Previous article in this series: December 15, 2022, p. 143.
In my previous article, I mentioned the name Lambert Holstege, who was my great grandfather. Lambert (Lammert) was born on December 3, 1880 in Doornspijk, Gelderland. Five months later, he was carried on to a ship and he immigrated to the United States with his family. His parents settled in the Beaverdam area, just west of Hudsonville (West Michigan). For those of you who are familiar with the Hudsonville area, we are talking about 56th Avenue and New Holland Road. Don’t blink or you will miss it…and it still has gravel roads! For the remainder of his life, Lambert called this area his home. He was the youngest of four siblings born to his parents, Hendrik Jan and Batje Holstege. He grew up working on his parents’ farm, and was a member of Beaverdam Christian Reformed Church.
There was another family close by, who also farmed and were members of Beaverdam CRC, Steven and Froukje (Florence) VanderMeulen. They also came from the Netherlands and settled in the area, at approximately the same time as the Holsteges. Steven VanderMeulen was memorialized at the time of his death as one who “established his home in the then wilderness, suffering the privations of pioneer life,” and who “converted… a veritable wilderness and water-covered swamp into a highly valuable farm” (The Zeeland Record, Oct. 9, 1930). The VanderMeulens had five children, four of whom were daughters. The youngest, Elizabeth, apparently caught the eye of Lambert Holstege. They married on January 5, 1906. The Lord gave them fifteen children. During their lifetime, the Lord also led them through the heavy trial of having to commit six of their children to the grave, including twenty-seven year-old Bernard, who died as a paratrooper in Normandy on D-Day, June 1944, during WWII.
Meanwhile, as Lambert, Elizabeth, and others of their generation grew up in America and became adults within the Christian Reformed Church, the ecclesiastical scene in the Netherlands had seen many changes. We will not use this article to go into depth, but there are good resources available to help you explore this history if you wish to do so. One is the book, For Thy Truth’s Sake, by emeritus Professor Herman Hanko (available at rfpa.org). Another is a series of speeches given by Professor Doug Kuiper last summer on Protestant Reformed church history, which you can find on the PRC Theological Seminary YouTube channel (youtube. com/@ProtRefdSeminary/videos).
Briefly, but significantly, a theologian turned politician named Abraham Kuyper rose to prominence in the Netherlands. This man led a second reformation movement out of the state church in 1886, known as the Doleantie. Soon thereafter, in 1892, a merger took place between this group of churches of the Doleantie, known later as the Kuyperians or Neo-Calvinists, and the Secession churches (Afscheiding), who earlier had separated from the state church in 1834. This latter group became known as the Pietists, because they emphasized piety, godliness, and a life of separation from the unbelieving world. The Kuyperians, on the other hand, were interested in becoming actively involved in the Dutch culture in order to transform it and make it Christian. This would require believers to cooperate with unbelievers, rather than to separate from them. In any case, the “Kuyperians” and “Pietists” came together to form a new denomination, called the Reformed Church in the Netherlands (GKN). This new denomination brought real reformation in separating from the state church, but doctrinal disagreement and disunity were still involved afterward.
The doctrinal disagreements brought on by the new merger included debates over something newly developed and promoted by Abraham Kuyper regarding a common grace of God. He taught that, although not in a saving way, God nevertheless looks favorably upon all humans including the wicked unregenerate in such a way that He restrains them from becoming as wicked as they could be and enables them to do much good in society and culture. Others in the new denomination, those among the ”Pietists,” who held to another form of common grace called the well-meant offer of the gospel, did not agree with the Kuyperians, and vice versa.
All of this debate and controversy found its way into the Christian Reformed Church in North America. As Dutch immigration into the USA continued, the CRC, originally made up of those known as the Pietists, increased its membership from those who were followers of Abraham Kuyper. Added to that, when it came to discussing the doctrinal question of the common grace of God, there were some who did not agree with either side. They denied any teaching that claimed God looks favorably, in His grace, on all mankind. Rather, they believed that God limits His grace and favor only to those whom He has sovereignly chosen in His good pleasure, through election. Enter Herman Hoeksema, who was ordained into the CRC ministry in 1915.
