Lynden, Washington, December 13, 1948
Rev. H. Hoeksema,
There are two matters which I would like to discuss in tins communication. The first concerns our activity and progress in this field of our Mission endeavors. Since the work of the extension of our truth has always been dear to you, I felt you might like to hear from us. But I also believe our people are interested and, therefore, take this opportunity of serving both purposes in a single letter.
Since you were here, almost 20 years ago, many physical and spiritual changes have taken place. It is true the same “eternal” hills surround us on every side. And as always they are majestic in their grandeur and instructive in their steadfastness. But even they are not exactly the same, for much of their protective covering of fir and pine has been felled before the woodman’s axe to supply the lumber needs of our modern world. Much more of the valley land had also been cleared to make room for the thousands who have moved into this area from everywhere East; notably the mid-western states. Almost all of the older generation whom you met and who enjoyed your messages from the Word are departed; only a lingering few remain.
Especially that last factor indicates, and accounts for, the spiritual change. An entirely new generation has appeared which knows us not. Having been trained and taught in that which was adopted as Reformed and Calvinistic in 1924 many are no longer able to discern the truth. The pleasing aspects of “common grace” with its convenient practical implications have created lethargy and self-satisfaction. There is little desire to study and discuss when it is discovered that one must live antithetically. What a great responsibility lies at the door of the Church as well as the individual!
All of these factors have made our work slow and visible progress small. After having become acquainted with the field, we sought to establish ourselves as Scripturally and Confessionally historically Reformed. This was accomplished through the distribution of literature, letters and public advertising expressing our position. In this connection we made wide use of many of your excellent pamphlets and found them well-suited to our purpose; notably such as “Jesus Savior and the Evil of Hawking Him”; “The Gospel”, etc. In all our literature we have also called attention to the Reformed Witness Hour and your present series which very nicely ties in with our work. It is difficult to determine the extent of the listening audience, but at times there is indication that it is rather large. Personally, we enjoy the program and your messages a great deal since it serves as a real and living connection with “home”. We especially appreciated your lecture of yesterday, “Who Art Thou O Man?”, as being filled with instruction for us all and a true testimony to the Reformed truth which is so lacking.
We have also been holding worship services each Sunday evening in a small Community church building near Lynden. Thus far, the response has been somewhat disappointing. Apart from the families who have moved here from our other churches there has been very little interest. Although we appreciate this nucleus to work with, we feel that the first purpose of our labor is not to follow those who have left our churches or to encourage others to do so, but to instruct and witness to those who are without.
At present we are busy discussing the “three points” in our weekly letters; pointing out their errors and unscriptural conceptions. These letters reach a large majority of all the Reformed people in this community. During the month of January we hope, the Lord willing, to supplement these letters with lectures on the various points. We plan to hold these lectures here in Lynden and the surrounding towns. Though as I stated above, the results have been rather discouraging as far as the flesh is concerned, we rest in the knowledge that our labor is never in vain in the Lord.
The second matter of comment concerns the discussion regarding catechism and methods of instruction. First of all, I would like to substantiate your contention, that catechism as it is being conducted in our churches generally, reveals a tendency to individualism. In fact I would like to add a few thoughts in support of your contention. In my very limited experience, I have already heard several parents complain of the lack of unity in respect to method and material. They deplored the fact that with every change of minister the current system was discarded and new individual ideas were instituted. I also recall that when this was discussed recently on the floor of Classis East and it was suggested that a committee be appointed to bring a report, it was dropped. And the primary arguments revealed the same individualistic tendency of freedom for one’s own method and course. I, too, find this a sad situation.
My purpose, then, is to raise a few questions and ask for some needed light. Since I hope, the Lord willing, to teach for many years to come, I would appreciate any suggestions you may have. I realize full well that you cannot begin to write a series on Catechetics but hope you may be able, in your criticism and comment on what follows, to lay down a few general principles.
