Glimpses From The Past — Eleven Years With J.M.F.

May this column serve as a means to reach out to the farthest outposts of Redlands, Lynden, and Loveland, drawing them into a closer circle with the rest of our churches, binding us closer in the bonds of love; yea let it be a means to embrace one another in the communion of saints. “

The above paragraph marked the birth of a new column in The Standard Bearer. In that first issue of the thirty-fifth volume year, the editor-in-chief, Rev. H. Hoeksema, requested that “the ministers of each congregation, and the presidents of consistories of vacant churches, (mail) their bulletins and other important news directly to the editor of the column.” And, for eleven years and two months, those bulletins provided the main source of material for the column entitled News From Our Churches, which appeared above the initials, J.M.F. 

With a view to submitting a requested article for the 50th anniversary volume of the Standard Bearer, giving, as suggested, glimpses from the past, via the Church News rubric, I read every one of those columns written by Mr. John M. Faber. Beginning with the introductory column in the October 1, 1958, issue, I took note of all the items which struck me as being “glimpses” worth relating. By the time I had reached the November 15, 1969, issue, I had accumulated enough of them to fill the better part of an entire issue of the Standard Bearer. Since it was highly unlikely that our editor-in-chief would allow me that much space, I selected only a few of those items which concerned beginnings, or milestones, or culminations of interest sometimes to congregations in particular, often to the denomination as a whole.

The very first news item concerned the health of one of our then aging Seminary professors. It read as follows:

“What is the news from our churches in which we are all interested? The number one news item today is Rev. Ophoff, of course. Our beloved G.M.O., whose signature under any Standard Bearer article guaranteed it to be worthwhile reading . . . 

“G.M.O.’s pen is resting. The Lord told him to lay it down for a while. Our beloved Rev. Ophoff has suffered a stroke which has become a stroke for us all” . . . 

Throughout the next several years, there were in the news column occasional references to “the old Professor.” In the December 15, 1959, issue, our people were informed that “Rev. G.M. Ophoff has taken up one of the many labors laid down when struck with illness. He is again leading the Bible discussion in the Eunice Society of First Church. Although partial blindness prohibits any reading, his wife is the old Professor’s eyes, reading the Scripture portion to him until he memorizes it; then the Dominee ponders over the passage, his years of Bible study experience bringing clearly before his mind the truths contained in them.” 

The September 15, 1960, column noted that Rev. Ophoff led in opening prayer at the celebration of the forty-fifth anniversary of Rev. H. Hoeksema’s installation into the office of the ministry. “We were all happy that Rev. Hoeksema’s best friend and stalwart ally was able to do this for him. By coincidence it was a red letter day for Rev. and Mrs. Ophoff too, for they were remembering their fortieth wedding anniversary on that date.” 

Then, finally, the July, 1962, news column carried this notice: 

“Our beloved Rev. G. M. Ophoff, Emeritus Professor, was taken to his heavenly rest Tuesday, June 12, at the age of 71 years. Southwest’s bulletin expressed it this way: ‘After standing in the line of battle for the truth, God has given His servant rest and a wreath of victory.’ Rev. Ophoff’s old-time friend and colleague, Rev. H. Hoeksema, preached the funeral sermon and Rev. C. Hanko spoke at the graveside . . . Rev. Ophoff will be missed by all of us, but he has left us a legacy in the volumes of The Standard Bearer, as over the years he has delved into the nooks and crannies of the Old Testament Scriptures from whence to bring out its treasures, new and old.”

In Mr. Faber’s second news column, we find information concerning a proposed new church building: 

“South Holland presents us with some real news. Their church is becoming too small for their congregation, and they have unanimously decided to purchase two acres from their School Society for a future site for a church and parsonage. The land in question adjoins their present property to the south, and seems to be the only land available in that locale . . . This activity in South Holland reveals the zeal with which they are endued and the confidence they have in the future.” 

Some years later, in a September, 1966, issue, Mr. Faber noted that “South Holland’s congregation planned two evenings, July 19 and 20, for a double celebration: their 40th anniversary and the dedication of their new church.” 

Coincidentally, it was in that same issue that we find the following “News Flash” concerning another church building: “The newly acquired church in Forbes, N. Dak. suffered extensive damage from a tornado Sunday evening, July 31. The steeple was blown down, and the entire building was set askew on its foundation, wrecking much of the interior. It is estimated that repairs would cost more than the original investment.” 

