*Speech at the RFPA Annual Meeting held on September 21, 2006.
The original purpose of the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) is tied to the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches and the common grace controversy. Negatively, it was a response to the reality that the Revs. Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof were cut off from publishing. In the periodicals of the Christian Reformed Church (in which they were ministers) they were not allowed to criticize common grace. Nor were they given opportunity to demonstrate that this grievous error was contrary to Scripture and the Reformed confessions. A number of their colleagues in the ministry were promoting the errors of a general, non-saving grace for all men, elect and reprobate. This error included the supposed desire of God to save all, and His offering salvation to every hearer of the gospel. But Hoeksema and Danhof had no literary avenue for defending the truth over against these serious errors. The RFPA gave them that opening, offering to publish the Standard Bearer and their books.
The RFPA therefore has the positive purpose to publish solid, Reformed literature, literature that promotes and defends the Reformed truth. The RFPA purposes to make this literature both available and affordable. Simply put, we want to get the truth out!
Both the existence of the RFPA and the prospering of its labors are clearly due to God’s providence and grace. This organization continues to give opportunity for Reformed writers to defend the truth antithetically over against the lie. The RFPA fills an obvious need today. If in 1924 the existing Reformed magazines refused to print Hoeksema and Danhof, what expectation could we have that a magazine or publisher could be found to publish Prof. David Engelsma on divorce and remarriage or on the unconditional covenant? Or what hope could we have that someone would gladly publish Prof. Herman Hanko’s For Thy Truth’s Sake? And which magazine would print Rev. Kenneth Koole’s clear refutation of the well-meant offer?
In His wisdom and grace, God has used the RFPA to publish the Standard Bearer for 82 years, as well as to print countless books and pamphlets. God has given many opportunities to print, and to send forth the Reformed faith that we love. RFPA books and the SB are read all over North America. For your information, the SB goes into 47 states and 7 Canadian provinces. RFPA books are mailed to 49 states and 6 provinces. Organizers of the RFPA over 80 years ago could not have dreamed that God would so use this organization.
If that were not cause enough for thanksgiving, God has opened other doors for the RFPA that have allowed our publications to go into foreign lands and to be translated into other languages. It is to this that I call your attention in this speech. Opportunities abound, so that the RFPA board is faced with many new questions. Is this a good thing? Should the RFPA actively seek these opportunities? Is this in harmony with the purpose of the RFPA? Are there biblical guidelines to assist us?
The opportunities to publish globally have come to the RFPA in many ways. Some opportunities come in rather natural ways, through channels from which one would expect them to arise. One such channel is the mission work of the Protestant Reformed Churches outside of North America. For instance, the Northern Ireland mission has been extremely active in promoting solid Reformed literature, and that includes the offerings of the RFPA. A look at the Covenant PRC in NI website will show immediately how active this little group has been. They have promoted RFPA books by submitting book reviews to British magazines and newspapers. They have offered free books. They have promoted and sold a tremendous amount of RFPA literature.
As a result, books have gone into many European countries from Northern Ireland. Ten different nations in Europe receive either the SB or RFPA books (Austria, Denmark, UK, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Switzerland, in addition to Northern Ireland).
Then there is the mission work in Asia, particularly in Singapore. Although RFPA literature was not pushed in Singapore to the extent that it was in Northern Ireland, nonetheless, mission work there has contributed to distribution of RFPA books. Mission work in Singapore and related work in Asia has led to the SB and books going into at least eight Asian countries (besides Singapore, also India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, South Korea, and New Guinea). A minister in Myanmar regularly translates articles from the Standard Bearer into the Chin language and prints it from his own computer—truly desktop publishing. The mission group in the Philippines also receives and distributes RFPA literature.
Distribution of RFPA material has been promoted by the evangelism committees of the local Protestant Reformed Churches. Numerous hard-working, zealous men and women actively seek opportunity to distribute Protestant Reformed literature to their correspondents. These committees offer free pamphlets and books in publications like World magazine. They send out free literature to those with whom they correspond. And the requests come in from all over the world— these committees often wonder how someone got their name and address. They receive mail from African counties, from Korea, and from Brazil. Someone writes to one such committee with questions on a topic or a doctrine. The committee responds with a letter and perhaps a pamphlet. As the correspondence continues, these committees freely send other material, including books, to those who show that they are reading and comprehending the material.
