old. These have also constituted a cross-section of their brethren in the Netherlands since there were representatives from almost all the Provinces in the Old Country.
Nor have these contacts been mere casual meetings. We have worshipped with them, eaten at their tables and been the guests in their homes. And naturally, we have spent hours and hours talking with them; debating and discussing the Reformed truth which is dear to us all. Just recently we have returned after eight weeks of traveling some 12,000 miles to visit various groups in more distant places. Now we would like to give a few general impressions which remain with us from these contacts. What is our judgment of them? How do they feel over against our Churches and her teaching? And what conclusions can we draw?
It is a pleasure to note, first of all, that our Dutch brethren are industrious and ambitious; hence, constitutionally well-fit for their task of pioneering in a new homeland. And they are recognized as such both by their new Canadian neighbors as well as the Canadian government itself. Already they are acquitting themselves well and give honor to the Dutch traditions and name which we all bear. Having been practically crowded out of their old Fatherland they have begun again from the bottom up; as strangers in a strange land. When one considers this a bit one gets an idea of what conditions are like In the Netherlands and what it has meant for the Immigrant. They have left homes, dear ones, relatives, friends, church, school; societies, and made a host of other sacrifices, to start over “from scratch”. Yet, almost without exception, though their present abode be but a hovel and their work and wages almost intolerable, they are hopeful and courageous and have no desire to return from whence they came.
But we are more interested, perhaps, in their spiritual make-up and reactions. Here, too, we have found them well-informed and well-read. They are acquainted not only with the Scriptures but also the Reformed faith and confessions and are properly zealous to maintain this faith in their new world. In fact, generally it can be said, that their primary concern is to establish affiliation with the Church that proclaims the pure Word of God and holds to the faith of the fathers in doctrine and life. They also begin to realize that in a large and ungodly land, such as our own or Canada, this is even more pressing and critical than in the confines of a small Netherlands.
It has indeed been refreshing to find them willing and able to discuss the truth and Reformed faith. One of the saddest signs of the last years here In America, is the deadly lethargy and sorry ignorance among that which is called Reformed, even of the simplest essentials. There is little knowledge and even less desire to learn or discuss. Yet, amongst these immigrants we have always been welcome and have had no difficulty at all in spending hours at a time in profitable and intelligent discussion. That there are differences in our position, no one can deny. But it is indeed refreshing to be able to meet as fellow Christians and brethren even though we may warmly speak of our convictions, it is encouraging that we can testify of one another that we love the truth and bow before the Word of God. This latter, we have experienced time and again amongst them. Even though it seems at times that they must restate their position and forsake the contentions of some of their “leaders”, they are willing to be led by the Scriptures. And that they are fundamentally Reformed and that there should be room for them in our fellowship, we are convinced.
In a movement as broad as the “Vrijmaking”, it stands to reason that there are also some who do not understand the Reformed truth and are antagonistic over against us. We have also met these amongst the immigrants. However, we believe their number to be comparatively small. Furthermore, when we related the views held by some of these less well-informed individuals to the better Liberated elements, these latter also expressed with us that such are certainly not true representatives of their Churches and have never understood the Reformed position. Moreover, when our position was made clear to them (i.e. to those who hold erroneous views) they themselves often expressed that they were not interested and no longer cared for our fellowship. But certainly they are not representative of the Liberated immigrants or the Liberated position. And even among them there is, perhaps, the possibility of laboring to teach them the validity of the Reformed position as we maintain it.
But to return to our general impressions. As stated above, these immigrants are concerned about their church affiliation. The question arises, why have they sought our fellowship? What is there that has attracted them to us?
In many instances, their own ministers, consistories and leaders, already in the Netherlands, had advised them to seek us. And until recently many have accepted this as a matter of course. We write until recently, for as is well known the situation has changed somewhat of late. That the work of the Rev. Hettinga in organizing the Free Reformed Churches, for example, has had detrimental effects for closer contact is simply a matter of fact. The ill-advised misuse which he made of the Declaration of Principles and other elements, is certainly regrettable. But that these elements were there for him to so use is also regrettable. However, apart from this we have experienced very little effective adverse interference, with our efforts among these immigrants, from the Netherlands. That they would not be immediately loosed from all influences of their former home but would continue to read the papers and respect the opinions of their former pastors and teachers is certainly to be expected. We believe that the favorable reports and suggestions concerning our Churches to these immigrants usually outweigh those that were adverse.