The late 50’s and early 60’s were years in which a number of our congregations found it necessary to erect new church buildings. The January 1, 1960, issue reported that: 

“The December ‘Indian Summer’ weather enjoyed in Michigan gladdened the hearts of Southeast’s Building Committee, for the builders were able to accomplish much in that unexpected warm spell. The church, when completed, will be furnished with pews designed to seat 317 worshipers.” 

And, in a 1965 column we read that “Holland’s congregation experienced an evening of unbounded joy Feb. 18. The occasion was the dedication of their new church . . . Rev. Lanting remembered the loss of their first church, which also had been dedicated to the Protestant Reformed preaching of God’s Word, and their meeting in cold and gloomy store buildings for over eleven years.”

Back in the third issue (Nov. 1, 1958) we learn, from a paragraph entitled “Do You Know,” that “Rev. Herman Hanko teaches Church History in our Seminary.” Rev. Hanko was pastor of Hope Church at the time, and he subsequently accepted a call from Doon. Almost exactly seven years after the above 1958 announcement, the “Church News” contained a report of “another milestone in the history of our churches.” Giving instruction in the Seminary became a full-time task for Rev. Hanko, for on September 9, 1965, he was installed into the office of Professor of Theology. 

Less than a month later, incidentally, Rev. Robert Decker, who would one day become a colleague of Prof. Hanko in the Seminary, was installed into office in Doon, Iowa. “And so we have,” wrote Mr. Faber, “a new worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” But, he added, “now a look at ‘the other side of the coin.’ It has pleased the King of His Church to counter-balance the above news. Rev. G. Vos has requested Hudsonville’s consistory for emeritation due to failing health . . . Rev. Vos preached his farewell sermon Sunday, Oct. 24.” 

The urgent need for ministers in our churches at that time was a theme oft-repeated by Mr. Faber. In the June, 1962, issue for example, he wrote: “The acute minister shortage in our denomination is more and more being reflected in the bulletin notices of our churches, even in those of Classis East which are closer to the available supply. Reading services and change of service times are becoming more and more commonplace in the Eastern Churches, as the Western Churches have experienced for some time. Young Men, the Vineyard of the Lord needs laborers.” 

And the Lord did indeed provide. It must have been with great pleasure that the news editor reported in August of 1968 that “our Seminary will be a much busier place this Fall. At least six young men will join seminarian Rodney Miersma in many of his classes as they receive pre-seminary training . . .” Of those students, one is now in Isabel, another in Redlands, another in Hope, another in Forbes, another in Randolph, and still another has graduated from the Seminary this June and is now, with his fellow graduate, Mr. Arie Den Hartog, eligible for a call.

In the fourth news column, in November of 1958, Mr. Faber reported that “our Home Missionary, Rev. Lubbers, spent a little time in his home city lately. He appeared at Hudsonville Ladies’ Aid Society to show his pictures of Loveland, Forbes, and Isabel.” 

Subsequent news columns related further activities column, for example, noted that Rev. Lubbers “is laboring in the Pella area for nine weeks, giving that tiny congregation the enjoyment of preaching services during that time. Let us join them in their prayer, ‘that the Missionary’s work may be blessed; that God may add others to our number, confessing His name with us.’ ” 

According to a January, 1962, issue “Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers went to Houston, Texas, to interview people who are interested in our churches.” And in September of 1963 “the Mission Committee has directed our missionary, Rev. G. Lubbers, to work in the Patterson, New Jersey, area. Rev. R. Harbach, of Kalamazoo, has been requested by the Committee to accompany the missionary for two weeks because of his familiarity of the territory and many people residing therein.” 

Fruits of those efforts were also noted in the Standard Bearer News. In November, 1958, we read that “Rev. H. Kuiper has accepted the call extended to him by our newest church, Loveland.” And in May of 1959 — “From the Mission Field comes the report that the congregations of Forbes, N. Dak., and Isabel, S. Dak., have filed official requests to the coming Synod to be admitted as sister churches.” Other of Rev. Lubber’s labors, as you know, are coming to fruition at the present time. A congregation has recently been formed in Patterson, and Rev. Harbach is serving as Home Missionary in Houston.

