In Memorium: Rev. William Kok (1882–1977)

The late Rev. William Kok, always a zealous contender for the faith, was a member of Reformed Fellowship, Inc. and a contributor to TORCH AND TRUMPET (former name of THE OUTLOOK) in bygone days. Dr. William Rutger’s readiness to write this In Memoriam is greatly appreciated.

Factual statistics of a man’s life can be told in a few sentences. But within that framework for Rev. Kok, was a full measure of experience that covered almost every aspect of human life. Born of Christian parents, William and Beana Kok in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1882, the sizeable family emigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1908. The family affiliated themselves with the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, then pastored by the eloquent and dynamic preacher, Rev. John Groen. This preaching made a deep, indelible impression on young William, and a year after coming to Grand Rapids, he made profession of his faith. Father Kok was a baker by trade, and due to circumstances, young William was compelled to help the family make a living. As a young lad there burned in his heart a strong desire to enter into the ministry, should a way be open for it. After a few years of schooling William accepted a teaching position in a struggling small Christian school in Randolph Wisconsin. Here Kok met his bride to be, Effie VanderZon. From that marriage were born five children: three sons: William, Peter, John Calvin; and two daughters: Gertrude and Beatrice.

Circumstances opened for young William to enroll in Calvin Preparatory School in 1918 which led to Calvin College and Seminary, from which he graduated gaining an A.B and a B.D. degree in 1924. As a candidate for the ministry he received a call from Lebanon, Iowa and in the summer of 1924 he was ordained as a minister of the Word and Sacraments. His capacities as a minister gained early recognition and after three years he was called to minister the large congregation of Zeeland I where he remained for 13 years. Here he grappled with a challenge of supreme importance: the need for Christian instruction in the day school. Strong covenant convictions with its imperative demands on parents who had their children baptized, impelled Kok to press with might and main this cause. Did such covenantal proclamation of the gospel and such deep conviction that this was God’s demand issue in favorable results? Well, ask the people living in Zeeland for an answer to that question. Kok was able to convince even those who bitterly opposed him at first, that Christian instruction was a God-given necessity. Today Christian day schools flourish in Zeeland; and generally in the so-called “colony.”

Calvin was experiencing growing pains in 1940, and the Board decided to give the President of Calvin College an assistant. Kok was their choice. But the program of his duties was not well· articulated or spelled out and Kok experienced frustration just how to manage that position. After two years, he received a call to the prestigious large congregation of Englewood First in Chicago. Here Kok labored with much blessing and joy for eleven years. Here he found people eager to hear his covenantal preaching of the gospel and to follow his guidance and stimulation for various kingdom programs. Not only was Christian education demanded for all normal covenant children, but no less for the less favored: the handicapped children. A program for them began in the basement of the local congregation; it expanded and is now Elim School for the handicapped, one of the finest institutions for handicapped children in the country. Kok proved to be a most effective promoter for this school.

Also another great kingdom cause had the love of Kok‘s heart: the Back to God Radio Hour. Music for that program, which originated in Chicago at that time, was provided by the choir of Englewood I. In God’s providence that congregation had a wonderful organ and no less a most accomplished organist just at the right time! As a member of the Board of the Back to God Hour, Kok put in much time and effort to see that enterprise flourish and rapidly expand. Kok loved music and he did much to stimulate this dimension of worship. Ask the remaining members of Englewood I how that congregation literally echoed and rang with the singing of the Dutch psalms and the hymns of the church. With dynamic, powerful, dramatic preaching of the gospel echoing and thoroughly embued with the Reformed persuasion and slant, that church was packed to capacity Sunday after Sunday. Church attendance was a delight; the hungry souls were nourished on the Word ; there was no loss or neutralizing of the centrality of thc Word in the worship services. Kok never stooped to introducing fads and novelties in order to gain an audience. The Word itself is fully adequate and sufficient! Kok’s last congregation was Immanuel in Grand Rapids. He retired in 1958 and then for four years taught Bible at South Christian High.

Being thoroughly conversant with the Dutch language proved to be of incalculable blessing to Rev. Kok. He was able to share the genial insights of some of the best Dutch theologians of two generations past. He eagerly read the monumental works of the genial Abraham Kuyper, whose facile pen could move hearts and make them glow to become valiant defenders of the Reformed faith. What a powerful influence Kuyper’s E Voto made in catechism preaching; giving thrust and perspective and genial insights into this grand book of instruction: the Heidelberg Catechism. What compares even faintly with the monumental work of t he genial Herman Bavinck on Reformed Dogamtics? Incidentally, that work is no less a history of Christian doctrine, from the Reformed perspective. How eloquent is its biblical orientation! The works in our language were also available to Kok, such works from the pens of the Hodges, Warfield, Machen, and many others. These works made Kok a bold and undaunted communicator of the Reformed persuasion in his preaching.

Kok was delegated to Synod eight times: 1926, ’28; ‘32; ‘34; 36; ’37; ’45; ’52. The dates will indicate the importance of those Synods, the issues debated and the decisions taken.

One never needed to guess where Kok stood on basic issues. He clearly articulated his convictions; he never shied away from controversy when circumstances demanded it; he feared not the scars of battle for the faith once for all delivered; he stood up to be counted when this was demanded and when it was meaningful.

Kok began his ministry in every congregation he served with these two sermons: Psalm 27:4 Our Only Desire; and I Timothy 1:15 The Gospel of Salvation. Though sometimes seemingly rough and ready in debate, yet Kok had a fine-spun soul a fine sense of humor, aesthetic sense. He loved music, poetry, prose, drama; and as an avocation he loved to take pictures of beautiful nature: trees, flowers, birds, streams and mountains. The family must have at least a thousand slides depicting the beauties and glory of God’s wonderful creation. These should be used to share this beauty and wonder God displayed in nature.

Kok’s life’s supreme task: to minister the Word of God in all its richness and comfort. Soli Deo Gloria!