THE SEARCH FOR A PRESIDENT
When the academic year 1955-1956 began in September of 1955, there were twelve people on the seminary teaching staff, eight of whom were voting members of the faculty. New to the staff were the instructors Harold Dekker and Marten Woudstra, and the interim lecturer Anthony Hoekema. The instructors, of whom Carl Kromminga was one, attended faculty meetings and joined in faculty discussions, but took no part in actual decision making. The incumbent lecturer served part-time, and took no part at all in our deliberations. R. B. Kuiper, the President of the Seminary, would at the end of this year reach the age of seventy and go into retirement, and the search for his replacement would become the story of the year.
I, like the President, was beginning my fourth year in the seminary and would in the course of it meet all of the 115 registered students in one or another of my classes. In the first semester I taught a course in Basic Ethics to the Seniors, and a course in Ethnic Religions to the Middlers. I also conducted a seminar for advanced students in Early Apologetic Literature. In Nisi Domino Frustra we continued our systematic study of Calvin’s Institutes, and I was happy to be associated in this inquiry with a number of outstanding students. Constituting the members of this year’s club were Henry Bouma, Henry De Rooy, Philip Holtrop, Leonard Kool, Hugh Koops, Edson Lewis, Joel Nederhood, Jack Pauw, Louis Tamminga, Jay Vander Ark, Peter Van Egmond, Franklin Van Halsema, James Versluis, and Bernard Zylstra.
In September of 1955 I published in the Journal an article on “Religion in Science” and participated in the ordination of three recent graduates—William K. Stob, Rodney Westveer, and Winston Boelkins. I preached in October in the Alpine Avenue Church, and at the invitation of the California Teachers Association delivered on October 25 and 26 two lectures on “Moral Education” at a teachers’ convention in Hanford, California. On my way home I conducted worship services in Rehoboth, New Mexico, and enjoyed a visit with my cousin Renze Stob, a long time missionary on the Indian field.
At the first meeting of the faculty I was reelected Secretary and was assigned to the Committee on Educational Policy and to the Committee on the Library. I thereafter served on an ad hoc committee charged with considering what facilities should be incorporated in the proposed new seminary building, and on another charged with preparing a writing expressing to Synod the faculty’s dissatisfaction with an existing rule whereby Advisors to Synod could be excluded from strict executive sessions. The Free University of Amsterdam celebrated on October 20, 1955, the 75th anniversary of its founding, and R. B. Kuiper was sent to The Netherlands to participate in the proceedings and to present our felicitations. During this semester the faculty allocated 4,000 dollars for the purchase of books for the theological library, agreed to cooperate with the college faculty in the planning of “science seminars,” restricted students to membership in only one extracurricular study club, and, in the mood of the times, forbade any club to invite an outside speaker not known to be Reformed without first securing the permission of the Seminary President. In the ongoing effort to staff the seminary the faculty recommended the reappointment of Ralph Stob, Martin Monsma, Carl Kromminga, Harold Dekker, and Marten Woudstra, and to fill a second chair in Dogmatics it nominated for Board consideration Fred Klooster, Anthony Hoekema, and Alexander De Jong. In nominating these men it had, to my regret, passed over such scholars as James Daane and Lewis Smedes, whose qualifications, I had maintained, were clearly superior.
In December of 1955 the Calvin congregation dedicated its new church building on Ethel Avenue, and in the same month there erupted in the South a movement that would lead eventually to a radical change in racial policies. The movement was initiated by an incident small but portentous. Mrs. Rosa Parks, an unknown but indomitable black seamstress, defied existing law by taking a seat in the “whites only” section of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus and refused to give it up. She was arrested and fined ten dollars, and this touched off a year’s long black boycott of the city buses. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta were active in organizing the boycott, and were briefly imprisoned for their pains.
What affected many of us as deeply was the sudden death of our colleague Cecil De Boer. He was my friend and I was privileged to serve with him in the department of philosophy before leaving for the seminary. Cecil was stricken with a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the evening of November 27, 1955, lived through the night, but died the following day at the age of 58. The funeral services were held in the First Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids on December 1 in the presence of many mourners. Cecil had come to the college from the University of Nebraska in the Fall of 1950 and when in the Spring of 1951 Clarence Bouma had on account of serious illness to lay down the Editorship of the Calvin Forum, Cecil was recruited to take his place. He was a fine writer and an able editor, and he managed to keep the magazine afloat despite the paucity of contributors and the decline in subscriptions. With his death, however, the Forum folded. The final issue appeared in February of 1956, and the Board of Trustees underwrote the existing debt of 750 dollars. To pay Cecil a tribute that was his due I published in the The Reformed Journal of January 1956 an article entitled “The Philosopher,” in which I sought to delineate the professional competence and the Christian character of this good man.
