In coming issues, Christian Renewal hopes to share reflections from a few experienced ministers within the Reformed community. This first article features a man who’s no longer with us, Dr. Peter Y. De Jong, who was called home on August 28, 2005—two months to the day short of the 90th year on his earthly sojourn.
This article has been crafted with information from my correspondence with him and previous articles about his work.
P.Y. De Jong was well-known for his zealous efforts to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy, but he was also a strong advocate for local and foreign Reformed mission efforts. Most of all, he was an indefatigable preacher.
Dr. De Jong served numerous CRC and URCNA congregations as Minister of the Word and as an interim pastor, preaching at almost 1,000 worship services. He taught at Calvin Theological Seminary during the 1960s and helped organize Mid-America Reformed Seminary, where he served as an early instructor in the 1980s. He provided leadership in the formation of the URCNA in the 1990s.
He was influential in beginning The Outlook and Christian Renewal, frequently contributing to both as while as writing Bible studies for The Federation Messenger. He wrote a two-volume commentary on the Belgic Confession and a study of covenant theology. He translated Jean Taffin’s The Marks of God’s Children from the Dutch into English and translated Bible studies into Telugu (a Dravidian language primarily used in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).
Dr. De Jong served as a missionary in southern India and remained actively involved with that mission effort for nearly 50 years. He taught at a Presbyterian seminary in Mexico and lectured there during seven winters he spent in Texas.
He held a high view of worship. In a series on Reformed worship, he wrote: “We are living in days of great liturgical upheaval. Novelty is the order of the day. And pressures for change are in our circles as well. Before acquiescing to them, let’s first reflect is some depth on what is ours, lest by ‘throwing out some smelly bath water’ we also toss out ‘a fine liturgical baby.’”
“As Reformed believers we insist that everything, also in church, should be done according to His Word. This not only addresses church government, but also—and perhaps this should be our first priority—the way we worship the God of our salvation. Here more than anywhere else can we experience the strong and life-sustaining heart beat of our saving fellowship with God who in Jesus Christ loves His people with a love that never lets go.”
Vividly contrasting true and false worship, he wrote: “True worship is a fragrant incense that soars above the starry skies to mingle with praises before the throne of grace and delights the God of our salvation.” While, “False worship is an abomination, a stench that arouses God’s wrath. It insults the God of heaven and earth. It rejects the Word. It deceives everyone who practices it.” He added, “God has made known rules for worship, which He expects to be observed. This shouldn’t surprise us since, in worship, we enter the presence of the thrice-holy God on whom our temporal and eternal life depends.”
“Liturgical experimentations produce much havoc and heartache in our day,” he continued. “To guard against abuse, worship must be planned according to the ‘regulative principle.’ Only that which has clear biblical warrant may be included in congregational worship.”
“God has commanded that this Word be clearly explained to the people. That command was given to Moses and thereafter to the priests. When they failed in their calling, He commissioned prophets who exposed the people’s sins and called them to return to God. These men repeatedly warned against the man-pleasing messages of false prophets. John the Baptist preached the gospel of repentance and pointed to the coming Savior who alone could take away the sins of the world. Jesus, throughout His earthly ministry, has provided us with the perfect example for all preaching.”
“When we consider these biblical examples, we note that not everything spoken from the pulpit today is really a sermon. It is often no more than a doctrinal lecture or a moralistic talk, a sharp scolding or a soothing address. None of these addresses (for that is all they really are) accomplish the purpose for which the Lord sends preachers. The Bible may not be a ‘textbook’ on sermon making, but it gives ample directives and abundant examples of gospel preaching (Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Peter 1:23-24, esp. Rom. 10:13-15).”
“As believers we should exercise the ‘office of all believers’ with full awareness of what is involved, responding with a sincere heart and mind to the living Word.”
When Dr. De Jong was asked to review and comment on the agenda for the URCNA Synod Calgary 2004, he wrote: “As a retired minister, deeply interested in the direction of the URC, I will do so as clearly and concisely as possible. Does this seem ‘presumptuous’ to you? Remember that every member bears a measure of responsibility for the spiritual health and welfare of the congregation and church federation to which he or she belongs! Leaving this to the so-called professionals and experts is unconscionable. Whatever gifts of insight and understanding and love for God’s glory and truth we have received, we are to exercise. In the church there has been far too much ‘passing of the buck to the next guy’ and then wailing that everything has gone so far wrong.”
He also wrote: “As I see it, any delegate who is unhappy and disagrees with a synodical decision has three honorable options: 1) Acquiesce without any further argument. 2) Register a protest for the next synod without agitating against the decision in the meantime. 3) Quietly leave for a church federation that would allow for his views.” He added, “When differences arise, let us always speak the truth without compromise but ‘speak the truth in love.’”
Dr. De Jong believed mission efforts should be based on “biblical principles and apostolic practice and the Spirit’s leading.” He added, “Bear in mind, the Holy Spirit…does not lead apart from the written Word of God.” He decried the “nonsense” of those who speak about following the Spirit’s leading, but are not clear on what the Bible teaches.
He believed an effective method of “doing missions” locally was “missions through neighboring,” which he described as “being a neighbor, showing an interest in your neighbor.” As one becomes better acquainted with others, opportunities to talk about the Lord will naturally arise. He pointed out the Bible’s promise that the Holy Spirit will provide the right words to say at appropriate moments. Small talk about general subjects—like the rain—can lead to deeper discussions about God’s providential care. Opportunities may arise to talk about prayer, or to extend an invitation to church, or to witness about God’s grace during times of struggle.
Dr. De Jong saw the danger for foreign missionaries had “markedly increased” since the two World Wars, writing, “Extreme people use religion as an excuse for their radicalism.”
He believed that a focus on missions should be a mandate for every church. “Any church which neglects this high calling soon becomes very introverted, self-centered, spending all its efforts on its own members,” he wrote. “All of which is a foretaste of spiritual anemia which can lead to a very…dead church.”
His interest in missions and orthodoxy was eclipsed only by his passion for preaching the Word of God. He stressed that a minister must be “totally dependent in the Spirit’s work for any fruit unto salvation,” devoting himself to much prayer without relying on “gimmicks” of any kind.
“It’s like the entrance into a small Dutch church building in Gronigen province,” he wrote. “On one side of the single door it says, ‘Salvation all of the Lord,’ and on the other side, ‘And naught of man.’”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 36-37 of the October 23, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.