Delivered at the annual meeting of the Reformed Free Publishing Association 

September 25, 1958, at Grand Rapids 

THE STANDARD BEARER AND OUR MISSION WORK 

Mr. Chairman, Beloved Brethren:

I count it a privilege to speak this evening in the interest of our Standard Bearer and of the RFPA. I am thankful that as a member of the second generation of our churches, I may do this. You know, The Standard Bearer and I are equally old; we both had our birth in the year 1923. And, I say, I am thankful that we still have our Standard Bearer, and that I may speak in behalf of it.

The Board asked me to speak about the relation between ,The Standard Bearer and the official mission work of our Protestant Reformed Churches,—a rather big subject for a little speech of forty minutes, but I will try to touch on some fundamentals.

At the same time, I was informed that The Standard Bearer faces somewhat of a crisis in its existence. Probably these crises have become more or less a perennial matter. And undoubtedly the difficulty has been accentuated by the ravages of the “split” in our churches. But I want to say very candidly, after having considered some of the facts and figures concerning our magazine, that this crisis is indeed serious—so serious, I must say, that if the present trend would continue, The Standard Bearer might die.

Let me add at once, however, that I am not basically pessimistic. If that were the case, I would give up and not even speak here tonight. I am confident that basically and principally our people know and love the Reformed truth. I am confident that our people know their calling to bear witness to the truth. And therefore I am confident that our people will recognize their calling to witness through our Standard Bearer also! Thus I am not pessimistic, but confident that if only our people are reminded of that calling, they will not allow The Standard Bearer to die, but will want to maintain it and see it prosper.

On these matters I want to touch, therefore, rather concretely, as I speak on:

The Standard Bearer and our Mission Work

I. The Position of our Standard Bearer

II. Its Relation to our Mission Work

III. Our Calling to Promote The Standard Bearer

In order to deal properly with this subject, we must remind ourselves, first of all, of the character and position of The Standard Bearer from its very inception. We will not meet with anything new in this connection, but merely remind ourselves of the facts. This is necessary in order to understand the relation ofThe Standard Bearer to our mission efforts. In fact, it is the fundamental premise of all my remarks that The Standard Bearer is of exactly this character, and that it must be maintained in its present position and character.

What is this character of our magazine?

The Standard Bearer purposes to be a free witness to the Reformed truth, as also the name “Reformed Free Publishing Association” indicates. The RFPA purposes give such a free witness to the Reformed truth by publication, chiefly, of our Standard Bearer, as well as by other publications, such as booklets and brochures, of which it has made use often in the past.

This implies, in the first place, that the RFPA purposes to give forth a specifically Reformed testimony. What does this mean? Very succinctly, as our editor-in-chief expressed it once, this means that it purposes to witness concerning the covenant of the Lord our God, as He Himself realizes it through Christ Jesus our Lord, according to His sovereign good pleasure, in the way of sin and grace, along the antithetical lines of election and reprobation, and that too, in connection with the organic development of all things. In the second place, The Standard Bearer is a witness. This implies that it is distinct as to the nature of its testimony from the official ministry of the Word. The Standard Bearer is not a missionary, though it has sometimes been loosely referred to as such. The preaching of the Word is the task of the instituted church through its pastors and teachers. The Standard Bearer and the RFPA, on the other hand, belong to the organism of the church. They function in virtue of the office of all believers. And this is indeed important, practically speaking. It means that The Standard Bearer is yours. It is your testimony. To have this magazine and its witness is your privilege. And to make its testimony as effective and far-reaching as possible is your calling and responsibility. Finally, this implies also that The Standard Bearer is free. This does not mean that it is a doctrinal freebooter. It does not imply either that it is absolutely separate from the institute of the church, that it perhaps despises the institute. That cannot be: The Standard Bearer is Reformed! But is does not imply that our paper is not institutionally bound. It is not a church paper. It is not and cannot be hamstrung by ecclesiastical bonds and mere formal institutional bonds and directives and decisions. The church, when it becomes corrupt, cannot silence the testimony of The Standard Bearer. What, then, binds our magazine and prevents it from being licentious? Only one power: the love of the Reformed truth. That is, after all, greater and more powerful and more fundamental than any mere institutional bond. And that true freedom has characterized The Standard Bearer from its very beginning,—when the papers of the Christian Reformed Church were closed to the Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof,—down to the present day.

Let me emphasize once more: The Standard Bearermust be maintained in that character of a free Reformed witness. We must never be tempted to change this even though it may at times seem attractive to convert it into an official Protestant Reformed Church magazine. 

