Mr. Kalsbeek is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Chruch, Grand Rapids.
(Do) you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian church to be the true and perfect (complete) doctrine of salvation?In 1927 a 38-year-old Byron Center muck farmer and his 39-year-old wife could not answer yes to that question when it was time to have their infant daughter baptized in the Christian Reformed Church. The Lord used this stand for the truth by my grandparents to bring my family out of the Christian Reformed Church and into the Protestant Reformed Churches. Most of you here tonight could relate similar examples from your own family histories, no doubt.
This 75th anniversary celebration of our churches certainly lends itself to looking back to key events like that in our spiritual roots. And when we do, mainly two things come to mind: first, the actions of the people of God involved, our forbears, and, second, the truth that motivated them to such bold action. That, brothers and sisters and friends of the PRC, directly connects us to the general theme for this week’s celebration: “Living Out of Our Heritage.”
As you well know, that heritage has much to do with the covenant. In fact, if we were to identify the one thing that is most distinctive about the PRC, it would be our understanding of the truth of the covenant. When we think of the covenant, we think of our children. I believe it is fitting, therefore, that our covenant children speak tonight concerning what they have learned about our heritage from their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Listen, then, to our baptized children as they address us concerning the theme: “Our Heritage of Bones and Stones.”
Remembering the Bones
First of all we are here tonight to remember our heritage of bones! The bones we are to remember are the people God used to lead our churches and our families throughout the 75 years of our history. To remember those bones means that we do what Israel did as they carried the old bones of Joseph along with them through the wilderness, namely, they considered the faithfulness of God (who had delivered them from Egypt) and the means God used to accomplish that deliverance.
Tonight let’s call to remembrance, through the lips of our children, those bones, and how the Lord used them to lead our families into the PRC and to serve the cause of the PRC these past 75 years.*An 11th grade student from First PRC in Grand Rapids:
While living in Washington my parents started hearing the broadcast of the Lynden PRC on the radio. This broadcast led them to our church there.
*A 7th grader from Loveland Protestant Reformed Church:
My dad’s parents were kicked out of their church in Sutton, Nebraska. As a result they moved to Loveland, Colorado, where my dad was born. Rev. Lubbers was working as a missionary there. Eventually Loveland PRC was formed from people who moved from Sutton, Nebraska to Loveland.
*A high school junior from First PRC of Holland, Michigan:
My great great grandfather was one of three people to voice a complaint against Rev. H. Hoeksema’s preaching, resulting in Rev. Hoeksema’s expulsion from the CRC. His son, my grandfather, did not agree with his father, so he changed his membership to the PRC.
*A high school junior from Georgetown PRC:
In 1928 my great grandparents, along with ten other families, organized the PRC in Holland, Michigan.
*An 11th grader from Hudsonville PRC:
Dad discovered books in the library at Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, Nebraska marked as “dangerous books.” Among them he found a book written by Herman Hoeksema, and that was the beginning of our acquaintance with the PRC.
While we are remembering the bones tonight, let’s also briefly consider a few of their unique experiences, some of which are related in the book, God’s Covenant Faithfulness, which was written to commemorate our 50th anniversary:
*Hudsonville, Michigan: They needed a meeting place in their
own community, and at first Spoelman’s barn was the best they could get. They tried one service a week, then two, and then knew they wanted to organize as a Protestant Reformed Church. And on July 16, 1926, the organizational meeting was held right in the barn.
*South Holland, Illinois: Since they had decided to do janitor work by turns, those who lived in Lansing, seven or eight miles away, had a frigid five o’clock walk on winter mornings to start the stove in order to have the auditorium comfortable for the nine o’clock service.
*Pella, Iowa: During those early years, the hardy farmers came by sleigh in the heavy Iowa snows, some as far as twelve miles. They took their dinner with them, and stayed at church to eat it, and then waited for the afternoon service. Afterward, through fading daylight, they skimmed the snow to their waiting chores.
*Doon, Iowa: In the long, lean years of the depression, many in the congregation became discouraged. When they held a meeting to determine whether or not to continue as a congregation, it took a woman … to say, in her Dutch accent, “Qvit? Qvit? Vat’s de matter mit you?” They did not quit, thanks to that mother in Israel.
