Previous article in this series: December 15, 2016, p. 136.
The June 1932 meeting of Classis was filled with matters of missions. Not only had the special study committee defined the task of the Home Classical Committee as presented in our last article, but a couple of other matters were brought to the Classis’ attention as well.
First of all, the Mission Committee announced the organization of Creston Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI, consisting of 19 families. Further, Rev. H. Hoeksema reported of his visit to Redlands, CA, where he helped organize a church with 44 families. It was a time of rejoicing and much excitement for our churches. Rev. Hoeksema expressed his opinion regarding further labor in the West. “The far West is a large, ripe field for us, since God’s people are starving and look with longing for the preaching of the Word as we enjoy it.”1 That same year in October a small congregation was organized in Los Angeles, CA. From the outset, however, this congregation was in financial straits. Its demand for a large amount of subsidy could not be met by our churches and by June of 1937 this struggling congregation disbanded.
In the second place, the new method of creating contacts by means of pamphlet distribution continued to develop. The Mission Committee recommended,
In connection with the distribution of the “Triple Breach,” which is just begun, we are of the opinion that this work should be followed up with other publications. This can be done by pamphlets, brochures, or both. We suggest that the classis consider the following: …Classis should give us authority to gather the material already in print. For example: our most recent ecclesiastical struggle, a catechism concerning our Protestant Reformed Churches, of even the texts that are used to support the Three Points, and as these texts have been treated under exegetical studies in the Standard Bearer.2
Most of us do not recognize in this quote a description of a book published about four years later (“a catechism concerning our Protestant Reformed Churches”). In 1936 the book, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America appeared in print in a limited quantity. In the book the author, Rev. Herman Hoeksema, gratefully acknowledged the receipt of $350 from the Sunday School of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. With this money 200 copies of this book were made available to the public. Why not more? It was the time of the Depression. In 1947 a second edition was published and more widely distributed. In 1933 another pamphlet was added to those being published and distributed in Dutch and English by the Mission Committee. It was entitled, “The Gospel,” authored by Rev. Hoeksema.
The Mission Committee gave one more piece of advice to the June 1932 Classis that is worthy of note:
That Classis express whether it is desirable, if the expenses involved are not too great, to make use of one of the radio stations, preferably from a city from which both the east and the west can be reached, and that during the winter months.
Grounds are the following:
1) We can reach by radio practically all those churches among which we must do mission work.
2) We can also advertise our writing through the means of radio.
3) By this same means, under the blessing of the Lord, an extremely large field can be opened to us.3
That Classis made the following decision in Article 23, Point 4 regarding the use of radio: “Decided to reject this advice.” As we have noted already in other instances, no grounds for this decision were supplied. But it is not difficult for us to surmise what probably were the underlying causes for a negative vote on this advice. First, the expense of radio was indeed too great for the hard times the church was now experiencing financially. But there may have been another reason for this decision too. Radio was fairly new. Although daily radio broadcasting had begun already in 1921, it was only by means of AM frequency, which was not all that clear or reliable. It was not until the 1930s that FM was invented by amateur radio operators and patented in 1933. FM drastically reduced static and interference. But it was not until 1940 that FM was used in commercial modes. No doubt, therefore, all of this came into consideration too. Did the use of radio warrant the high expenditure when it really was not that reliable?
But the point is, already then the Mission Committee was exploring other methods of exposing others to the truth of God’s Word. In order to stimulate interest in the truth of sovereign grace, pamphlet distribution was developing and radio was being examined closely.
In June 1934 it was announced at Classis that, under the labors of Rev. Hoeksema, another congregation was organized, this time in Orange City, IA, with 11 families. This came with only a total of three weeks of labor in the area. In June 1935, through the labors of Redlands and Los Angeles, CA churches, another congregation was organized, in Bellflower, CA. Labors by area ministers that began in January 1935 in the Muskegon/Spring Lake/ Grand Haven, Michigan area finally resulted in the formation of a congregation consisting of 9 families in Grand Haven, Michigan in June of 1936.
Despite the addition of these congregations to our denomination, the demand for a missionary was pressing itself upon the churches. In 1932 Rev. Hoeksema was given ten weeks off by First Church to travel to the far western United States for mission work. We noted already that he assisted in the organization of Redlands, CA PRC. He also preached in the Lynden, Washington area. But it was really with the proposal that first came from the consistory of South Holland PRC in 1933 that the need for a full-time missionary revealed itself. It was the desire of South Holland to have Rev. Hoeksema labor in the Chicago area for an extended period of time. This request, of course, failed to take into consideration Hoeksema’s work in the seminary and in his own congregation of First Church of Grand Rapids. Being totally convinced that Chicago ought to be the next great mission field of our churches, since it contained “the largest center of the Christian Reformed Church, with the possible exclusion of Grand Rapids,” South Holland PRC requested the following of the Classis of February 1, 1933:
The consistory requests your committee to try, if possible, to obtain Rev. H. Hoeksema for this work for as long as possible.
