(Note: In our previous installment we concluded our discussion of the meaning of these One Hundred Fifty Years and Sixty. We are now ready to discuss their relationship.)
We may raise the question whether there is any connection between these two events, the Secession of 1834 and the beginning of our Standard Bearer.
If by connection is meant direct historical connection, the answer to this question is very plainly negative. Direct historical connection there was not: the two events were ninety years apart and took place in two different countries with the Atlantic Ocean between them.
Nevertheless, it is possible to trace an indirect connection, for the simple reason that God continues His covenant and His church in the line of the generations of believers. And from that point of view it is plain to see that our Protestant Reformed Churches trace their heritage to the Secession of 1834. First of all, as we have seen, the Secession movement was transplanted to our country through the colonization process in 1847. Especially in western Michigan, in the Holland area, this took place, so that there was a replica in miniature of the Secession movement in that area. Secondly, the Christian Reformed Church arose out of those colonies in 1857 by way of the separation from the Reformed Church in America after the colony churches had first been led into the latter denomination through the influence of Rev. Van Raalte. And our Protestant Reformed Churches arose out of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 and as the true continuation of the Secession movement, a process in which our Standard Bearerwas instrumental.
In connection with this, we may point out that many of the members of our churches can trace their ancestry back to the Afscheiding. Some of them can trace their ancestry back to the colonies in the Holland, Michigan area, and from there back to the churches of the Secession in the various provinces of the Netherlands. Others in our churches can trace their heritage back to parents or grandparents who came to this country in the later immigration of the late 1800s and early 1900s, parents or grandparents who were of Secession heritage in the “old country.” My own parents, for example, were of Secession heritage, even though in their early childhood the Churches of 1834 and the Churches of 1886 (theDoleantie churches, associated with the name of Abraham Kuyper) came together to form the Gereformeerde Kerken (GKN) in 1892. And so there are many among us who can trace their heritage rather directly back to the Afscheiding.
But is there more than an historical connection?
The latter may be interesting as mere historical data. If you are a “history buff,” it may be interesting to trace that connection; and there is probably an element of nostalgia involved if one can trace his origins, for example, to the “colonies” and can read and study stories of those days. There happens to be at present a considerable revival of interest in all kinds of historical data pertaining to the colonies and their struggles, failures, and successes.
That in itself, however, is not of much value.
Another question is whether there is a connection involving a spiritual, doctrinal, ecclesiastical heritage.
In this respect, I find a twofold relationship.
In the first place, there is a doctrinal connection. There has come down to us as Protestant Reformed people from the Secession the heritage of the Reformed faith. This heritage has been transmitted to us today via the line of generations mentioned in the preceding. I know very well: the Secession is not known for its great doctrinal development. I am referring now to the Secession movement especially in its early years. On the other hand, I do not believe it is fair to accuse the Afscheiding as a whole of pietism, as is frequently done. Nevertheless, I think it is a fact that especially in the early years there was not a large degree of development in the Secession as far as the Reformed truth is concerned. One reason for this is undoubtedly the fact that the early leaders of the Secession were simply too busy for this: busy preaching twenty and more times per week, busy teaching, busy fighting the battle, busy helping the churches to become established.
But the Secession is indeed known for its return to and faithfulness to the Reformed faith as set forth by Dordt! This is its outstanding characteristic. You might say that it was a kind of holding action. Even in this respect, I know, one can point to many weaknesses and struggles and divisions. But I am referring now to the main line of the Secession and to its principle as this comes to expression, for example, in the Act of Secession or Return of the congregation of Ulrum, where the Secession began.
In this respect our Standard Bearer is surely related directly to the Secession; and we are not ashamed to trace our origin to it! But there is a difference. God has given to us through the years of our existence the opportunity and talents for further development and enrichment. I think in this connection especially of the truth of the covenant as the eternal covenant of friendship established through Christ with believers and their seed.
But there is also an ecclesiastical or church political relationship between us and the Secession.
Again, though the churches of the Secession were beset by many internal troubles and differences and struggles, the mainstream of the Secession was sound in this respect. It was not ingrown. It was not sectarian. It was not narrow in the wrong sense of the term. But the Secession represents a return to the truth of the office of believers. It represents a return to the principle of the autonomy of the local church. It took a firm stand—and at great cost!—against hierarchy. And it represented a return to the principle of the sacred right and calling of reformation.
In this respect, too, we Protestant Reformed are related to the Secession in principle.
Looking back over the sixty years of the existence of our magazine, let me remind you that our Standard Bearer has been of significance only in so far as it was faithful to the principles mentioned in the preceding. And I wish to emphasize that it has, by God’s grace, indeed been faithful to those principles for sixty years. There are not many church papers and religious periodicals of which that can be said today. But our Standard Bearer has been faithful. It is basically the same kind of paper today that it was sixty years ago. Thank God for that!
And the lesson is that our Standard Bearer will continue to be of significance in the future only in that same way, that is, only as it continues to be the same kind of magazine that it has been for sixty years. We must not only not depart and become apostate. But we must remain sharp and distinctive and antithetical—yes, also polemical as occasion demands. And we must continue, too, to develop positively as we have in the past. If the day should come that the Standard Bearer becomes dull and colorless, just like many another religious magazines, if the day should come that it loses its distinctiveness and fails to lift high the standard of the Reformed truth, then it should cease publication. The market is glutted with colorless, non-distinctive, and apostate periodicals; why add another?
To that end our Standard Bearer must remain FREE. It must be in a position to speak freely, without ecclesiastical harness and restraint—even if the day should come, which may God graciously forbid, that the Standard Bearer should have to speak out against our Protestant Reformed Churches!
For that purpose our magazine must have the strong support of its readers and subscribers. And I am not referring only, nor even in the first place, of financial support. That is necessary also. But at present there are no worries in that regard. And this is not the first priority. But READ your Standard Bearer! I fear sometimes that there is reason for concern in this respect. What good is a magazine lying on your table or in your drawer? Read it, teach your youth to read it, digest it, learn from it, and become established in the truth!
Finally, all glory and thanksgiving be unto our God! We have nothing of which to boast in ourselves. All is of Him and of His sovereign grace and covenant faithfulness!