A question that has often been asked of me lately is, “Why?” It is a question that my wife and I had to answer first for ourselves, before we could answer it for others. Why leave one denomination after thirty-seven years to join another denomination? Why leave a large denomination (900+ churches) for a much smaller denomination (27 churches)? Why leave a congregation you enjoy in order to wait for a call from another congregation? Why leave the secure and comfortable for the unknown? Our answer: It is a matter of walking in faith and obedience to God.
I was raised in the Christian Reformed Churches. My parents, Thomas and Jessie Spriensma, were immigrants to the United States in 1949. They had been members of the Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands, although they sympathized with Prof. Schilder’s position regarding the error of presumptive regeneration and his rejection of common grace. But, because they had been members of the Gereformeerde Kerken, they were told when they came to Grand Rapids that they belonged not in the Protestant Reformed Churches but in the Christian Reformed Church.
I was raised on a dairy farm near Jamestown, Michigan. My parents sacrificed in order to send all their children to Christian schools. I attended Hudsonville Christian Grade School, Unity Christian High, and then Calvin College. I felt the call to the gospel ministry from a very early age; I can remember it back as early as age seven. But while attending Calvin College, receiving heretical teaching on such subjects as creation and the historicity of Jonah, I saw the trouble and antagonism I would have to endure as a theological conservative in the CRC. So I tried to be a Jonah. Rather than pursuing the ministry, I contemplated going into teaching.
But the Lord would not allow me to evade His calling. Feeling compelled to enter the gospel ministry, I attended Calvin Theological Seminary. I can vividly remember the loneliness I felt, in the first year, in the midst of a sea of liberalism. Again dismayed by what I saw and heard, I went to my pastor, after that first year, seeking advice as to whether I belonged in the ministry in the CRC. I contemplated attending the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
It was also in my first year at Calvin Seminary that I heard for the first time the teaching of the well-meant offer of the gospel. The Protestant Reformed rejection of the offer was described as rationalistic. I am glad the Lord has given us good minds to be able to understand His revelation in the Scriptures. Reason is much better than holding to some dualistic mystery where God supposedly wants to save everyone but does not intend to. It is not only a matter of reason but of being obedient to the context of the passages used and being guided by our confessions. It was to my study of the supposed well-meant offer that I can trace the beginning of my theological journey from the CRC to the PRC. It was at this time that I began to study the CRC’s three points of common grace. I did not find myself in agreement with the three points of 1924, nor did I feel I had to, because the Synod of 1959 said that there was room for disagreement:
. . .we do not require submission in the sense of demanding total agreement with the Three Points; we recognize and bear with scruples you may have in the expectation that we together may come eventually to a better understanding of the truth; and will not bar those who have certain misgivings or divergent interpretations.
With respect to your impression that we have elevated the Three Points to church dogma, we wish to observe that they were not intended to be a church dogma concerning Common Grace.
The year 1924 is a very sad chapter in the history of the CRC. This is true not only because of the biblically and confessionally Reformed men she kicked out of her ministry, but also because of the path she herself began to walk. We with our limited insight might be inclined to ask “Why?” but with hindsight I am able to see that God in His grace was providing for the continuation of His true church in the decades to come.
I did continue to go to Calvin Seminary, believing that Glad was calling me to be a Reformed witness to His people in the CRC, to fight for and defend our precious Reformed doctrines and practices. While in school I purchased Hoeksema’s Triple Knowledge (to help me in my exhorting on and teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism) and Hoeksema’s Dogmatics, and began subscribing to the Standard Bearer.
God called me to two churches in the CRC. In October, 1980 I received a letter of call from the Atwood MI CRC and was examined by Classis Cadillac in January, 1981. Already at the classical exam I ran into trouble. I was asked to preach on Genesis 17:1-7. One of the sermon critics, while stating that the sermon was exegetically sound, doctrinally correct, Christ and salvation centered, complained that my sermon on the covenant lacked any discussion and emphasis on conditions that man must fill. He wrote that while the “concept of friendship, though certainly related to the thematic idea of covenant as a blessed benefit, does not ‘hit the nail on the head,’ in my opinion. A better introduction might have explained the concept of ‘agreement’ used in an illustrative way.” The other sermon critic, while having many nice things to say about voice and style, cautioned me against my use of “Thee” and “Thou” and “Thy” when referring to God in prayer, for the sake of the children and visitors. He also wrote that “the sermon as a whole suffered a bit from long-windedness.” My question is whether a preacher can do justice to the riches of a text of Scripture in 15-20 minutes?
Classis Cadillac did finally approve my examination with the condition (oh, they love conditions, don’t they) that the neighboring pastor review with me covenantal theology. This we did. He came with Berkhof in hand and I with Hoeksema in hand. This was profitable, for as we poured over Scripture, I became more and more sure of my position: no conditional theology! The covenant is not a conditional agreement between God and man. The covenant is the unconditional gracious relationship of friendship that God establishes with the elect.
It was during my first pastorate that I began corresponding with the Protestant Reformed Seminary and began to be acquainted with some of the Protestant Reformed ministers: Rev. Joostens and Rev. Key. In 1984 I received the call from the Bethany CRC of South Holland, IL. In that pastorate God allowed me to get to know your churches better. In 1986 my wife and I, along with several young adults and couples from Bethany, attended the Northwest Mission’s conference on marriage. I became involved in a pastor’s Bible study with Revs. Engelsma, VanOverloop, and Miersma, and later Revs. Terpstra and Houck. I was also able to attend various officebearers’ conferences of Classis West and the Seminary’s conference on the Reformed Doctrine of Holy Scripture.
While ministering at Bethany CRC I always enjoyed the Council’s support for my ministry and teaching. And so it was with sadness that I would have to leave that pastorate. But I found that my teaching and preaching was hindered and compromised by the official stands of the denomination, whether it was on common grace, the covenant, divorce and remarriage, or union membership. I also believed that I was corporately responsible for their ecclesiastical positions while remaining in that denomination. One cannot continue telling people that the denomination is seriously departing from the Reformed faith and practice and yet stay indefinitely within it. By example you must show others that they must leave, according to Belgic Confession, Articles 28 and29. But neither did the Bethany Council feel that churches should go independent or start yet another Reformed denomination. As a Council we wrote to the Alliance of Reformed Churches in March, 1992 that “future denominational affiliation should be the goal of each council that withdraws from the CRC. Serious thought must take place whether churches should not join already existing denominations rather than forming new ones.”
Why leave the CRC? I had to leave because of the decline of Reformed faith and practice, and because of the continued slide into apostasy in those churches. Why join the PRC? I believe that the PRC has the best manifestations of the pure marks of the church as found in Belgic Confession, Article 29.
In May, 1992 I informed my Council of my intention to discontinue my ministry in the Christian Reformed denomination and to seek entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches. I was examined on June 18 by Classis West. Having sustained the examination I was declared a minister in the PRC eligible for a call. It is with eagerness that I enter your church fellowship. It is in that walk of faith and obedience to Christ’s calling of me to be a minister of His Word that I seek to labor in your churches.
I thank God for the strong Calvinist home in which He placed me, for faithful pastors and teachers who instructed me, and for dear friends and relatives who cared, and who stood by my family and me as we made this transition. I pray that the Lord will use the decision that my wife and I have made as an example for many of His people still in the CRC that are vexing their righteous souls over the sad state of affairs in their churches.
This is why I and my family are Protestant Reformed.