(Note: At this point we are still discussing the subtopic, “One Hundred Fifty Years and Sixty: Their Meaning.” We have completed a brief account of the Secession of 1834 and its transplantation to this country and continuation in the Christian Reformed Church in 1857. We are now ready to discuss the “Sixty Years.”)
It is some ninety years later. The scene is Grand Rapids, Michigan. The time is what might be termed the post-Jansen era, a period when the supporters of Dr. Ralph Jansen, ousted from Calvin Seminary for higher critical views, were still seeking to justify him and had succeeded in making common grace an issue in the Christian Reformed Church. The Revs. Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema had parted ways with the rest of the staff of The Witness. The official church papers, De Wachter and The Bannerhad been closed to them, so that they could not defend themselves and discuss the common grace issue (even though Herman Hoeksema had twice been appointed editor of the “Our Doctrine” department in The Banner.) Controversy was raging in the churches. There were those who had sworn to avenge the ouster of Dr. Jansen. And especially Danhof and Hoeksema were the objects of their wrath, partly because both of them had played an important part on the Majority Committee in the Jansen case, partly because they were the only two who had not backed off when the Jansen forces began to make common grace an issue.
What was to be done?
Fifteen men from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo were meeting in the parsonage of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church on April 8, 1924. Their purpose was to make it possible to publish brochures, and, if possible, a magazine, “to offer the aforementioned ministers (Danhof and Hoeksema) the opportunity to defend themselves against their attackers in the eyes of the Reformed reading public.” (quoted from the minutes of the first meeting of what later came to be called the Reformed Free Publishing Association). At their first meeting this small group of men raised $425.00 toward the expenses of this new venture (would that be about $4,000.00 in today’s dollars?) Later in the year more meetings were held and more funds raised. By June, 1924, the membership was 196 men; and well over $3,000.00 had been raised.
That was the beginning of the R.F.P.A., a small and inauspicious beginning indeed, but a very enthusiastic one.
The earliest publications of the R.F.P.A. beganbefore the Synod of 1924 and before our Protestant Reformed Churches were born. They were two booklets, or brochures. And in those days, when Dutch was still the predominant language in the churches, they were in the Dutch language. The first was Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Straight Paths), in which the Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema set forth their views with respect to common grace both negatively and positively. The second was Om Recht en Waarheid (For the Sake of Justice and Truth), in which the two ministers defend themselves against their attackers.
We are interested now especially in the second booklet, because in its last chapter the authors announce their intention to begin publication of The Standard Bearer, whose anniversary we are celebrating on this occasion. In this chapter the two ministers announce in great detail their intentions and their plans as to the nature and content of The Standard Bearer.
It was only after the Synod of 1924, where the Three Points of Common Grace were adopted by the Christian Reformed Church, that The Standard Bearer made its appearance in October of 1924. It appeared first as a monthly magazine, but after a year as a semi-monthly periodical. Bear in mind, therefore, that The Standard Bearer began as a Christian Reformed periodical (roughly comparable say, to the status of a magazine like The Outlooktoday).
As to its character, unquestionably the first purpose of our magazine was to be a medium of defense for our original editors and their doctrinal position. And it served that purpose well: The Standard Bearerimmediately gained attention, both favorable and unfavorable. Moreover, The Standard Bearer has continued to have that character ever since. It has had through the years, and it still has, an antithetical and polemical and apologetic stance. It purposes to maintain the truth over against heresy, and that, too, first of all, in the circle of Reformed churches. This is no accident; it is intentional.
However, let it also be emphasized that our Standard Bearer never intended to be merely negative, merely on the defensive, or merely polemical. This was also made very plain in that last chapter of Om Recht en Waarheid, where plans for the magazine were first outlined. It would be well worth our while to translate that chapter in its entirety, because it so clearly sets forth the purpose to which our magazine has adhered through all these sixty years. However, to put it very briefly, from the outset The Standard Bearerpurposed to develop positively the Reformed line of the truth and the Reformed world-and-life view. To this purpose we have, by the grace of God, adhered. There have been changes in format and changes in division of duties among staff writers; and there have been various cosmetic changes (for instance, the addition of a church news section). But to its original purpose The Standard Bearer has adhered.
One more question may be raised in this connection: what has been and is the connection between The Standard Bearer and our Protestant Reformed Churches?
Historically, of course, there was a close connection from the outset. For the publication of The Standard Bearer became the occasion and one of the alleged reasons for the ouster of the Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema and G.M. Ophoff. Today, perhaps, that may even seem unbelievable and perhaps a bit absurd. But it is a fact that according to the records of Classis Grand Rapids East and Classis Grand Rapids West of the Christian Reformed Church, the publication of The Standard Bearer was among the reasons why they were deposed! The “S.B.” has indeed played a significant part in our history, therefore. Besides, over the years, our magazine has been everywhere recognized as the literary voice of our Protestant Reformed Churches; and frequently it has played a significant part as a medium of initial contact and instruction in connection with our home mission activity. Moreover, everywhere through the years The Standard Bearer has been recognized as the journalistic voice of our Protestant Reformed Churches, even to the point that is often thought of and even referred to as our churches’ magazine. The latter, of course, is not true. Ours is not a “church” paper. The organization which publishes it is “Free,” that is, free from all ecclesiastical control. No consistory, no classis, no synod has any say-so about The Standard Bearer. And thus is must remain!
(to be concluded)