As I reflect upon the gift of God that Prof. Robert Decker  was to the church of Jesus Christ, I write this article in  memory of him from two perspectives.

First, the man known to the churches as Rev. Decker,  and later as Prof. Decker, was to me always and  only “Uncle Bob.” I am the youngest son of Prof.  Decker’s younger brother, and because of our relative  ages, many who did not know our family well would  often assume that Prof. Decker was my grandfather.  My memories of Prof. Decker are those of a nephew.  It is fitting that I pen this article right after the holiday  season, for it was time spent in my youth at Decker  family gatherings from which many of my memories  of Uncle Bob come.

Second, I write this from the perspective of one  whom God also called to the gospel ministry. Some  of the memories of my Uncle Bob for which I am most  thankful were those that come from the time I was considering  pursuing the ministry of the gospel. I went to  him seeking counsel. He would listen. He would encourage.  He would help. He manifested his pastor’s  heart and wise counsel to me through the struggle and  process of preparation for the ministry of the gospel, for  which I was and still am very thankful.

Prof. Decker was born on August 10, 1940 to Peter  and Dorothy Decker in East Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He was baptized as an infant by Rev. Herman Hoeksema  in First Protestant Reformed Church. He remained  a member there until being ordained in the ministry in  1965. He attended Baldwin Christian School through  fifth grade, completing his grade school education at  Adams Street Christian School. In 1958 he graduated  from Grand Rapids Christian High School. He  then continued his  schooling at Calvin  College and, believing  the Lord called  him to pursue gospel  ministry, thereafter  attended the Protestant  Reformed  Theological School.  Prof. Decker was ordained  into the ministry  of the gospel  in 1965. He served  two Protestant Reformed  churches: Doon PRC from 1965 to 1969 and the PRC in South  Holland, Illinois from 1969 to 1973.

The Lord was pleased to give Prof. Decker a faithful  wife, Marilyn Poelstra. They were married on August  18, 1961. Prof. Decker always made it known very clearly  the tremendous help that his wife was as he labored  in the ministry of the gospel. She was also a gift of God  to the churches, not only as a faithful helpmeet to her  husband but also as a Christian school teacher during  many of the years Prof. Decker labored in the seminary.  The Lord gave Prof. and Marilyn Decker four children,  one daughter, and three sons, all of whom married in  the Lord. Together they enjoyed 59 years of marriage.  He died and was brought home to glory on May 5, 2021  at the age of 80.

Prof. Decker was a gifted preacher. He was not a  tall man, standing no taller than 5 feet 8 inches, yet  he had a commanding presence behind a pulpit. This  was not on account of his natural ability chiefly, but because  it was evident he was filled with the Spirit of Jesus  Christ to preach the gospel with conviction. But that is  not to say he did not have ability. The Lord qualified  him with the gift to teach, which shined through in his  pulpit ministry. His sermons were exegetically sound,  clear, and organized, applied to the everyday life of the  sinner-saint, and delivered with an evident love for the  people of God in the pew. God’s people were always  fed with a solid meal from the Scriptures under Prof.  Decker’s preaching.

Prof. Decker loved to preach. He always considered  it his primary work as one called by God to the ministry,  as every preacher does. And he loved to preach  about preaching. As long as I have a sound mind, I will  remember the deep baritone voice of my uncle booming  forth the words of I Corinthians 1:21 in a sermon on the  text: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching  to save them that believe.” He knew what was taking  place when Jesus Christ speaks through a human instrument  whom He has called. He told me once how,  while typing his sermon on 3×5 note cards (every sermon  filling up eight or so cards in outline form), he was  filled with eager anticipation for the upcoming Sunday.  He was excited and thrilled for the opportunity again  to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. He loved Jesus  Christ, who is the gospel, and dedicated his life to  unfolding the glorious riches of that gospel through the  word preached.

Prof. Decker was a compassionate pastor. That he  had a pastor’s heart came through clearly in his preaching  ministry. The manner in which he preached the  Word of God was such that it spoke to the people of God  in their particular trials and circumstances of earthly  life. This compassion also came through clearly in his  pastoral ministry. He thoroughly enjoyed and considered  it a great privilege to be an instrument in the hand  of God to visit the sick, comfort the mourning, and help  the depressed. He was a pastor who himself understood  intimately and personally the struggles God’s people endure  in this valley of tears. According to His sovereign  will, the Lord laid upon him very dark and difficult  days of depression during periods of his ministry. But  through those times he knew the Lord was faithful, never  forgetting and never forsaking His people in Jesus  Christ. And the Christ, whom Prof. Decker knew was  faithful in those dark days, was the Christ he would  bring to help others in their time of need.

Prof. Decker was a faithful professor. The Lord  called him through the churches to be professor in the  Protestant Reformed Theological School. He labored  full time in that position for 33 years, from 1973 to  2006, the year of his retirement. The churches recognized  the gifts God gave him for preaching and pastoring,  calling him to dedicate his life to the task of teaching  men to preach and to pastor, which was the focus of  his teaching as a professor of practical theology. I write  this article sitting in my study, surrounded by shelves of  books that give evidence of his work as a professor of  practical theology. Graciously he gifted me much of his  library upon his retirement, such that I have a wealth  of resources from him in the area of practical theology.

I did not have the opportunity to sit under his teaching  in the seminary. In light of that, I spoke to a colleague  who did. There is one point gleaned from this  conversation that I would like to share. The students  always enjoyed when Prof. Decker would go “off-topic.”  In fact, they would try, as pupils do at times, to lead  him in that direction. But the motive was not wrong,  because they always knew the gems of instruction that  would arise from these discussions. What is striking  is how this memory of him as a professor in a classroom  is similar to my memories of him as my uncle in a  living room. He had a wealth of historical knowledge  of our churches. He had a fantastic memory of people  and places and events. And the anecdotal stories he  told were not only interesting, but instructive. He was  a man who served the churches as one who lived among  and knew the people of God, and God used those experiences  for the edifying instruction of his students  throughout the years.

Uncle Bob is now in glory, experiencing the perfect  and sinless joy of being with his Savior. He is with Jesus  Christ, whom he knew personally as his Savior and  Lord. He is with Jesus Christ, to whom he faithfully  led God’s people and whom he trained men to proclaim as ministers of the gospel. He is with Jesus Christ, who  humbled Himself to the death of the cross for the salvation  of His church. As part of that church and knowing  himself to be a sinner saved by grace, Prof. Decker knew  that the only way of serving Him was in self-less love  and humility.

My Aunt Marilyn asked me to read a brief biography  of my uncle at his funeral. It included a portion of a  letter written to him from the late Rev. Gerrit Vos. Vos’  words, written as counsel to Prof. Decker in his first  year of the ministry, were remembered by him throughout  the entirety of his life. They are fitting words to  conclude this short reflection on the gift of God that  Prof. Robert Decker was to the church of Jesus Christ:  “Of all the things I counseled you, remember this, be  humble. There is a humility that is feigned. That is  abominable in God’s sight. Be humble from the heart  and God’s people will bear you up in their arms.”

May God be pleased to continue to give His church  humble and faithful servants of Jesus Christ.