The Board of Trustees held its usual mid-term meeting in February of 1956 under the presidency of N. J. Monsma. The Board endorsed the recommendations made by the seminary faculty regarding reappointments, and nominated for the chair of Dogmatics Anthony Hoekema and Fred Klooster. It authorized an exchange of credits between college and seminary, introduced a college Bible major, appointed John Kromminga and me to a Board committee charged with revising the rules governing admission to the seminary, received as information the petition concerning executive sessions that the faculty was submitting to Synod, and was told that 1541 students were now enrolled in the college. Startling amidst all this was the report the Board received from the Long Range Planning Committee. That committee had adopted a radically new campus plan, and upon its recommendation the Board decided to sell the present campus with all its buildings and to resettle the college and seminary on a large tract of land in Southeast Grand Rapids that stretched from Burton Street to Lake Drive and extended from the East Beltline westward for a considerable distance. This decision had, of course, to be ratified by the Synod, and it was not certain that such ratification would be forthcoming, but it was a bold step that the Board took, and many took pleasure in it. I recognized the wisdom of acquiring land for needful college expansion and had no objection to the college’s relocation, but I did not like to see the old campus disposed of and the seminary removed from its position in the inner city. I felt that our presence there would be good both for the students and for the community.
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In the second semester I taught courses in Apologetics, Polemics, and Moral Problems to 109 seminary students and, to fill a need occasioned by the death of Cecil De Boer, I conducted a seminar on The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas for ten advanced students at the college. Under the auspices of the Grand Rapids Chapter of the Calvin Alumni Association I delivered on February 28, 1956, an on-campus public lecture on “The Liberty of Man,” and on May 13 delivered a companion lecture to a similar gathering on “The Liberty of Conscience.” In April I delivered two lectures on “The Meaning of Christian Education” to popular audiences in Paterson, New Jersey, and in the course of my stay in the East represented Calvin Seminary at the installation of Dr. Jones, the new President of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. I preached during this semester on three occasions, and in May published in the Journal a short piece on “Admission into the Church,” in which I expressed a difference with my friend and fellow editor, Jim Daane. It was also in May that, by action of the Board, I was made a member of a committee to consider the feasibility of establishing an Institute of Advanced Studies.
The family was saddened when on June 9, 1956, Hilda’s mother, Mrs. Winnie De Graaf, suffered a stroke while residing in the Grand Rapids Holland Home on Fulton Street. She was removed next day to the Blodgett Hospital where, after contracting a number of additional ailments, she remained for several weeks in a slowly weakening condition. When Blodgett could no longer serve her well, she was transferred to the Pine Rest Hospital in Cutlerville where, in our visits to her, Hilda and I observed with sadness her gradual decline.
The faculty met at regular intervals during the second semester and in the course of its deliberations decided to abandon the rank of “Instructor” and substitute for it the rank of “Assistant Professor,” authorized the students to launch a periodical which came to bear the name Stromata, licensed the establishment of a student bookstore, and permitted students to “exhort” in churches of other denominations provided these services “have the approval of the President, are not solicited, are not announced in the Grand Rapids papers, and do not occur in a community where Christian Reformed services are being held.” With the demise of the Calvin Forum the faculty began to consider the possibility of publishing a learned theological journal, but at this time no steps were taken toward the attainment of this goal. Dr. Wilhelm Niesel, the eminent Calvin scholar, addressed the seminary community on March 16, 1956, and toward the end of the semester Professor Herman Ridderbos of The Netherlands appeared on campus under auspices of the Calvin Foundation. He delivered on May 24 a lecture on “The Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures” which most of us heard with interest. He would thereafter deliver several other lectures to the delectation of appreciative audiences, and during his stay in Grand Rapids Hilda and I were happy to receive him several times as a congenial guest in our house.
