There is value in bringing to light the history of a religious periodical such as the Standard Bearer. A study of its origins will reveal its purpose as intended by the founders. The history demonstrates the character that the magazine has striven to maintain. Familiarity with its origin and character will serve the readers well. On the one hand, they will not be surprised by the content of the magazine that appears in their mailbox twice a month, so long as the content is in harmony with the history of the magazine. On the other hand, if the magazine strays from the established course, the readers have the right to call the writers back to the original purpose, and to the historically established character.

Knowledge of a publication’s history is important for the writers, too. If the original purpose and character of the religious magazine is biblical and right, and the goals far-reaching, the staff of the twenty-first century, complete with a set of new editors, are well advised to “hew the line.”

For these reasons, the new editors are convinced that the history of the SB is important. We consider it worth our time, and yours, to review past events in the history of the SB, and in that light to set forth our goals for the SB in the future.

I must admit that the study of the SB’s history was more significant than I envisioned. It was more than interesting; it was fascinating! It was also sobering.

The Standard Bearer has a rich and weighty history. It was born in battle. The conflict concerned the Three Points of Common Grace officially adopted by the Christian Reformed Church’s synod of 1924. That same synod had requested its members, ministers, and seminary professors to discuss and develop the concept of common grace.

Two of her ministers, the Revs. Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema, were ready and willing to discuss common grace. They would describe its implications as completely as their capable minds and ready pens would allow. Their openly stated intent was to demonstrate to their churches that the notion of a common grace of God to all men, elect and reprobate, was neither biblical nor confessional. But they had no voice in their churches, that is to say, no means of printing their analyses. They were cut off—the official church papers refused to print anything more that they wrote on the subject.

Concerned members of the CRC formed an association for the purpose of publishing these two men in particular, starting with pamphlets. The other intent was that a monthly magazine be published for the defense and promotion of the Reformed faith. The Standard Bearer was born on October 1, 1924.

One can scarcely imagine the excitement for those involved—the writers and supporters—to take in hand the first issue of the fledgling magazine. On the cover of Vol. 1, No. 1, in bold print is the significantly descriptive title, “THE STANDARD BEARER,” with the subtitle, “REFORMED MONTHLY.” There are found also the names of the four editors—Rev. H. Danhof, Rev. H. Hoeksema, Rev. G. Ophoff, and G. Van Beek. The yearly subscription price is $1.50. Everything about the first issue rings with the confident announcement: We have weighty matters to treat, and we intend to publish this magazine for a good long time to come.

The very first article, a meditation by Herman Hoeksema on Psalm 145:9a and Psalm 145:20b entitled “Jehovah’s Goodness,” sets the doctrinal and antithetical tone for the magazine. Inside, Rev. Danhof explains the appearance of the magazine (“The Standard Bearer”). Next, he launches into dogmatical discussion of the nature of God (“God is God”). H.H. follows with “The Antithesis in Paradise,” in which he also introduces the concept of the covenant. And he begins a series on the history of the common grace controversy. Mr. G. Van Beek fills out the rest of the sixteen pages. Thereafter, the SB would be thirty-two pages. The writing is straightforward, and it is Reformed.

The second issue added B.J. Danhof to the staff of editors. Rev. Ophoff launched into the sea of controversy with his first article, “A Declaration.” He explains why he must join the ranks of those who oppose common grace. He boldly takes issue with a professor in the seminary from which Ophoff had graduated a scant two and a half years earlier(!). Already in these early issues, G. M. O. never left one wondering where he stood on an issue. In an article on the fall of man, he boldly subtitled one section “Dr. Abraham Kuyper’s view of the natural man condemned by Scripture.”

 

Changes Made

 

The SB was a bilingual paper—”Holland” and English. The editors decided that they would include both equally. But the Dutch won out more often than not. Over the years, readers sent in complaints on this—the older readers asking for more Dutch, and the younger readers, more English. Occasionally the editors would publicly commit themselves to maintaining the balance. In 1941, the staff decided that the ratio ought to be one-third Dutch, and two-thirds English. And in February of 1953, the editor informed the readers that the “Holland” would be dropped from the magazine altogether. Hence, Rev. Vos penned his last meditation in the Dutch—a bit wistfully, one suspects.

Editors and writers changed over the years. After January of 1926, the name Danhof was dropped from the list of editors. In the September 1928 issue, the masthead revealed that the Editorial Staff was H. Hoeksema and G.M. Ophoff. A new category followed: Associate Editor, and listed were G. Vos and Wm. Verhil. Seven years later the number of editors returned to four with the elevation of Vos and Verhil, and all the other ministers in the PRC (sixteen) were called “Associate Editors,” five of whom were assigned to write church news from their area of the country.

