The Standard Bearer: Loving Service of the Church
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Image: Table of contents for The Standard Bearer's Vol 100, No.1
The Standard Bearer exists for Christ’s church. Our writers labor for the magazine because they love the church too. You read our magazine most likely because you also love the church.
Exactly 99 years ago (October 1, 1924), the men of the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) began production of the Standard Bearer, because they loved the church, which they saw in mortal danger. Love drove them to organize the association—in the service of, but ‘free’ from official oversight of, the church. The magazine would be written for no other reason than the wellbeing of their church. Love for the church would not allow the men quickly to leave her. They would work until their writings, in God’s good pleasure, either corrected their mother or (the last thing they wanted) brought about their ouster from her fellowship.
If you peruse the first volumes of the Standard Bearer, you will see that.(1) In 1924 love manifested itself in warning the church of her departure from Scripture’s teaching of sovereign grace, in calling the church to hold fast the traditions of the Reformed faith and, later, in calling to separate from her for her errors. “The Latest Ecclesiastical Strife,” “Striving Against Your Mother,” “Misinformation from Abroad,” “A ‘Christian’ Church to Weep Over,” were some of the articles’ titles in the early years.(2) Rev. Hoeksema began a long series of articles about the false teachings in the “Three Points of Common Grace.” Rev. Ophoff wrote “A Declaration” explaining why he also would be part of the staff. Others added their voices. Soon it would become obvious to the writers that the church they loved would not be corrected. Yet the news article inviting to the “Field Day” (1925) still said, “...of the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.” The writers loved their church.
I trust that I speak for all the writers in 2023 when I say that we write because we have the same love for our Lord’s precious church. We love the PRCA. We love the PRCA’s sisters and friends. We love the true church in all the world. Therefore, we write. Still today, although the RFPA is a parachurch organization (alongside the church, but not the church) the RFPA’s goal is the edification of the church and never merely individual Christians apart from the church’s institute.
It is good to be clear about what we mean. We love the church, our church, not just the concept church. There is a difference. For example, it is possible (but wrong) to love the concept ‘covenant,’ which love then is expressed by writing about, explaining, and defending the truth of the covenant but not by living the life of the covenant with God and God’s people. Likewise, it is possible to love the concept ‘church’ without loving any particular church or churches by living in them and doing them good. Standard Bearer writers love the church, live in and for her, and write with the aim of building her up—the PRCA and other churches worldwide.
I love my own denomination, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, the denomination of which I am a member and servant as a seminary professor. I love Hudsonville (MI) PRCA, the congregation where my family’s membership has been for almost 30 years. I love all the congregations, large and small, of the PRCA. I write for them. And not only for them, but for all those who read the magazine and love Christ’s church in the PRCA and elsewhere. May God use our magazine for the good of all of you.
Why I love the church can be explained by many things. Probably the best explanation is that God used my Christian upbringing in a very small church in California to instill it in me. In the church, among the saints, our family blessed Jehovah. From my youth, although my parents never spoke the words, “You must love the church,” their life did. In 1948, my father moved from Minnesota to Redlands at age 19 to teach in the PRC parents’ small Christian school, until they lost the school in the schism of 1953. Shortly thereafter, he often served on consistory, reading sermons in our vacancies and teaching catechism. He served on the school’s board. He never called our attention to it, but we noticed it. With all the other men of the congregation, he gave how many Saturdays of donated labor to construct a new sanctuary; and that, only shortly after they did the same thing to build the Christian school—with their own hands. Probably the most striking testimony of that love to a young man growing up with five siblings in a small house on a 50-foot lot was when Dad declined promotions to more lucrative positions in the State Highway department. Why? “It would re quire us to move to Sacramento, and Redlands is where our church is.” Dad and Mom loved the church. What young person would not notice this display of love?
I love the church because she is my mother. God is my Father, and His church is my mother, as Christians have said since Augustine. The church’s preaching nurtured me in the faith, even when I did not always listen or appreciate it. In catechism, she taught me the wondrous love of Jesus. She searched me out when I wandered. In her bosom was nurtured the wife the Lord provided me, and then our children, and now our grandchildren. I love her and all her members and officebearers.
I love her because Jesus loves her and commands me to have the same affection and offer the same sacrifice for her good. “The church He loveth well.” Thus, so do I.