Our spirits rose in mid-year when word was received that Clarence Bouma was showing signs of recovery. He had been released from Pine Rest Hospital and was now living with his daughter Thea (Dick) Van Halsema in Monsey, New York, where he had been put under the professional care of Dr. Floyd Fortuin. In a letter dated May 3, 1956, Clarence asked the Executive Committee of the Board to consider whether he might be given a work assignment which would qualify him for social security benefits and which would at the same time further his recovery. This request was endorsed by Dr. Fortuin who expressed the opinion that some modification in Dr. Bouma’s retirement status would be therapeutic, and that his patient could perhaps be helpful as an adviser in the department of Ethics and Apologetics. The matter was referred for consideration to the seminary faculty, and on June 8 the faculty recommended to the Executive Committee that “if Dr. Bouma be adjudged qualified by a committee of psychiatrists, he be engaged as a special assistant in the department of Ethics and Apologetics.” Dr. A. Hoekstra and some of his associates in the Grand Rapids area were thereupon consulted, and on September 13 the Executive Committee decided “to employ Dr. Bouma as soon as he is ready to begin work.” I would have been glad to have him assist me in whatever way he could, but this was not to be. The Executive Committee entered instead into a temporary agreement with Dr. Bouma under the terms of which he would be employed by the Director of the Library and be engaged in the indexing of sermonic materials. He took up this work on the first of October, and it was while he was thus engaged that I often accompanied him on walks calculated to ease his troubled spirit.
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What dominated the year was the long drawn out search for a person to replace R. B. Kuiper as President of the seminary. In anticipation of Kuiper’s imminent retirement the Board of Trustees had already in May of 1955 appointed a Nominating Committee and commissioned it for work. Named to the committee were four of its own members—Nicholas Monsma, John Vander Ploeg, Daniel De Vries, and John Breuker—and three members of the faculty—the Registrar, the Secretary, and one other person yet to be designated. Had the appointment stuck, John Kromminga and I would have been on the committee, but this was not to be. R. B. Kuiper convinced the Board that the faculty was entitled to appoint its own members to the committee, and on December 9, 1955, the faculty elected R. B. Kuiper, Martin Monsma, and Henry Schultze to work with the four members of the Board and to constitute with them the seven member nominating committee.
On December 12, 1955, the faculty was informed that the committee had prepared a nomination and was now seeking the faculty’s reaction to it. Nominated with the apparent concurrence of R. B. Kuiper and Martin Monsma, but to my utter amazement, was the unlikely trio of Nicholas J. Monsma, Peter Y. De Jong, and Fred Klooster. To assess this nomination and present a report to the faculty, President Kuiper appointed a committee consisting of Ralph Stob, Herman Kuiper, and myself. Ralph Stob and Herman Kuiper were accustomed to side with the President on most issues arising in the faculty, and were evidently expected to do so in this instance as well, but I did not find it difficult to persuade them that this nomination would not do. In the end we reached agreement. We found none of the nominees acceptable, none fit to become a full professor as the rules required, and none equipped “to pass judgment on the teaching competence of the other members of the faculty, to administer seminary affairs, and to give the requisite leadership to the entire seminary community.”
On January 6, 1956, we presented our report to the faculty. We declared that in our opinion not one of the nominees possessed the qualifications required for appointment to the presidency—even approximately—and gave reasons for saying so. After deleting the words “even approximately” the faculty by a vote of 5 to 3 adopted our report and ordered it sent to the Board as the faculty’s evaluation.
On February 3 the faculty was informed that a minority of the faculty was sending to the Board a favorable report on the three nominees earlier considered for evaluation. The signers of this report were R. B. Kuiper, Martin Monsma, and Martin Wyngaarden. These three listed certain admirable qualities that in their judgment the nominees possessed, but the emphasis throughout was on their “soundness.” One was favored “not only because he is committed to the Reformed faith,” but also because “he has manifested an ardent zeal for Calvinism.” Another was known to be “fearless in his evaluation of theologies that are not Reformed.” A third was characterized as “a zealous and discerning Calvinist” who “enjoys to a more than ordinary degree the confidence of the denomination.” Scholarship, academic experience, and openness to new insights, did not in these assessments weigh nearly as much as rigid orthodoxy, undeviating conventionality, and ardent militancy.
