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The enduring freedom of the Standard Bearer (6 of 6): To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48)—or, the great responsibility that comes with the enduring freedom of the Standard Bearer

The enduring freedom of the Standard Bearer (6 of 6): To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48)—or, the great responsibility that comes with the enduring freedom of the Standard Bearer

This series is written by Joshua Hoekstra, current RFPA board president.


    The Standard Bearer is free. The editors are free. The editors have full authority over the contents of the magazine. The RFPA provides her full support to the Standard Bearer and her editors. But that does not mean that the RFPA and the supporters of the magazine mindlessly follow every editor. The editors are men, and men are not perfect; they sin often. How is an imperfect editor with full authority over the contents of the magazine to be dealt with then? From time to time editors face criticism.

    As we have read in the blog post on the influence of the board, the RFPA board itself has, on occasion, issued criticism and rebuke.

    This criticism also happens on the pages of the Standard Bearer. Our supporters write in with questions and comments, and opportunity is given for consideration and response. The RFPA board and the SB editors encourage you to write in with your thoughts. This keeps the magazine healthy and interesting.

    No one knows better than I that there is abundant room for criticism here. And many a time the Standard Bearer was criticized during these years. Its contents were too limited. Its articles were too long. The material it offered was too deep. I am well aware of it. Our powers are limited, and with the limited powers God gave us we must work. Then, too, in as far as the criticism was not destructive, but had a positive purpose, was offered, not by those that refuse to put on their thinking-cap and put forth effort, to read and understand, but by those that read and are interested in rendering our publication as effective as possible, it was gladly received, and did not go unheeded. (“The Standard Bearer as a Witness,” Herman Hoeksema, Standard Bearer 22 no. 6 [Dec. 15, 1945]: 130)

    Do not underestimate the influence that you, the reader of the Standard Bearer, have on the editor. While some letters are published on the pages of the magazine, many personal letters are not, nor even intended to be, published. These private letters may carry criticism as well.

    In the midst of all the criticism that has been directed against our paper, rightly or wrongly…True, throughout the years there has been much criticism. And who could expect anything else?...But are you not with me surprised that the criticism was not more severe than it actually was, especially in view of the fact that we wrote for a public that is inclined to be critical? (Herman Hoeksema, Standard Bearer 26 no. 1 [Oct.1, 1949]: 4–5)

    The business manager reads a few letters of cancellation and also a letter of appreciation from a service man. Because these letters comment on the content of the Standard Bearer both pro and con the board decides to refer all such material to the editor in chief so he may be able to gauge the general opinion of the readers of what is offered in our paper. This material to be channeled to the editor thru the publication committee. (March 20, 1952, art. 9)

    As the RFPA board worked through the relationship policy over several years, select portions of Rev. Hoeksema’s 1945 speech “The Standard Bearer as a Witness” were sometimes misunderstood. Speaking personally, it was easy for me to focus on the analogy of a school board and think that editors are like teachers at a school. However, Hoeksema’s example was not describing how the board and staff operate together; rather, his point was that the RFPA is free from ecclesiastical control just as the schools are free. Further misunderstanding occurred where Hoeksema says, “The Standard Bearer is yours…Even as our free Christian Schools are not ultimately controlled by the teachers, but by the parents; so the Standard Bearer…” But you cannot stop reading at this point. Hoeksema is subtle and careful, adding an extraordinary caveat to the statement that the SB is yours, adding, “though its contents are the care of its editors, [the SB] is your paper.” The editorial committee, in a 2011 letter to the board, explained the misunderstanding regarding the statement, “The Standard Bearer is yoursNor is it under the sovereign control of the editors…though its contents are the care of its editors, is your paper…”, and that such a misinterpretation leads to the illogical conclusion that all men and women control SB content. In this letter the editorial staff points out: “Hoeksema was not speaking of control. He was not saying that the magazine was under the control of all the men and women in the denomination.”

    Just four years after the speech, Rev. Hoeksema himself made clear that “The editors…are not under the jurisdiction, either of the Church or of the board of the RFPA.” His 1945 speech did not signal nor result in a change to the established procedure.

    The sense in which the Standard Bearer belongs to the association and the entire readership is as their witness, as Rev. Hoeksema explained. “Tell them the Standard Bearer is theirs, that they ought to consider it a privilege that, in virtue of their office of believers, they may work for the sending forth of this testimony far and wide; and that they ought to assume their responsibility in this respect.” Hoeksema notes that the association “sponsors” the Standard Bearer, but he does not speak of the association owning the SB in the sense of jurisdiction over content.

    To the supporters of the Standard Bearer and RFPA: thank you for your support. It is much needed, especially today. Write of your support, tell us what you think, give as you are blessed, share this with others, and above all these things pray. Pray for the Standard Bearer and the RFPA. Pray for wisdom, pray for boldness, pray for humility, and pray that God will continue to use the Standard Bearer as his witness.

    And join us. Join the RFPA. You can do this at our annual September association meeting. The RFPA needs you to help ensure the witness and freedom of the Standard Bearer.

    Tomorrow, a short postscript on this series.

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