*Redlands, California: Forty families left the Christian Reformed Church in the year 1932. They had left the CRC because they were placed under censure, accused of organized rebellion.
Clinging to the Stones
With a degree of nostalgia we remember those bones; but our presence here tonight goes deeper, much deeper, than the bones. In fact, if the existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches were dependent upon those bones, then our accusers would have been right when they boldly said that our churches would survive only as long as our original leaders, Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Ophoff. Many of those old bones, like those of Joseph, have returned to the dust from whence they came; but that which the bones were carrying along with them and passed on to the following generations is another story: the stones.
And what mean we by the stones? The second question of our baptism form explains: “(Do) you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament…?” That question identifies the substance, the stones, if you will, upon which the Protestant Reformed Churches stand, namely the truths or doctrines which we affirm each time a child is baptized in our midst. Those truths the bones carried with them. In fact, it’s those very truths that motivated the bones to persevere even in the most trying of times. Like those bones of the past we also cling to the stones, for they are our life.
But this is nothing new, of course. The church has a history of carrying stones. Israel, the Old Testament church, literally carried the two tables of stone with them in their wanderings through the wilderness. Also, in Joshua 4 we read of the monument of stones Israel was commanded to set up upon entering the land of Canaan.
Essentially, the stones to which we cling are just like that, for they too serve as a memorial of God’s everlasting faithfulness to His church as that is expressed in the truth of the Scriptures and which He by His Spirit has led His church to set forth in her creeds. The Lord in His mercy has even privileged us as Protestant Reformed Churches to develop the church’s understanding of those stones, especially in the areas of God’s particular grace, the doctrine of the covenant, and marriage. But there are others! Obtain and read, if you have not already done so, a copy of the latest RFPA publication, For Thy Truth’s Sake, and consider the Lord’s goodness in preserving and revealing His truth to our churches throughout the 75 years of our history.
Do we need encouragement tonight from generations past to cling to those stones? Listen, then, and be encouraged as our baptized children lead us to see the impact those doctrines have had on the bones which have held those truths dear.*A Grandville PRC student:
My grandpa was rejected by his family, but he told them, it’s a closed book, I love my wife, and the truth more.
*An 8th grader from Randolph PRC, who quotes a grandparent:
The doctrine of common grace was not taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches, and a great emphasis was put upon “saved by grace alone” in the preaching. The PRC also sang only out of the Psalter.
A Church History student’s answer to this test question, “Why did the people of the Secession of 1834 leave the State Church in the Netherlands?” Her answer started this way, “We seceded because…” That “we” jumps off the page at us. Here an 11th grader identifies herself with the church of the nineteenth century. No doubt keeping our promise to instruct our children “in the aforesaid doctrine” bears fruit.
This student also serves to remind us during our celebration this week that we must not be so nearsighted as to forget the broader picture, namely, the church catholic. After all, we are but a branch, and a tiny one at that, of that catholic church, other branches of which are represented in our midst here tonight. Who could have imagined 75, or even 50, years ago such a gathering of saints from around the world as we see here tonight?
Be encouraged tonight to cling to the stones out of gratitude, and not to view them as a hindrance or as burdens. The truth of the matter is this: Those doctrines make our burden in this life light. That’s because our real burden is sin, and the stones we cling to bring to remembrance our complete deliverance by means of our covenant God’s sovereign, irresistible, particular grace.
Results of Remembering Bones and Clinging to Stones
Although those doctrines should not be viewed as burdens, it is nevertheless true that the clinging to the stones and the remembering of the bones have consequences. Consider the third question of our baptism form and you will see what I mean:
“(Do) you promise and intend to see these children, when come to years of discretion, instructed…?”
When the church of Jesus Christ faithfully keeps that promise by teaching that truth to her children and by walking in accordance to the “aforesaid doctrine” she pays a price, a significant price! Our history of the past 75 years proves it. Listen once more to our children, this time concerning the price our forbears had to pay for keeping that promise:*A Byron Center student:
My grandparents were not allowed to partake of communion.”