On February 8 the Board of Trustees, then in mid-term session, received from the hands of the Nominating Committee its slate of candidates, and took note as well of the two differing assessments submitted by members of the faculty. Before taking action, however, the Board decided to ask the Committee for an evaluation of John Kromminga and Henry Stob. At a later session on that day, the Rev. Mr. Breuker, speaking for the Nominating Committee, complained that “the Board has not formally either accepted or rejected the nomination presented by the committee, and the Board cannot add to a nomination it has not accepted.” The Board thereupon accepted the nomination and “declared itself as desiring to add to its nomination the names of Henry Stob and John Kromminga.” It then submitted these names to the Nominating Committee “for evaluation.” On the committee now was Leonard Greenway, who had replaced John Vander Ploeg, the recent appointee to the Editorship of The Banner. How the committee appraised our candidacy I do not know, but I suspect that, constituted as it was, I, at least, did not pass muster.
On February 9 a special faculty meeting was held to consider the two additional names which had been referred to the nominating committee and to the faculty for evaluation. The qualifications of John Kromminga were considered during his absence from the room, and, in spite of my advocacy, the faculty decided by a vote of 4 to 2 not to recommend him as a candidate for the presidency. Voting against him were R. B. Kuiper, Herman Kuiper, Martin Monsma, and Martin Wyngaarden. Voting for him were Henry Schultze and myself. Ralph Stob was absent that day and did not participate in the voting. The faculty considered my qualifications during my absence and by an identical vote of 4 to 2 decided not to endorse me as a candidate. Only Kromminga and Schultze found me acceptable. I disliked, but could understand, the assessment made of me by the majority of my colleagues. I had evoked their displeasure in the past. I had not that lock upon the truth which they presumed they had, and therefore could not be trusted to preserve it whole. I had, moreover, just emerged from one of several skirmishes with critics from the “right” who seemed bent on setting me straight. I was, in short, not the sort of man who could be expected to steer the seminary down quiet waters into safe harbors. What I could not understand, however, was their opposition to John Kromminga. He had won his seat on the faculty with ease, he had not been involved in any controversies, his reputation was unsullied, and his competence and commitment could by nobody be called into question. If there was any fault in him, it lay only in his tendency to vote with me when delicate issues arose in faculty meetings.
John and I were not privy to the written judgments made on us by the majority of the faculty, but we, like them, sent appraisals to the Board, and I was determined that John should receive the consideration that was his due. John was of like mind with respect to me, and he wrote a strong letter of support which had the qualified endorsement of the reserved and cautious Henry Schultze. On February 10 I sent the following letter to the Board.
Last night the faculty, by a vote of 4 to 2, decided not to recommend Dr. John Kromminga as a candidate for the Presidency of Calvin Seminary. This action was based upon the alleged lack in Dr. Kromminga of at least one important qualification that the President of a truly Reformed Seminary should possess. Because I do not find this lack in him, but consider him well qualified to serve as President of Calvin Seminary, I am happy to be required to submit to you my own evaluation of him.
In my judgment, Professor Kromminga’s academic attainments, scholarly habits, pedagogical competence, and administrative ability, make him an outstanding candidate for the Presidency. His earned degree, his mastery of a complex field of theological learning, his success in the classroom, his frequent and lucid writings, his understanding of student problems, his adhesion to sound educational policy, and his conduct of the office of Registrar mark him, I should contend, as a man who deserves the most serious consideration of a Board concerned to establish at Calvin Seminary an authentic seat of learning.
But there is more. While it may be conceded that Professor Kromminga has not yet attained to that depth of theological insight which comes only to the advanced in age and is the reward of long years of constant and prayerful study, it should be observed that his understanding of Reformed truth is sound and extensive, that his commitment to it is hearty and unquestionable, and that he is an industrious and thoughtful student of all that pertains to Scripture and our common faith.
I don’t know, at this writing, what precisely the majority members of the faculty will say, in their written appraisal, about Professor Kromminga’s theological position and emphasis. I can only orient myself to the oral discussion of last evening and declare my considered disagreement with the opinions expressed by spokesmen for the majority. Professor Kromminga, in my opinion, stands firmly upon the main line of biblical and historical Calvinism. His is, in substance and tendency, the sound, the balanced, the comprehensive view, held, as it should be held, with poise and grace, and maintained with quiet firmness against foreign pressures from the right as well as from the left.
I therefore heartily recommend him to your prayerful consideration.
