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Aspects of Congregational Life (1)

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Aspects of Congregational Life (1)

The Family as a “Little Church”

15 minuten leestijd

This is the first of a series of three articles orginally written by Rev. H. Hofman in Dutch for ’K Zal Gedenken — an anniversary volume published in 1982 commemorating 75 years of existence of our sister denomination in the Netherlands. The author’s practical advice throughout these articles is just as pertinent today for the NRC of North America. May the Lord add His blessing, and grant us in our dark days to experience as a denomination: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16).

It is a wonder of God that we may write something about congregational life. For it is not just a matter of fact that there still is such a thing as congregational life; the degeneration of the congregations could have moved the Lord to do away with us long ago.

The history of the origin of our congregations is one marked by struggle. Our congregations came into existence in a way of tribulation — congregations among which we, in God’s providence, may still have a place. The critical issue in this struggle was how one should live according to and out of God’s Word. At the occasion of his twenty-fifth ministerial anniversary in Rotterdam, Rev. Kersten spoke: “How great were the trials the congregations had to endure! I would only direct your attention to the merger of those churches which, since 1907, comprise the (Netherlands) Reformed Congregations. This merger engendered conflict which at times caused much anxiety.

“A union has been forged which is not comprised merely of components ‘a’ and ‘b.’ Rather, we may acknowledge, be it in all humility, that a coexistence has been achieved in which God’s Word, statutes, and ordinances increasingly prevail. Albeit that our traditions and opinions did frequently clash with church order, I would not be honest if I were to say anything other than that more and more there has come a willing surrender to the yoke of God’s Word. That surrender engendered quietness, peace, and love among us, promoted unity in our gatherings, and fortified ecclesiastical life. For us all our strength is to be found in an unconditional surrender to the Word of God.”

That which we have received, however, we must also preserve. Always, and especially now, we must be watchful and pray: “Destroy the works of the devil, and all wicked counsels devised against Thy holy Word.” When we begin to rest upon our laurels, we ought to consider that the devil knows of no shortened work week. He works seven days a week — twenty-four hours a day.

Therefore, it does not suffice to merely describe what congregational life was in the past. In a watchful and prayerful manner we are to reflect upon the functioning of congregational life at this present time. We may then walk in no other way but the way of which our fathers told us, and which we, their offspring, may also not hide. In both heart and home, a life marked by a childlike fear of the Lord and in harmony with God’s Word has been exemplified and lived out for us.

We are likewise privileged to live under the administration of God’s covenant of grace, having the divine promise that a seed shall serve Him. This is also true for our children. A God-fearing life cannot be imitated. When we do this, we shall have no more than a lifeless form. We are under obligation to follow the faith of our fathers. For this there can be no means at our disposal other than that of which our forefathers availed themselves: God’s Word in home, church, and school.

When we neglect to use the means of grace, or use them carelessly, the world will increasingly get a hold of us and our children. In spite of the often long and exhausting workdays, our parents and grandparents found time for a life in secret with God, and to speak together about the work of God within them. Therefore, these articles are not only a description of how it was and how it should be, but they are also an urgent appeal to both hear and do God’s Word as the wise builder did. No, we are not to do so in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord. “Through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through” (Eccl. 10:18).

When we begin to rest upon our laurels, we ought to consider that the devil knows of no shortened work week.

The Family: The Church in Miniature

It is within the family that parents must lay the foundation for their children’s involvement in congregational life. When our children go to church for the first time, it may not be so that a new world opens up for them. Our children are members of the congregation, even when they have not been baptized as yet. They belong to the congregation — and indeed, they can belong if our families are “little churches.” The men of the Dutch Second Reformation have exhorted us that our families must be “little churches.” The practice of religion begins in the home. It is a well-known expression that the practice of religion begins when we exit the church. We may not limit the service of God to the church.

The service of God in the church must be an outgrowth of the service of God in our families. Is the relationship between these two properly balanced in our time? Are we as concerned about the spiritual training of our children as we are about their natural education?

