In this fiftieth year of publishing the Standard Bearer, we should take inventory.
Are young people reading the Standard Bearer?
Hopefully, many young people are reading this article, so we will address our concern to them. In the event that you parents know that your young people do not read it, may we suggest that you put forth a little effort that they at least get this article before them. By young people, we do not mean only high school aged, but also college students and young married couples as well.
Is our younger generation reading the Standard Bearer? Conceivably they might subscribe to it or have it in the house, but are they reading it?
The editorial staff decided in 1969 to include in theStandard Bearer a rubric especially for young people. In doing this, we did not mean to imply that such a rubric would salvage our young readers. The entireStandard Bearer is for them. Rather, our concern was to give our young people something specifically geared for them and thereby to show our interest in the particular problems facing them. The Word of God must also be their strength in the days of youth.
This has always been the concern of the Standard Bearer. While perusing old volumes of the Standard Bearer, we came across an article written by Rev. H. Hoeksema in the May, 1931 issue. It is as up to date now as it was some forty-three years ago.
The background of this article was the publication of a letter from a young man who was member of the Young Men’s Society of First Church, Grand Rapids. Their society had received a short speech on the subject, “What’s wrong with the Standard Bearer“. As he states, “In the discussion which followed this talk, it was brought out that there existed among our society members a decided condition of dissatisfaction and later inquiry disclosed the fact that this condition was quite general among our young people.” Their concern was first of all over the Holland language. Much of theStandard Bearer then was printed in Dutch. This of course is irrelevant today. He states, “A further protest is that the articles as a rule are too long and because of this it becomes necessary to limit the variety of subjects treated” He adds, “To our mind, the function of a church paper is to apply the religious principles to every day events and circumstances of life. Other leading religious papers carry only one purely Scripture expository article, and for the rest concern themselves with the matter of timely conditions in their relation to Scripture and the application of Scriptural principles to everyday life, which, as we have said before, is to our mind the more unique function of a religious periodical.” He then gives many suggestions: systematic division of the subject matter, different rubrics, e.g. a children’s page, book reviews, local church news, current events, and signs of the times, nature studies, etc.
It is interesting to observe that many of the suggestions given have in fact been carried out. Rev. Hoeksema’s answer contains a reaction to these suggestions and he makes some observations of which we do well to remind ourselves today also.
In his opening remarks, he expressed gratitude for the published letter. The reasons are three-fold: “First, of all because it is practically the first sign the Standard Bearer ever received that our young people took any interest in our publication whatsoever. I do not remember that we received a contribution by one of our younger generation before . . . Secondly, I also rejoice because the contribution assures us that our young people are not growing indifferent to Reformed doctrine and that their lack of interest in the Standard Bearer must not be attributed to the lukewarmness with respect to the truth . . . And thirdly, we were glad to publish this contribution because it not only informs theStandard Bearer that there is a lack of interest among our young people in the present form of the paper, but it also offers some suggestions how our publication might be so improved as to create more interest and better to suit the needs and wants of the younger generation.”
After concurring with many suggestions, Rev. Hoeksema continues:
Whether, however, a change quite as radical as the writer suggests, is desirable, is a different question. He is of the opinion that one article of the expository type, like the meditation would be sufficient. All the rest of the articles could then be devoted to subjects of a different nature.
I cannot agree with this view.
It must be remembered first of all, that our paper is no church publication.
Neither was it the original purpose of the association that publishes the Standard Bearer, that our paper in its general contents should be exactly like a church paper. To be sure, it was to be a religious periodical of the Reformed type. But its contents were to be devoted to the specific purpose of developing the principles of the Reformed doctrine. Its original purpose was not at all to take the place of a church paper, as may easily be understood from the fact, that when the association for the publication of the Standard Bearer was organized we were still in the Christian Reformed Church. It stands to reason that the contents, in harmony with this original purpose, were to be chiefly doctrinal, though from the very beginning it was decided also to devote some space to the application of our principles to matters of every day life and current events. And if from now on the contents of the paper would be chiefly of a practical nature, its doctrinal material being limited to one expository article like the present meditation, the Standard Bearer would be greatly depreciated and certainly it would be far from realizing its original aim.
