Christchurch, New Zealand.
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England.
Gerdview, Transvaal, South Africa.
What do these romantic sounding cities in far away lands of three widely separated continents have in common? And why are they mentioned in The Standard Bearer?
Within the past month and a half there have been men from all three of these far away places who sought contact with us. I am not speaking of contact by correspondence. Of the latter kind of contact, too, we have been having much—with people of other church communions, both in this country and in foreign lands. It seems, in fact, that especially of late such contacts have been increasing. If we had a “mail-bag” department in our magazine, some of the letters which are received would indeed surprise many of our readers. And these contacts usually come about either through our Standard Bearer or through other literature produced in our churches, particularly the books being published by the RFPA.
But I am speaking now of personal, face-to-face contacts.
Without violating any personal confidences or embarrassing any individuals, let me briefly relate the story of these visits.
Mr. Wm. van Rij visited us from Christchurch, New Zealand. Our contact with him was occasioned by The Standard Bearer’s reflections on the theology of Dr. Klaas Runia a little more than a year ago. Incidentally, it was another reader of our Standard Bearer—also not a member of our churches—who brought The Standard Bearer to brother van Rij’s attention. Unbeknownst to us at the time, there were tensions in the churches of New Zealand and Australia surrounding the teachings of Dr. Runia. And brother van Rij recognized in The Standard Bearer a kindred defender of the Reformed faith, began to correspond with us, and to exchange views, as well as to publish excerpts from The Standard Bearer “down under” in a little paper called The Reformed Guardian. Brother van Rij is a member of the Reformed Church of New Zealand and is a director-president of an organization called The Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship, whose purpose is to defend the Reformed faith against the same liberalizing tendencies which are at present afflicting Reformed churches throughout the world. About these matters we shah write in detail later. But the fruit of this contact was that when brother van Rij was in this country on a very crowded schedule on a business trip, he had the opportunity to spend a week-end in Grand Rapids and sought us out. Thus it came about that Mr. and Mrs. van Rij were our guests; and we had the opportunity of face-to-face contact and discussion, gained a much fuller insight into the situation “down under,” had the opportunity to inform the brother more fully concerning our Protestant Reformed Churches and our stand, even had the pleasure of having the van Rijs as guests in our Sunday services at Hope Church and Southeast Church, and laid the groundwork for further contact with the brethren in New Zealand.
International contact Number Two was with a minister from that delightfully romantic sounding city on the English Channel, Bexhill-on-Sea. The Rev. Stanley R. Baxter is a minister in the Free Church of England, a sister church of the Reformed Episcopal Church in this country. But he is a man who has come to love the pure Reformed faith. The amazing aspect of this is that, as he himself put it in his broad English accent, he moved from “a rabid Arminian, dispensationalist” position to the Reformed faith. And now he is dedicated to furthering the pure Reformed faith among others, both his fellow ministers and the people, in England. It seems that it was largely through the influence of literature published by the Banner of Truth Trust in England that the Rev. Mr. Baxter became acquainted with the Reformed faith. And it was through our literature distributed in England by the Banner of Truth Trust that brother Baxter became acquainted with us; he himself made special mention of Reformed Dogmatics and Therefore Have I Spoken (and he went back home, by the way, with Behold, He Cometh—and much other literature—in his luggage!). It was a real pleasure for the Rev. VanBaren and myself to have Rev. Baxter in our homes for a few days. But a goodly number of our people also had the opportunity to become acquainted, to hear him speak, and to ask questions. And our Seminary had a treat in the form of a visit from Rev. Baxter and a 3-hour session with him. Besides, the Michigan ministers gathered in conference with this brother from England in the afternoon of the same day when he visited the Seminary. The result of this 4-day visit which the Rev. Baxter made specifically to seek face-to-face contact with us was a mutual understanding, rich fellowship, the laying of ground-work for further fellowship with him and with others, and the establishing of more contacts with likeminded brethren. Our guest has already written a couple days after his return to England, “Thank you very much indeed for all the love and fellowship in the Gospel that you and your brethren and family gave to me. It was a great thrill to me to be in such company and to have stayed in Christian families.”
