* Speech delivered at the Annual meeting of the R.F.P.A. on Thursday evening, September 14, 1944 in Fuller Ave. Comments and criticisms concurring any of the material here presented is invited.
At the close of the first installment of this article, was concluded from the facts presented, that the cause of the Standard Bearer is losing supporters and that the paper is no longer read and received as it should be. If you would not wish to grant that on the facts thus far revealed, certainly the Annual meeting itself testifies loudly to that conclusion. On the night this paper was, delivered there were 31 individuals present at the Annual meeting of the Reformed Free Publishing Society, publishers of the Standard Bearer. One of these individuals was not a member of our denomination. 8 were members of the Board. 5 were nominees for the Board (one nominee was not present). 7 were not members of the Society, while 4 joined that night; exclusive of the 7 who did not join. Actually, therefore, there were only 7 members (excluding Board and nominees, who almost had to be there) present at the meeting. There were 24 votes cast and 7 visitors. The Churches were represented as follows: 1 outsider, 1 from Roosevelt Park, 4 from Holland and the remainder from Fuller Ave. The other Churches were not even represented. None of the staff nor any of the ministers, with the exception of the speaker, were present. The speaker was the youngest individual present; beside him there was only one other young man present—below 35 years of age. The average age of the audience was easily above 55 years; as an approximation it could be set at 60. Certainly, these facts speak for themselves!
Finally, there are facts relative to policy which are revealing. It is possible to make a sharp distinction here between editorial policy and business policy, which is in itself a fact, as we show presently.
Editorial policy is determined by the purpose of publication of a paper. This purpose in respect to the Standard Bearer has been variously stated. The original purpose was: “to publish the views of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema relative to the common grace controversy.” From thence it became, according to the Editor, “a semi-scientific theological paper.” The purpose as stated in the constitution of the R.F.P.A. is as follows: “to propagate the Reformed principles applying them to every phase of life, along the fundamental lines of sin and grace and opposing all views repugnant thereto.”
With respect to these purposes the following is clear. The original purpose has long ago been accomplished and has been, to a great extent, abolished. For the past twenty years, and under the able direction of the Rev. Hoeksema, the second purpose has been met and fulfilled. The purpose as stated in the constitution of the R.F.P.A. has been partly accomplished.
We make bold to express an opinion regarding this policy. If we bear in mind all the facts thus far presented we believe that the Standard Bearer could serve a much greater purpose than it does or has—and can do so within the limits of the stated purpose of this Society. The facts show that our Young People are not reading, that many families in our own denomination are not even subscribers, and that the interest of those who do subscribe and read is weakening through the years. It is true, of course, that the fault does not lie entirely with the Standard Bearer or its contents, but we feel that it does somewhat. The material is often written in a style that is way above the comprehension of even an intelligent adult. This is due, perhaps, to the special training or brilliant mind of the writer; but a man is greatness does not lie in the fact of being able to speak or write so that no one can understand him. True genius is to be able to impart one’s great learning so that even a child can understand. Though we are not all genii we might strive for that ideal. To my mind, it is one of the great assets and virtues of the Rev. Hoeksema that he has the ability to present the deepest and most profound truth with lucidity and clarity. One can always follow a distinct and definite line in his material. There, certainly, is a lesson for us all; in all writing and speaking.
Another fact is that some of the articles read as though they were shaken out of the author’s sleeve on deadline date (as perhaps they were). Certainly the result is not, evidence of a conscious effort to put forth one’s best work of which he may be justly proud.
But to get back to the point—the paper is not being read as it should. The question therefore arises: should the Standard Bearer serve the people or should the people serve the Standard Bearer? Should we have a paper without readers or a paper with readers? The answer is that we should listen to the popular appeal and the voice of our Young People. And, certainly, we should have enough confidence in those whom we have instructed for 20 years to know that the popular appeal does not mean a forsaking of principle.
The time has come to make “our doctrine a way of life.” The particular times in which we live demand, and will continue to demand, an emphasis unpractical Christian living. The true Church today, as will become increasingly evident, faces a crisis! She must, be able to stand, not on theory, but on practice and alive in this world. Our Standard Bearer can and should lead the way.
That does not mean we have to compromise, or even depart from the expressed purpose or policy: “the propagation of the Reformed principles applying them to every phase of life, along the fundamental lines of sin and grace and opposing all views repugnant thereto.” For twenty years we have had that propagation! For twenty years we have had the fundamental lines of sin and grace! For twenty years we have had the opposing of all views repugnant thereto! Now let’s have the APPLICATION OF THEM TO EVERY PHASE OF LIFE! Let’s digest what, we have chewed for twenty years. The taste has been so sweet in our mouths—let’s fill the body with this nourishment! We repeat, this does not mean a lowering of the standard but rather the opening of a great new field of development of the practical aspects of our precious heritage. It means the making of “our doctrine a way of life,” and let’s really bring it down to earth.
A cause for great joy, is that the policy is already shifting to that emphasis. The recent discussions of labor problems, social questions, education etc. indicate the beginning. Let’s keep it up and emphasize it and include our Young People. Show, for example, that the pleasures of this world—movies, dancing, drinking, card-playing, etc.—are incompatible with our Reformed truth. That the way of peace for young and old, also in this life, is to acknowledge and love a sovereign God. This should be done, of course, in language and form that they can understand; that all shall be left without excuse.
