Thoughts multiplied within me as I stood in line recently to view the remains of the Reverend Henry J. Kuiper. One of them which will not down is the impression that with the passing of this man and others of his generation we arc witnessing the end of an era in the history of the Christian Reformed Church.
KUIPER’S POSITION IN THE CHURCH
It would be wrong to call H. J. Kuiper a controversial figure, even though he took part in all the major controversies in the Church of the past fifty years. In all of them he fought valiantly for what he believed to be right and true. He fought issues, not persons! In 1918 a leading minister was deposed because of deviation from the creedal positions of the Church. Kuiper considered the action justified, even though the minister deposed was his brother-in-law. When a controversy arose a few years later involving a seminary professor, Kuiper stood in the front ranks of those who would not tolerate even the slightest tampering with the sacred Scriptures.
It was something in connection with the Common Grace controversy of 1924, however, which illustrates the size of the man. A candidate for the office of the ministry who stood publicly committed to what Kuiper regarded as a deviating view of the doctrine of Common Grace received and accepted a Call to a congregation in his classis. The question arose: Should this brother be admitted to the examination? There was sharp difference of opinion. Kuiper contended that admission was unwarranted. I can still remember him saying at one point in the debate: “If classis goes through with this, I shall feel myself compelled to request my consistory to withdraw temporarily from the Christian Reformed denomination until the issue be fought out on the floor of synod.”
That statement took a great deal of moral courage, a quality which our brother already demonstrated then when he was comparatively a young man. The examination did not take place. but when the same person revealed a change of heart a few years later and sought to enter upon the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. he found H. J. Kuiper to be a friend and helper. If my memory serves me right. the first worship service conducted by the candidate in question in the Christian Reformed denomination was from Kuiper’s pulpit. Such actions do not indicate a narrow-minded person! Kuiper was both an earnest contender for the Truth and a Christian gentleman.
It is not to betray a secret when I state that H. J. Kuiper watched certain recent developments in the Church with grave apprehension. The difficulty that appeared in our Seminary faculty in the mid-fifties and the recent debate on the infallibility of the Bible he regarded as symptoms of a disease that reaches below the surface. And those of us who were closely associated with him know how distressed he was when he had to see in the closing days of his life his church’s critical posture toward worldly amusements held up to ridicule in the Calvin College Chimes.
Where lay his strength? Why did he assume so uncompromising an attitude? Was he just a brawler, delighting to fight? Did he derive pleasure from creating sensation and from the hurt it might cause certain people? Those who knew him truly know better!
H. J. Kuiper had a passionate love for the Reformed Faith and for the Church which he served for some fifty-five years as a Minister of the Gospel. That devotion was exceeded only by his love for the Lord. No wonder that his heart hied when a young minister rudely and impudent1y flung in his face while attending a recent synodical session that he was the man who had done more harm to the Christian Reformed Church than any man living. His composure failed not, however, as he simply turned and walked away.
How does the death of this man represent the passing of an era? In my judgment, there is reason to believe that a kind of “silent revolution” is underway among us.
This is evident in our present determination to avoid all discussion of controversial matters. Ecclesiastically one can explode the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb and usually
fail to get any reaction. We are enjoying “the peace of the cemetery.” In this kind of situation everything seems to hinge on who speaks, and where, not on what is being said. And if one attacks a person’s views, the persecution flag is quickly raised. “Another poor soul is being martyred.” “Brotherly love is lacking.” “What you need is to love more and to pray more, and then all your misgivings will evaporate. You will find that your charges were without substance anyway.” Et cetera.
No one will deny that HJK did a great piece of work as editor of the Christian Reformed weekly, The Banner. Kuiper never hesitated to deal with the relevant issues in the Church. In a direct and fearless fashion his editorials spoke out with unmistakable clarity on matters of such great interest to his many readers. He was not afraid to engage in debate if he felt that the welfare of the Reformed Faith or the Church was at stake. This direct and frank handling of live issues has in large measure disappeared from the pages of The Banner since Kuiper’s retirement, a development which I regard as an impoverishment and a loss to the Church. I assume that this avoidance of controversial issues is a matter of policy, a policy for which I do not blame the present editor.
One more thing: in contrast with the obvious denominational loyalty of H. J. Kuiper. love for the Church seems to be disappearing. More than a few recent seminary graduates are rather doubtful as to the right of the Christian Reformed Church to exist as a separate denomination. Some have entered the ministry in the Church who proclaim without embarrassment that the Christian Reformed Church has no right of separate ecclesiastical existence. Why such men desire to serve such a denomination as pastors is a mystery to me. And is it not a foregone conclusion that such leaders will find it impossible to instill love and loyalty for the Church? Could the recent issue of the Calvin College Chimes (referred to above) be another symptom of this devaluation and downgrading of the Christian Reformed Church?
H. J. Kuiper took his place among a sturdy generation of men. As I once more place myself before the casket to view the remains of this battIe scarred Christian, mixed emotions steal over me. There is the feeling of inexpressible sadness. Would to God that all of us would say, “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” But then there is the rejoicing which comes when one realizes that he could say with the apostle:
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).
Blessed indeed is the child of God who believes heart and soul the Bible doctrine of salvation. When he is privileged to note evidences which go to show that God has touched him with His saving grace, he can continue his pilgrimage in the assurance that God will not forsake the work of His hands…he can even be at peace in that fateful hour, when he must embark upon his last journey and plunge into the dark waters of the Jordan of death…the man who knows that God loves him with an everlasting love…will feel constrained to place himself upon God’s altar in utter self-abnegation. Zeal for God will consume him. It will be his chief delight to spend himself in the service of his Redeemer.
HERMAN KUIPER, By Grace Alone, pp. 154, 155