a. Since we are of the opinion that as yet under the providence of God (in him) can be seen the greatest gifts and talents for that work in one person, and it is our conviction that we must make as much of this great blessing of God as possible, especially during the first part of our labors in Chicago.
b. That Rev. Hoeksema is the proper person historically, dogmatically, and church politically, besides being the most powerful figure in this struggle.
c. That it is very likely, should your committee decide to grant our request, that the opposition in Chicago will be of such a nature that the best talents will be demanded to labor there fruitfully.4
The decision of the Classis did not quite reflect the zeal toward work in Chicagoland that South Holland expected. It was decided that the request to labor in Englewood (a suburb of Chicago) ought to come from the local area itself and, therefore, South Holland consistory ought to do more preliminary work in this neighborhood before the Mission Committee send Rev. Hoeksema to labor there. In June of 1933 Classis again decided not to consider this request. In January 1934 the Classis decided a third time not to send Rev. Hoeksema for an extended period of time, until more work would be done in the area by South Holland. Understandably, there was some tension over the issue at Classis. Rev. P. DeBoer, minister in South Holland at the time, asked that his negative vote not to send Rev. Hoeksema be registered in Classis’ minutes.
In June 1935 the Mission Committee reported to Classis that six lectures were held in Roseland of Chicago. “The attendance was not very encouraging.” South Holland insisted that the reason for such poor attendance was the failure to make personal contact with people there. Nevertheless, the Mission Committee decided to discontinue labors in Roseland until the next Fall, then to reconsider the matter of working there. The Classis received this for information. At that same Classis, however, South Holland responded with its own perceptive and, evidently, convincing advice.
All our churches realize with the Mission Committee that, even though we strongly desire that Rev. Hoeksema be released to labor for a time in a certain field, there must be definite reasons to take him away from his labor.
With all praise for the work that has been accomplished by our “part-time” missionary [Rev. Hoeksema], the consistory of South Holland is of the conviction that we must not be satisfied with a “part-time” missionary, but must proceed to call a “full-time” missionary. Therefore, we advise Classis to carry this out even as decided in the June Classis of ‘32. The specific part of the report that we have in mind reads as follows: “The question arises, in which manner and by what means should this Classical Home Mission work be carried out. To this we answer, in the first place, that it is more desirable that one or more missionaries be called, and that as soon as possible. These missionaries would labor in the field, personally seek out the dispersed, bring the wanderers back, and by God’s grace be instrumental to establish a church as the body of Christ in its purest form.” Our churches have need of this. The committee therefore also advises, that steps should be taken to call one or more such missionaries…. The consistory of South Holland requests the Classis to proceed to carry out the above-mentioned advice and presents the following grounds:
1. That it is the calling of the church to proclaim and spread the pure truth of the gospel to the utmost of its power, not only where this is requested but also in other areas. We cannot say that until now this has been done to the utmost of our power, and if this is to happen we will need a full time missionary.
2. That history has shown that mission work, which is an extremely difficult task, brings forth the most fruit only then when a person is called and separated for that work with all his gifts and talents devoted to it.
3. That in various places there are members of the church who, because of their conviction and knowledge of Scriptures and the truth of the Confessions, actually belong to our denomination. Now because of various circumstances they are not very well acquainted with the history of recent years or for some other reason do not join us. According to our conviction this could be prevented and remedied in many cases by personal contacts and private discussions, which are virtually impossible for our Mission Committee and for a “part-time” missionary in ten weeks of the year. A “full-time” missionary could make these personal contacts with individuals and families, in order to establish churches in those areas where there are enough present for this purpose.
4. Especially in connection with the last mentioned, it is necessary for the expansion of our churches, if at all possible, to continue to work as systematically and consistently wherever there is a favorable beginning. At present this is very difficult. After a few weeks our “part-time” missionary must return home and his mission efforts are discontinued for at least a year.
5. We also have a calling in regard to the young men who by God’s providence are studying at our school in the hope of being sent out into God’s vineyard. If under the blessing of the Lord our denomination is to grow, more mission work must be done and at least one “full-time” missionary must be sent out.
6. And finally, the work of a “part-time” missionary has been greatly blessed; are we then expecting too much if we look for even more fruit in the future if a “full-time” missionary is sent out? For all these reasons the consistory of South Holland advises that right now we proceed to carry out the decision of the June Classis of 1932, and that by first calling one missionary. God will certainly not put us to shame in this respect, brethren, but will certainly bestow His blessing on such efforts.5
The following year the first missionary of the PRC was called. We will finish the history of missions through the rest of the decade of the 1930s in the next article.
1 Minutes of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches, June 1, 1932, Article 24.
2 Minutes, 1932, Supplement 3 (Report of the Mission Committee).
3 Minutes, 1932.
4 Minutes of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches, February 1, 1933 (Supplement 7b, Appendix to Mission Committee Report).
5 Minutes of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches, June 5 and 6, 1935 (Supplement 13).