I am, in Christ’s service,
Yours most respectfully,
On February 19 the Board, still in session, heard from John Breuker how the Nominating Committee had appraised the possible candidacy of Kromminga and myself, and it learned from R. B. Kuiper what the judgment of the faculty had been. On hand, too, were the favorable responses we had sent. After considering all these materials, the Board, in apparent disregard of the negative appraisals, added our names once again to the gross list of nominees for the Presidency. The Board then proceeded to vote on the five candidates, beginning with the three first proposed by the Nominating Committee. When none of the three—neither N. J. Monsma, nor P. Y. De Jong, nor Fred Klooster—received a majority of the votes, and when an existing rule prevented the members from voting on Kromminga and me, the Board decided “to follow the rules and refer the matter back to the Committee, to report at the May 1956 meeting of the Board of Trustees.” This referral was evidently taken by the members of the Nominating Committee as a mandate to prepare another nomination, and this in fact they did.
On April 17, 1956, the faculty was informed that the committee on the appointment of a Seminary President had decided to submit to the May meeting of the Board a new nomination, one consisting this time of Edward Heerema, Anthony Hoekema, and Fred Klooster. I was astounded. None of these men were members of the faculty, all were without substantial academic experience, and one was the son-in-law of R. B. Kuiper, a recent refugee from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and a contentious spokesman for the right wing Torch and Trumpet. It was the duty of the faculty now to prepare for submission to the Board an appraisal of these men. As on a previous occasion President Kuiper appointed Ralph Stob, Herman Kuiper, and myself to prepare a written evaluation for possible adoption by the faculty, but it was apparently made clear to my two associates that they were not again to be enticed by my representations to be judgmental and subversive.
On April 27 a special faculty meeting was held to consider the nomination most recently presented by the Nominating Committee. Ralph Stob, chairman of the faculty committee appointed to prepare a written evaluation, reported that the committee, for various reasons (among them, the variance of my judgment from that of my fellow commissioners), had not prepared an evaluation. Speaking for the committee, he proposed that the faculty first vote for or against each of the nominees and thereafter “justify” their vote in a written appraisal which would then be presented through channels for submission to the Board. Upon motion it was decided to follow this procedure. The candidates were briefly discussed, one of them (Ed Heerema) in the absence of R. B. Kuiper, and when the discussion ceased ballots were cast. The balloting disclosed that each of the nominees—Heerema, Hoekema, and Klooster—had the endorsement of the faculty, each receiving 5 affirmative and 3 negative votes. The negative votes were cast by Henry Schultze, John Kromminga, and myself.
On May 8 the members of the faculty who on April 27 had voted favorably on the latest nomination adopted written evaluations of the three nominees for submission to the Board. At about the same time John Kromminga and I submitted in a jointly prepared statement our own evaluations. We were not hard on the two men—Hoekema and Klooster—who would later become our colleagues in the seminary. We recognized their gifts and acknowledged their competence to teach, but we did not deem them ready for the office of President. We felt that for lack of stature, experience, and the qualities of leadership they were insufficiently equipped to be a faculty mentor and to discharge the other responsibilities of an executive officer, and we saw no evidence that they shared our vision for the development of the seminary. We observed, in addition, that the thinking of one of these men, as well as of others being sponsored by R. B. Kuiper, was largely dominated by the reflections of Cornelius Van Til, whose polemical stance and militant posture we did not regard as conducive to the growth of a wholesome and forward looking community.
Our assessment of Ed Heerema—the same Heerema who engineered the assault upon my “Note to a College Freshman”—was much less favorable, though expressed in the relatively muted tones which time and circumstance prompted us to adopt. Of him we wrote:
The nomination of the Rev. Mr. Heerema is puzzling. We have asked ourselves: Who is he and what has he done to merit the consideration proposed? What real qualifications does he have, and what is the measure of his involvement in and service for the church? We note that, although he is a son of the church, he preferred not to study theology at Calvin Seminary, and never was a student there; that he has no formal education in theology beyond the four years provided by Westminster Seminary; that he has no doctor’s degree nor the scholarly training prerequisite to the attainment of such a degree; that his graduate work in psychology has been casual, erratic, and undirected; and that except for the delivery of a series of auxiliary lectures in pastoral psychology, he has had no experience in teaching on the college or seminary level. We note, further, that there is nothing in his varied career to suggest that he has the qualities of leadership and the administrative capacities that a president should have. We note, finally, that he has been a minister in our church for only three years, and that his published observations during that time have not always been characterized by charity and discernment. Having observed these things, we cannot regard the Rev. Mr. Heerema as a properly qualified candidate for the presidency of Calvin Seminary.
On May 23 the Board of Trustees received the faculty’s evaluation of the new slate of nominees, and also the Minority assessment submitted by John Kromminga and myself. The Board considered the nominees in the light of these evaluations, retained them on the gross list, but decided on May 25 to add once again the names of John Kromminga and Henry Stob to the list, and to add as well the name of Jack T. Hoogstra. These names were then referred to the Nominating Committee and the faculty for evaluation.
