The Standard Bearer In Retrospect

I think it was our editor who remarked a few issues ago that it was extremely time-consuming to look up anything in back volumes of The Standard Bearer. This is not because the articles one is looking for are necessarily difficult to find — although this may also sometimes be the case; for, while there are excellent textual indices available for back volumes, there is no good subject index. But the reason is that one becomes so engrossed in all sorts of interesting articles that, before he knows it, several hours have slipped away and he has not yet found the article for which he is looking. 

Such has been my experience also in perusing the first ten volumes in search of worthwhile articles to reprint. This was most time-consuming: for there were so many articles which were worth reading once again, and there were so many memories which were stirred in paging through these first ten volumes which were written in the years 1924 to 1934. Rather than including in this article a reprint, we have decided to give a brief survey of the contents of these volumes, and try to pick out some of the outstanding features of them to give our readers a bit of an idea of what these first ten volumes were like. 

The men who did most of the writing for these first volumes were Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff and Mr. G. Van Beek. These three men also served as editors. How these men did all the work it is sometimes impossible to imagine. Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff not only had their own congregations in which they preached and did the congregational work, but they both also taught full time in the Seminary in those years when the Seminary was just beginning and when there was a mountain of work in the preparation of material for the students who were studying there. Talking a few years ago to one of Rev. Ophoff s sons, I was startled to hear him say that his memories of his father in these early years were memories of a crack of light shining beneath the door of his father’s study — no matter what time of the night one would get up from bed. It is really no wonder that in some respects, these men were old before their time. 

Two of our readers have sent in a couple of early pictures which are of Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff. The first picture was taken in the year 1923 at Gun Lake, where Rev. Hoeksema and his family were vacationing. [Editor’s Note: Believe it or not, there are two editors pictured here. Your present editor is the babe in arms in the picture. HCH] The other was taken at Tunnel Park near Holland on August 24, 1938 at a Young People’s Outing. On the second picture, Rev. Ophoff is the farthest left, Rev. Hoeksema is in the middle, and the one nearest the camera is Mr. M. Van Antwerpen who served for a number of years as janitor in First Protestant Reformed Church. 

The material in these Standard Bearers ranges over a wide variety of subjects. It is not surprising that the earlier volumes are filled with a great deal of material concerning common grace. There are many important articles among this material. And it would even be very worthwhile to reprint some of it. But this is difficult to do because many of these articles were written in direct response to attacks which were made by others against the Protestant Reformed Churches and the stand which these churches had taken in the common grace controversy. They are articles therefore which are highly apologetic, are filled with names of individuals, and are dated by the circumstances of the occasion for their writing. In reading them, however, one is impressed with the fact that the early editors clearly saw what fruit common grace would bring forth in the years to come. They saw how common grace would vitiate Reformed theology. They saw how common grace would open the flood gates of worldliness. They saw how common grace would weaken the Church and bring about a situation which, in fact, exists today. 

Yet there were many other articles on many other subjects. There was positive doctrinal development. There are many articles in which the Reformed faith is defended strongly, but there are also articles in which the heritage of the Reformed faith is developed and clarified at key points. It is especially in these doctrinal articles that one already begins to see the emphasis which was being placed on the doctrine of the covenant, a doctrine which was to play such a major role in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches and which was to occupy such an important place in the theology of Rev. Hoeksema. 

There was also a concern for events which were taking place in the world. One can find many articles which comment on events in the church world and in the history which was being made at that time. It is clear from these articles that the editors firmly believed that God’s people should be students of their times; for without being aware of what was going on about them, they would be unable to “redeem the times, for the days are evil.” It is interesting to note, for example, thatThe Standard Bearer took the time to comment at some length on the Roman Eucharistic Congress which was held in 1926. 

Practical matters also came up for a great deal of discussion. The doctrinal articles stressed repeatedly that common grace had done damage to the truth of the antithesis. But The Standard Bearer spoke often in a positive way concerning the doctrine of the antithesis and how it was to be applied to the problems of life. There are articles on such questions as membership in worldly labor unions, worldly amusements, divorce and remarriage, etc. 

Strikingly, however, there was from the beginning, a great deal of emphasis placed on the whole question of Christian education. As early as volume three, articles appear on every conceivable aspect of this subject. It is possible that we shall have opportunity to reprint some of the more important articles, but what is interesting and worth our notice is the fact that our leaders very early not only saw the need of Christian education in general, but also the need of Protestant Reformed Christian education. It is doubtful if there is one volume of The Standard Bearer which lacks an article on Christian education; and there are many which have a large number of articles on this important subject. 

In the year 1927 there first began to appear articles which would later become books. Those of our readers who have purchased books from the Reformed Free Publishing Association may be surprised to learn that the books “Believers And Their Seed” and “Behold He Cometh” were begun already in these early issues. 

It was also in the year 1927 that one finds the first minutes of the General Classes which were held. Our Churches did not begin to hold Synodical meetings until 1940. Prior to that date all the Consistories met at regular intervals throughout the year in a Combined Classis Meeting. These minutes alone record the history of our Churches with all their trial and triumph, heartbreak and happiness. In 1930 the first articles began to appear concerning the theology of Dr. K. Schilder and the history of his movement in the Netherlands. In the Forties and Fifties Dr. Schilder and his Churches were to play an important role in the history of our Churches. We cannot talk about that now. That is another story. But it is striking that only six years after the Protestant Reformed Churches began there were events stirring which would have such great repercussions in later years. 

In 1931 the whole format of The Standard Bearer was rather radically changed. It was at that time that regular departments were begun. There was an editorial department and a department which dealt specifically with the Confessions of the Reformed Churches. Year by year new departments were added; sometimes some were dropped; but always effort was put forth to make the magazine as attractive as possible to the readers and to make it speak in a clear Reformed voice to the ecclesiastical and theological issues of the times. 

In 1933 an attempt was made to organize branches of the R.F.P.A. The idea was to organize such branches in the Chicago area, in the Pella area, in Sioux County, Iowa, in California, and in Michigan. A kind of concept Constitution was drawn up which can be found on p. 240 of Volume IX. Although these efforts apparently failed, it is perhaps time for us to think along these lines once again. 

There is another striking feature about these earlyStandard Bearers. I refer to the fact that laymen did a great deal of writing in those days — far more than now. This is especially striking because in the early history of our Churches, the number of laymen who had acquired an extensive education — something beyond grade school — was in the minority. Yet their writings added greatly to the value of our periodical. Now there are many more with extensive educations. Everyone has high school; many have college educations; many beyond college in graduate work. And yet we see very little in our paper from people other than ministers. This is too bad. From time to time, in the past years, the editorial staff has tried to enlist laymen to contribute to the paper; but these efforts have, for the most part, proved unfruitful. I would like this article to serve as encouragement to our readers to give serious thought to the matter of writing for our paper. 

And so we must close this article. The Standard Bearer has come a long way since these early years. The format has changed, the nature of the articles has changed; the editorial staff has changed; the times surely have changed. But the truth remains unchanged. And the truth of the Reformed faith as set forth in these first volumes is still the truth which appears on today’s pages — a truth which we love and confess. May God keep us faithful to it.