v. S. Views U. s.
“Whoever comes from the Netherlands to America and lives here for a while, is struck with the superficiality that reveals itself in almost every aspect of American life. This is also true of the Church society life; the organizations for young people, men and women. It is not customary, for example, that a member give an introduction to the material to be discussed but the group simply comes together, usually under the leadership of the local minister, and after reading the Scripture portion to be handled simply begins discussing without preparation or introduction.
“There is a Federation of Men’s Societies which prepares outlines for the Bible study but these lack any essential methodology. A few general remarks are made and several questions added, but for the rest each is free to draw his own conclusions. All opinions are welcome and I have not yet visited with any group in which the chairman drew definite conclusions at the close of the discussion.
A particular society which I visited at various times was busy discussing the Epistle to the Hebrews. They had been busy with this for some time and were following the outlines of the Federation which treat the material text for text. Since the society met only once every other week, it is evident that this manner of discussion results in being busy with one Bible book for several years. The result is a discussion of the text rather than of the Scripture. For all the trees they lose sight of the forest. I was also unable to discover that they found any relation between various groups of texts and still less a unified concept of the whole Epistle.
“The last time I was present the discussion concerned the eleventh chapter of Hebrews: The gallery of the faithful’, or, as the apostle himself writes: The cloud of witnesses’. During the discussion the question was raised whether it speaks here of ‘saving faith’, since the life of Samson and Rahab the harlot and the Israelitish people themselves, who ‘by faith passed through the Red Sea’, seemed to indicate that something else than ‘saving faith’ was meant. The ensuing discussion brought out that it had always been taught that there were various sorts of faith. That besides saving faith there was also historical faith, temporal faith, and miraculous faith. Upon this the question was discussed what sort of faith all those mentioned in the eleventh chapter might have had. When, finally, someone made the observation that the Holland translation read ‘door HET geloof’ and that the definite article certainly referred to saving faith, he was answered that the English translation did not contain the definite article but simply stated ‘by faith’. Finally it was decided to write and ask the Professor of Greek at Calvin College concerning the original text and that this would probably shed more light on the matter. And this all occurred under the leadership of a minister who had studied at Calvin College.
“This is a clear indication of how shallow the study of the Scriptures is in America, even among the ministers. They have no insight into the organic connection, the pervading line of a Bible book or the principle thought of argumentation that the Scriptures present. When, in reply to all this foolish reasoning, it was pointed out that the Apostle is busy in this chapter to bring to a climax all that he had written before and that the (Holy Spirit struggles, as it were, to make it plain to the believing Jews what the meaning of the service of the shadows was, and how the saints in the Old Testament embraced this as seeing the things not seen and believed, and that the content of faith is: Jesus Christ, next to which there is no other faith, and that the whole of this eleventh chapter loses all sense and meaning when one takes away this Scriptural concept of faith, no one understood what was said. This is a great pity, for thus one no longer has a Holy Scripture but the Bible remains a closed book. I blame this to the superficiality with which they handle all things that concern the spiritual life in America.
‘There is no desire for serious investigation and study of the fundamentals. They do not read in America. Their main concern is for a ‘society’ which is purely a social gathering, and if this can be attained through the medium of the men’s societies they are quite satisfied. They look at one with amazement when it is related that a Netherlands society member often presents an introduction of from twenty minutes to a half-hour upon the material to be treated and that in preparation, a study is made of sources and commentaries. This is all radically strange to America.
“I believe that this is all connected with the materialistic character which marks the American life and because of which the abstract things no longer have the place they should have. America lives out of the principle of pragmatism. ‘Does it work’, they ask. Is it practical and what does it accomplish? For that reason they understand the mechanical things; know exactly how an automobile is put together, for this knowledge he can use in his daily life. But that which belongs to the more remote spiritual principles has no interest for him; they are of no practical value. This also explains the low esteem of the intellectual and almost total lack of interest for all that which has no practical value. Science is only worthwhile as it can be made to serve the enrichment of his family, his herds and his land; and so he uses it. Art does not interest him at all. He does not know how to enjoy a fine poem and has no desire for, or a concept of history. The development and political trends of other countries are only of importance as they concern America or, to the extent that they concern him personally.
“‘Does it work?’, and if it does not work, i.e. if it does not fit into the scheme of his materialistic thinking, it is of little import. This does not mean to say that he is bound to the dollar. This is no more true of him than it is that the Hollander is concerned about the gulden. He gives a great deal for Church and school. Large sums are given for the maintenance of the schools. But also in this case the principle holds: ‘Does it work?’, i.e. does it have practical value. Education is secondary. More concern is given to sports than to study. The means of education are the same as in the public schools. They use the same readers, the same history books and the same grammars. But the children are kept in their own environment and that is the main thing; for that he will pay.
“Naturally, this pragmatism also overshadows the Church and society life. To a Netherlander the question often arises how the American can continue to live in this spiritual poverty. What is there left if this pragmatism itself has no answer for the question: ‘does it work?’. For even in the prosperous America appearances give evidence of the fact that there are problems which cannot be worked out through pragmatism. America today is much different than it was twenty years ago. And the morrow will present another entirely different picture. Hence, if the reformed youth shall stand in that future they must have a deeper spiritual understanding than they now possess. Here the organizations of the men’s and ladies’ societies can light the way if they will concern themselves with serious study rather than holding mere social gatherings.
