Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Dordt College Founder Dies
The Rev. Bernard J. (B. J.) Haan passed away on December 8, 1994. Born in Sully, Iowa in 1917, Rev. Haan spent part of his childhood in Orange City, Iowa before his family moved to Grand Rapids. After graduating from Calvin Seminary in 1942, Haan was ordained to the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church. His first congregation was the CRC in Ridott, Illinois. Haan accepted a call to First CRC of Sioux Center, Iowa in 1945. He remained in Sioux Center the rest of his life.
Haan’s stay in Sioux Center was not without controversy. Shortly after his arrival, he led a movement against plans by the American Legion to open a movie theatre in Sioux Center. He won this crusade and there is no, theatre in Sioux Center even today. In the early 1950s, Rev. Haan became convinced of the need for a Junior Teachers’ College in the Midwest in response to a growing shortage of qualified teachers in the Christian Schools. There were those who thought it impossible for Haan to realize .his dream. One man said to him, “Bernie, you’ll be dead and buried before a single student is enrolled.” In spite of the skeptics, and over the objections of many Calvin College alumni in the educational community, Dordt College was established in 1955.
The first year’s enrollment was thirty-five students. Rev. Haan was Dordt’s first president, serving the college from 1955 to 1982. In 1978 Dordt’s enrollment hit an all-time high of over 1200 students. Current enrollment at the college is 1156. For over 25 years Haan was featured in a daily broadcast called ‘”Observations,” on Dordt’s non-commercial, full-service FM radio station.
Though a champion of conservative positions, Haan remained deeply loyal to the Christian Reformed Church. During his last broadcast in August of 1993, just two months after the CRC synod had tentatively approved of the ordination of women to the offices of minister and elder, Haan appealed to conservatives not to give up hope. Said Haan, “The question is, how are we going to face the future? What must we do to maintain our strong position as conservative Christian Reformed people and churches? Well, there’s a way to do that, I’m convinced. But don’t jump off the ship. Don’t leave. Don’t let people push you out.”
A memorial service conducted by Rev. John Witvliet, Haan’s pastor at First CRC, Sioux Center, and Dr. J. B. Hulst, Haan’s successor as president of Dordt College, was held December 8.
Theologian Murdered in South Africa
On November 5 Professor Johan Heyns, a former moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa, was assassinated. He was at home in his family room with his wife and. three grandchildren. An unknown assailant fired a single shot with a large caliber rifle through a window, striking Heyns in the back of his head and killing him instantly. Heyns was 66 years old and had, recently retired as Professor of Theology at the University of Pretoria.
President Nelson Mandela of South Africa appeared on television the next day, saying that Heyns had been a soldier for peace. “His untimely death is a loss to, the South African nation as a whole, black and white,” Mandela said.
When the DRC elected Heyns moderator of their synod in 1986; it was a clear move away from a strong defense of apartheid. The 1986 synod took the first steps in publicly retracting the church’s support of apartheid. In 1990 Heyns was elected vice-moderator of the synod. This synod went farther than the 1986 synod by declaring apartheid to be sinful. At the synod of October 1994 of the DRC, Heyns served as chair of the Commission for Doctrine and Current Affairs. In that role he led the synod in its attempt to keep both left and right in the church. While drafting a lengthy answer to critics from the right, this commission proposed a resolution to apologize to its members who had borne clear, prophetic witness against apartheid. As a result the DRC synod welcomed longtime apartheid critic Beyers Naude as a distinguished visitor to the synod.
Johan Heyns was a well-known figure in the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), having served as a delegate to its meetings four times. In 1988, at the REC meeting in Harare, Heyns said, “Apartheid is sin.” This was the first time a DRC official had publicly made such a declaration. In 1992, he and the rest of the DRC delegation agreed to an REC statement that the theological defense of apartheid is heresy.
Heyns was well known in political, circles as well. He was a personal friend both to P. W. Botha and to F. W. DeKlerk, the two immediate past presidents of South Africa.
REC News Exchange
Another Church Leaves the REC
The Midlands Reformed Churches of South Africa have officially notified the REC that they have terminated membership in the REC. As grounds for their decision, this denomination charges the REC with being unfaithful to its constitution when it retained the membership of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in 1992.
REC News Exchange
Addressing God With Femininie Terms
That’s what a seven member committee appointed by the 1994 synod of the Christian Reformed Church has been studying. The question under study is, may CRC members speak concerning God using feminine terms such as “Mother,” “She,” and “Her”?
Even voting to study the matter has been controversial for many in the CRC. The study committee was appointed in response to several overtures from Classis Hudson and Classis of the Heartland, most of which called for disciplinary action against CRC members who address God as “Mother.” Conservative objections to a study committee were largely muted, however, by the appointment of Calvin Seminary professor Dr. John Cooper as chairman of the study committee. Cooper, a former elder of Eastern Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids who supports women in office, has been a vocal opponent of feminine language for God.
Now some of Cooper’s usual allies in the defense of women in office are unhappy with his appointment to the study committee. According to “Cross Talk,” the Classis Lake Erie newsletter, “it seems that synod has ‘stacked the deck’ to secure a particular conclusion.” The newsletter goes on to say, “Because of public positions on this and related issues, it appears that the two theologians and the two ministers appointed to this committee hold the same position as synod…. To ensure a fair study and a serious consideration of the issues involved, classis requested the Board of Trustees to add Dr. Clay Libolt, pastor of our River Terrace church, to the committee. Clay’s doctorate is in the Old Testament, the section of the Bible where the majority of the feminine imagery used to describe God is found.”
“Several people are already on record saying this practice (addressing God with feminine terms, RDD) is possibly a violation of the third commandment [against taking God’s name in vain],” commented Pastor George VanderWeit, stated clerk of Classis Lake Erie. “I think,” said VanderWeit, “there has to be some balance on the committee, what we try to do on committees is make sure issues get a fair hearing. This has nothing to do with whether people are in favor of addressing God as ‘Mother,’ it has everything to do with making sure this issue gets a fair hearing, with whether the various issues surrounding this subject get raised and addressed.” “The conclusion of the committee,” insisted VanderWeit, “may indeed be that it’s inappropriate to address God as ‘Mother.’ That may be the final conclusion of a balanced committee, but when synod appointed people who already staked out a public position . . . it doesn’t do anything to give the church any confidence in the committee.”
Classis Lake Erie may very well be correct in its assessment of the synod’s appointing these people to the study committee. That aside, how can the question of whether it is appropriate to address God, Our Father, using feminine terms even be considered a matter for study in a Reformed church?