But there is another question which we must answer in order to have a complete picture of the nature of ourStandard Bearer. It is this: with reference to whom and to what has The Standard Bearer purposed to witness, both within and without the circle of our churches? 

In general, our magazine purposes to give testimony concerning any and all issues pertinent to the cause of the truth and to the cause of Christendom at large. And our purpose is to reach as much of Christendom as possible. In this respect the scope of our witness is unlimited. And throughout the years The Standard Bearer, as a survey of its past volumes will reveal, has not hesitated to let its voice be heard whenever it could serve the cause of the truth. More specifically, however, The Standard Bearer has purposed to witness concerning those aspects and issues of the truth that concerned Reformed believers and Reformed churches everywhere, but especially here and in the Netherlands. There are always’ such issues in Reformed circles. And with regard to them, whether they were doctrinal or practical, The Standard Bearerhas ever attempted to sound a distinctively Reformed note and to shed the light of the Word of God upon them. It has done so both for the benefit of our Protestant Reformed readership and for the benefit of those people and churches immediately concerned with such issues. But still more specifically, The Standard Bearer has persistently given testimony concerning those issues of the truth which have arisen in Christian Reformed circles, and has purposed to reach with its witness concerning those issues not only our own people, but the Christian Reformed constituency. As is well known, especially the issues of “1924” have been the constant concern of The Standard Bearer

This is according to history. It has been the history ofThe Standard Bearer from its very beginning. In fact, when The Standard Bearer first began to let its voice be heard, there were no Protestant Reformed Churches; its editors and publishers were still Christian Reformed, and concerned vitally about the welfare of God’s Zion as represented in the Christian Reformed Churches. And ever since that time, that testimony has continued, so much so that The Standard Bearer has more than once been called the “voice of conscience” of the Christian Reformed Churches and of Reformed groups generally. This does not mean that our magazine has issued a purely negative witness and that it thrives on denials, as has been charged more than once. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Standard Bearer has maintained and developed and promulgated the positive line of the pure Reformed truth. It has done so distinctively. It has done so with great benefit for the cause of the Reformed faith. But it has always done so,—and this is always necessary for those who would maintain the truth,—over against all kinds of departures from that truth. And this remains the specific calling and undying obligation of the RFPA. It must purpose to reach those persons and those groups that are departing or are in danger of departing from the pure Reformed faith. And it must touch on, must maintain and defend the truth, over against all kinds of departures, but especially over against those errors which were officially promulgated by the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924. That belongs to our history and our origin. And we cannot possibly deny that history or ignore it. To do so would be fatal! And therefore, as the late Rev. H. Danhof once wrote, using the words of Hosea 2, our calling as a Protestant Reformed people also in this organization of the RFPA is and remains: “Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts.” 

Now what is the relation, if any, between this witness of our Standard Bearer and the official mission labors of our churches? 

As to the nature of the question, we may notice that it views only one aspect of our Standard Bearer, that aspect which has to do with those who are outside the pale of our churches. The witness of our paper is certainly not only for them. By means of The Standard Bearer we surely intend to witness among ourselves and to ourselves, to all our Prot. Ref. people. We purpose to witness to the next generation of our churches, to our covenant young people. But now we are dealing with the witness which we purpose to give beyond the pale of our churches, to other churches and to members of other churches. And then the question is: does The Standard Bearer truly have a place, or does it perhaps usurp the place of missions? If it has a place, what is it? Does it give testimony entirely in separation from the testimony of our official mission work? What is the scope of its witness? What is its use, its purpose? Does it depend on our official mission work in any way? Does it stand in subordination to it? Does it serve the purpose of our mission labor? Does it perhaps accomplish anything that our mission effort cannot very well accomplish? These questions must be answered, first of all; from the point of view of principle; and then we can also make a practical survey of them. 