Improvements would continue to be made in the form and content of the SB. In the 1940s the staff appointed H.H. the editor in chief, with what he described as “dictatorial powers.” He used the power (as they intended) to lay out each issue of the entire volume year, complete with writers’ assigned topics, and the language to be used—Holland or English. He did not assign easy topics. The men had to study and take stands on such theological and practical “hot” topics as “The Theory of Soul Sleep,” “Hymn Singing in Public Worship,” and “The Angels and Salvation in Christ.” Debates were also assigned to two ministers. One such involved the proposition: “Resolved That A Local Consistory Has The Right To Act Contrary To The Church Order.”

And if a man did not write? The editor’s public notice to one offender was: “I have not assigned new subjects to the Rev. (name given). If the brother wishes to write, he may do so on the subjects assigned to him last year.” (!) If the current editors are tempted to use similar methods to spur on neglectful staff members, it should also be noted that his public dressing down did not stir up the Reverend to write—at least I did not discover any articles from him.It was in this time that H.H. penned the (now) well-known editorial policy of the SB, “The Editor is not responsible for any other contributions that appear in our paper than his own.”

G.M. Ophoff never got used to this new system. The second time that H. H. laid out an entire volume year, he noted, “Rev. Ophoff prefers to select his own subjects rather than having them assigned to him.”

A few years thereafter, the idea of rubrics was introduced, with a minister free to write in his particular area. That practice has been carried on to the present day.

We take note of a few other changes in the SB over the years. In May 1926, the subscription price was raised to $2.50. But the SB would announce itself no longer as A REFORMED MONTHLY MAGAZINE; now it was “A REFORMED SEMI-MONTHLY MAGAZINE”—of twenty-four pages rather than thirty-two. However, the depression soon forced a reduction both in price and number of issues. Subscription was reduced to $2.00, and the SB would be published semimonthly, except in the summer months, when it would come out only once a month, even as it is still today, though not at $2.00 a year. (Consistent with the $2.00 subscription rate was the cost of mailing. Affixed to each magazine was … a one-cent stamp.)

 

Changes Not Made

 

H. H. was surprisingly open to suggestions for improvements to the SB. However, there was one thing to which he remained adamantly opposed, namely, making the SB a church paper. The suggestion would be broached from time to time. It came in a proposal form in 1935. H. H. printed the whole proposal in the SB for all to read. The two main parts are reproduced below.

Proposed Plan

1.A paper to be published containing the following departments:

a.A short meditation.

b.Editorials.

c.A department: Our doctrine.

d.Happenings in the Church-world.

e.The Sundayschool Lesson.

f.A Young People’s Department.

g.A Children’s Page.

h.News From Our Own Churches.

i.An Open Forum.

And:

4.This paper to be entirely under the control of a central board to be elected annually by the association:

a.The board shall control the contents of the paper.

b.The board shall appoint the editors for the different departments.

c.The board shall control the finances of the publication.

H. H. remained neutral in his comments, even pointing out that it had some positive elements. As he wrote, “[T]he question arises, whether the time has not arrived to alter the entire character of our publication, and, instead of the semi-scientific theological paper it originally aimed to be, to offer the public a paper of a more popular and practical nature, somewhat like the well known church-papers.” He asked to “hear, if possible, from all our readers what is their opinion of this proposition.”

He was testing the readers and the membership of the PRC. Were the days of the SB numbered? It was only four years before that proposal that he had expressed his thoughts on the matter as follows:

It must be remembered first of all, that our paper is no Church publication. Neither was it the original purpose of the association that publishes the Standard Bearer, that our paper in its general contents should be exactly like a church paper. To be sure, it was to be a religious periodical of the Reformed type. But its contents were to be devoted to the specific purpose of developing the principles of the Reformed doctrine…. It stands to reason, that the contents, in harmony with this original purpose, were to be chiefly doctrinal, though from the very beginning it was decided also to devote some space to the application of our principles to matters of every day life and current events. It may be admitted, that in this last respect the Standard Bearer has been weak, partly due to our limited powers. On the whole, however, it has been faithful to the purpose for which it was originally published.

And if from now on the contents of the paper would be chiefly of a practical nature, its doctrinal material being limited to one expository article like the present meditation, the Standard Bearer would be greatly depreciated and certainly it would be far from realizing its original aim.

It would become an entirely different publication. Its contents would be more like those of an ordinary Church publication, like The Banner; though even its expository and doctrinal articles are not confined to the meditation.

Personally, I would greatly deplore such a change. At one of its last meetings the board of the association seriously considered this step. I was, as I am now, opposed to the proposition, chiefly because I know that the contents of the paper will be changed radically if the Church instead of a free association should publish the Standard Bearer.

