The Standard Bearer In Retrospect

The Standard Bearer has, from the beginning of its existence, been an independent paper without any formal ecclesiastical ties, and published by an association of men. Nevertheless, it stands, in the minds of all who know it, as part of the Protestant Reformed Churches. 

It is not strange that this should be so. Its origin is closely connected to the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Its editorial staff has been consistently composed of members (usually ministers) of these Churches. The members of the association and Board who have had responsibility for its publication have always been part of these same Churches. It is not surprising therefore, that the pages of The Standard Bearer have reflected Protestant Reformed ecclesiastical life and are a sort of history of what has taken place in these Churches from 1924 to today. 

This is true already of the very beginnings of this publication. If we go back some fifty years or more to the time when The Standard Bearer was only an idea in the minds of some men, we find that this idea grew out of the doctrinal situation in the Christian Reformed Church. 

In 1922 Dr. Janssen was deposed from his position of professor of Old Testament in the Seminary by the Synod of Orange City for teaching views which called into question Scripture’s infallible inspiration and authority. In support of his position, Dr. Janssen appealed to the doctrine of common grace. Though his position on Scripture was repudiated by the Christian Reformed Church, nevertheless common grace, on which Dr. Janssen based his defense, was not condemned. The result was that this view became the subject of intense discussion within the Churches. 

Especially Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof wrote combating the view of common grace and developing the truth of grace according to Scripture and the Confessions. 

During the period of the Janssen controversy, Rev. Hoeksema was editor of the rubric Our Doctrine in The Banner; but when he stated his views on grace and his opposition to common grace, his articles were met with considerable ecclesiastical disfavor. 

During this same period, already prior to the final disposition of the Janssen Case, two new papers sprang up within Christian Reformed circles, Religion and Culture and The Witness. Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema were on the staff of The Witness, along with others who were opposed to the views of Dr. Janssen and who were generally thought of as the conservatives of that day. Because Dr. Janssen had attacked his opponents especially on the matter of common grace, in the aftermath of the Janssen Case, following the Synod of 1922, Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema wanted to spell out their views further on the issues of the Janssen Case and on the common grace question. However, the editorial staff of The Witness was sharply divided on the subject of common grace and on the wisdom of discussing the subject in their paper. Hoeksema and Danhof wanted to be free to develop their views, and, respecting the wishes of their fellow staff members not to be classified as agreeing with Hoeksema and Danhof on the matter of common grace, they soon severed relations with this new periodical. We also learn from some early minutes of the Board which eventually began to publish The Standard Bearer that De Wachter also refused to publish a series of articles prepared by Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof in connection with the Janssen controversy and the common grace issue as raised by Dr. Janssen. These articles later formed the contents of the first brochure published by the infant R.F.P.A., Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Straight Paths). Meanwhile, after 1922 Rev. Hoeksema’s articles in the rubric Our Doctrinealso abruptly ceased. 

All these things took place some time before the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches, but they were the immediate occasion for the publishing ofThe Standard Bearer

Apparently a group of men who called themselves simply “Publication Committee” came together to discuss the situation. The minutes of the early meetings of this group are interesting and instructive. We shall quote at some length the minutes of these early meetings, for in them we find the origin of the paper whose fiftieth anniversary we commemorate in this volume. 

The minutes of the first meeting read as follows (translated from the Dutch):

1. The first meeting was held at the home of Rev. H. Hoeksema, Eastern Avenue, Grand Rapids, April 8, 1924. (Notice that this was about five months before The Standard Bearer was actually begun and nearly nine months before the Protestant Reformed Churches came into existence. H.H.) 

2. This meeting was opened with prayer by Rev. H. Hoeksema. 

3. Fifteen brethren were present, who unanimously decided to organize as a Publication Committee and to discuss that same evening matters pertaining to the support of the brethren ministers Rev. H. Danhof, of Kalamazoo, and Rev. H. Hoeksema, of Grand Rapids, in the publishing and sending out, as well as also the bearing of expenses in connection with the publishing of brochures, and, if possible, of a paper. 

The reasons for this weighty step were the refusal and return by De Wachter of a series of articles written by the aforementioned ministers for our Reformed people. In order to be able to answer all the various writings coming from one side — and sometimes besmudged with personal hatred — this was the only way to offer the aforementioned ministers the opportunity to defend themselves against their attackers in the eyes of the Reformed reading public.

Article 4 of these minutes mentions the names of the founding members of the Publication Committee among whom are found two who would later become ministers in the Protestant Reformed Churches. These two were Revs. Wm. Verhil and G. Vos, both of whom are now deceased. 

Article 5 lists the originally. chosen officers of whom two were from Kalamazoo and three from Grand Rapids.

6. The gathering decided at once to appoint a Publication Committee from their midst and to give them power to act in printing, advertising, and sending out of brochures written by the aforementioned ministers. (The late Rev. G. Vos was chairman of this committee. H.H.) 

7. Because there would be expenses in the immediate future, the gathering decided to gather pledges from their own group (not loans), the funds subscribed to serve as capital. After this was done, we were all pleasantly surprised to have gathered the sum of $425.00. 

8. Since the society will need a name, it was decided to discuss this at the following meeting.

9. It was decided to hold the next meeting in Kalamazoo on April 17, 1924, at 8:00 in the evening. 

10. Since the hour was late, it was decided to adjourn, after which Mr. W closed with thanksgiving for the blessed work accomplished, acknowledging that it was done with many shortcomings, expecting that also in the future our efforts may be richly blessed, as we strive as God’s Party on earth, in order again to give direction in the history of .the church of God here on earth. 