Rev. Hoeksema soon became publicly known for his criticism of the teachings of common grace through the articles he submitted to the CRC publication, The Banner. Lambert Holstege was certainly one among many who were following and discussing Hoeksema’s writings with interest. Then came the Janssen controversy. (Please refer to the sources I mentioned above to learn more.) To sum that up briefly, Dr. Ralph Janssen was a professor in the Calvin Theological Seminary who was condemned by the 1922 CRC Synod for teaching higher-critical views of the Scriptures. As the controversy developed, it became clear that Janssen defended his views based on Kuyperian common grace. Rev. Hoeksema, along with Rev. Henry Danhof, served as delegates to this synod, and were both a part of the committee who studied the Janssen case.
Part of the fallout from Hoeksema and Danhof’s involvement in the Janssen case was that the tables were turned, and they now came under attack by those who were friends and supporters of Dr. Janssen. The attack did not have to do with their opposition to Janssen’s higher criticism of the Bible. Rather, it was because Hoeksema and Danhof opposed common grace. A writing war ensued, which resulted in, among other things, the start up of the Standard Bearer and a book titled Van Zonde en Genade (published originally in 1923; translated and published in 2003 by the RFPA as Sin and Grace). Dr. Janssen’s friends included his relatives, some of whom lived right there in little Beaverdam as neighbors to the Lambert and Elizabeth Holstege family. As neighbors do, especially neighbors who are members in the same church, they discussed…and argued the issues of the day.
While finding serious disagreement with these relatives of Dr. Janssen, who were rather influential in the Beaverdam CRC, Lambert also found those within his neighborhood who agreed with him that Hoeksema was indeed correct, according to Scripture, regarding common grace. His aging father-in-law, Steven Vander- Meulen, spoke often with him about his wholehearted agreement with the views expressed by Hoeksema and Danhof. And so it was, that Lambert purchased his own copy of the book, Van Zonde en Genade.
In 1924, Lambert and Elizabeth had a busy household, with ten active children. Five of the ten were five years old or younger. My grandfather, Henry John (Hank Jan), was twelve years old—old enough to be able to pass along many memories of what took place at that time. Much of what follows has been given to us and preserved through Hank Jan (cf. “A Blessed Heritage” by Len Holstege in the April 2016 Beacon Lights). He was the second oldest living Holstege sibling, with one older brother, Steve. By the year 1924, the family had witnessed the burials of four children.
The CRC Synod of 1924 adopted the well known three points of common grace. This effectively brought together those of the well-meant offer persuasion with the Kuyperians, and united them in opposition to those who stood in agreement with Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Danhof. Shortly after the 1924 synod, the Holsteges were visited by the elders from Beaverdam CRC for their annual family visitation. Their minister noticed Van Zonde en Genade lying on the table. He praised the book, said he also had read it, expressed agreement with the authors as far as the truth was concerned, and told Lambert he was happy to see that he was reading it.
When Classis Grand Rapids East (December 1924) and Classis Grand Rapids West (January 1925) voted to depose Rev. Hoeksema, Rev. Danhof, and a third minister who joined them, Rev. George M. Ophoff, along with their consistories because they refused to refrain from their opposition to common grace, the Protestant Reformed Churches were born. Soon after, a committee of elders from Beaverdam CRC came to see Lambert Holstege, but this time the visit was not as friendly. Their message was simple: if Lambert insists on taking and propagating the views of Hoeksema, Danhof, and Ophoff, he will be barred from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
A few days later, when “Pa” was nowhere to be found and supper was ready, Hank Jan was told by his mother to go look for him and summon him to the house. He eventually found “Pa,” praying in the hay mow. That evening around the table, Lambert informed his family that he was going to buy their first automobile and that his oldest son Steve had to get a driver’s license. They were going to begin traveling to Grand Rapids for church services, and so they did. Lambert and Elizabeth Holstege, with their children became members of the “Eastern Avenue Protesting Christian Reformed Church,” where Rev. Herman Hoeksema was the pastor. They were not alone; there were many others from Hudsonville who also made the trip to Grand Rapids. On July 16, 1926, the organizational meeting for Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church took place in “Spoelman’s Barn.” Lambert and Elizabeth joined with twenty-two families to become charter members.
More than seventy years have passed since they were taken to glory; Lambert in 1950 and Elizabeth in 1952. Their children have departed from this earth as well. Among God’s people who remain within the church militant are many who can trace their lineage back to this simple, humble, amiable, but resolute couple. A couple who knew themselves to be sinners, saved by grace alone, in Christ alone. May we who claim a place within these ranks join to confess with the church of all ages, these words of the apostle:
…Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord (I Cor. 1:25-31).