The responses poured in, and the results were mixed. But the main changes were not made.

Years later (1949), H. H. looked back on these efforts to change the character of the SB and to limit the freedom of the writers. He wrote:

The term “Free” in this name (R.F.P.A.) denotes that the association in publishing its literature does not stand under any ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It also means that the editors alone are responsible for the contents of their writing, and that they are not under the jurisdiction, either of the Church or of the board of the R.F.P.A. The minutes show that, in later days, the board has sometimes attempted to change this relation and to acquire some jurisdiction over the contents of their writings, but the editors have always jealously guarded their rights in this respect, and they always will, at least as far as the original editors are concerned.

That emphasis would continue to characterize the SB. It is not light stuff, but, on the contrary, solid Reformed reading. H.H. was not opposed as such to a church paper. He would later encourage Concordia to include more news and to be published weekly. But that was not to be the role of the SB. The material of the SB was, and would remain, weighty, with biblical exposition and doctrinal development, including polemical defense of the truth.

The SB and the PRC

Although the Standard Bearer is not a church paper, it is inseparably connected with the Protestant Reformed Churches. As a result, it records the history of the same. Even before the origin of the regular column “News from our Churches,” the SB reflected the major events of the PRC. For example, the last page of the third issue contained a terse announcement (in Dutch) of the deposition of Rev. Hoeksema and the consistory of the Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church.

The June 1925 issue heralds the “First Annual Field Day of the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.” That indicates a significant move towards the formation of a new denomination.

Interesting too are the reports on the new buildings, since the old church buildings were lost. Kalamazoo (Rev. Danhof’s congregation) boasted of the latest “‘forced air’ verwarmingssyteem.” Eastern Avenue Protesting Christian Reformed Church anticipated a cost of $100,000 for a sanctuary to seat 1300.

J.B. Danhof reported on the dedicatory services of the new church edifice in Hull on December 3, 1925. And what a dedication it was! H. Danhof started at 1 p.m. and preached a “full ninety minutes” in Dutch. G.M. Ophoff mounted the platform next, and finished his speech at 5 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., H. Hoeksema addressed the audience (in Dutch) for ninety minutes on “Classical Hierarchy,” explaining the history of the controversy in the CRC and the wrongful deposing of officebearers. The audience’s appreciation speaks volumes.

More sobering is the sudden absence of any of the Danhofs’ columns in the SB from volume three on, indicating a significant schism in the already tiny group.

Yet much joy is evident in the announcements (complete with a studio picture) of graduates from the seminary—two in 1927, and then two years later, six graduates ready to serve the growing churches. The SB records the trios of the various vacant congregations. It also reports on the “Zestal” formed by Waupun, WI—all six candidates on the nomination. I wonder how long that congregational meeting lasted.

One can also read discouragement between the lines of SB print from time to time—when the audience at the annual RFPA meetings was sparse; when subscriptions were down, and criticism was up. No doubt this reflected somewhat the spiritual climate of the churches.

From the mid-1930s into the 40s, the SB regularly directed the attention of the PRC to significant events in the Netherlands. With some thirty exchanges with Dutch religious magazines, the SB was on top of the turmoil in the GKN—conflicts that would result ultimately in the deposition of officebearers, including Dr. Klass Schilder, and the formation of the Liberated Churches. No faithful reader (of the Dutch, that is) of the SB in those days would have been unaware of the pressures building, though no one could have foreseen the ultimate effect on the PRC.

The SB was a lightning rod in the conflict over conditions in the covenant that raged in the PRC in the late 40s and early 50s. H.H. commented in those days that the future of the PRC did not look good to him. He was right; the churches split in 1953. The dreadful bitterness in the aftermath is all too evident in the pages of the SB. It is not pleasant reading. Even H.H., the giant of a man who could maintain proper Christian deportment even when criticizing the CRC, could not do the same, always, with the ministers who forsook the truth that Ophoff and he had impressed upon them. That feelings ran high is understandable. The ministers who left had nearly destroyed the Protestant Reformed Churches in the process. The wounds were deep and painful.

But the important thing is boldly announced in the SB, namely, the Reformed Semi-Monthly and the PRC had not forsaken the glorious heritage of sovereign grace and the unconditional covenant of grace. God had preserved the Protestant Reformed Churches and the precious truth entrusted to them.

The subsequent recovery of the PRC is also reflected in the SB. The return to normalcy, the growth, the mission activity at home and abroad, along with the struggles that mission problems can bring, the announcements of new congregations being formed—it’s all recorded in the SB. Surely it is a living, eighty-year record of a true church of Jesus Christ doing battle, struggling, wounded, yet persevering in the spiritual warfare. It is a record, therefore, of God’s faithfulness.

…to be continued.