The Protestant Reformed Church of Prospect Park, New Jersey
Except in some news items, there has been no account given in our columns of what, I believe, is not only newsworthy, but also an historic event. I refer to the organization of the Protestant Reformed Church of Prospect Park, New Jersey. Why do I call this an historic event?
Well, there is more than one reason. Quite in general, it means that a new Protestant Reformed congregation has been established, and that, too, through our denominational home mission labors. And this in itself is significant, especially for our little denomination. But more specifically, this is the first time a Protestant Reformed Church has been organized east of the state of Michigan. Besides, it means that our denomination now stretches from coast to coast, from New Jersey to California. And still more significantly, it means that there is a Protestant Reformed outpost in an area which for years has been a stronghold of the Reformed community.
Some time ago I suggested that we should hear from this little flock concerning their beginnings and their organization; and their clerk, Mr. Thomas Nelson, graciously responded with the following account:
“For several years some of us were reading theStandard Bearer. We also ordered books such asThe Triple Knowledge. We were very favorably impressed; and we recognized it as the Lord’s doing when some time in March the Rev. Engelsma contacted us from Philadelphia and made arrangements to visit us in Fair Lawn, N.J., urging us to get as many together as possible. An evening date was set, and several families were present when Rev. Engelsma arrived. He presented to us very clearly and forcefully the stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He had also contacted another family in a nearby town, a family about whom we did not know, and got us together. At Rev. Engelsma’s suggestion we contacted the Protestant Reformed Mission Board.
“The Board sent us the Rev. R. Decker to minister to us for a month. And so it was that on a Sunday morning in May the Rev. Decker opened unto us the Scriptures in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Charles De Groot.
“Other pastors followed. And it was on September 11, 1973 that an organizational meeting was held. The Rev. H. Veldman led in prayer and preached a sermon on Ephesians 4:14-15, stressing that we must grow up in Christ. Four families participated in the organization. The Rev. C. Hanko read the Form of Ordination for the two chosen elders and one deacon.
“Our services are held at 10:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M. in the Legion Hall on North 8th Street, Prospect Park, N.J. On Wednesday night we have a mid-week meeting, at which we have been studying the Canons of Dordrecht. In addition to our four families, we have several regular visitors at our services and catechism classes and mid-week meeting.”
After I received the above account, I had the privilege of spending some ten days in Prospect Park and of ministering to them on two Lord’s Days, on the second of which I had the honor of leading them in their first communion service as a congregation. Hence, I am in a position to add a few words from personal experience and observation.
The flock with which I became acquainted, I believe, is a devoted and enthusiastic little band. They eagerly drink in the pure preaching of the Word as it has been brought to them by our Protestant Reformed ministers. Of their delight in the preaching and of the times of refreshment which the Lord has sent them they testified to me on several occasions. And they are determined, by God’s grace, to persevere as a Protestant Reformed congregation in that area. Happy though they are with the regular pulpit supply which is being sent them, they greatly desire to have their own pastor, who may teach and preach to them and their children, but who may also labor in a community which, I am convinced, holds promise of numerical growth for the congregation. May the Lord soon grant them this wish!
Both to encourage them and to encourage other readers of the Standard Bearer in that area, as well as in other areas where there is interest, I want to emphasize that, small though they may be, the Protestant Reformed Church of Prospect Park, New Jersey, is a viable congregation. They have a congregational existence and fellowship. They have the preaching of the Word. They have the sacraments. They have catechism classes. They have a consistory. They have the help and support of our churches. And above all, they have and rejoice in the truth of our Reformed confessions. And they are there to stay, by God’s grace!
May others have the courage of faith to join them. They will not be disappointed. And they will find for themselves and their children spiritual food and nourishment as nowhere else in that community.
And may those in other areas who love the Reformed faith and who long for sound preaching learn from this concrete example that our Protestant Reformed Churches are indeed ready to answer a call for help and to give freely of that which the Lord has so freely given to us.
God bless our Prospect Park congregation!
Things I never knew
One of our contacts with the Netherlands isReformatorisch Dagblad, a rather new Christian daily newspaper, whose Church News Editor, Mr. H. H. J. van As, receives our Standard Bearer and from time to time sends me the Church News section of his paper. Not long ago I received several issues, among which was that of November 28, 1973, which carried an interview with Prof. John Stek, of Calvin Seminary.
In a wide-ranging interview, Prof. Stek was also asked about the Protestant Reformed Churches. And from his response to this inquiry, as reported byReformatorisch Dagblad, I learned some amazing things about the Protestant Reformed Churches, things which I never knew before.