PRC evangelism committees are noted for this. It has happened that people from a different denomination refer their correspondents to PR evangelism committees because they know of no other Reformed church that still sends out literature. Such activity is viewed as not particularly exciting—nothing like a huge evangelism crusade. It is considered to be not particularly effective—for who reads anymore in today’s society. Nonetheless, that the printed word is still important, and that God still uses it, is obvious from the fact that people still write and request, and still study the books sent out. Additionally, RFPA books show up in the most unexpected places, and this in turn produces more eager requests from people who thought that no one was publishing this kind of material anymore!
RFPA material, therefore, has been spread to faraway places in connection with missions.
The RFPA board has also made a conscious effort to disseminate our literature. Specifically, they promote subscriptions to the Standard Bearer both within and outside of the PRC. They advertise our books in other magazines. They send out books for review to other magazines. Members of the board and staff attend book conventions to promote our books. Even though they are largely ignored by those looking for the light and fluffy fare of feel-good Christianity, others—a few—take note. RFPA representatives have been told, “You people are one of a very few that still publish solid, Reformed books.” When the RFPA is represented at international retail conventions, they receive requests for translations of our books in Korean, as well as in some African languages.
The Internet is another factor in the distribution of books in foreign lands. The RFPA has its own website. In many ways it is unique among the sites of publishers. Its uniqueness testifies to the first and controlling purpose of the RFPA, namely, to get the truth out. The evidence for that is that the whole of each issue of the Standard Bearer is available online to anyone who visits this website—at no charge. In addition, hundreds of back issues of the SB are available for reading, and it is the board’s intent gradually to make all the back issues available on this site. Visitors to the site can even search these issues of the SB for specific topics.
Some time ago a Canadian subscriber to theStandard Bearer wrote me an email commenting on an article in an issue that had been sent out only the day before. When I asked how she had been able to read it, she confided that she regularly reads the Standard Beareron the Internet rather than to wait for her copy to come in the mail two weeks later. There is no way of knowing how many others read the SB there—subscriber or no.
The Internet has opened far more opportunities to send literature around the globe. People around the world can access this site—read the SB, and order books. Book sales through the Internet average $1,000 per month, about 20% of which is from outside North America. This amount, of course, is small—a pittance in comparison to the sales of most publishing houses. Nonetheless, an average of $200 worth of RFPA books is sold internationally monthly.
The result of all these efforts is that the Standard Bearer and the RFPA books are distributed in forty different countries around the world! That reality has yielded to another surprising development, namely, that RFPA books are being translated into other languages— Dutch, Chin, Slovakian, Korean, Spanish, German, and Russian.
Clearly, there are opportunities to publish the Reformed faith globally.
Our Calling to Pursue the Goal
Is this our, that is, the RFPA’s, calling? I insist that it is, but not in the sense of an official mission work. Thechurch, the church as institute, the whole church through the officebearers, has the calling to spread the good news of salvation. This is done through preaching, through mission work, evangelism in the strict sense.
Yet God does use the church organism, filled with the Word, to spread the good news in an unofficial way, often in places where the gospel has not been preached! I Thessalonians 1:8 demonstrates this. Paul wrote to his former mission church and expressed his thanksgiving that the word of the Lord sounded out—literally, echoed forth—from them. The sound rang out from the church in Thessalonica. Thessalonica is located in the region of Macedonia, north of Greece. The word went forth from Thessalonica into Macedonia and south into Greece (Achaia).
And, Paul added, “also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad!” We must understand that the common people, the members of the church, spread this word of the Lord. This is evident from the fact that Paul writes about “your faith towards God.” No longer did the believers in Thessalonica serve idols. On the contrary, their faith and worship and love were toward God! As a result of their zeal, their lives and speech were like a broadcast from Thessalonica to the surrounding areas. They lived their faith in God— Jesus was their LORD. They lived lives obedient to Him. They talked about the God whom they loved. They witnessed to the truth of the Word of Christ. In this way the truth went forth in all the region of Macedonia and Greece and beyond, so that Paul could write, “We need not to speak anything!”
Today, the RFPA is doing part of what the members of Thessalonica were doing. This is an unofficial work, not a work of the church institute, and not a mission work. The RFPA is an association of believers who desire to spread the truth by means of the printed page. We want to explain the truth. We desire to set forth the riches of the Reformed faith that God has given us—the truth about sovereign, particular grace; about the Reformed doctrine of the covenant; about godliness. We want to publish a defense of that truth, at the same time exposing the error of the lie—the lie of a general, resistible grace, and the lie of a breakable covenant conditioned on man’s faith, with its inevitable fruit of unbiblical divorce and remarriage.