There are plenty of reasons not to love the church. That is, with a certain flawed idea of love as a warm feeling.
With that definition, there are good reasons for my wife not to love me, too. Thankfully, Christian wives look beyond our weaknesses and sins to the work of Christ in us. They also hear Christ’s call to love their husbands, not by always having warm feelings toward them, but by seeking their good and sacrificing themselves to accomplish their good. Whether I have a warm feeling toward the church depends on what aspect of the church I am looking at. With some things I am disgusted. With others I am frustrated. At times, assemblies’ decisions disturb me. The behavior of some members is discouraging to say the least. And while the fault in these attitudes is mine, the sins and weaknesses are real. But I want to look beyond the church’s weaknesses, see what God sees in the church, and love her not first by feeling warm toward her but by giving myself to her—a flawed and at times very weak body.
The church is imperfect. Officebearers are but men. Assemblies make mistakes. Members are sinful.
But our sinful natures feed on these thoughts. So we let them grow into bitterness against the church, into hypercritical attitudes that bleed down into our children. If we are not careful, soon we entertain thoughts about leaving her for another. Not because the new church has so many less flaws, but because of disgust with the church God put us in. Such is our disgust that we may be willing to swallow camels while we strain out other evils, even if they are larger than gnats. Maybe we leave the church altogether.
We can be helped by Calvin, who learned from Augustine, who learned from Cyprian, all of whom spoke from the experience of living in a sinful church. Here’s Calvin:
…Augustine argues against the Donatists: that individual laymen, if they see vices not diligently enough corrected by the council of elders, should not therefore at once depart from the church; and that the pastors themselves, if they cannot cleanse all that needs correction according to their hearts’ desire, should not for that reason resign their ministry or disturb the entire church with unaccustomed rigor....“He who diligently ponders these things,” Augustine says, “neither neglects severe discipline in the maintenance of unity, nor by intemperate correction breaks the bond of fellowship.” ...From this point he [Augustine] concludes with Cyprian: “Let a man mercifully correct what he can; let him patiently bear what he cannot correct, and groan and sorrow over it with love.”(3)
I love the church in the way a man loves his family. At times, he sees so many weaknesses and shortcomings that he may be tempted to reject them. But he looks beyond their flaws, many of which are his own, and loves them with the genuine love of God. He wants their good; he plans to carry out their good; and, fighting against every bad feeling he has towards them, he dies doing them good because God calls him to do so.
I love the church. With God’s grace, I look beyond the weaknesses of the members, the flaws of the office bearers, the mistakes of the assemblies—most of which I find in myself and perhaps are even because of me—and ask some questions: Does my church manifest the marks of the true church? Is the pure gospel preached here? Are the sacraments properly administered here? Is Christian discipline exercised in punishing of sin? They are. In my church and churches, do I find members with the marks of Christians: they believe Christ, avoid sin, follow the right, love God and their neighbor, turn neither to the right nor left, crucify their flesh with its works, and fight against their remaining infirmities, taking refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ? I do. And I love them.
The Standard Bearer exists for the sake of the church and her members.
There are many things a magazine can do for the church, which this magazine wishes to do until the Lord returns. For old and young. In the service of orthodox teaching, sound church government, pure and spiritual worship, holiness of life, the church’s witness to the world, and her hope for the world to come. Week after week, even when discouragements pile up. Year after year, when we pray the Lord speed His return. We will write when we are crying, “O wherefore hast Thou cast us off, O God, our God of old?” And we will pray, when we see the ruin foes have wrought, “Remember Thy inheritance, Thy church, redeemed by grace; Remember Zion’s mount profaned, Thy ancient dwellingplace.”
By God’s grace, and with the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts, the Standard Bearer authors will continue to write for your good. Even when it is “not songs but sighs” that belong to us, we will write.
May our good God keep the PRCA, and all other true churches of Christ in the world.
We love you. But more importantly: “God thy Maker loves thee well; He has chosen Thee, most precious, He delights in Thee to dwell…” (Psalter #237). I love the church.
(1) The RFPA is getting closer, but is still 15 volume years away from making available all the old issues with the click of a button. As of this writing, you can find online the issues from the present back to 1938, but not earlier. Yet.
(2) Some are my translations of the Dutch.
(3) Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2 (4.12.11). Ford L. Battles, ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 1238–39.