Previous article in this series: March 15, 2015, p. 280.
It was in the year 1928 that the Protestant Reformed Churches began to advance toward establishing a “Classical Mission Committee” in order to do the work of missions in this small denomination. In the three previous years, organization of churches was not regulated by the classis (combined consistories), but was left, for the most part, in the capable hands of Rev. H. Hoeksema. By the instigation of Fuller Ave. (First PRC of Grand Rapids), a motion was approved by classis to “work toward performing home mission work,” and to “appoint a committee for this matter.”1 The report of this committee to the next meeting of classis was short and to the point: “Your committee has met and decided there is indeed need for mission work, but how? The committee declares that classis appoint a committee, which will seek contact with places where only a few of our people are living. The committee will consult these people, and if there is occasion to send speakers to these places, they act accordingly.”2
There is a need for mission work! But how? Now that was a pertinent question! How? The suggestion this committee offered seems to be a reasonable one: the Mission Committee should seek to contact areas where a few of our people live to see if there is any interest in those areas. If so, send speakers to the area and try to muster up some interest. I, for one, think that may have been a good idea! But the classis did not think so. It decided not to follow the advice of the committee, again, for reasons that were not recorded in the minutes. Now there followed a year of silence in which the Mission Committee did not report. How does one perform home mission work? The fields are white for the harvest. But how do the churches harvest that field? For a year the committee struggled with that question. Finally, on September 18, 1929 the committee came with more concrete proposals. Out of these proposals the classis adopted the following:
Point a. That as soon as there are men available a missionary pastor be chosen.
Point b. That Classis appoint a permanent Mission Committee.
Point c. That the members of the churches feel out as much as possible the ecclesiastical conditions outside of our sphere, in order that those who labor in the field of missions may visit those families who appear to be interested in the truth as we confess it.
Point d. That in the first place we limit our labor mainly to the erring members outside of our churches who plainly err in doctrine and walk. And, moreover, that we labor with the neglected ones whose number is rapidly increasing along with the apostasy of the churches.3
These directives were slowly beginning to shape the work of missions. However, the question still loomed large: how? Yes, encourage members to seek out potential contacts. How? Yes, labor among those who may have been taken in by the error of common grace. But, how? That would be the question that would frustrate the men on the temporary Mission Committee for the next two years.
There are a couple of recommendations of the Mission Committee worthy of note that were not adopted by the Classis of September, 1929. The first one is this: “The committee advises that our leaders put forth every effort to instruct our members thoroughly in the basic doctrines and the Confessions, in order that our members who come in contact with brothers and sisters of other churches may try to win them in the spirit of love for the cause of the Lord (emphasis added).” We will never be sure of the reasoning behind the decision of classis not to adopt this advice, but the idea of this piece of advice seems to be of utmost value. I will return to this matter when the occasion arises to evaluate the mission work of this period.
The other important recommendation of the committee into which the classis decided not to enter is “that Classis point the leaders and ministers to the fact that also the matter of foreign missions must be held before our churches.” This was not a matter voted down by the classis, but a matter the classis decided not to treat at this time in her history. I think the reasoning for such a decision is clear. Our churches were too small to venture into the colossal task of foreign missions.
After another year of searching to find the answer to the question, “how,? the Mission Committee stumbled upon a possible way to create contacts in certain areas in order to begin a mission work there. The report of the three elders of the Mission Committee to classis in August, 1930 reveals a feeling of inadequacy for the task, but also a fruitful effort to discover a method that would bring results. We quote its report in full.
The Mission Committee does not have much to report. That is not because we are not interested in the cause, we have discussed the mission labors from various aspects. The more we consider our work from every point of view, the more we feel that our mission work carries a peculiar character. We should limit ourselves mainly to members of the church from which we departed. In this connection, the Mission Committee comes to Classis with the following.
1. That classis appoint a committee to explain the Three Points concisely and clearly; show in which way the Three Points are in conflict with Scripture and the Confessions; and point out how error and spiritual degeneration always go hand in hand. The committee advises that classis pay the expenses involved in this work.
2. That classis instruct the committee, that the Mission Committee should consist not only of members of the Grand Rapids churches, but that Iowa, and Chicago, and environs also be represented in the committee.
3. That classis advise the committee that in every congregation a committee be appointed, which will give out books, in case classis decides to have books printed (as is proposed in point 1), in their areas to that person who shows an interest. The committee is of the opinion that there lies our point of contact.