Our answer is, in the first place, that there is no conflict, but fundamental harmony between the witness of ourStandard Bearer and our mission labors. This cannot be different. For there is no conflict between the organic witness of the body of believers and the institutional ministry of the Word. The relation between them is fundamentally one of harmony. And if it is true, and it is true, that our Standard Bearer is part of that organic witness of the church, then it follows also thatthere is no conflict, but harmony, between The Standard Bearer and the official ministry of the Word whether the ministry within the church or the ministry of missions. In the second place, we may also say that both The Standard Bearer and the official missions of the church have the same fundamental content and purpose. They both intend to reach those who are without our churches with the message concerning the covenant of our. God, as He Himself realizes it through our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His sovereign good pleasure, in the way of sin and grace, along the antithetical lines of election and reprobation, and that too, in connection with the organic development of all things. But they differ as to source and means and way. The one is organic; the other is institutional. The one is a witness; the other is the official proclamation of the Word of God. The one makes use of the printed word; the other is the lively preaching of the Word. In the third place, we may say that there is a mutual relationship between the two. Principally, first of all, the organic witness of the church is always dependent upon the preaching of the Word by the church institute as a means of grace. This is also true of The Standard Bearer; so that there certainly would not even be a witness of our magazine if there were not the preaching of the Word. This does not mean that the organic witness of the church is dependent upon the particular institution of the Protestant Reformed Churches. In the abstract, it is conceivable that the Protestant Reformed Churches become corrupt, that the preaching of the Word is corrupted by them, but that the witness of our Standard Bearer goes on and remains pure. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental relation of dependence here. For remember: it is not some individual officebearers who preach the Word, but the church through the God-instituted offices. And therefore, on the one hand, when the church no more prizes the pure preaching of the Word, it will no more bear witness to the truth organically. And on the other hand, when the church organically ceases to care about bearing witness to the truth of God’s Word, it will also become corrupt institutionally and will no more purely preach the Word of God. And so we may see, in the fourth place, that there is a relation of service between the witness of the church and its institutional mission labor. The former stands, ought to stand, in the service of the latter. And the latter makes use of, ought to capitalize upon, the testimony of the former. 

How does this work out practically? How ought it to work out? 

First of all, The Standard Bearer can surely serve as a powerful means to instruct and edify our own people. This is of prime importance. But you say: what does this have to do with mission work? My answer is: everything. For the source of the preaching must be kept pure and vigorous, That source is the church. AndThe Standard Bearer as a witness to the truth among ourselves and to ourselves is an outstanding medium to instruct and to inform and to edify our Protestant Reformed constituency and thus to assist in keeping the source of our official mission testimony pure and vigorous and alive. 

In the second place, The Standard Bearer is a ready and efficient means to reach many outside the pale of our churches with the truth. Even the world recognizes the tremendous power of the printed word. And as The Standard Bearer funds its clear and continual witness to the truth as it is maintained and developed in our Prot. Reformed Churches in harmony with the Word of God and our Reformed Confessions, it can and should exert great influence, especially in Reformed circles. As such it can reach and influence other Reformed churches by its witness, staunchly defending the faith, warning against departure, sounding a distinctively Reformed note for others to hear and heed. It has done so in the past. And who can measure the influence it has exercised upon other Reformed groups, both here and in the old country? Who can tell how often and in how far it has acted in restraint of erring and liberalizing tendencies? In this connection, our paper can even be the means to prepare the way for contact and correspondence with other groups. And also in this respect I think our Standard Bearer has served in no little way to gain the attention and respect of others for the persistent and distinctive testimony of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Moreover, the witness of our Standard Bearer can certainly reach many people who could not possibly be reached by our official mission efforts. And it can reach them in a way that our official mission labors do not and cannot reach them frequently. The missionary and his word do not remain after he has left a home; The Standard Bearercan call regularly twice a month and can remain in the home to be read and studied and digested. And in this respect our magazine can also serve not only as an aid in preparing the way for official mission labors, as it has more than once in the past, but can, as long as it remains faithful to the truth, be used also by our missionary(ies) to aid in the propagation of the truth of God’s Word. But, finally, regardless of concrete, visible, tangible results, we must witness at every possible opportunity and through every possible channel and must let our witness reach as far as possible. This is our God-given calling. The fruits and the results are God’s, and they are in His hand. And our Standard Bearer can certainly serve as such a witness, and can positively be a source of support and instruction and guidance and encouragement in any home where there still remains a love for the Reformed faith. 

Hence, we have a calling. We are highly privileged, let me say, with a calling. That calling is that we maintain and promote the cause of our Standard Bearer. Never let us consider that a heavy burden, to be carried perhaps unwillingly; but let us count it a high privilege from our God! 

That calling includes this, that we must use The Standard Bearer, as much as in us lies, as an instrument of witness to those who are outside of our churches. We must use it too in conjunction with and, in support of our mission efforts we must use it, let me add, with the support of our official mission. We must use it wherever possible! 

