Steven R. Key is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
(An Address Delivered At The Annual Meeting Of The R.F.P.A., September, 1987)
The subject I have chosen to consider with you this evening is “The Standard Bearer and Our Future;” or, if you wish, “The Standard Bearer and Our Youth,” for the youth are our future. You can gather from my choice of topics, that I consider The Standard Bearerto occupy an important place and to be in a position to play a significant role in the future well-being of our Protestant Reformed Churches in particular.
In our consideration of this subject, we first ought to consider the place that The Standard Beareroccupies in our spiritual heritage. For it is there that we will see the important place that it occupies also with respect to the future. I will follow this order:
I.The place it occupies in our heritage
II.The significant role it is in position to play in our future
III. How it may best serve to the edification of our churches
I. The Standard Bearer occupies an important place in our heritage, as is evident from the fact that it is older than the organization of the Protestant Reformed Churches. It arose in the midst of controversy, as an avenue of expressing the truth, when all other avenues were closed to the Reverends Danhof and Hoeksema. The year was 1924. The controversy concerned the, theory of common grace, which theory had been adopted by the denomination in which those two men had their membership and ministerial credentials. In opposition to that error, those men sought freedom of theological expression for the defense of the truth of God’s Word. And so, in October of 1924, The Standard Bearer was born. When it became evident that these men, along with the Reverend George Ophoff, would not be silent, but would defend their stand no matter what the consequences, the determination to cast them out of the Christian Reformed Church became final, and birth was given to the Protestant Reformed Churches. As might be expected, in the early years ofThe Standard Bearer there was much attention given to the common grace controversy. The attempt was made to expose from every possible perspective the errors in the theory of common grace. But also the truth of God’s sovereign, particular grace was set forth positively. Given the heat of the controversy, it is no wonder that The Standard Bearer received a reputation, partly justified, partly not. To some, I dare say especially the older members in the Reformed churches, who from within or without have witnessed the controversies in our Protestant Reformed Churches, that reputation has continued. Even thoughThe Standard Bearer is not a church paper, the connection cannot be avoided. And so the reputationThe Standard Bearer has received and carried over the years is that of being controversial, critical, and quick to point the finger.
That our publication is controversial at times, we-do not deny. Nor do we, nor may we, apologize for that. Whenever there is a confrontation between the truth and the lie, there is controversy. And the calling and promise of every Reformed minister of the gospel is, as you read in the Formula of Subscription, “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by our public preaching or writing.” The only apology that is in order is that, because we are sinful men, we sometimes fail in our calling to “be gentle unto all men, patient, In meekness instructing those who oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Tim. 2:24, 25).
But when we consider the important place The Standard Bearer plays in our heritage, I would have you notice that the intended emphasis of the magazine was from the very beginning positive. In the very first issue, the Reverend Henry Danhof explained the reason for the publication of the new periodical. In that article, which is in Dutch, he writes, “A need is felt for leadership in ecclesiastical questions, points of doctrine, prevalent speculations, and the practical application in life of the principles out of which people live.” And then further on, he writes, “We aim not at a particular class or group. Our purpose is to live a more conscious, fervent, deeper, richer, all-encompassing, positive Christ-like life for our Lord, now, in this present wicked world.”
From the outset, therefore, our fathers intended The Standard Bearer to serve as a tool for the strengthening of the church on this earth and, as things developed, particularly for the strengthening of our own Protestant Reformed Churches. That is indicated even in the name of the paper, The Standard Bearer. The standard refers to a banner or flag which is carried before the troops who are entering into battle. It stands as an encouragement to the men who are members of that army; but it also testifies to those who are not. So our Standard Bearer carries before us the standard of the truth of God’s Word, particularly as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity. Therein lies its tremendous value also.
The feature of this periodical that must be considered of greatest importance in our heritage is the development of the truth and exposition of the Scriptures over the years. Particularly the development of the doctrine of the covenant has been of utmost importance in the edification and strength of our churches over the years. The truth of that beautiful relationship of gracious love and fellowship which God has established with His people in Christ, was developed especially by Reverend Hoeksema in the pages of The Standard Bearer. Through the understanding of that wonderful truth, all doctrine becomes a matter of importance for our own experience and spiritual life! That positive development, coupled with the outstanding exegesis and exposition of the Scriptures found in the pages of our periodical over the years by men such as Hoeksema, Ophoff, Vos, Lubbers, and many others, has given us a rich heritage in writing. Our heritage stands on the truth of the Word of God. Our strength is not personal strength. It is not the strength of men. The weaknesses found in the pages of The Standard Bearer through the years have been personal weaknesses. Our strength is the Word of God and the truth of that Word. The standard of that Word divides! That is true. It gives encouragement to those who follow that Word, but it also serves as a testimony against those who do not. That has been the precious heritage of our Standard Bearer, in brief.
II.When you consider that original purpose of The Standard Bearer, especially as stated by the Reverend Danhof, you can see that it is in a position to play a significant role also in our future. You understand, of course, when I speak of The Standard Bearer and our future, I do so in a very limited way. I am not a fortune teller. God only knows the future ofThe Standard Bearer and of our churches. That future is determined from all eternity in His counsel. And that future is hid. For that very reason I speak not of the role that The Standard Bearer will play, but of the significant role it is in position to play with regard to our future.
