The reader is well aware that the Standard Bearer has undergone a change in the position of editor in chief. In a sense it is a major change from one editor, as has been the case for the last sixty years, to a shared editorship. In another sense it is no change at all, in that the new editors are—to a man—committed to the same historic Reformed truth maintained and defended by the SB for eighty years now.
The names and faces of the new editors are fairly well known within the small denomination of the Protestant Reformed Churches. However, for a goodly number of readers, Rev. Koole and Profs. Gritters and Dykstra are little more than names that have appeared in the SB from time to time. As for the faces, we produce here a picture of the three. For the rest, we take this opportunity to give a smattering of biographical information.
The three men have much in common. All have been born (within six years of each other) and raised in the PRC. In fact, in their childhood all three were members in Hope Protestant Reformed Church! (One, Prof. Gritters, in the Hope PRC in Redlands; the other two in the Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan.) The editors are ordained ministers who have received their training in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. They all are happily married, and have a number children among them (nineteen). Each of the men has entered the stage of life where children are marrying and leaving the home.
The most experienced of the group is Rev. Kenneth Koole. Rev. Koole was ordained a minister of the word and sacraments in 1977 and has served in four congregations—in Wisconsin, California, and Michigan. Currently he is the pastor in the Grandville PRC.
Prof. Barrett Gritters was ordained as a minister in 1984, and served two congregations in the Grand Rapids area before accepting the appointment to the Protestant Reformed Seminary last year. The main focus of his teaching is Practical Theology, though his courses also include Old and New Testament Studies.
Prof. Russell Dykstra has been an ordained minister since 1986. He served in two congregations, in Iowa and Michigan, prior to his appointment to the seminary as the professor of Church History and New Testament Studies in 1996.
These brief biographies indicate that the editors have spent many years preaching and teaching in the Protestant Reformed Churches. It should come as no surprise, then, that they express to the readers their resolve, by the grace of God, to adhere to the same line marked out by the Standard Bearer over the last eighty years.
The past two issues have sketched the magazine’s history. From that brief account it is evident that the SB has intentionally emphasized doctrine. Its purpose has been to witness to the Reformed faith. The magazine has done so antithetically by setting forth the truth over against the lie. Its writings have also been polemical—defending the truth and refuting error.
The SB instructed and led God’s people in the battle against common grace and the well-meant offer. It engaged in debate theologians on both sides of the Atlantic on the doctrine of the covenant. In the end, the SB demonstrated the unreformed character of conditions in the doctrine of God’s covenant of grace. Over against that, the SB developed the glorious truth of the unconditional covenant of grace. We remain convinced that that particular doctrine of the covenant is faithful to Scripture and the confessions, draws from the better elements of earlier Reformed theology, and consistently maintains the doctrines of sovereign grace.
In short, the SB has been unashamedly true to its subtitle—”A Reformed…Magazine.” The Reformed truth as maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches is, we believe, the truth that God would have us defend and promote.
I say again, our firm resolve is to use the SB for the continued defense and promotion of the Reformed faith.
We may do nothing else.
As officebearers in the church of Jesus Christ, we have already taken an oath “that we heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine [in the Reformed confessions] do fully agree with the Word of God.” We have vowed “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend” these doctrines. In addition, we have solemnly pledged not only that “we reject all errors that militate against this doctrine,…but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these.” (See the Formula of Subscription, emphasis added.)
Not only that, but when each editor joined the Reformed Free Publishing Association, he affirmed his agreement with the purpose of the organization as expressed in the constitution. Article II states: “The purpose of this Association shall be:
“1. To witness to the truth contained in the Word of God and expressed in the three Forms of Unity.
“2. To reveal false and deceptive views repugnant thereto.”
Additionally, every writer in the SB, by accepting the responsibility to write, confirms his commitment to “the maintenance, development, and promulgation of our distinctively Protestant Reformed principles by means of the printed word” (Article IV in the Constitution of the Editorial Staff of the Standard Bearer.)
Necessity, therefore, is laid upon us. We editors and writers can do nothing other than promote and defend the Reformed truth as confessed and maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches. By the grace of God, this is our desire.