Once again this does not mean, that the Standard Bearer must be full of milk-sops. We have more confidence in the training we have given than that! Even now much of the material is intelligible to a 14 year old e.g. the Meditations. At the same time, much is also beyond the comprehension of a high school graduate; which is more than the majority of the readers boast. Especially is that true of articles with quotations in several languages and whose English is on the level of Ph. D. thesis. At times one receives the impression that the material is written for the ministers in our midst and for the 12 outside subscribers (whoever they may be) rather than for the 800 faithful supporters of the paper. Even a semi-scientific theological subject, if it has intrinsic worth, can be applied practically.
It is understood that the readers of a magazine should be spiritual enough to apply what has been written to themselves. The facts have shown that they evidently are not. Certainly, they cannot be blamed if they could not possibly have understood and followed what was written in the first place. But even assuming that they could read and follow (certainly this is true of a great majority of the material and what has been said previously is the exception; usually only an excuse or a matter of the mind of those not interested) and are, therefore, to be blamed, can we, even then, simply wash our hands of the matter by saying that they are not spiritual enough? That at the same time is a reflection on the training they have received and upon those who have given it. Wouldn’t it be much better, for them and for the Church generally, to reach out to them and lead them back to the spiritual level upon which they should stand?
The business policy or financial facts present the greatest contrasts of the heights and depths of the past twenty years. Before we started gathering material we had expected to find the financial situation of the Standard Bearer the darkest chapter of all We were overjoyed, therefore, to find it exceptionally bright at present. That it is so bright, is due greatly to the faithful, persistent, and untiring efforts of Mr. R. Schaafsma; who for the past 11 years has been the business manager. No man, without exception, has given so willingly of his time and efforts, to keep the Standard Bearer a going proposition. The beautiful part of it all is that he ascribes all the success Ito the blessing of God upon the project. That is a vivid example of true love for God’s cause. With one accord we should express sorrow that his health demands his resignation at this time. We feel assured that he shall be amply rewarded by his Father in heaven whom he so faithfully served and acknowledged.
The facts are as follows. For the first time in its history the Standard Bearer can boast a balance on hand at the end of the year. Practically all subscriptions, excepting gifts, are being paid for; an unprecedented achievement. Many of the arrearages, accumulated through the years, have been collected. This has been accomplished through the agents and even more so by the continual reminders and introduction of an envelope system to facilitate collections. These are the bright spots.
The sad facts too, are numerous. There are only 800 subscribers to our Standard Bearer. There are only, about a dozen subscribers outside of our own denomination. About one third of our own people are not getting the paper. Though the financial end of the paper is running smoothly now, there is no indication that it will continue to do so for it is usually in financial straits. The only way that it has stood in the past is through the immense and continual support of the Churches in the way of special collections. The usual situation is, that while 1,200 copies of the paper are printed and sent, out, about 950, and often many less, are paid, for; or about 250 and often many more are not paid for. Another sad fact, though not dealing directly with the Standard Bearer, yet a matter of concern to the R.F.P.A., is that there are about 3,300 books and pamphlets belonging to this organization colleting dust and molding in the tower room of Fuller Ave. Finally, the point about the complete separation of Editorial and Business departments belongs to the category of sad facts.
To advance a bit of proof for some of the statements made, we should like to present the following:
COST OF PUBLISHING AND MAILING THE STANDARD BEARER
$120 per issue or $3,300 per year. ($130 for printing each issue plus $20 for mailing etc.).
RECEIPTS FOR A TYPICAL YEAR:
Remarks: Many of the above figures were estimates used as a basis for conclusions. We were very happy to hear from the financial report delivered at the meeting that our cost figures were too low while our receipt figures were very accurate or too high with only one exception. According to the financial report our figure of $3300 representing the cost of publishing the paper was actually $400 higher than cost for the past year. It is also higher than the figures given in the Treasurer’s report for July 1943; cf. Standard Bearer, Volume 20, number 1, page 20. Item two in column of receipts was the only figure that was too high here, but inasmuch as it is negligible it can be omitted altogether with the same general result. Items 4 and 5 were determined as follows. From the published financial reports of our Fuller Ave. congregation of the last 7 years, we found that the total of all collections for the Standard Bearer amounted to about $3000 or $425 per year. This is an average of about 75 cents per family per year. This figure per family compared favorably with the average per family, for the sarnie number of years, of our Holland congregation and we used it as our base. We estimated the number of families in our denomination, outside of Fuller Ave., to be about 500 and hence arrived at $375 collected yearly from our Churches, (excepting Fuller Ave.) for which exact figures were not available, a total of $800 from all our Churches (items 4 & 5). It was very encouraging, therefore, to note from the financial report delivered at the meeting that the sum of $800 collected from our Churches was only a few dollars less than they actually received. According to the same financial report our items numbered 6 and 7 were both way too low. In our report these total $175 while in the report as given at the meeting the total was about $525; a difference of $350 in favor of the Standard Bearer. It is also a known fact, that in the early years of our Standard Bearer receipts from special collections, Field Day, Gifts, programs, etc. were much higher than they are at present, also, that membership dues of the R.F.P.A. have, in past years, amounted to $1,000 and more. The purpose of this lengthy explanation is to make clear that the situation is much less bright than we have presented it and further that our deductions, therefore, are certainly valid and warranted.
(To be continued)