International contact Number Three is almost stranger than fiction. Apparently this contact also came about originally through our literature distributed by the Banner of Truth Trust in London, England. For some time our Business Manager, however, had a little contact with a group called Christian Ministries Ltd., in South Africa. But imagine my surprise when on an evening my telephone rang, and a gentleman inquired about “a publication called The Standard Bearer.” As the story developed, the voice was that of Mr. Iain B. Grubb, who was in our city on business for South Africa Airways. He is a director of the literature distribution group called Christian Ministries Ltd. He had been urged to get in touch with The Standard Bearer while in this country, and to inquire about the possibility of distributing our magazine in South Africa. But he came with no more than a post office box number. After various efforts to get information, he remembered the name “Hoeksema” from one of our RFPA books, consulted the telephone directory, and tried my number. The result was that during his brief stay in Grand Rapids Mr. Grubb spent an evening at my home, and we became as acquainted as was possible in the three hours before I brought him to Kent County Airport to make his delayed trip to New York. The story I heard from him was more wonderful than I could have dreamed. He belongs to a group which has moved from a Pentacostalist and Brethren background to “Five-Point Calvinism” and is apparently moving toward a fully Reformed position. No, I am under no illusions that this brother was “Protestant Reformed.” Nor was he! But the significant point is that here is apparently a group of believers who have—as they put it, “providentially” and “by God’s grace”—come into contact with Calvinism and the Reformed faith, who are genuinely interested in learning more, and who have gone out of their way even to seek personal contact with us on the flimsiest clew of a post office box number and a name partially remembered.
Now why, you may ask, am I relating these stories?
Well, certainly not to boast. Neither do I have delusions of grandeur as to a tremendous revival of the Reformed faith in this age of apostasy which increasingly points to the nearness of the end, nor do I believe that we have anything whereof to boast even of these small fruits—and how could a Reformed man boast, except in the Lord?
But I have more than one reason for sharing this information.
In the first place, I believe that the Lord has something to say to us in these contacts which were seemingly laid, as it were, on our doorstep. And what the Lord has to say to us is, I believe, for our encouragement. At any rate, I and the other brethren with me felt greatly encouraged and refreshed by these contacts with brethren from far away lands. Sometimes we begin to feel rather lonely, begin to feel almost as though we are the only ones left who are holding to and fighting for the pure Reformed faith. And now the Lord brings us into contact with kindred souls—from afar—and reminds us that He always has His seven thousand. And refreshing it is, and mutually beneficial and strengthening, to have such contacts.
In second place, it is striking that what these people are interested in—to one degree or another—is not some brand of watered down Calvinism or decadent Reformed witness, of which there is a great plenty in our day. But they are interested in the clear-cut, uncompromised Reformed faith. This is precisely what has attracted them to us. This is what drew their attention in our literature. This factor also has something to say to us, namely, that we should never, never think of compromising the heritage of the Reformed faith which the Lord has given us, but maintain our Reformed witness in all its purity and sharpness of definition with unflagging devotion and zeal. If this should ever be different among us, we will have become like salt which has lost its savor—even as so many other Reformed groups have already become. This is important to remember in a day when the temptation to compromise is great!
In the third place, it is striking to me that these contacts all came about through our Protestant Reformed literature, and that, too, in what one would almost call an accidental manner. There are no accidents, of course; all of these contacts have been directed by God’s gracious providence toward His church. But what I mean is this, that there was no overt effort on our part to reach these brethren with our witness; in fact, the first contacts were made unbeknownst to us.
My point is this, that if these are the results when there is little or no effort put forth by us, then who knows what may be the result of an overt and concerted effort to send forth our literature-witness, both in this country and overseas? By all means, we should not let our smallness and limited means and power ever become an alibi for lack of zeal and effort on our part. Nor should we allow a certain inferiority complex to deter us. It is Reformed thinking, is it not, to send forth our witness according to the means and ability and opportunities which the Lord gives us—to the utmost of our power—and to leave the fruits to Him?
Let us not forget this.
There are several who have recently urged us strongly—brethren in this land and in foreign countries—to “get our witness out” much more than we have done. They have thus urged us because they have recognized that witness for what it is: REFORMED! And, indeed, there is much that could be done. The question is not, certainly, whether we can make money on our publications, not even whether we can break even on them. If there are outlets for our Standard Bearer and our pamphlets and brochures and books, and if there is interest shown, then we should by all means see to it that this literature is made readily available, even at our own expense! I know, for example, that ourStandard Bearer and our books would be welcomed by others in England, except that people can truthfully not afford them. The average salary of ministers in Rev. Baxter’s denomination, for example, is about $2,500, surely not leaving much surplus for books and magazine subscriptions. I think the Banner of Truth Trust gives us a worthy example in this regard. Not only do they publish and sell books as reasonably as possible; but I am told that in case there are worthy subjects who cannot afford their books, they make cash grants to be used toward the cost of books. And why cannot we do something of this kind too—not foolishly and indiscriminately, but with discretion and in cases of genuine interest? And why could we not make The Standard Bearer available to those outside our churches, both here and in foreign lands on a much wider basis, and free if necessary? I for one, would be in favor of extending our witness—and I have in mind especially our literature witness—on a much greater scale. Contacts such as those I have described should encourage us in this. Moreover, we will discover that contacts made through such means will in turn open the door to other and increasing contacts.
But let us be up and doing!
Let us labor while it is day! The night cometh in which no man can work!
Our God will give the increase!