As parents we were instructed at the baptism of our children that they, as members of His church, ought to be baptized. In baptism God stoops down to our children. Would we then not do likewise? As parents we are called to build up the young congregation, and to defend and protect her against the violence and wicked devices of the devil and the world.

The baptism of our children —a holy ordinance of God — must be to the edification of the congregation. By way of the family, the young congregation must be trained in the service of the Lord. As parents we accepted this task when, at the baptism of our children, we answered in the affirmative before God and His holy congregation.

We may never withdraw ourselves from that reality. As we strive for the salvation of our children, we may never relax from that commitment. The Word of God which has been entrusted to us must be preserved and confessed in the congregation and be perpetuated in the generations. The preservation and perpetuation of the Lord’s truth must preeminently occur in the training of our children. The Lord demands this of us in His Word. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, “Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” In Deuteronomy 11:19 the Lord says: “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house.”

We may not hide the great works of the Lord from our children. Listen to the instruction of Asaph in Psalm 78:4, “We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD.” In Deuteronomy 6:7 the Lord teaches us how we are to instruct our children: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house.” The service of the Lord begins in our house.

Speaking with our Children

In the generations preceding us there were many who did indeed practice this. I think of what one of our ministers once wrote: “My parents were God-fearing people, and their house was a resting place for God’s people. Our house was visited by members of the Reformed Church, the Christian Reformed Church, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, and the Old Reformed Congregations. Together these people spoke about the Lord and His blessed service. Practical godliness was discussed and practiced. My parents instilled in me a love for the service of the Lord. In my thoughts I still see my mother reading in The Child’s Portion of the Saints by Lambertus Myseras. When we were yet children, she spoke with us about the service of the Lord, and she would pray to the Lord with us if He would be pleased to convert us.”

Motivated by love for God and our children, we must engage in the service of the Lord

Motivated by love for God and our children, we must engage in the service of the Lord. “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children...,” thus speaks the Lord. “To teach diligently” is the translation of a word which means “to sharpen.” It reminds us of the sharpening of a weapon — a weapon for battle! This gives us a better understanding of our task. We are called to do battle. Also in our time parents must arm their children by teaching them God’s truth diligently. We must arm them with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, in order that they may fight in the Lord’s battle.

We repeat, this must begin in the home. “Thou shalt teach them...”That refers to you, parents — as father and mother. We may not allow our children to enter the world unarmed, for it is a world hostile toward God.

God is resisted and opposed in the world in which our children live. The world hates His service and His Word. One of the three main enemies of God’s children is the world. The world’s singular objective is to cause the young church to perish. Our families live in this world, and our children are born in this world. Ought we then not do battle prayerfully and pray fervently?

To serve the world and God simultaneously cannot go hand in hand. If we desire to be a friend of the world, we shall be an enemy of God. In dependence upon God’s blessing, the focus of the education of your children must be to remove the darkness of their ignorance. In the days of Samuel there was a famine of the Word of God. The darkness was great, and yet we read that Samuel increased with the Lord. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, but in his heart he remained a Hebrew. Is it not precisely at this point that we must observe that the proper functioning of the family has been significantly reduced? All too often the solution is sought in Sunday school, catechism, youth groups, Christian education, etc. The form for baptism asks: “Whether you intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are parent), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?”

Thus, it says: “...whereof you are parent!” The primary responsibility to train children in Christian doctrine rests upon fathers and mothers. Quite frequently this is forgotten. Therefore, while it is day, we must work. Precisely in the days of tender youth, children are very receptive and open. They are not prejudiced as yet. They still have so much trust in their parents. Especially the period when the mother is home alone with the children is of such short duration. At the age of four the little ones already attend pre-kindergarten. As parents you then already lose them in some measure. For many children it is then that the night begins in which the weeds are sown. Let us take heed that we are not too late! Do you still occasionally find the time to speak with your little ones about the service of the Lord and what it means to love the Lord? As parents we must lay the foundation. We may not permit the heritage of the Lord to go lost in our generation. Are we not hard at work to accomplish that? Do our children grow up in an environment where there is singing and praying together, along with the reading of God’s Word? Do we let our children go into the midst of a world unarmed — a world which has but one objective: their destruction? If so, they will have been conquered already before the battle has been fought.