God has given the RFPA opportunities to do so in many places and in many ways. The word spreads out from Grand Rapids across the United States, into Canada, and into many places in the world. Thus, believers in Germany are reading Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, and Russians are studying sections of Voice of our Fathers. The Dutch are reading of the Reformed view of marriage, as are Koreans and Slovakians. In faraway Myanmar, virtually closed to Americans, teachers are using Gertrude Hoeksema’s Bible curriculum in the Chin language.
Books and Standard Bearers are passed around from hand to hand and from house to house. This leads to individuals writing to local churches for information and literature. They write to pastors and missionaries, to mission committees and the contact committee.
And “we need not to speak anything.” These correspondents have the truth in the literature; they know the truth. Oh, they have questions. They are hungry for more knowledge. But they write because they have been instructed in the Reformed faith and convicted of it through the literature that the RFPA publishes!
Thus the calling of the RFPA is to publish new works, as well as reprinting the old. It is to advertise and to promote the literature in North America, to be sure. However, our calling is also to look to the world, even to the world of non- English-speaking people and lands. Fact is, they are putting the pressure on us. Requests come in to the RFPA board. Some ask for books in their language. Others seek permission to translate a publication. Still others look for financial assistance to translate and/or print.
Allow me to demonstrate this from my experience on the contact committee. Renat is a Russian, a husband and father of four children. As Russian Christians living in Muslim Uzbekistan, they have a difficult life. Renat writes English better than most Americans. He has read much Reformed literature, almost all on the Internet, to which he has access, for a fee, in a public place. He has been translating Protestant Reformed literature into Russian. (See the website of Covenant PRC NI.) Currently he is working on Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. He needs financial support. The RFPA board is seeking an evangelism committee that may be interested in supporting his work.
Others in Russia proper cannot afford to print the translation of sections of Voice of Our Fathers. They can translate, but not publish, these books.
Indeed, many opportunities exist. Someone in the Netherlands wants to translate and publish The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers.
Much more can be done, for example, in Chinese. On the Internet is a website that lists over 70 Reformed books and pamphlets that have been translated into Chinese. None of them are RFPA publications. A Chinese pastor in Singapore wrote me:
China is booming with many churches sprouting and many hungry for Reformed literature. There are underground presses that publish Reformed books and quite a number were closed as a result of them being found out by the Govt. So, the point I am making is that if RFPA books are published into Chinese it will serve the cause of the Reformed Faith immensely. Furthermore, the Chinese Reformed Churches are crying out for Reformed teaching and preaching.
Encouragement to be Active in this Work
My purpose is to encourage this association (RFPA) to pursue these opportunities wisely, but aggressively!
Specifically, I applaud the RFPA board’s willingness to assist believers in foreign lands by seeking evangelism committees that can finance translation projects. I thank God for the willingness of these committees to assist financially. This is a good work.
The RFPA can continue to be a facilitator by obtaining support for projects from evangelism committees. Perhaps the RFPA board could seek special collections that would be designated for publications of books in other languages. Could the RFPA, perhaps, publish such books and recoup the expenses as is done now with our books in English?
I propose that even more can be done. Obviously the board must be careful not to overextend itself financially or in terms of projects that it cannot do well. But we as association should be giving so much support that the board need not worry about finances. Money is available in our affluent society— God has provided the funds. With such a fund set up, new requests that the board considers to be good and legitimate could be granted quickly, resulting in a new translation and a published work for believers in distant lands.
The board needs to think in terms of global printing. When a new work comes up for approval, the board, perhaps a special sub-committee, should be thinking globally. They should be considering such questions as: How can it be promoted in foreign markets? Also, what about the possibilities of having it translated and published? They should be thinking: Which countries might profit from this particular book?
Why should this be our concern as RFPA?
The answer, first of all, is that God has given us much. We have a wealth of Reformed literature—we are the envy of many. We possess a solid selection of clear, biblical, edifying books. We may not keep them to ourselves. We may not keep them only for English readers.
God has also given us much money. Truly, we have an abundance. The RFPA receives generous collections and donations that support the publishing and distribution of the Standard Bearer and books.
Secondly, God has thrust these opportunities upon us. Not long ago many countries were closed to Reformed literature—countries such as Russia, those in Eastern Europe, China, and Muslim countries. Many still are. The “window of opportunity” is small, and in some countries it seems to be closing (I think of Renat in Uzbekistan).
How long will Russia be open? How long China? In many nations in Africa and South America, what freedom the people have is tenuous.
So let us seize the opportunities. We are not doing mission work in the RFPA. However, we have opportunities to get solid Reformed books into the hands of believers in so many countries. For their sake, let us work zealously while it is yet day, ere the night comes, when no man can labor.