In the first place, would it be advisable and proper for some Consistory to suggest a course of study and ask Classis and Synod to approve it as a guide for all of our Churches? It should be something more definite than has been expressed so that all of our catechumens of a given age group are busy with the same material. Further, that this be planned throughout the years so that there would be regularity and unity; eliminating the changes which come with new ministers or removal to other of our congregations. In this way all pupils and parents as well as ministers and consistories would have a regular guide.
If such a course is feasible and possible would it be advisable to suggest instruction in doctrine at an early age? And now I would like to argue a bit. I know you always chided us in school for asking a (question with an argument, but I hope you’ll bear with me. You will concede, I think, that it has been some time since you have instructed younger children, at least formally. As I recall I never had the privilege of your instruction in my early years. If memory serves correctly, Mr. B. Sevensma taught us in Eastern Ave., and later in the store building on Wealthy St. we had the elders or early students. Though I’m sorry never to have had your instruction in my youth I appreciate full well that your various and almost insurmountable labors of those days were of more lasting benefit than any catechism you could have taught me. But at least it indicates that it must be at least 25 or 30 years since you have formally instructed children.
I think you will also agree, that during that time many developments have been made in child training, especially in the Christian School in the field of Bible study. At times at almost amazes one what even first graders are taught in this field. Though our own children do not yet attend school this has been brought to my attention through investigation of the work of my nieces and just recently at an open house sponsored by the local P. T. A. here in Lynden. I’m sorry I don’t have definite examples at hand, but remember seeing the work of a seven year old in which the doctrines of the Atonement, Trinity and Predestination were brought out in the Bible History instruction she received in school. Now apart from the question whether that is the school’s business and whether it is the sphere in which they are called to develop, the fact remains that they have and that our children are receiving that instruction. If we add to this the instruction the child receives in the home and Sunday School, both predominantly historical, we begin to see its scope. Besides, by this age, the child is able to read and its parents provide it with adequate books for personal
Bible study, e.g., the excellent works by Marion School land and Catherine Vos. Now I realize that your contention is not for dead history but for a living history that reveals doctrine. However, I would ask in view of the preceding, whether it wouldn’t be well for the expression to be reversed? Instead of historical doctrine teach doctrine with historical support.
Merely by way of elucidation I would like to suggest something like the following: for ages 6-8 follow what is now contained in Old and New Testament for Juniors, with, perhaps, some simplification of language. Certainly on the background sketched above the material is not too difficult. For ages 8-10 use the Old and New Testament for Seniors, again with a bit of grammatical simplification. Thus the catechumen would go through the entire Old and New Testament course twice and would be receiving something beyond that he gains elsewhere; there would be development. At 11 years of age begin with a primary course in systematic doctrine followed by a primary course on the Heidelberg Catechism and then through the other Confessions. In the later teens an advanced course in the Heidelberger and your “Essentials”. If there is still time left it could be used for special study, e.g., a course using your history of our Churches as text. This later could serve admirably not only for instruction in our history and truth, but also take in briefly, significant points of Church Order, which is so sadly neglected. By the way, wouldn’t early instruction in the Heidelberg Catechism create greater interest in our regular Catechism preaching?
Finally, in order to bring out one more point, I too must confess some guilt in respect to the individualism you suggest. In my former charge we began teaching doctrine, to the 10-12 year class. I found I was able to maintain better interest by teaching something relatively new. Perhaps, this reveals a deficiency on my part in respect to the teaching of history but just for that reason I would appreciate a few suggestions. We have also found, in our present work, that the greatest lack does not lie in a knowledge of Biblical facts but in a clear conception and line of truth; as well as almost complete ignorance of the contents of the Reformed Confessions.
Would you also offer some information regarding instruction in the Netherlands. I have often heard of and also seen, e.g. the little book by Hellenbroek. Was this used at an early age?
We are happy to hear you are continuing to improve while our prayers continue with yours for added blessing.
Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,