The question Rev. Hoeksema faces next is pertinent to our situation today. If the Standard Bearer is not read by youth, is it the fault of the Standard Bearer or could it be perhaps the fault of the readers?
But it must be admitted, there is another side of the question. When there is lack of interest among the readers in a certain kind of publication, in a certain class of literature, the one side to be considered is the reading material that is offered; if it is indeed of such a nature, that it is not worth reading, or that it cannot possibly awaken the interest of the readers, it ought not to exist.
If, in this respect, it is defective and could be improved as far as form and contents is concerned, it should be remedied.
And that this is possible in some respects with regard to the Standard Bearer we have admitted in the preceding articles. Though we do not agree with all the writer suggests, we have agreed that in some respects he is quite right and a change is feasible.
The other side to be considered in a question of this kind is the reader.
Him our contributor left entirely out of view.
He proceeded from the assumption, that if the Standard Bearer does not create sufficient interest among our young people, the blame must naturally be with the Standard Bearer. But is this entirely true?
At any rate, does it not constitute an equally interesting question as the one the author of the contribution writes: In how far are the young people to blame, when they show no interest in the Standard Bearer?
This ought to be determined just as well.
If the taste of the young people with respect to reading material is entirely good, the Standard Bearer is wholly to blame and it ought to reform itself in order to suit the good taste of young people. But if there should also prove to be something wrong with the taste of the younger generation, that task ought to be improved too, before you can expect that the matter of lack of interest will be remedied.
There is, for instance, the matter of long articles. I have admitted that the articles are sometimes too long and should be abridged. But now I am going to add a word in favor of those long articles. It is this. In a short snappy article (take for instance: A Word a Week in the Banner) it is impossible to develop any line of truth whatsoever. If our paper should consist entirely of short articles, it would certainly lose in value.
Now, if our young people see that an article is long, do they lay it aside, just because of that fact? Will they read only short and snappy articles? Then there is something wrong with their taste.
Another question, what do our young people read outside of the Standard Bearer?
What books are found in their library?
What periodicals are found in their magazine rack?
I wish our young people would send to me a complete list of the titles of books and magazines they read, outside of the Standard Bearer. They need not send their names, I will publish the list in the Standard Bearer and express my opinion. Let us have this inquiry as the beginning of an attempt to create interest in the Standard Bearer.
It will, no doubt, be interesting. (And how! Especially today, j.k.)
And the point is this: we must also develop a taste for good reading, that may tend to the proper spiritual development of the mind and heart. Nowadays, there is a good deal of cheap literature, that is worse than worthless.
If we indulge in it, we may be sure that we spoil our taste for good literature.
How we must underscore this, not only in reading, but in every form of communication. If we saturate our souls with television, movies, dancing, rock music, and what have you, no wonder the reading of the Standard Bearer seems unbearably dull.
We have inestimable riches in the volumes of theStandard Bearer. This holds true for all the fifty volumes that now have been almost completed. Everyone of our churches would do well to have a complete set of these volumes and encourage our young people to consult them. From my own experience, there is not a question raised or an issue discussed today, but one will be more qualified to come up with a Scriptural answer through looking up an article in the Standard Bearer.’Perhaps some day we can have a completed up-to-date index of all articles according to subjects and Scriptural texts for all fifty volumes. Maybe some retired person could do this as a favor for the younger generation.
It is all too common that one fails in reading good material. Every young person should consider it a matter of personal discipline to read the Standard Bearer faithfully. The Beacon Lights has its place as a magazine entirely for our young people. The Standard Bearer should have its place right along side of it as a challenge to mature.
Through the means of writing and preparing theStandard Bearer for publication, we are furnished with a paper that bears the standard of the truth of God’s Word. We need it in these critical days of spiritual apostasy and indifference.
The Standard Bearer was intended for young people over forty years ago. It still is.
Do you read it faithfully?