Item. In commenting on Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s denial of the well-meant offer of grace, Prof. Stek and Dr. Paul Schrotenboer are reported to have said that Hoeksema denied that in the preaching of the gospel he had a word for the non-elect. Amazing! I was raised and instructed in home and church and theological school in the Protestant Reformed Churches, but I never heard anything like that. I did indeed hear that for the reprobate the preaching of the gospel is a savor of death unto death. I did hear frequently — and still preach: “For the wicked, saith my God, there is no peace.” Isaiah 57:21.
Item. In commenting on the De Wolf schism in 1953, Prof. Stek is reported to have said: “The breach also had a pastoral background; may the ministers warn the congregation in their preaching against apostasy? Hoeksema posited over against this: there is no apostasy (or: falling away). A number of ministers of his church were of the opinion that then preaching became impossible. Therewith there came a new investigation by these ministers (or does the report intend to say: a new investigation of these ministers?) with the result that an estimated two-thirds broke with the Protestant Reformed Church. Now is that not amazing! I lived through the controversy of 1953; in fact, because of my place as pastor of Doon, Iowa and in Classis West, I played a rather active role in the controversy. As I recall the controversy, it centered on the fundamental question whether the promise of the covenant is conditional or unconditional, with the former position being taken by those who left us and who were pro-Liberated, and the latter position representing what had always been the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches. In fact, I think I can still quote from memory the two heretical statements upon which the controversy finally centered. They were: 1. “God promises every one of you that if you believe, you shall be saved.” 2. “Our act of conversion is a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God.” But however that may be, this is the first time I ever heard the presentation of Prof. Stek. It is one of those things that I never knew. And I still do not know it. And I here and now state publicly that it is a bald-faced and ridiculous lie!
Item. Prof. Stek is reported to have given the following description and evaluation of the Protestant Reformed Churches: “In these churches there is no theological development to be found whatsoever; they continue to maintain the old unchanged; theirs is a theology of maintaining and defending positions. The only reason for existence is that they form a Reformed communion on the basis of protest and setting themselves apart over against others. That is a negative ground! What the future of this small church group will be is not predictable, but cooperation, or agreement (samengaan) with another church appears to be excluded beforehand.”
And here are some more things I never knew. I never knew that it was Christian deliberately and dishonestly to belittle churches who are far and away more Reformed than one’s own. The Bible has a word for that: slander! Secondly, although I have had five years of theological training at our own seminary, though from my youth up I have been thoroughly immersed in Protestant Reformed teaching and instruction, though I am rather thoroughly acquainted with all our Protestant Reformed literature, though I teach theology and Old Testament in our Protestant Reformed Theological School, for the first time in my life I learn from Prof. Stek (who must be having dreams and visions in far away Amsterdam!) that there has never been any theological development in our churches. Further, that our only basis of existence is negative! Now, really, Prof. Stek! If you had only weighed your words more carefully, you would not have said this. For you began by stating, though in a belittling fashion, that we continue to maintain the old unchanged. And that is at least positive, is it not? But besides, I dare to say that from the Protestant Reformed Churches there has come forth more positive development of sound Reformed theology, covenantal theology, sovereign grace theology—- and that, too, in the form of published works, such as The Triple Knowledge andReformed Dogmatics, not to mention hundreds and thousands of pages in other publications — than Prof. Stek will ever see from Calvin Seminary, much less from his own pen.
Yes, there was one item which I knew before. Prof. Stek presents our future as doubtful. Well, from Christian Reformed quarters they have been saying things like this for years. It used to be: when Hoeksema and Ophoff die, the Protestant Reformed Churches will fall apart. There were those who looked for our denominational death after the De Wolf schism of 1953. Other such whisperings there have been from time to time. But thanks to God’s grace, we are quite alive and well today. We are about to dedicate a new seminary building. We are active in home missions. We are active in Christian education. We are active in all our congregations with sound and edifying preaching; and our people do not have to sit in the pews wondering what new heresy or liturgical oddity they will have to stomach on Sunday. We have no theistic evolutionists and other deniers of the historicity of Genesis among our teachers and preachers. We have no teachers of universal atonement in our Seminary, like Prof. Stek’s colleague, Prof. Harold Dekker. We have none in our midst who publicly admit to signing the Formula of Subscription with mental reservations. We have none among us who publicly express agreement with men like Harry Kuitert, as does the Christian Reformed Church. Thanks be to God’s grace alone, we are Reformed. By that same grace we intend to remain Reformed. And by that same grace, we will continue to develop in the Reformed line.
Moreover, we have sought and we continue to seek contact with all who with us love the Reformed faith.
I respectfully suggest to Prof. Stek that he clean his own house before he eyes ours. I also respectfully urge that he learn not to slander.