But even these suggestions to seek us have been motivating reasons. Many of them came to Canada before we had even begun to labor there. Many more were in communities where it was impossible for us to contact them; due to our limited means and forces. Only in the past year have we made any concerted effort in Canada while the immigration is already in its fourth or fifth year.
Besides this, from a physical point of view, there is little to attract them to our Churches. Comparatively we cannot offer them the help and physical advantages that the Christian Reformed denomination can, for example. We are small and with limited means and men. Then, too, almost from the very beginning of our contact, we, too, have been divided in our judgment and feeling over against them. Many times they have been derided by us in no uncertain terms and we have charged them with maintaining various derogatory heresies. Certainly also our attitude over against them has often failed to leave the impression of evidence of a genuine concern and brotherly approach to them. Hence, we believe, that our own attitude has often done as much harm as any interference on their part.
Yet, in spite of all the elements that have beclouded the situation, they were still attracted to our Churches. And the reason is, as we have also expressed before, that they find in our midst the pure preaching of the Word which they want and seek. Nor is that a hasty or utilitarian judgment on their part. Many of them were at first members of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. Almost without exception, all have attended that Church and are acquainted with its preaching. And there they could not be satisfied. Hence, when our ministers began to labor in Canada these immigrants recognized in our preaching that which they sought. They had no need, for example, for a declaration of principles to reveal to them that the other Reformed Churches in Canada had departed from the purity of the Word and Confessions. This was certainly clear from the poverty stricken preaching in those Churches. Nor did they have need of such a declaration to reveal that we as Churches did hew to the Confessions and pure Word of God. This, too, was plainly evident and discernible from the preaching of that Word. Hence, through the preaching of the Word and the patient labor of discussing that Word, they became convinced that we were the true Church, and that their calling was to seek our fellowship. This we believe, is a mighty testimony both of them and us and an important factor that must certainly condition our attitude towards these immigrants.
There were some, for example, who were extremely skeptical of us. From what they had read of our literature or heard by report, they recognized many “Synodale klanken”, as they expressed it; or they felt that we proceeded too much from the doctrine of election and had no room for the responsibility of man. Yet, after hearing our preaching, they recognized what they wanted. And even though all their questions may not have been immediately answered they expressed their willingness to receive that preaching and their desire to be instructed by us, in seeking membership with us. In fact, we have personally heard the testimony more than once, both of those who were unduly influenced by correspondence with the Netherlands and from those that were definitely opposed to us, that from the very beginning of their contact with us they were attracted by the preaching. We believe this motivation and attraction to our preaching is a definite testimonial to the Reformed character of these immigrants.
It is evident, therefore, that we would conclude that we believe they belong in our fellowship and we should be willing to receive them. We belong together. On the one hand, we certainly have something for them. Our own Churches have been established for a number of years and we are acutely acquainted with the peculiar problems that face the child of God in this new world. We believe that through our own history and experience God has called us to maintain His truth over against all the erroneous strivings here. By His providence we have seen the need of emphasizing His sovereign grace, His absolute predestination, the true responsibility of man and the practical application of all these to the conditions in this new world. And to do so over against all the vain philosophies and streams of error as they reveal themselves here. Thisthese immigrants should appreciate and acknowledge by taking their places with us in fighting the fight of faith according as God draws the battle lines here in America. And we believe that is their desire. They must also understand that they have not simply changed their residence but have entered a new world with its own peculiar problems and philosophies and history. They should, therefore, be willing to acknowledge that in our experience and history we have been taught and led by the grace of God to face this situation here and to maintain the purity of the Reformed faith over against the evils that arise here. In other words, they should not expect to find or be able to transplant their Church to this country, but must join themselves to the true Church as God has established and conditioned it here. We also believe that that is their desire. And that Church here bears the name: Protestant Reformed!
On the other hand, we also believe that they have a contribution to make to our Churches. With their knowledge and zeal to live an active life of faith in all departments and spheres they can serve as a refreshing and healthy influence among us. For example, apart now from all other considerations, we must admit that our contact with these brethren has set us all to thinking and discussing which is always hopeful and instructive. And personally, we greatly appreciate the spirit of these Liberated immigrants and can reflect with joy upon the many hours of brotherly spiritual “communion we have had with them.
Next time, D. V., we hope to continue with a few more observations and suggestions as to the manner in which we believe we should seek closer contact with one another.