4. Moreover, that classis donate those books to those who show interest by individuals who serve in the local mission committee, in order that these books may find their way into those families of which we can expect they will be read.
5. The committee is of a mind that, if possible, classis should set apart a missionary for this labor.
Pamphlet publishing and distribution! That is the “point of contact” the committee discovered in order to muster up a renewed interest in our churches and what we taught. This was the breakthrough we needed to continue an aggressive mission outreach. That, coupled together with the fact that each congregation ought also to establish its own committee for the distribution of these pamphlets to “those families of which we can expect they will be read.” Perhaps the three elders of the Mission Committee felt inadequate for the work of missions, but they had discovered a mission method that the classis and the consistories of the Protestant Reformed Churches could embrace with enthusiasm! This was the new plan of action the Mission Committee proposed. The classis needs to authorize the publishing of a brochure that explains concisely the error of the Three Points of Common Grace. Once this brochure is published it must be placed into the hands of the individual congregations who will form committees of their own to distribute the brochure to members of the Christian Reformed Church in order to stir up a renewed interest in what happened in 1924. Where interest is shown, we will find places to do mission work.
Although rejecting the idea of a broader constituency on the Mission Committee as well as tabling the recommendation to call a missionary, the classis did latch onto the concept of pamphlet publishing and distribution. The classis, in turn, gave this into the hands of the men of the Mission Committee. What slipped the attention of this classis, however, was that the men of the Mission Committee were frustrated with their work because they felt inadequate to the job. Not quite a year later at the June, 1931 meeting of classis this frustration was vented in the report of the Mission Committee. The Mission Committee requested that other men more capable of performing the work be appointed to replace the present committee. The classis was sympathetic to their frustrations, since there had been no clear mission mandate for them to follow. It appointed, therefore, a temporary committee to come to the next classis with a “well circumscribed report of the task of the Mission Committee.”
The next classis in December, 1931, was abuzz with the excitement of a clear mandate to follow, rooted in the newly published brochure entitled The Triple Breach. Hudsonville consistory presented an overture to classis. Evidently, this consistory under the leadership of Rev. G. Vos had done some unsolicited, though careful study on the issue of missions. The advice of this consistory reflected the belief that a mass production and aggressive distribution of the brochure, The Triple Breach, would kindle a fire of renewed interest in spreading the gospel.
Under the sought out blessing of the Lord it can be an excellent means toward the growth of our churches, whether that be in places where we already have a church, or to bring about the appearance of new congregations. Moreover, it can under the blessing of the Lord, prove to be an excellent means to arouse the former zeal and to awaken us out of the dreamy state of somnolence, in which we seem to have sunken. Classis need but recall the printing and free distribution of ten thousand Standard Bearers by our Publishing Association, seven years ago, and the amazing results granted us by God. It gave the first incentive for most of us here present to join the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And the arm of the Lord is not shortened.5
This classis meeting of December 2, 1931 also made a number of important decisions regarding the mission labors of the Protestant Reformed Churches. First, according to the recommendations of the committee of advice authorized by the June, 1931 Classis, the scope of the field of labor was now limited to members of the Christian Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed churches. Second, that the publishing of pamphlets be a main focus of the Mission Committee, beginning with the publishing of The Triple Breach. Five thousand copies of this brochure were printed in Dutch and another five thousand in the English language. One thousand of these were sent to various contacts in the Netherlands. Third, that under the direction of the officebearers of the various churches, ministers, consistories, and members of each congregation seek to make personal contacts, and if there is interest, to request these contacts kindly to read The Triple Breach, urging them to test it in light of Scripture and the confessions. Fourth, the structure of a mission committee capable of handling the work was finally established. It consisted of four men, two ministers and two elders: Reverends W. Verhil and B. Kok, and Elders T. Elhart and A. Poortinga.
With the establishment of a permanent Mission Committee and a goal, a new era of mission work in the Protestant Reformed Churches began. This era lasted until the years prior to the troubles of 1953. We will consider the development of missions during these years in another set of articles. But first we need to turn our attention to an evaluation of missions in this early period of our history. Next time.
1 Minutes of the classis meeting on June 6, 1928. Article 11.
2 Supplement 1 of the classis meeting on August 29, 1928. See also the decisions pertaining to it in Articles 6 and 7 of that meeting.
3 Minutes of the classis meeting held September 18, 1929, Article 8.
4 Supplement 4 of the August 27, 1930 meeting of the classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
5 Supplement 2 of the December 2, 1931 classis meeting of the Protestant Reformed Churches.