Rev. Lanning is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan. Previous article in this series: February 1, 2008, p. 208.
An officebearer in Christ’s church entering into office is in need of courage. He needs courage because his task of caring for Christ’s flock on behalf of the Good Shepherd Himself is not a task he can accomplish in his own strength. So it was with Joshua when he was given the work of leading Israel into Canaan. Four times in Joshua 1, God encourages him with the exhortation, “Be strong and of a good courage.”
God Himself supplies that courage. He did for Joshua, and He does for His officebearers today. God supplies that courage with the promise, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee… the LORD thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:5, 9). The officebearer is assured that he does not undertake his office alone, but God will give him strength, wisdom, discernment, firmness, patience, and all of the other gifts needed to perform his duties. Another way of saying this is that God not onlycalls a man into office, but He also qualifieshim for office. Here is encouragement for ministers, elders, and deacons! Their work does not depend upon them and their own strength, but upon God and His strength.
Henry Danhof is an illustration of the truth that God qualifies the man whom He calls. Danhof’s first years in the ministry were demanding, especially for a relatively young and inexperienced man. But he was given strength by God to do good work in his first charge, so that the congregation would later recall concerning him, that “the Lord richly blessed the labors of this youthful shepherd.”¹
Henry Danhof’s first call to the ministry came in the summer of 1910 from the Christian Reformed Church in Sully, IA. Henry accepted the call, and he and his wife, Annie, packed up their belongings, left Grand Rapids, MI, and headed for the congregation in Sully. The congregation was delighted at the arrival of their candidate, the fourth man they had called in their vacancy. Henry was installed by Rev. S. Bouma on September 18, 1910, and became Reverend H. Danhof.
When Henry and Annie arrived, the congregation saw a man whose appearance was striking. He was not tall, nor was he athletic, but he exuded a strength and firmness of character that could not be missed. He always dressed in black, and sported a Frenchman mustache that extended a full two inches into the air on either side of his mouth. Yet it was not so much his appearance as his personality that made a lasting impression on people. The saints in Sully soon came to know their pastor as a very intelligent man. The interest he had as a boy in every facet of the creation was evident in his ministry, for he could speak knowledgeably on nearly any topic. Not only was he intelligent, he also had a strong character; some would even say stubborn or hard-headed. This trait would manifest itself again later in his ministry, when he and Herman Hoeksema would part ways.
But it was especially Henry’s gift for preaching that stood out in Sully. He was an excellent preacher. His sermons were interesting and deep. In keeping with his character, he would often thunder from the pulpit. The congregation knew they were hearing God’s Word preached to them, as is evident from their later recollection that he was a “very ‘spirit-filled’ man.”²
The congregation in Sully was busy with improvements to their buildings when Henry and Annie arrived. The church was in the process of constructing a new, larger building for worship, which was dedicated in 1911, to the great delight of the congregation. Apparently the parsonage was in poor condition, for the consistory made efforts to find a more suitable dwelling for their minister. They decided to build a new parsonage and new horse stables to house the horses and buggies that were the means of transportation in that era. Henry and Annie moved into the new parsonage, which was “modern in every respect, save gas and electric light.”
At the same time that the congregation was busy providing a home for the Danhofs, Henry was busy laboring among the congregation. It is plain that Danhof’s strength in Sully did not come from himself, but from God. The evidence is that, although Henry was relatively young and inexperienced, and although he had an enormous amount of work to do, God used his work to prosper and bless the congregation of Sully.
Henry Danhof’s labors included the normal work required of every minister: making and preaching two sermons each week; teaching the catechism classes; visiting the sick and shut-ins; chairing the consistory meetings; leading societies; and more. These labors were no small tasks in a congregation the size of Sully. When Henry arrived in 1910, there were 48 families (285 total souls); when he left in 1914, there were 69 families (420 total souls). There were more than 150 catechism students to teach each week and more than 50 young people in the Young People’s Society.
Danhof and the consistory also had to make decisions about the life and worship of the congregation. For example, there were some complaints about the organ music that was being played before the worship service began, and the consistory had to admonish the organists to use proper music.
In addition to this work on behalf of his congregation, Danhof had denominational work to do. His intelligence and capacity for work must have been recognized by the churches early on, for he was appointed Stated Clerk of Classis Pella.
