Rev. Lanning is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan. Previous article in this series: August 2008, p. 443.
In her spiritual warfare against the hosts of darkness, the church of Jesus Christ needs men to stand in the gap. The idea of standing in the gap is scriptural. God told Judah’s prophets that Judah was taken captive because, “Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord” (Ezek. 13:5). The figure is that of an army defending a city against the attack of an enemy. The “hedges” are the city’s walls and fortifications. The “gaps” are those places where the enemy concentrates its attack, so as to break through the defenses and gain control of the city. If no man will stand in the gaps to oppose the enemies as they try to break through, the city is lost.
So it is with the church of Jesus Christ. She has her bulwarks and defenses, which are the doctrines of the Word of God, as confessed and summarized in her creeds. The enemies concentrate their attack first on this truth, then on that truth, and then on the godly life that follows from yet another truth. The church must have men, raised up by God, who will stand in the gap and defend the truth of God’s Word.
Even in Judah’s day, that was a thoroughly spiritual activity. It was the prophets who failed to stand in the gap and proclaim the truth of God, instead “prophesying out of their own hearts” (Ezek. 13:2). The nation was not overcome by a physical army so much as it was by falsehood and wickedness (Ezek. 22:29-31). If standing in the gap was a necessary spiritual activity in Old Testament Judah, then it is still the New Testament Judah’s need today. The church must have men to stand in the gap. Such a man was Henry Danhof during his early years in Kalamazoo, Michigan. God raised up this man to defend and develop the truth in opposition to several attacks upon it. Godraised up this minister to stand in the gap.
In July of 1918, Henry Danhof accepted a call from the First Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo to leave Dennis Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids and come over and help.¹ While in seminary, Danhof had supplied the pulpit for First CRC of Kalamazoo a number of times, so he was somewhat acquainted with the members. By the beginning of August, he was hard at work in his new charge. During this time, God gave the Danhofs their fifth and final child, Helen.
By the time the Danhofs arrived in Kalamazoo, the Christian Reformed denomination was already suffering attacks on the doctrine of the antithesis, and the godly life that goes hand in hand with it.² One element in the denomination contended that the mostly-Dutch CRC should not resist the culture of America as inherently evil, but should work to conform itself to the American environment. The word they used to describe their position was “Americanization.” One historian characterized Americanization as the process that “served both to bring to an end the exclusive preoccupation of the Christian Reformed people with specifically Dutch problems and to allow the impact of their American environment to strike them with concentrated force.”³ However, the real aim of the Americanization party was not quite so innocent as all that.
The deceptive watchword of this party was “Americanization.” The word was deceptive because that which this party sought was not conformity to the innocent ways of America—language and clothes—but conformity to the corrupt ways of the world: the higher critical doctrines regarding the Holy Scriptures of European unbelief, as well as other distinctly un-Reformed teachings; the principles and practices of the ungodly labor unions; fellowship with the works of darkness in worldly amusements.”4
Danhof stepped into the gap with a speech delivered to a Christian Reformed Ministers’ Conference in 1919. Assembled were some of the most influential Christian Reformed ministers of the day, including Jan Karl Van Baalen, an outspoken defender of Americanization. Danhof’s speech was entitled, “De Idee van het Genadeverbond” (“The Idea of the Covenant of Grace”). His purpose was to show that the doctrine of the covenant has a definite application to the life of the antithesis. The race of man is “organically bound together during this earthly dispensation.”5 Although this race consists of an elect seed and a reprobate husk, it yet remains one race, and as one race it grows and develops. Nevertheless, the members of this race
differ radically . . . in their spiritual relation to God . . . . [T]hat different relation to their Creator, the Fount of their life, is the wedge which causes them, with their opposing world-and-life views, to separate to the right and left in every sphere, even to the smallest details, and with compelling consequences.
The church, although living as one race with the world, must not rush into the arms of the world. Rather, there is a life of antithesis dividing the two, resulting in a spiritual battle. “As covenant companion of God, [the regenerated man] fights the Lord’s battle.” The conclusion to such a speech must be that Americanization, in the sense of intimacy with the wicked, ungodly practices of the world, is not possible. The wicked develop as friends of Satan, the righteous as friends of God. There is no room for spiritual cooperation as the two develop toward their respective ends. Van Baalen and those of like mind were furious. But the gap had been defended.
