Time’s “Man of the Year”?

Annually, Time magazine chooses a “man of the year” and places his picture on the front cover. Could you imagine, even in your wildest dreams, that Time should perhaps place on that cover our Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema? I could not conceive of such either. Yet, perhaps even more unbelievable, would one expect to find such a picture on the front cover of the Banner? Yet there it was—in living color—on the cover of the Banner of February 4, 1985. In the photo, behind the subject, was the painting of Luther, Calvin, and H. Hoeksema (found in our Seminary library). The Banner featured the “Protestant Reformed Perspective” and contained a report of an interview with Prof. H.C. Hoeksema, and several articles written by C.R. ministers including an editorial on the subject. Generally, the treatment given our churches was fair. Though we have often expressed disagreement with the Christian Reformed Church on various points (beginning with the “common grace” issue of 1924), and though we have been disappointed often in the way that Editor Kuyvenhoven has been using the Banner to introduce subjects which appear to create dissension in their ranks—still, there is a time when appreciation must be expressed too. We thank you, Editor Kuyvenhoven, for this issue of the Banner. We did truly appreciate it. 

In the interview with Prof. H.C. Hoeksema, some interesting questions were asked and answered. Here are just a few:

Q. And the Protestant Reformed position on these three points (of common grace)? 

A. On the first point, we maintain that the grace of God is never common, always particular, for the elect alone. The gospel is not a conditional offer to all men, and God is not willing to save all men, head for head and soul for soul. We maintain the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, which operates sovereignly in the hearts and lives of the elect only, through the preaching of the Word as a means of grace. 

On the second point, we teach that sin is not restrained in the heart of the sinner but that sin develops in history along with the organic development of the race. This doesn’t mean that every man commits all sins. But sin develops along with life in the world. Adam and Cain and his generation did not have the capacity and the means to sin as men of the twentieth century can sm. 

In connection with the third point, we take the position that the natural man, apart from the grace of God in Christ, always sins and cannot do good in all that he does. All that is not of faith is sin.

The interviewers also wanted to know about the lifestyle in the Protestant Reformed Churches. And both the question as well as the answer serves to remind us too that others observe us—and our children—to see whether we “practice what we preach.”

Q. Let’s switch the topic from theology to lifestyle. Are Protestant Reformed persons less worldly than Christian Reformed persons? 

A. I don’t say they all are, but they should be. Take the theater—your churches have justified it. I don’t say that our young people are all faithful in staying away from the theater or from the theater on television, but they should be, and our churches teach them to be. The same is true of the dance.

Concerning the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the interviewers asked also:

Q. Let’s go back to the split in 1924. Could it have been avoided? 

A. Hoeksema and Danhof were not the ones who started it. Others began to accuse them of denying common grace. At the time, if common grace had not been elevated to church doctrine, if it had been left to the area of discussion and difference but with the status of an extra-confessional matter, there never would have been a split in 1924. It was Classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West that took it upon themselves to discipline Hoeksema and Danhof and to do what the synod had refused to do. And then the 1926 Synod rejected the appeal of Hoeksema and Danhof against that.

Kuyvenhoven, in his editorial, presents his own view of our churches:

. . . The Protestant Reformed Churches need us and our sins as the justification of their separate existence. Therefore, their semi-monthly magazine (Standard Bearer) has not grown weary in sixty years of telling its readers what terrible things happen to a church that believes that in “God’s common grace” a bridge can be built from the church to the world. 

Of course, these tactics and teachings, which are essentially worldly (and of which we ourselves must repent as well), cannot please God and do not help either one of our denominations. 

In China a government simply told different denominations to join together or cease to exist. As a result, the churches united. I wonder what power it will take to bring us together.

Editor Kuyvenhoven also presents his own brief summary of the “Three Points” of ’24:

In addition to the saving grace of God, displayed to the elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace that God shows to his creatures in general

Ps. 145:9, Matt. 5:44-45,

etc. 

Without renewing the heart, God’s Spirit restrains sin in unregenerate individuals, and by the same activity he makes human society possible

Gen. 6:3, Acts 7:42, II Thess. 2:6-7,

etc. 

Although the unregenerate are incapable of doing any spiritual good, they are able to do civic good. God is the source also of that goodness and their virtue

II Kings 10:29-30, Luke 6:33, Rom. 2:14,

etc.

This summary is of interest, perhaps, more for what it omits than for what it states. There is no reference (in the first point summary) to the “free offer” of the gospel. It was that part of “common grace” which disturbed Hoeksema and Danhof most of all. 

In an article, “Is Reunion Possible?” Dr. John H. Kromminga gives his own observations concerning the Protestant Reformed Churches:

In the ensuing years, the Standard Bearer has given a good deal of attention to Christian Reformed discussions on the doctrine of reprobation and somewhat less to a wide range of issues, such as biblical criticism, dancing, and the emergence of the Mid-America Reformed Seminary. With reference to the last-named, the editor expressed shock at this new seminary’s association with the ideas of William Heyns, of whom Herman Hoeksema was a critic while a student at Calvin Seminary. The whole dreary process reflects two pertinent facts: that few Christian Reformed problems have escaped the attention of the Standard Bearer and that it is hard to find any Christian Reformed spokesman, of whatever stripe, who has a clear and proper grasp of the issues. 

There is little satisfaction in conducting a review such as this. But the facts lie before us, and they are ominous regarding any possibility of reunion. The two churches are not only no closer than they were in 1924 or 1961, but they have moved and are moving farther apart. While the Christian Reformed Church has not explored the potential of the doctrine of common grace to its fullest extent, it is far along in a more positive address to the surrounding society than it was in 1924 and is not likely to abandon the gains made. The Protestant Reformed Churches have not only added many issues to the original dispute but derive much vitality from criticism of the Christian Reformed Church. Repentance for some past mistakes might be possible from either side, but the central issue is not about to be resolved or compromised. 

There certainly are reasons to desire reunion. Believers give the world a confusing witness when they are so close in many respects and yet so divided ecclesiastically. Some observers merely find this cleavage hard to explain to the casual inquirer. Others find it difficult to justify in an age when the antithesis between faith and unbelief is as deep as ever and the church should present a united front against its real adversaries. Still others find it hard to endure, particularly when families are unable to meet peacefully together except in a conspiracy of silence. 

I would therefore welcome the demonstration that my analysis is wrong. But in all honesty I cannot see that the record supports any hope whatsoever for reunion.

The same issue contains a very favorable book review of the latest book of the Rev. George C. Lubbers, “The Glory of the True Tabernacle.” The reviewer writes:

Lubbers’ commentary on Hebrews is a careful and comprehensive exposition of one of the New Testament’s more difficult books. He identifies perceptively the primary theme as the glory of the new tabernacle. Although it is evident that he is acquainted with the original languages and makes use of scholarly tools, his reliance on them is never obtrusive. 

The careful exegesis of relevant Old Testament passages quoted in Hebrews is a major contribution to this substantial work. A devotional theme is retained throughout, and the style is clear . . . . 

A helpful book for preachers and for lay readers who wish to understand this significant apostolic work better.

For those of our readers who might want their own copy of this issue of the Banner, send $1.00 to: The Banner, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave., S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49560. Ask for the issue of February 4, 1985.