*A student from First PRC in Grand Rapids:
Hardest of all was the fact that none of our extended family understood or appreciated why my parents had joined what they thought was a cult.
*A Hull student says about his parents:
They had to move away from their home, church, parents, relatives, and friends. Also they were called radicals.
Recently two of my Church History students spoke of that price with some dismay from their own experiences. One told me that she was explaining to a fellow worker why we have our own schools, after which, she said, “He just laughed at me.” The other told of someone she knew who had been warned to stay away from her because “she belongs to a cult.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Faithfulness to the promise to teach our children the truth and standing for it ourselves have resulted in 75 years of the same false refrains! You’ve heard them: The PRC thrives on controversy! The PRC is just a sect! You think you’re the only ones going to heaven! You’re always pointing the finger at others! Rationalists! Anabaptists! Hyper-Calvinists! So it goes. And so it will continue to go!
However, we ought not be surprised by those epithets, for what did the Lord say? The Lord said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:32). When the Lord’s body, the church, battles for the truth, she will be hated even as the Lord was hated. The fact of the matter is, if we follow the apostle Paul’s instruction in Colossians 1:24, we will rejoice in these sufferings, for we are privileged to “… fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” Imagine that, the Lord has graciously left some of His afflictions for us to bear!
Still, it hurts! It does! If it were not for the fact that the blessings far outweigh the afflictions, we would despair. Our baptized children have captured some of those blessings too. Listen one final time to our children and give thanks:*A Hudsonville student, quoting her grandmother:
Our entire family is Protestant Reformed. There is family unity. We have not had to live through any divorce and remarriage. It is a wonder in itself that we have five living generations of Protestant Reformed covenant children of God.
*A Randolph student, quoting his grandmother, who in turn speaks for others of us here tonight:
I have great contentment and peace in knowing that my church is adhering to the truths set forth in Scripture. My children and grandchildren have grown up in this church and have shown themselves to be children of the covenant.
*A Loveland student, presenting her own thoughts but also the thoughts of all of us here tonight:
We have been blessed by this congregation by the way that God has shown mercy to us. He has given us these people to fellowship with, and to study God’s Word and to sing His praises with.
Time does not permit us to elaborate on these and countless other blessings we experience as a result of the Lord’s faithfulness to us over these past 75 years. But let’s pause, if it be just in passing, to consider the unity that we experience as a denomination because of the fact that we all use the same Psalter, the same Bible version, the same elements of worship, the same creeds, and the same catechism materials for the instruction of our children. And further, consider the unifying result as expressed in the words of a high school junior from our Southeast Church, “Our ancestors went through a lot of trials and difficulties in striving for the true preaching of the Word in order that we today can still go to church and hear the same preaching every Sunday that they heard 75 years ago.” A blessing indeed!
This is reason to celebrate tonight! This is reason to celebrate the rest of this week! This is reason to celebrate until the Lord returns! It is not a reason to boast. Any tendency to boast is silenced by Deuteronomy 7:7, 8, where the Lord speaks to us as He did to Israel of old:
The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers….
Though that passage should keep us from unwarranted boasting, God’s promise referred to there provides us with the motivation we need to “Live Out of Our Heritage” out of sincere gratitude for His faithfulness to us these past 75 years. Fifty years ago Rev. Herman Hoeksema waxed prophetic when he said at our 25th Anniversary, “We must not expect to become great in number. But rather we must insist on the maintenance of the truth which God has entrusted to our care.” Today, as back then, the bones will fail us, but our faithful heavenly Father never has and never will. Instead let us cling to the stones, no matter the cost.
We began 75 years ago with those frail bones consisting of three congregations. Throughout the years since, numerous individuals functioning in the office of believer either organized Protestant Reformed Churches or joined existing ones. Now, 75 years later, we consist of 27 Protestant Reformed Churches, members of which here tonight comprise what I’m quite sure is the largest number of Protestant Reformed people ever to gather under one roof. Members of these churches, like my grandparents in 1927, are faced with this question each time a child is baptized: “(Do) you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?” Thanks be to our covenant God that for 75 years we have been able to answer yes to that question in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America! God grant that it may continue to be so!