On May 25 the faculty met in a special evening session to consider the persons referred to it for evaluation. The balloting that followed the brief discussion disclosed that none of the three candidates had the faculty’s endorsement. It was decided by a vote of 8 to 0 not to recommend Dr. Hoogstra, and by a vote of 4 to 2 not to recommend either Kromminga or myself.
On May 26 John Kromminga resubmitted to the Board his endorsement of my candidacy, and I wrote in strong support of John, expressing my hope that he be nominated for the presidency.
On May 26, after considering the various assessments submitted to it, and after deciding to present two names to Synod, the Board voted by ballot on the six candidates under consideration. From a list of candidates that included Ed Heerema, Anthony Hoekema, Fred Klooster, Jack Hoogstra, John Kromminga, and Henry Stob, John Kromminga and Anthony Hoekema emerged from the balloting as the Board’s choice. These two men were thereupon declared to constitute the Board’s nomination for appointment to the seminary presidency.
Synod convened on June 13, 1956, but it was not until later in its sessions that it took up the matter of the presidency. In its initial report the Advisory Committee charged with processing the nomination made a two-point proposal. It recommended (1) that Synod do not elect a Seminary President from the nomination presented by the Board of Trustees, since the nomination was not made known to the church in sufficient time; and (2) that the Executive Committee of the Board appoint one member of the seminary faculty as Acting President for the academic year 1956-1957. Synod adopted the first of these recommendations, but rejected the second, and instructed the Advisory Committee to reconvene and come with a substitute proposal. Still favoring the appointment of an Acting President, the Advisory Committee now proposed that the Synod elect an Acting President for the year 1956-57, and that it do so from a nomination consisting of N. J. Monsma, J. Kromminga, and Henry Stob. This recommendation was, however, rejected. It was then proposed and adopted “that Synod elect a Seminary President for one year from the present eligible members of the faculty who hold the rank of Professor or Associate Professor.” The delegates thereupon cast their votes, and from a list that included M. Wyngaarden, H. Schultze, R. Stob, H. Kuiper, M. Monsma, H. Stob, and J. Kromminga, chose Kromminga as President for a one-year term.
I was happy with this outcome. I had all along contended that a president should be chosen from among the active members of the faculty, and had even had the temerity to suggest that it had to be either John Kromminga or me, although I preferred that it be he. I had remained doggedly in contention as long as “outsiders” were being considered, especially such as were likely to introduce into our circles the sectarian spirit and mentality of the Orthodox Presbyterians, but I had no desire to move from the classroom into an administrative office, and had several times made that known. I was confident, moreover, that under John’s mild and unostentatious leadership the seminary would be set upon a course less fraught with contention than before, and more hospitable to new and creative insights.
There was for the moment, however, a slight hitch. The rules governing the presidency declared that “In case the president-elect is not already a full professor with indefinite tenure, he shall, on assuming the office of President, be given that rank and tenure. His initial appointment as President shall be for a term of four years, after which he shall, if reelected, hold indefinite tenure in that office.” That rule was in this instance suspended. Kromminga was elected to a one-year term, and not elevated in rank. This meant that before the next Synod met the Board of Trustees would again be compelled to present a single or multiple nomination, and that the faculty would also be once more involved in the nominating process.
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Clarence Boomsma conducted the Synodical Prayer Service in Calvin Church on the evening of June 12, 1956, presided the next morning at the opening session of Synod, and took his departure after the officers were elected. Herman Bel was elected President, and Henry Baker, William Haverkamp, and John Verbrugge were chosen to assist him. George Stob and James Daane were delegates to Synod from their respective classes, and as Adviser to Synod I met with these friends as often as the work schedule permitted. Henry Zylstra came into notice when at one of Synod’s sessions it was announced that he had received a Fulbright grant and would be spending the next academic year at the Free University of Amsterdam as a guest lecturer in American Literature and Culture. Herman Ridderbos was present as a fraternal delegate from the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands, and by appointment I responded to the message he brought from his church. Anthony Hoekema was at this Synod appointed to serve as Assistant Professor of Bible at the college, and Herman Broene and John De Bie were appointed to other college posts. Harry Wassink and Josephine Baker were honored for completing 25 years of service, and R. B. Kuiper, Henry Meeter, H. J. Kuiper, and J. M. Vande Kieft were granted honorable emeritation. The seminary staff members who were up for reappointment were returned to their positions, and Fred Klooster was appointed Associate Professor of Dogmatics for a period of two years. The Reformed Church of Japan, in whose birth I had a hand while in military service, was celebrating this year its tenth anniversary, and my friend, S. Fujii was present at Synod as a fraternal delegate. President Eisenhower was at this time convalescing in the Walter Reed Hospital from the effects of a heart attack, and Synod expressed in a telegram its hope for his speedy recovery. The office of Stated Clerk was now judged to require the full-time service of its incumbent, and Ralph Danhof left his pastorate to devote himself fully to the duties of his office. Harold Ellens was among the 25 seminary graduates who were this year declared candidates for the gospel ministry.