The second main attack Danhof had to face was that of higher criticism. Higher criticism is an attack on the reliability and truthfulness of Scripture itself. The result is that Scripture is set aside in favor of the teachings of worldly specialists. In 1921, Danhof wrote an article in the December issue of the periodical The Witness, entitled “Faith in the Spade.” In it, he contended that God’s Word must not be set aside in favor of the findings of archaeology and science. Echoing this same theme years later, Danhof wrote,
The modern mind is inclined to faith in man. Present-day notables in the realm of science and research have faith in themselves and in their tools. By means of their own instruments they seek to explore, discover, compare, correct, reconstruct, and establish. Most liberals of recent times trust in the spade . . . . Modern historical-scientific research has strong leanings to subjective, rationalistic, humanistic higher criticism.6
The battle for Scripture’s reliability became especially heated during the Janssen controversy.7 At Calvin Theological Seminary, Dr. Ralph Janssen was coming under increasing suspicion by his fellow professors. In 1919 they sent a request to Calvin Seminary’s Board of Trustees to have Professor Janssen’s views examined, although they did not lodge any specific complaints with the Board. The Board of Trustees refused to consider this request because the professors had not first talked to Dr. Janssen. The four professors, L. Berkhof, W. Heyns, S. Volbeda, and F. Ten Hoor, next appealed to the 1920 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, where their appeal was soundly defeated. However, suspicion against Dr. Janssen soon began to grow, as more and more of his views surfaced. He was suspected of teaching higher critical views of Scripture and of denying the supernatural aspect of miracles. It was during this time of growing suspicion that Rev. Danhof entered the scene via his signature at the bottom of a pamphlet entitled “Waar het in de Zaak Janssen om Gaat” (“The Point at Issue in the Janssen Case”), which was published as a reply to one of Dr. Janssen’s writings. It was also signed by the four professors and three other ministers, one of whom was Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
By 1921 the matter was becoming so heated that the Board of Trustees of Calvin Theological Seminary again took up the case. Rev. Danhof, along with Rev. H. Hoeksema and five other Christian Reformed ministers, was assigned to a committee to investigate the teachings of Dr. Janssen. Poring over student notes that had been collected largely by Rev. Hoeksema, the committee soon found itself divided over whether Dr. Janssen was in error or not. Rev. Danhof and Rev. Hoeksema were among those who believed that Dr. Janssen’s views must be condemned, and they submitted their majority report to the Board of Trustees, which report “was throughout critical of Dr. Janssen and condemnatory of his views.”8 The case came before the Christian Reformed synod in 1922 in Orange City, Iowa, at which synod “Dr. Janssen’s views were condemned and he was relieved of his professorship at the Theological School.”9
The third main gap in which Henry Danhof had to stand was the “common grace” controversy. A brief history of Danhof’s part in this struggle will have to wait until next time.
¹ Many of the biographical details in this article come from several anniversary booklets of the First Protesting CRC of Kalamazoo, later known as Grace CRC.
² This history is chronicled in two works: James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 93-104; and David J. Engelsma, “An Introduction to Henry Danhof’s ‘The Idea of the Covenant of Grace,'” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, XXIX, no. 2 (April 1996), 53ff.
³ John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), 86.
4 David J. Engelsma, “An Introduction to Henry Danhof’s ‘The Idea of the Covenant of Grace,'” 53, 54.
5 The quotations from Danhof’s speech come from Prof. David Engelsma’s translation, published in Volumes 29-32 of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.
6 This article appeared in one of Danhof’s undated church bulletins.
7 A thorough history of this case can be found in: Herman Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (Grand Rapids: First Protestant Reformed Church, n.d.), 14-26; and in Herman Hanko, “A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen and Common Grace” (Master’s Thesis, Calvin Theological Seminary, 1988), 9-39.
8 Herman Hanko, “A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen and Common Grace,” p. 31.
9 Herman Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, p. 20.