In our congregations we lived a rather isolated life in former days. The dangers of a world in which anti-Christian forces exert their influence were far less threatening than they are today. Nevertheless, there were many upright saints who involved their children in the service of the Lord from their very youth. My father, Rev. M. Hofman, writes the following in his autobiography: “It was not long before my mother directed me to offer a prayer at the table. About the same time we were also called upon to read at the table and to bow our knees every morning and evening.... During that period I was very tender and conscientious. I would not have dared to go to bed unless I had entered my closet. I sometimes noticed that quite often there were those who would listen to me and sometimes also mock with me. I knew little of my inward corruption; and yet I cannot quite explain that from the days of my youth I had a close prayer life whereby I made known to the Lord, in childlike fashion, all my temporal and spiritual needs. At times I even had freedom to call the Lord ’Father’ without knowing the difference between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” I recall from my own youth that we all had to write a biblical essay on Sunday. One by one we would then have to read it to each other, upon which my father would give us a grade for it. Once in a while we would receive a little book for the best essay. Particularly on Sunday evenings we would sing many psalms. The prayer of thanksgiving after the morning meal was offered in a kneeling position. When my father was not home, and also after his decease, my mother would lead us in prayer. In a fitting and convincing manner our parents exemplified and recommended the service of the Lord to us. How do we fare?

Do we let our children go into the midst of a world unarmeda world which has but one objective: their destruction?

In the autobiography of Rev. C. Van Dam, this minister writes, “Much could be said about this period in my life. Let me only say this: It is very serious if, as a child, one must miss good guidance. How happy is the child who is trained by God-fearing parents, and who, by hearing the prayers and the warnings against sin and its dreadful consequences, is supported in the intense battle which even youthful children must sometimes fight! I did have deep impressions and convictions, but I had to digest all this by myself. Only the prayers and tears of my beloved mother had a great effect upon my youthful heart. How are parents duty-bound to speak with their children in a simple, childlike manner! The hearts of children are often more receptive than those of adults. Adults frequently listen in such a suspicious and prejudiced manner. Parents must also pay attention to whether their children have impressions — impressions to which proper direction must be given. Frequently one thinks that children cannot understand it anyway; however, it could be that children have more of an understanding of spiritual matters than their parents and adults do.”

The point we wish to make is that the service of God must begin and be continued at home.

With great earnestness my father issued a call to action in his farewell sermon in Rijssen: “Oh, fathers and mothers, we beseech you to give heed to those who have been entrusted to your care. You will have to give an account before God as to the manner in which you have raised them. Exert yourself and make use of the gifts the Lord has given you. Salvage what can yet be salvaged. You must do so according to God’s Word and your confession.”

Haste is one of the dangers which threatens family worship in our day. So often it is true for us: “Let us read and pray a moment...” The Lord’s altar in our home may, however, not remain empty. In your family you are to avail yourself of every opportunity. Everyone must know himself to be under obligation to utilize his gifts to the benefit and salvation of one’s neighbor. We are a people backsliding at heart. The Lord complains: “You have sacrificed My children to Moloch.”

It will once testify against us that we have raised our children for the service of the world. In dependence upon the blessing of the Lord, we must take matters in hand in our homes so that the heritage of the Lord will not vanish in our generation.

Rev. H. Hofman is pastor of the Netherlands Reformed congregation of Chilliwack, British Columbia.

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 mei 1993

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

Aspects of Congregational Life (1)

Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 1 mei 1993

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

PDF Bekijken