As noted in the Report of Classis East, plans are under way for the organization of a new congregation, the Lord willing, in the Jenison, Michigan area. As of this writing, I do not know when this organization will take place; I would guess it will not be before this editorial sees print. And part of my remarks is based on this guess.
First of all, congratulations to those who have taken the initiative in this matter, that is, to the consistories of Hope and Hudsonville, to the brethren who petitioned Classis East for organization, and to Classis East who approved the petition. This is something which has not happened in our churches since 1960 (when Isabel and Forbes were organized) and which has not happened in Classis East since 1944, when Southeast (then Fourth) was organized.
There is reason here for rejoicing and for thankfulness to God. For this represents growth and progress. And I would add: it represents healthy growth. For this proposed new congregation does not arise out of dissension or dissatisfaction of any kind, but simply out of the twin facts that our Hudsonville and Hope congregations are outgrowing their quarters and that a good many families of our Protestant Reformed community live in the Jenison area. This kind of growth from within is healthy growth. And this is reason for joy and gratitude. And perhaps I may add that when an infant is born after long years of waiting, there is additional reason for joy.
Besides, the proposed congregation in the Jenison area furnishes reason for gratitude because it represents an extension of our Protestant Reformed witness, the establishment of another center of witness, in that community. It is our hope, too, that this new congregation may be zealous in church extension work, and that it may serve as a gathering-point for others who love the Reformed faith in that community.
In the second place, I would like to take this opportunity to urge others who live in that area to organize along with those who have already signified their intention. And I say intentionally: to organize with them, not merely to join them later. Everyone recognizes, of course, that no one can be compelled to do this. We do not have a boundary-system in our churches. This is a matter of free choice. But I call attention to the fact that it makes good sense for those who live in the area to support this movement. Not only do I have in mind the over-crowded conditions at Hope and Hudsonville. But I also have in mind that if you live in that area, it is, in the main, good sense to have your church-home and that of your children and young people in that community. And besides, it is well to help the infant congregation from the start. This will insure a robust beginning, rather than a struggling one—both from the point of view of church life and from the financial point of view. And it will furnish greater choice of consistorial material, even though Classis East was convinced that there was sufficient consistorial material to warrant organization (and I concur).
And yet the very reference to the historical statistics made above must needs remind us of another side of the picture, it seems to me.
Not a new congregation since 1960! Not a new congregation in Classis East since 1944! And not a new congregation in Classis East as a result of home mission labor since 1943 (when Randolph was added to Classis East)!
Yes, I know: our churches have gone through some stormy times in that period. Besides, we suffered from a severe shortage of ministers. And besides that, it is possible to point to instances of growth and progress. No, the picture is not all gloomy by any means.
But let this not blind us to the facts.
One of these facts is that we sorely need a home missionary to labor in behalf of our churches. Pray the Lord fervently that He will grant us one. Let us not forget this as churches. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own congregational life and to be satisfied that we have our Protestant Reformed congregation and our minister, and even that we are through various means witnessing to those outside of our churches. And we must not ever become smug! Nor must we be afraid of a minister shortage. Not only has the Lord always provided well for our churches even when there was more of a shortage than today; but the Lord has also graciously alleviated the severity of that shortage already, as all our churches know; and the outlook for a future supply of ministers is at the moment very bright! Moreover, let us not only pray for a home missionary. Let us concentrate as churches upon practical measures to make it more feasible and possible for one of our ministers to accept a call to this work. This is no easy task; and it is no simple matter, especially for a minister with a family of young children, to accept such a call. Let us do what is possible in order that the way may be open.
And, it seems to me, that another fact is this, that—whether with or without a home missionary—our churches must concentrate more of their attention and their labor on this aspect of the Lord’s work. Perhaps it is not too much to say that the very lack of new organizations is evidence of this. Think about it!
And think on this, too, that this calling is all the more urgent because of the rapid apostasy of our day, especially in the Reformed community, and because of the crying need for church reformation.
Meanwhile, if these lines fall under the eyes of any outside of our Protestant Reformed Churches who are genuinely concerned about church reformation and who through our Standard Bearer recognize in our churches a bastion of the Reformed faith in these troubled times, I am confident to say: our churches stand ready to answer any call for help, whether we have a home missionary or not. Moreover, we do not despise a small beginning, as our history in the organization of churches will plainly show. Nor, if a congregation is organized, will our churches leave it an orphan; but we are ready to help and support financially, and, above all, to provide a congregation with faithful, thoroughly Reformed preachers of the Word!