“As being typical of the specific Holland character, it was once said: ‘one Hollander—a theologian; two Hollanders—a church; three (Hollanders—a church schism.’ If I have found this to be true anywhere, it is certainly in America.
“At this moment I am sitting in the study of a minister of the Protestant Reformed Churches. His home is situated among surrounding mountain peaks in a small and secluded spot in the Middle West. This little place is more than a thousand miles removed from the Pacific where I spent the winter. Today is Good Friday and all the world round about is white with snow. When I wrote my first piece for De Reformatie, during Christmas week, I was in the midst of blooming flowers and trees of ripening oranges. Now on Good Friday I am here where even the grass is dead and snow and ice are everywhere. Even so, the sun is shining with a brilliance unknown to us in Netherlands and the atmosphere is serene and rare. We are situated here more than 1600 meters above sea-level while all round about rise the massive mountain peaks, as a protective wall enclosing us in the valley.
“This is America; a land of the greatest contrasts and extremes.
“But what I began to say: here, in this little place, that is called ‘Amsterdam’ and so small that one would not even find it on the map, live (Hollanders. It is a tiny settlement. The first Hollanders came here in the 80’s of the last century. They are farmers and have only about three months of the year in which to work the land; for the rest it is winter here. But in these three months the land produces in abundance. Yet this small settlement has two churches, one is the Christian Reformed Church and the other is the Protestant Reformed Church. You can understand then, that when I first drove through this little village and saw the two churches almost next to one another, the proverb which I wrote above unconsciously rose in my mind.
“One must certainly deplore this course of events. All came from the same fatherland, are inter-related by ties of blood, have been driven to unity by the nature and elements of the place in which they live and yet are divided and separated. Is it possible that this is all due merely to the ‘three points’ of common grace? Certainly not. The more I become acquainted with the Church questions in America the more I become convinced that there are many points of similarity between the struggle which we have in the Netherlands and that which the Rev. Hoeksema went through in America.
“The cause is much deeper than merely a question of a portion of dogmatics. In the Netherlands the schism finally came on the question of the Covenant, but it could just as well have begun on an entirely different issue. Essentially the schism was already present. Fundamentally it was a question of world and life view; more of an ethical than a dogmatic and church-political crisis. I believe that in America exactly the same is true.
“In so far as I have contacted the Christian Reformed Churches and discerned from their publications, I receive the impression that they are pervaded with a spirit of self-satisfaction, of self-complacency and self-sufficiency, which, in many respects, resembles what we in the Netherlands also experienced in the years immediately preceding the war. I have pointed out before many instances in which, according to my opinion, these churches are thus deluded. Above all there is the tendency of conformity to the American life, which, in as far as it is yet religious, is characterized by a pious tint of humanism and an unscriptural desire for mass conversion, while their own church life is marked by boundless superficiality. They present a pretentious appearance but are hollow within.
“The Rev. Hoeksema already discerned this danger many years ago and his reaction against it revealed itself in his opposition to the teaching of common grace. He saw that the antithesis between the Church and the world was disappearing in America. His agitation against the teaching of common grace must be understood on this background if one will understand anything at all of this struggle. That all happened more than twenty years ago now. And now when one makes acquaintance with this group of Churches he discovers here, the essence of character and form that is closest to that of the true Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. This reveals itself in both the preaching and liturgy. The Protestant Reformed Church have kept themselves free from the Americanistic influence of Methodism, Arminianism, and a pretention of liturgy which does nothing more than camouflage an inner hollowness and emptiness.
“We know that we are not agreed with these Churches in every respect. They have still another covenant conception than we have; which, if I understand it correctly, is again to be understood only upon the background of Americanism and its church life. It is to be seen as a sincere and hearty resistance to the spirit of Americanism which pervades almost all the churches of America. The essence of the striving of the Protestant Reformed Churches is an ardent desire to maintain the rich heritage of the Reformed and Scriptural truth.
“I have also received the impression in as far as I have contacted these Churches, that this purpose also lives in the hearts of the members. They know what they believe and are able to speak about it. I do not find here the conformity and self-complacency and spiritual lethargy. One need not be surprised at this, for these people struggle against the stream and the winds are contrary to them. They are only small groups and must be resigned to bear a certain renunciation and scorn. It is not pleasant (gemakkelijk) to be Protestant Reformed. It is, however, not true that they have loosed themselves from the Christian Reformed Churches because they have a desire to be schismatic. Besides the fact that they consider the deposition of Rev. Hoeksema and others a great injustice, they are also convinced that the maintenance of the Reformed truth for themselves and their children demands this separation.
“Naturally there are also dangers threatening them, and I believe they also see these. They are slightly prone, it would seem, to tend to a certain one-sidedness. Due to a fear for Arminianism and disappearance of the antithesis, they have come to a certain one-sidedness which may lead to consequences that that should not be admitted. But I believe they themselves also see these things.
“Nevertheless, it remains a deeply deplorable fact that the Rev. Hoeksema was cast out in 1924, He is as completely reformed as the best in America, by their action the Christian Reformed Churches sustained a grievous loss. They could not get along without this man. He saw the dangers which they did not see, and with which they now have to struggle in an ever increasing measure, while they no longer possess the stamina of resistance to stand against them.
(To be continued in the next issue)