The SB has a task to perform in witnessing to the Reformed faith. Doctrine, being the truth of God, has great value. Every Reformed publication has the obligation both to uphold the historic Reformed doctrines and to develop these doctrines with their implications.
Even as Scripture and the confessions are antithetical, so must the Reformed periodical be. For the sake of clarity as well as the purity of the truth, the lie must be exposed and rejected. God has entrusted His church on earth with His truth. It is precious. It is worth battling for.
Understand that if the Standard Bearer will continue to be a witness to the Reformed truth, its message must be confessional. At the same time, it may not merely reaffirm already established dogma. It must not merely describe battles already fought and express agreement with the orthodox position. Were it to do so, the SB would be a monument to dead orthodoxy. On the contrary, the SB must be ready to face the errors rampant in the world and in the church today. In addition, standing on the doctrinal foundation laid by the church in the past, the SB must strive for even greater clarity and precision in theology.
This sort of doctrinal writing will not be an academic discussion. Rather it will purpose to edify the believers. Our desire is that believers everywhere might with us reject the lie, and embrace—yea, praise—the glorious truth of God. The goal is that the readers may see the implications of Reformed doctrine and walk in harmony with it to the glory of God.
Contrary to popular myth, the Protestant Reformed Churches do not claim to be the only churches that have truth. But the truth that God has entrusted to us, we will defend to our last breath.
From a doctrinal standpoint, the most blessed and significant gift of God to the PRC is the doctrine of God’s unconditional covenant of grace. With all our hearts we confess that God has established His eternal covenant, a bond of friendship, with His elect people in Christ. It is God’s covenant—planned eternally, realized in the cross of Christ, and sovereignly established with all those, and those only, who are eternally given to Christ. With heartfelt thankfulness, we acknowledge that God’s covenant is an unconditional covenant of grace established with believers and their children in the line of continued generations. We rejoice that nothing of the covenant depends on us. And we bow before His command to live out of that covenant a life of thankful obedience.
That truth we will defend. The doctrine of the covenant is not only a particularly Reformed doctrine, it also encompasses, sums up, all of the Reformed faith. For this reason the particular doctrine of the covenant that is maintained will influence all of theology for good or for evil. The covenant involves the very heart of theology, namely, God in His triune life. It affects the doctrine of man—before the fall into sin and after. It affects the doctrine of Christ, the Mediator of the covenant—is the covenant with Christ and the elect seed, or with people individually? The doctrine of salvation is affected by one’s covenant view—is salvation all God’s work, or does man have to fulfill a condition to receive the benefits of the covenant? The covenant affects the doctrine of the church—starting with the unity of the church (one covenant people or two?) and the sacraments. The covenant has implications for eschatology as well. To mention but one, is the covenant concluded with the second coming of Christ, or does God maintain it eternally?
Errors in the doctrine of the covenant will inevitably lead to errors in all other areas of theology. As proof, consider that an erroneous doctrine of the covenant lies behind the current denial of justification by faith alone.
The covenant has many applications to the Christian’s life. Covenant friends of God are called to live spiritually separate from the world and to keep their garments unspotted. The believer’s conception of the covenant will determine his view of marriage, of divorce, and of remarriage. The covenant of grace determines the form and content of the education of covenant children, in home, church, and school.
The doctrine of the covenant is significant beyond words. It must be defended. But we must have positive development of this doctrine as well. The implications must be developed, and the applications mapped out. Much work remains. No area of theology or life need be, or may be, neglected.
These are exciting and dangerous times. The truth is much spoken against. Winds of false doctrine howl, whipping up the seas of controversy. Attacks on the truth rise out of some unexpected places. And often, increasingly so, the focus of the conflict is the doctrine of the covenant.
That the battle for God’s truth rages today is not surprising. Through the ages, the church has been continually forced to defend the truth from various attacks. The Lord warned that in the end there would be a great falling away. That falling away is apostasy—active repudiation of the truth.
In light of all that, the SB has a high calling. The editors—indeed all the writers—are united in their love for the truth and for the cause of Jesus Christ. We begin with firm purpose and resolve. We daily ask God to establish the work of our hands, to give us wisdom, and to keep us faithful to the task.