What does this mean practically? At this juncture I must be severely critical. But my criticism will not only be negative; it will be constructive as well. And then I must say that there is much, very much, to be desired as far as our witness to those outside is concerned. There are only265 copies of The Standard Bearer at present that go to persons and institutions outside of our churches. That means very plainly that our witness is not nearly as far-reaching as it should be. Many issues of our magazine that should, because of their contents, by all means reach others, are ineffective in their testimony. When criticism is offered of the doctrine and practice of others (for example, the recent criticism of the Rev. Verduin’s diagnosis of the ills of Christian Reformed missions), then that criticism should not only benefit our own people, but should also reach those who are most vitally concerned. If we fail in this respect, the witness of our Standard Bearer fails largely, And tonight we ought to face this fact very candidly and very seriously: the witness of ourStandard Bearer to those outside our churches has become largely ineffectual. This must be changed! There was a time when this was different. There was a time when the RFPA through The Standard Bearerand through brochures and booklets propagated the truth much more extensively, and reached many a home with its clear testimony and entered many a parsonage with its clarion call to the truth. That “golden age” of our RFPA and our Standard Bearer must be revived. 

How must this be done? 

First of all, I propose that the cause of The Standard Bearer and especially the cause of the Reformed Free Publishing Association must be brought home to the consciousness of all our people. I do not refer now merely to the reading of and subscribing to The Standard Bearer. In that respect we are doing rather well at present, and we have a high percentage of readership among our people. But I refer to the RFPA as an organization to witness to the truth actively. Do you know that the RFPA itself is little known and seldom thought of outside of the Grand Rapids area. There are those of our people who do not even know what those initials, “RFPA”, stand for! And therefore, the primary thing is to go out among our people and revive the RFPA itself. Whether that requires the establishment of branch organizations in our other churches, or whether this can be best accomplished, for example, in the Midwest by establishing closer contact with the Society for Protestant Reformed Action (one of whose purposes was to further the cause of our Standard Bearer), or whether somehow we could gather a large and interested associate or sustaining membership outside the Grand Rapids area,—these details can be worked out. What I want to emphasize now is that the very idea and purpose of the RFPA must be brought home to the hearts of our people. And even if it takes a representative of the Board to go out through the country and to do this personally, the RFPA must be promoted among our people. This is the basic element of any solution. 

In the second place, there must necessarily be financial support. It stands to reason that the higher the number of paid subscriptions is, the nearer The Standard Bearer comes to being self-sustaining. We are far from that now. But that is not really the goal. The idea is to get The Standard Bearer out beyond the pale of our churches as much as possible. We must do more than pay for The Standard Bearer as it is at present. We must expand it and extend its witness and send it out free to many homes. To do this, we must put an end to the era of shrinking subscriptions and rising subscription i&es. I grant that this trend was accentuated by the fact that in the time of the split many became unfaithful and defected irom the ranks ofThe Standard Bearer. Burt this must be stopped. If it is not, we will put ourselves off the market. Secondly, we must take steps to get The Standard Bearer on a sound and steady and systematic footing financially. The economic diet of the hand-to-mouth existence of some subscription fees plus some hit-or-miss collections of uncertain amount ought to be changed, so that the Board has a steady income to work with and to expand the witness of our Standard Bearer. Thirdly, in this sup port of the RFPA our churches could and should join. An outright subsidy, in recognition of the fact that our Standard Bearer serves the cause of our missions, would not be amiss. Besides, we can use The Standard Bearer directly and distribute it in our church extension work. Why should not the Mission Board take upon itself the task of financing and distributing a few hundred free subscriptions to our magazine? This was attempted once in the past, according to a notice which I read in one of the older volumes of The Standard Bearer. And in our Illinois churches the local church extension committee of the two consistories there is at present busy with that very thing. This, if it is paid for at the going rate, will both spread The Standard Bearer and assist it financially. 

Undoubtedly more suggestions can be made. 

But let us get busy. At present the witness of ourStandard Bearer is very small and growing smaller. This trend must be reversed. 

The RFPA, and especially its Board, must not be satisfied to “get along.” As far as the regular affairs ofThe Standard Bearer are concerned, we would not really need a Board. A capable business manager could take care of them alone. But the Board must address itself vigorously to the task of the promotion and furtherance of the cause of The Standard Bearerand the RFPA and to the task of expanding its witness. We must go forward or we will go backward! This task will take dedicated effort, hard work, sacrifice. When you look at the results, you will perhaps often be disheartened. You will probably find sometimes that your task is a thankless one. 

But if in this way we obey our calling to witness wholeheartedly, God will bless us, and God will bless our Standard Bearer, and God will bless its witness. Of that I am sure. 

I thank you. 

—H.C.H.