Not only was he busy in the church, but Henry’s family life became busier as well. Very soon he had more than only a young wife to care for, for God blessed the Danhofs with the births of two children, Clarence and Jeannette, during their years in Sully.
One of the most lasting works of Henry Danhof in Sully was the repeated exhortation that the parents of Sully must establish a Christian school for the education of their children. Already in 1908, before Danhof arrived, a few men in the Men’s Society agreed that a Christian school was needed. At a subsequent meeting of interested parents, a Society of Christian Primary Instruction was organized and a school board was elected. The board worked hard to encourage the parents to build a school, but as time wore on, the enthusiasm for the cause began to wane.
When Danhof arrived in 1910, he very quickly made the cause of a Christian school in Sully his own cause. Early in 1911, a general meeting was called, and the young pastor pressed the need for a Christian school and encouraged the members to organize several “propaganda meetings,” as they were called.
The fruit of Danhof’s labors was a plan for a summer school. Although not the final goal, it was hoped that these classes, held in the consistory room of the church, could be used as a stepping stone to a full-fledged Christian day school. This summer school opened its doors in 1911.
After two years of overseeing the summer school, the board, with Danhof urging them, made every effort to establish a real Christian school by the fall of 1913. The result was that a school house was constructed, a full-time teacher hired, and the doors were opened for the school year beginning September 1913.
Interesting and instructive for the Protestant Reformed Churches is the conviction with which Sully Christian School was founded. At every opportunity, the message was proclaimed: God and His covenant demand that we establish a Christian school. At the very first meeting of parents in 1908, two area ministers “made a sincere and impressing plea for the covenantal promise pledged in the baptismal vow by the parents toward their children, God’s heritage.”³
After the first two years of summer school were completed, it was noted that many had been won over to the cause of the Christian school through these efforts. Now more than ever, the families saw the need for an elementary school “in order that the baptismal vows might be fulfilled according to the demands of our covenant God and that the entire instruction rendered should be in harmony with the Scripture.”4
The efforts to establish a school did not go unchallenged. There were several in the congregation who opposed the school vigorously. In fact, there was more opposition from within the church than from without. And yet, those who persevered always maintained that they were following God’s covenant command, and that those who opposed them were disobeying God’s covenant command. “There was much opposition by those who failed to see their covenant responsibilities, [but] the Lord does not forsake those who seek to follow His commands and shoulder the task set before them.”5
Because the school was founded upon that conviction, it was able to weather some fierce trials. Right from the beginning, the conviction that this Christian school was the demand of the covenant motivated several families who lived too far away, to sell their farms and move as close to Sully as they could. Later, when an anti- Dutch sentiment swept through the neighboring counties, and the members received death threats from unknown persecutors, as well as orders from the county seat to shut the school down, the parents maintained the school. The men of the congregation even volunteered to take turns sitting in the school building through the night, on the lookout for arsonists. That kind of conviction warms the hearts of Reformed men and women, because that conviction it self is Reformed. The conviction that Christian schools are a demand of the covenant, and that they are worth maintaining even in the face of persecution, is nothing new in the church. It is a conviction that goes back to the Reformation, and indeed, to the earliest years of Christianity itself.
Danhof’s work with Sully Christian School was not finished even when he left Sully in 1914. In 1920, he was invited back to speak at a School Society meeting. Again, as he had so often in the past, Danhof urged the cause of Christian school education upon the saints of Sully, and they “returned home with happy and thankful hearts to our covenant God for His guiding hand so clearly shown….”6
From Henry Danhof’s time in Sully we can see that God not only calls, but also qualifies men for office. Let every elder, deacon, and minister—especially the first-time officebearers—heed God’s encouragement, “Be strong, and of a good courage; for the LORD thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.”
1. Sully Christian Reformed Church 50th Anniversary Program, p. 8. The information in this article comes from several Sully CRC anniversary programs, as well as the 50th anniversary program of Sully Christian School.
2. Sully Christian Reformed Church 75th Anniversary Program, p. 4.
3. School for Christian Instruction 50th Anniversary, Fifty Years in Retrospect, p. 12.
6. Ibid., p. 15.