You understand, also, that when I speak of The Standard Bearer and our future, I am not speaking of something abstract. When speaking of that subject, the question is: Shall we and the staff of The Standard Bearer remain faithful to the purpose for which it was originally published? And then, because there is such a close relationship between The Standard Bearer and our Protestant Reformed Churches, you also have to ask the question, “Shall we as churches remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word?” The question is not, “Shall there be change?” There is always change. There is also room for change. There is always room for improvement, also in The Standard Bearer. But the question is, “In the midst of change, shall we remain faithful to the purpose unto which we are called?”
Although not exclusively, this question deals directly with the relationship between our Standard Bearerand our youth. For the future will be realized in our young people and children and, should the Lord tarry by our timetable, in our children’s children. Now, I ask you, when you consider those words I have quoted from the late Reverend Danhof, has there ever been a day when there were more ecclesiastical questions and speculations confronting our youth than today? Have there ever been more points of doctrine under attack than today? Has there ever been a greater need for “the practical application in life of the principles out of which people live”?
I submit to you that our publication has an even greater calling today than it did in its origin! For if our purpose in the publication of The Standard Bearer is going to play a role and to make a contribution toward that aim stated in the very first issue, “to live a more conscious, fervent, deeper, richer, all-encompassing, positive Christ-like life for our Lord, now, in this present wicked world,” then you and I had better realize, brethren, that this world continues to increase in its wickedness! The Lord will certainly preserve His truth and His church in the world, even unto the very end. That is His promise. But the world continues to develop in sin. The devil rages in his attacks upon the church! And because the Lord has given us much, perhaps Satan concentrates his attacks primarily upon our own churches and our own young people. Sometimes it seems that way. And, therefore, especially our youth cry for leadership. The Standard Bearer is in the position to play a significant role in providing such leadership, especially in the midst of our own churches.
Of course, we understand that the preservation of us as churches depends entirely upon the grace of our God, Who alone can make us faithful unto the end. And we understand that The Standard Bearer is not even in the chief position for such leadership with respect to our youth. But as the Reformed Free Publishing Association, we must consider the role ofThe Standard Bearer. And then we must see that if our magazine is to continue to be a factor in the preservation and development of our churches and the church of Jesus Christ universal, then that original purpose must live within us with even greater fervency than in 1924! Direction must be given to all our readers, including our youth. And that direction must be toward the Scriptures, where the young man, according to Psalm 119:9, taking heed, shall cleanse his way.
Martin Luther was acutely conscious of the need for the Scriptures and the study of the Scriptures. In his preface to the Wittenberg edition of his German writings, he wrote: “. . . all other writing is to lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures, as John the Baptist did toward Christ, saying, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30), in order that each person may drink of the fresh spring himself, as all those fathers who wanted to accomplish something good had to do” (Luther’s Works, v. 34, p. 284). That is what we must desire for our youth. If our Standard Bearer is to provide the needed direction for our young people, it must guide them to the Word of God. But then also, The Standard Bearer must have the readership also of the youth.
III.How may The Standard Bearer best serve to the edification of our churches, and in particular the youth of the churches? In answer to that question we may say, first of all, that edification is possible only where there are readers. And when we speak about our youth, I have reason to believe that those who read our periodical are very few indeed. When I make this statement—call it an accusation, if you will—I do not mean to imply that any lack of readership among the youth is entirely or even mostly the fault of The Standard Bearer or its staff. Where there is spiritual weakness among the youth, there certainly will not be much desire for reading a publication such as The Standard Bearer. Therefore, far more enters into the question of increasing readership among our youth than the presentation and form and contents of our publication. More important, certainly, is the preaching of the Word in the churches, catechetical instruction, personal contact between pastors and youth, contact between elders and the youth and between godly parents and the youth. There must be spiritual development first. There must be instruction and the demonstration by word and example of the joy of our own salvation and of our own love for the truth of the gospel and of our love for the seed of God’s covenant, before we can expect The Standard Bearer to play an increased role in the spiritual development of our youth. And even here, while speaking about our youth, we must call attention to the very important role our publication plays, even if indirectly. For the strength of youth comes most often by way of the strength of parents and the strength of the churches. As you read in Proverbs 20:7: “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.”
But given increased readership among our youth, I would like to state the following suggestions for the way The Standard Bearer may best serve to the edification particularly of our youth. I have already stated that it must guide them to the Word of God. But then, we might say, it already does that. That is generally true. But what we must do, if we are to provide necessary direction, is to guide them to the Word as that Word of God applies to the specific problems and pressures and temptations that they face as young people. Many of our youth are confronted with pressures and temptations that they do not know how to say no to, nor why. The reason and rationale for fleeing certain temptations they do not perceive. They need direction, spiritual leadership. They need to be instructed in the way the truth which God has given us to maintain and develop applies to their lives as youth in God’s kingdom. They need theological instruction not only, but theological direction, direction that can only be given as we become aware of the areas of problems which confront our young people today. Of extreme importance, therefore, is a rubric such as “The Strength of Youth.”
But I would like to suggest one other area for consideration. Realizing that I have limited the application to youth, which is a very small but important segment of the readership of The Standard Bearer, I would also suggest that one page of each issue be given to the children. The purpose for that suggestion is this: Should our children be given a page of their own, with simple theological instruction and lessons in church history and the like, this would not only serve for their edification, but it would get them into the habit of using The Standard Bearer. And as they grew up, that healthy habit would be continued as they graduated to a rubric such as “The Strength of Youth.” Then, along with the Beacon Lights, our periodical also could serve to the edification of entire families of God’s covenant, directly and pertinently.
A rich heritage we have in our Standard Bearer. A great and difficult calling stands before us: to support and to pray for and to promote the means of this publication. May God bless the labors of all those who contribute to the publication of The Standard Bearer, that His name may be glorified in the salvation of His Church.