The reader must not be misled by the title of this article. No, the number of our Protestant Reformed Churches has not been increased by the addition of another congregation. In this article we wish to write in a general way on the question of how a new congregation is organized. During the past year we have written on various phases of our mission work. Among others we have written on such subjects as “The Right of our Mission,” “The Choice of a Mission Field,” and, “Seeking Contact.” Hence the subject of this article is, “The Organization of a New Church.”
During the course of time that we were privileged to serve as the Home Missionary of our churches, we might be instrumental, by the grace of God, in the organization of two new congregations. The one at Edgerton, Minnesota, and the other at Manhattan, Montana. It is not our purpose, however, to write about the organization of these congregations as such. This has already been done in the past, by the Rev. C. Hanko in the Standard Bearer of June 1, 1938, on the organization of Edgerton, and by the Rev. G. Vos, on the organization of Manhattan. In this article we would point out the methods used in bringing about the organization of a new congregation, and also discuss some of the difficulties involved. It is a commendable trait of our Holland Reformed people, that as a rule they are very loyal to their church. I say this is a very commendable trait providing it is based upon knowledge and love of the Reformed truth. There are very many that remain loyal to their church merely upon the basis of tradition, or of family ties, etc. Such loyalty is not to be commended, and I fear that the latter is more often the case than the former.
Due to this commendable trait of church loyalty, it is not an easy matter to get our Holland Reformed people to exchange one church home for another. Indeed, there are always those who very easily and readily jump denominational fences, but these are not at all desirable as members of our Protestant Reformed Churches. They are usually men without principles, and without definite convictions. They are often dissatisfied because (they have been involved in some personal difficulties, or because they dislike a certain minister. A home missionary must always be on his guard against such undesirables. Therefore I deem it very advisable for the home missionary to labor in a certain community from six months to a year before organizing a new Protestant Reformed congregation. And that especially for two reasons. In the first place, this gives him an opportunity to discover any undesirable members, who because of ulterior motives seek to be organized as a new congregation, and secondly it also gives him time to instruct and indoctrinate those who truly love our Reformed truth, that we as Protestant Reformed Churches must make our appeal. It is our firm conviction that there are still many in the Christian Reformed, and also some in the Reformed Church, who truly love our Reformed heritage, and who are averse to all Pelagianism and Arminianism. There are many that feel that there is something fundamentally wrong in a preaching of the Word that is saturated with the heresy of a “well-meaning offer of salvation,” even though they cannot always rightly distinguish this error from the doctrine of the external calling which comes to all that hear the gospel. Neither are they always able to see the difference between the glorious and comforting truth of Divine providence, and the God dishonoring heresy of “Common Grace.” Therefore they must be instructed in sound doctrine through the preaching of the Word, public lectures, Reformed pamphlets and literature, and through personal conversation. Once they have learned to see the grave dangers of the error of a “general well-meaning offer of salvation” an error which dethrones God and enthrones man, as well as the awful implications of the false doctrine of “Common Grace,” they will become very staunch supporters of our Protestant Reformed Churches.
After six months or a year of such intensive labors of preaching, lecturing, distributing of our literature, and of personal visits, we would send a letter, which I used at Manhattan, Montana. It is dated July 21, 1939. This was just exactly a year to the day after our arrival there. It was written in the Holland language, as follows:
July 21, 1939
It is indeed difficult to come to such a final step of separation from the church in which one has been born and reared, and in which one has had his joys and sorrows. It is also hard to separate the ties of fellowship and friendship, which is almost always the case when one leaves one church for another. This is hard for the parents, but also for the entire family. Another great difficulty which confronts the missionary as well as those that are contemplating taking such a final step of separation, is the question whether or not there will be a sufficient number of families to organize a new church. It is true that where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, then He will be in the midst of them, but if at all possible it is desirable to have a sufficient number to bring to manifestation the church as an institute, with its office-bearers, and its ministry of the Word and Sacraments. But all these difficulties are of minor ‘importance if there is but the conviction that it is our calling before God to maintain the truth over against the heresy of the “Three Points.”
If there are a sufficient number (that express their desire to be organized into a Protestant Reformed congregation, then the missionary presents their request to the mission committee of our churches, it being their duty to decide whether or not the new congregation shall be organized. If after careful consideration they decide that the new congregation be organized, they appoint a committee out of their midst, or delegate one or more of the ministers to assist the home missionary in the organization of the new church. In the organization of Edgerton’s congregation the mission committee was represented by the Reverends, H. Hoeksema, P. De Boer, and C. Hanko, and elder N. Yonker, while at the organization of Manhattan’s congregation the home missionary was assisted by the Rev. G. Vos.
After having gained the consent of the Mission Committee to organize a new congregation, then all those that are interested and have already expressed the desire to be organized, are advised to ask for their membership credentials or certificates of membership. The date for organization is then set. Upon the evening of organization either the home missionary or one of the ministers of the Mission Committee functions as chairman, and another as Clerk. The membership credentials of those desiring organization are then read, and if there are no objections they are approved. Officebearers are then elected and if there are no objections raised against the brethren, they are immediately installed into office. After the congregation has been thus organized, one of the ministers present preaches a sermon applicable to the solemn occasion.
In many ways it is advisable that the home missionary stay with the newly organized congregation for some time. During my work as home missionary I sometimes felt that the time of organization was postponed because they feared that immediately after organization the home missionary would leave. Therefore I think the home missionary should remain for some time after the new congregation has been organized, which would give the newly organized group a bit of added confidence. He can also give valuable direction and help to the new church, also from a political viewpoint. Many difficulties can often be avoided by careful leadership during the infancy of the new congregation.