Members of the United Reformed Churches owe Rev. Edward J. Knott a debt far greater than most realize. He provided biblical servant leadership at crucial points in the federation’s history, but this humble hero would be the first to downplay his role and redirect all glory to God.
Few ministers have accomplished more during their retirement to promote Reformed community and education. Rev. Knott provided direction during years of denominational turmoil. He and others were instrumental in the forming of the Concerned Members of the CRC, the Alliance of Reformed Churches, and eventually the United Reformed Churches of North America. He chaired the meeting organizing the URCNA, presided over its first synod, and chaired its first general classis. He provided counsel and pulpit supply for many churches during the URC’s early days. He served multiple terms on the boards of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and Reformed Fellowship.
Rev. Knott turned 92 on March 5, 2014. An Associate Minister (Emeritus) at Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, he still lives in his own home and drives a car. But pain in his legs and back led him to give up preaching at the end of September, 2013.
“I told Pastor Freswick I was finished with preaching,” he says. “It was just too difficult for me to stand that long.”
For over nine years, Rev. Knott had led worship services at a local retirement home every other month. The committee that arranges those services agreed that last September, with its five Sundays, would be his final month. He continues to lead a Bible study for women on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. He also currently serves on the Board of Reformed Fellowship.
Asked how he felt about finally relinquishing preaching, he said, “I’m okay with it. But I always enjoyed preaching.”
Preaching instruction, however, was his least favorite subject at the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That class was extremely demanding with sermons extensively critiqued. But it became easier when Rev. Herman Hoeksema took an interest in him, and his classmate and close friend—Rev. Hoeksema’s son, Homer.
Edward Knott married Harriet Doezema in 1946, and he was ordained in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America in 1947. The couple lived in various locations during his three years as a home missionary. In 1950, he accepted a call to the Kalamazoo PRC, which he served for nine years. He ministered to the Second PRC in Grand Rapids from 1959-1961.
He entered the most difficult period of his ministerial career when the De Wolf segment of the Protestant Reformed Churches merged with the Christian Reformed Church—a merger he opposed.
“I was dyed-in-the-wool Protestant Reformed,” he says. “But a number of the older ministers felt we had more of a future in the CRC.”
His strong commitment to the PRC and his close relationship with Rev. Herman Hoeksema led to a summer-long struggle, trying to decide if his should leave the PRC behind to join the CRC.
“It was necessary for the PR ministers to go through a colloquium doctum to be received into the CR ministerial ranks,” he says. “The decision to apply for such an examination was difficult for me, as was the exam itself.”
When he finally submitted to a CRC colloquium doctum, he told examiners that he still had differences with the denomination.
“I felt this might be the end of my ministry,” he says.
After a break in the meeting, however, a committee presented three questions in a brief re-examination. When he was able to answer their questions affirmatively, he sustained the exam. Shortly thereafter he accepted a call to Beverly CRC, where he served ten years, from 1961-1971.
He next spent seven years at West Leonard CRC in Grand Rapids before serving five years at Calvin CRC in Rock Valley, IA. During this time, Rev. Knott was diagnosed with melanoma and underwent chemo therapy for six months. The Knotts returned to Michigan in 1983, when he accepted a call to Forest Grove CRC.
He initially retired in January 1988, but continued to serve the Forest Grove congregation as counselor and one Sunday per month pulpit supply. In 1992, he and Harriet became members of the Beverly congregation they’d previously served.
Rev. Knot conducted the morning worship service at Beverly URC on October 21, 2007, as part of a celebration marking his 60 years in ministry. The Lord unexpectedly took Harriett to her heavenly home on July 3, 2011. She had gone with Rev. Knott as he preached at the retirement home that morning, and when they returned she complained of a headache. Only a few hours later, she was gone.
The biggest challenge of Rev. Knott’s ministry was balancing congregational and denominational requirements with personal commitments to wife and family. It was also difficult to find time for personal growth through reading and reflection.
He views his largest reward as “a good conscience that the work accomplished was done to God’s glory and the welfare of the church.” Other rewards of his work included times of peace and harmony within a congregation, when good relationships among the members nourished the ministry. He enjoyed witnessing young people profess their faith, and was touched when members expressed appreciation for the proclamation of the Word. He found personal satisfaction in doing what he was called to do and rejoiced to see evidences of God’s blessing.
Highlights of his ministerial career were the meeting at which Mid-America Reformed Seminary was formed (April 22, 1981), the meeting at which the United Reformed Churches came into being (Lynwood Independent Reformed Church in November, 1995), and the first synod of the URCNA (also at Lynwood in October of 1996).
Rev. Knott believes the URCNA faces some crucial issues, the most pressing a danger of doctrinal drift. He’s concerned about the indifference to and a lack of understanding about the antithesis and the resultant worldliness. He thinks ecumenicity is being overemphasized during this initial stage of the URCNA, when it should focus on growing in its own identity. He also sees remaining elements of individualism and independentism that prohibit unity.
He quotes the White Horse Inn theme in encouraging United Reformed members to “know what you believe, and why you believe it.”
Rev. Knott shares these words of advice for pastors: “Ministry is a full-time occupation; regard it as such.” He adds, “Love God’s people!”
The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 22 & 23 of the March 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.