Events and Trends in the U.S. in the Past Twenty-Five Years

This being the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of THE OUTLOOK (fonnerly TORCH AND TRUMPET), three articles on events and trends in church life during the past twenty-five years are being published at this time. Rev. Henry Vander Kam, pastor of Grace Christian Reformed Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan, writes on Events and Trends in the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. During the Past Twenty-Five Years.

For anyone who writes on the above mentioned topic, as this writer was requested to do, there arc various dangers which immediately come to mind. Which events of the last twenty-five years will prove to be the most significant in the long run? We are, perhaps, still standing too close to them to be able to make the proper selection.

Then to interpret the events of these last twenty-five years so that trends come to light is even more difficult. Each attempt to do this will naturally be a personal view which future years will prove to be correct or incorrect. This contribution, therefore, docs not claim to be a ready insert for churchhistory textbooks of the future. Yet, we should try to understand our present situation in the light of the events of the past quarter century.

Would someone who had been out of touch with the Christian Reformed Church since 1951 recognize that church today? Would he feel at home in this communion? I believe the answer would be “Yes” to both questions. Of course, things have changed, but that fact in itself is not cause for alarm. Time brings its own changes naturally.

A span of twenty-five years is almost the life span of a generation. The leaders of twenty-five years ago are now retired or no longer in the land of the living. Others have come to take their place. Two new papers came on the scene at approximately the same time twenty-five years ago. In the early part of the past quarter century the “Seminary Situation” faced the church. Some years later the “Infallibility Question” was placed before Synod. Shortly after this “the Love of God” discussion took place and demanded the attention of more than one Synod. Doctrinal and ethical questions played a prominent role in the discussions of these years.

As we look back over these years there are so many things which cause those who love the church to be filled with a spirit of awe and gratitude. At the beginning of this period of time we had one college–now we have three! Both Calvin College and Seminary moved from the former location to a new campus of such beauty, size, and accommodations which we would have considered an impossible dream twentyfive years ago. The thousands of graduates from our institutions are now found dispersed throughout our country and are making their influence felt in every field. If they all remain true to the Reformed faith their leavening influence will be one of the greatest contributions the Christian Reformed Church can ever make to our time. Our Christian Schools never cease to amaze those outside of our own communion. The giving of our people to make all the above possible is reason for true gratitude.

The expansion of missions, both foreign and domestic, has been phenomenal. By radio the Christian Reformed Church now proclaims the Reformed faith to people around the world. The hand of mercy, which was weak twenty-five years ago, is now extended on a world-wide basis through the World Relief Committee. Even the size of the denomination has increased significantly during the last twentyfive years. Using the statistics of the 1951 and the 1975 Yearbooks we note that the number of families increased from 37,102 to 63,645 and the number of members from 154,950 to 280,910.

For all these things we are grateful. Many more blessings were received than we are able to enumerate. It is important that we recognize the good hand of our God over us in these past years. “Forget not all His benefits.”

However, we are still in the militant church. God has blessed faithful and obedient work in the past and He will continue to do so in the future. We are called to faithfulness and obedience, and anything less than that will not receive Divine approval. Twenty-five years of history should teach us gratitude for the blessings received and make us alert to the dangers which threaten. The faithfulness of our God should make us zealous for the purity of His church here on earth.

As we see it, there is indeed reason for concern regarding the Christian Reformed Church in the light of some of the emphases which have come to the fore in the past quarter century. Has the church lost her first love? Who would be able to answer this question? Yet, it is the question the church may not ignore. The exalted Christ has many good things to say about the church in Ephesus—its external deportment was good and its activities were many but the church was in danger of extinction because the first love was no longer present. What is that “first love”? It is that ardent love to the Christ which is ready to bear all things for His name’s sake. It is that zeal for His cause here on earth so that nothing may interfere with its prosperity. Our fathers sought to be Reformed in all things, to be able to give expression to that love and zeal. They were ready to be maligned and persecuted for the Reformed faith. Is that also true of the present generation? How many people leave our churches for reasons of marriage or convenience of distance?

Never, in the history of our church have so many ministers left the church for one reason or another. Why is this? Do we still have the true Biblical view of the nature of the church and the meaning of office? It is high time that our theologians J;ive us the fruit of their study on these matters for the benefit of the entire church. No one is able to evaluate adequately the preaching throughout the entire denomination. But, impressions received from various places does not lead one to the conclusion that it is improving. Is the Catechism still faithfully preached in all the churches every Sunday? Is the Catechism or the Compendium still taught our youth in all the churches? Societies, especially Men’s Societies, have disappeared in many places or are very poorly attended. Why is this? Do we still have the proper view of the Scriptures as the only means to build up the spiritual life of the members of the church?

One cannot evaluate the condition of the church without considering the condition of our homes. Would anyone contend that the spiritual level of our homes is better than twenty-five years ago? What are the reasons for decline on this score? Of course, many factors would have to be considered in a thorough study of this problem. However, there are certain things which are rather obvious. Few or no children—because we are now in control of such matters. This enables the wife or mother to work outside the home—sometimes indeed for good reasons—but more often to make us even more affluent in this affluent time. Many arguments have been used to favor this situation, but we are paying the price!

These trends, as outlined above, ought to cause us to take inventory. It is a drift in a certain direction. When we see certain directions being taken we ought to consider whether or not they are the proper ones.

Yes, I do believe that a person who had been out of contact with the Christian Reformed Church since 1951 would still recognize this church and feel at home in it. We still maintain our Confessions. We still bow to the same Lord and listen to His Word. In many ways we have made tremendous progress. But, let us not be blind to the dangers which threaten to take away everything we hold dear.

The Christian Reformed Church has been called everything from “a sleeping giant” to a “shorn Samson.” Neither appellation is flattering and I, for one, accept neither characterization. It is the church I love and to which I have devoted my life. Then only are we able to rejoice in the blessings which have been received and filled with concern for the dangers which threaten!

Ob, church! Hold fast what thou hast!