The Denominational Building at 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue had recently been completed, and on the afternoon of June 14, 1956, Synod gathered at the site for the official dedication. The total cost of the land, building, equipment, and furnishings came to 667,000 dollars. On that same afternoon the entire synodical delegation paid a visit to the Knollcrest Farm whose purchase was under consideration. The Centennial Committee was instructed to develop plans for the suitable celebration of the church’s 100th anniversary, was authorized to distribute “banks” to the constituency for the deposit of gifts, and was told to designate April 7, 1957, as Centennial Sunday. The revised Psalter Hymnal received Synod’s approval. It was decided to call it the “Centennial edition,” and the revision committee was instructed to make it available in time for the 1957 celebrations. In response to a letter sent by the seminary faculty Synod amended the rules governing strict executive sessions by declaring that in such sessions “only the delegates and the members of the seminary faculty shall be present.” As the Adviser to the committee on Protests and Appeals I had to deal with overtures from several Canadian classes who wished Synod to declare that “for a Christian there is no proper place in the existing neutral labor unions.” Upon the committee’s recommendation Synod reiterated its stand that “membership in neutral unions is not necessarily incompatible with membership in the church.”
I had met several times during the year with the committee on Marital Relations to which I had been assigned, and our report was now before Synod. Synod had also to consider a report from its committee on Divorce, and it found the two reports in radical disagreement. The church’s traditional position, dating back to 1890, was that “people remarried after an unbiblical divorce are living in continual adultery.” In 1952 Synod appointed a committee on Divorce to provide a Scriptural basis for this position. The committee reported in 1954, again in 1955, and had now delivered its final report. The report declared that Matthew 19:3-9 clearly established the church’s long-standing position. We countered with our own report, and after considerable discussion Synod adopted our recommendations. It declared that “(1) No substantial and conclusive Scriptural evidence has been produced to establish the thesis that parties remarried after being divorced on the ground of their own adultery, or divorced on non-biblical grounds, are living in continual adultery; and (2) Scriptural evidence has not been produced to warrant the demand that a person remarried after being divorced on the ground of his own adultery, or remarried after having been divorced on non-biblical grounds, must, in order to prove the sincerity of his repentance, cease living in the ordinary marriage relationship with his present spouse.” This freeing of remarried divorcees for full membership in the church was not greeted with favor by some, but it marked a significant advance in the church’s understanding of the Scriptures and in its treatment of troubled souls who had come to repentance. Our committee was not by this action discontinued. We were kept in being and instructed to consider in a follow-up study whether there may be more than one ground for divorce. We were also asked to consider how the church should deal with polygamy on the mission fields.
Of great significance for the future of Calvin College and Seminary was Synod’s action relative to the resettlement of these institutions. Synod recognized that “for their expansion needs additional acreage is required,” and authorized the Board of Trustees to purchase from Mr. J. C. Miller his large Knollcrest Farm for a price which, I believe, was in the neighborhood of 400,000 dollars. The Board had also sought permission to sell the existing campus, but this permission Synod was not yet prepared to grant. Being informed that the “Needs of Today” campaign had brought into the coffers of the school a sum of money amounting to 930,000 dollars, Synod did, however, authorize the Board to proceed with the construction of certain facilities on the new campus. With this a new era in the history of college and seminary had begun.
During the summer of 1956 I addressed myself to my studies and preached on six occasions. The black boycott of Montgomery city buses continued, the Italian Liner Andrea Doria went down after being hit by the Stockholm of Sweden, and a measure of “destalinization” took place in the Soviet Union after Nikita Krushchev exposed Stalin’s crimes in a speech heard around the world.