That we may see many fruits upon our work, inciting to comfort and hope and trust and to a holding fast to the promise of the Lord, set forth by the poet as follows: 

Waterstroomen al Ik gieten, 

Spreekt de Heere, op ‘t dorre zand. 

Waar nu pelgrims smachtend gaan 

Zal een hof des Heeren staan.

This final verse appended to the minutes evidently expressed the confidence which the committee felt, under the Lord’s blessing, in the future of their endeavors. Translated, this poem reads:

I shall pour water streams 

on the dry sand, saith the Lord. 

Where pilgrims now walk languishing, 

a garden of the Lord shall stand.

No one at that meeting could have anticipated the future of that organization which exists to this day. No one could have seen that the Lord would give to these men and their successors in the fifty years ahead far more than ever they asked or thought. It was a small beginning, an uncertain and hesitant step in the direction of the Standard Bearer, but a step taken in faith nonetheless. And how mightily the Lord blessed that faith! 

We know that various brochures were published almost from the outset. But the main goal was a periodical. This became more evident in the next meeting. We quote again from the minutes.

1. The meeting was held in Kalamazoo, April 17, 1924, at 8:00 in the evening. 

2. The meeting was opened by singing

Ps. 68:10

(this was, of course, in the Dutch, H.H.), and prayer by the President. 

4. After this, Rev. Hoeksema addressed the gathering, shedding light on what we purposed to do, and at the same time directing us to go forward in faith, let come what may. 

5. Also Rev. Danhof pointed us to the chosen path, and especially expressed that we should make this a matter of principle, and besides, that we should work positively through the means of brochures. 

6. After this, the following brethren became members. (A total of 65 new members were added to the rolls at this meeting. H-H.) 

7. It was decided to elect a board of 5 members, of whom 2 will retire after the first year and 3 the second year. 

8. Chosen were: President: O. Van Ellen 

Secretary: A. Wyman 

Treasurer: C. Moerman 

Vice Treasurer: R. H. Timmer 

General Member: R. Wolthuis 

9. Mr. G. Van Beek and G. Vanden Berg were appointed to be added to the Publication Committee. 

10. The name to be given the organization will be left to the Ministers Hoeksema and Danhof and to the board. 

11. The gathering unanimously decided to proceed with the publication of a paper. Further arrangements were left to the Board. 

12. By the members the sum of $792.00 was subscribed. 

13. It was decided to adjourn, after which our newly chosen president, O. Van Ellen, led in a prayer of thanksgiving.

From this point on the meeting of the Board and Publication Committee was separate from the organization itself. The Board and Publication Committee met again on April 29, June 3, August 12, Sept. 10 and regularly thereafter. From the minutes of these meetings we learn some interesting facts: 

A name was chosen for the organization: “The Reformed Free Publishing Association.” 

It was decided to write all minutes from henceforth in the English language “to prevent confusion in the future.” 

Plans were being laid for the publication of a monthly magazine. A proposal was adopted at the meeting of June 3 “to have a monthly paper of 12 pages at the cost of $768 for one year for 500 copies a month, and the printing, or $879 for 750 copies.” This was to be given “to the Dalm Printing Co., on their estimation.” 

At this same meeting of April 29 some other interesting decisions were taken. We quoted from the minutes:

Motion was made and accepted to leave the regulating of aforesaid paper in regard to form and name to the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema. 

Was accepted to have 1000 copies printed for the first three months beginning the first part of September, 1924, and further details to be worked out by the Publication Committee. 

The resolution of the Publication Committee was taken over, and decided to have such a meeting June 10, 1924 in the Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church in Grand Rapids, the nature of it being a prayer meeting pleading our cause before the throne of grace.

At this meeting also the Board and Publication Committee became one organization. 

Some interesting decisions were also taken at the meeting of September 10. We quote the following:

Report of the Committee appointed to regulate our future monthly gave their work which was accepted by the Board. 

Name of our monthly will be “Standard Bearer.” Subscription price per year will be $1.50 and have 3000 or more printed. Responsibility of contents will be upon three editors: Rev. H. Danhof, Rev. H. Hoeksema and Mr. G. Van Beek; contributions to be divided as follows:

I. Rev. H. Danhof: Conception of things. 

II. Rev. H. Hoeksema: Historical review of things. 

III. G. Van Beek: Realities in world, politics, school and state. 

Language to be evenly divided.

It was at a meeting of Oct. 27 that the first mention is made of the presence of Rev. Ophoff who evidently became a member of the editorial staff at this time. The minutes mention that a word of welcome was spoken to Rev. G. Ophoff by the chairman. 

If we turn briefly to the minutes of the membership meetings of the association, it is striking to notice that the organization grew rapidly. At the June 10, 1924 meeting the membership grew to 196 members. Also at this meeting $1,791.50 was pledged. 

At the next meeting November 13, 1924 speeches were delivered by five different men, and ten more members were added to the rolls, and a decision was made to make the Standard Bearer a semi-monthly. At a meeting on September 22, 1925, 59 new members were added. 

Even these cold minutes of distant meetings reflect something of the dedication and zeal which pervaded these early leaders of our paper; but there also shines through in the clearest possible way, their utter sense of dependence upon the blessings of Almighty God. 

So the Standard Bearer had its beginning. It is our purpose in subsequent issues of this anniversary volume to continue the history of the Standard Bearer. We hope to do this primarily by means of reprints of pertinent articles from old issues which reflect in some measure the history of our Churches and the role which our paper played in the ecclesiastical world in the years during which it was published. 

We do this that our readers may join with us in thanks to our faithful covenant God for His many blessings upon us in all these years of publication, and that we may rededicate ourselves to the cause of the truth for which our periodical has stood for one-half a century.