According to an item in the February 15, 1962, column, “First Church’s bulletin carried an urgent request for summer clothing and shoes from the churches in Jamaica who have been corresponding with Rev. Hanko and receiving our literature and who express a keen interest in our doctrine. The consistory decided to heed the plea and the Deacons boxed and shipped the donations contributed by the congregation.” 

In a September issue of that same year, the following item appeared: “Our last synod decided that there was an urgent need to send a committee to investigate the Island of Jamaica as a possible field for our missionary effort. The Mission Committee acting upon this mandate appointed the brethren H. Zwak (Hudsonville) and H. Meulenberg (First) as a committee to visit this field.” 

For a number of years thereafter, the Mission Committee continued to explore the Jamaica field and to send laborers there. In March, 1969, it was reported that First Church, the calling church, had chosen “to call Rev. J. A. Heys, of Holland, Mich., to be Missionary to Jamaica.” Mr. Faber noted that “this is a first for our denomination — a foreign missionary elect! ” 

Rev. Heys subsequently declined that call, and, in a November 28 congregational meeting, First Church extended the call to Rev. Lubbers, who accepted, and remained in that post till 1973.

Towards the middle of the 60’s there was increasing reference in the news column to the failing health of Rev. H. Hoeksema. In January of 1965, for example, Mr. Faber sadly reported that “Rev. H. Hoeksema is gradually beginning to experience the time allegorically described in Eccl. 12 . . . The infirmities accompanying old age prevent him from exercising his most desired activity — preaching from the pulpit of First Church.” 

The September 15 column of that year included the following paragraph: 

“On September 2, 1965, Christ, the King of His Church, translated His faithful warrior-servant, Rev. H. Hoeksema, from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. Even to outsiders Rev. Hoeksema was famous as a voluminous writer, a strident lecturer and an eloquent pulpiteer; but to our denomination, and especially to his congregation he will always be remembered as a kind and loving pastor, a prodigious worker, an able teacher, and a faithful minister of the Word of God.”

With the illness of Prof. Ophoff, Rev. H. C. Hoeksema had been installed into the office of Professor of Theology. That installation, on September 4, 1959, had been, according to Mr. Faber, a “first in the history of our denomination.” Then, with the resignation of Rev. H. Hoeksema from his place in the Seminary, Rev. H. Hanko “received and accepted the Synodical call to professorship in our seminary.” And, more recently, with the introduction of the preseminary courses and the increase in the size of the student body, a third professor has been added. 

In commenting on Prof. H. C. Hoeksema’s 1967 Reformation Day lecture entitled “Four Hundred Fifty Years, and Then . . .?”, Mr. Faber noted that “listening to this lecture one becomes acutely aware of the fact that . . . the Reformed Church community is lamentably losing its distinctiveness. Will the 451st anniversary see the Reformed churches in joint services with Lutherans and Roman Catholics . . . ?” 

Perhaps in Pre-Key ’73 days that seemed a little unlikely. Events in the church world around us today, however, can only make us all the more thankful that changes in the personnel in our Seminary have not brought with it any change in the content of the instruction. Ten years before the youngest of our professors assumed his duties in our Seminary, Mr. Faber, in reflecting on this maintenance of the truth, had this to say: 

“The complaint is often heard among church-goers that seminary students sound so much alike that it is difficult to detect the identity of their alma mater from their sermons. Sunday, January 27, First Church’s pulpit was occupied by one of her sons, Seminarian Robert Decker, preaching on, “Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Contrary to the above mentioned complaint, the sermon preached in First Church that evening (and in other churches previously) clearly divulged the identity of the seminary in which he receives his training. The churches thank you, Professors!”

If my calculations are correct, two hundred and thirty-three issues of the Standard Bearer included a column which was closed with 

. . . see you in church. J.M.F. 

Mr. Faber once mentioned to me that, as Church news editor, one has “his finger on the pulsebeat of the denomination.” Having just reread all of his news columns, I’m convinced that he not only had his finger well placed, as it were, to pick up that beat, but he was able to, for the benefit of his readers, put it in clear perspective. 

Mr. Faber remains active in our churches, but he retired from his work as news editor of the Standard Bearer after the November 15, 1969 issue. Perhaps you recall the closing of that column: 

“. . . see you in the church triumphant, where we shall join the angels in their worship saying, ‘Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.’