It’s no secret that I love books. Here in my study I often feel like I’m surrounded by good friends. In this series of posts, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends, both the old ones from centuries ago and the more recent ones. I’ll describe their strengths and, where necessary, their weaknesses. The aim is to help you find good friends for yourself — in other words, to find edifying reading that will give you a better understanding of the Christian faith, a greater grasp of the gospel, and a deeper love for Christ.
It’s a sad fact that Canadian Reformed pastors and professors just haven’t written a lot in terms of books. We don’t really have any authors that could be described as “prolific.” Nevertheless, some of what has been written is unique and of exceptional quality. I would include the books of Rev. W. W. J. Van Oene in that category. Let me briefly introduce him to you.
Willem Van Oene was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 1920. He attended the seminary of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in Kampen and graduated in 1943. He was ordained in November of that year in Oud-Loosdrecht. Shortly after he arrived there, the ecclesiastical liberation (vrijmaking) took place. After serving another church in the Netherlands, in 1952 he immigrated to Canada to become one of the first ministers of the Canadian Reformed Churches. He served congregations in New Westminster, BC and Fergus, ON. In 1973 he received a Master of Theology degree from Knox College in Toronto. His thesis was in the area of church polity, comparing Canadian Reformed and Christian Reformed systems of church government. From 1979 to 1985, besides his regular pastoral duties, he also taught church history and church polity at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton. He retired from the ministry in 1985 and currently resides in Abbotsford, BC with his wife. This nonagenarian continues to occasionally preach in the Canadian Reformed Churches of the Fraser Valley of British Columbia.
Why is W. W. J. Van Oene important? As mentioned above, his special interests lie in the areas of church government and church history. In both areas, there is not a lot written in English. That’s particularly true with regards to the government and history of churches with their roots in the Netherlands. A lot of our history and heritage is still locked away in Dutch, inaccessible to many of us. Van Oene has helpfully made some of that material available in English.
Where do I start? Like our other CanRC authors, Van Oene was not prolific. He wrote many occasional articles for Clarion (and served as its editor for many years), but only authored three books. However, each of these three is important in its own right. The first edition of Inheritance Preserved: the Canadian Reformed Churches in Historical Perspective was published in 1975. It describes the early history of the CanRC — it is must reading for everyone who is CanRC or who wants to understand the CanRC. It’s replete with pictures and there is really nothing that compares with it. A second revised and updated edition was published in 1991. Van Oene’s second book was With Common Consent: A Practical Guide to the Use of the Church Order of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Published in 1990, this is the definitive work on CanRC church polity. Every CanRC elder and minister should have a copy, read it carefully, and keep it handy as a reference. People from other churches with a polity based on Dort (i.e. URCNA) would also benefit from this volume. Finally, Van Oene’s most important work is his 1999 book, Patrimony Profile: Our Reformed Heritage Retraced, 1795-1946. This is an expansive treatment of a neglected, but important period in Dutch church history. One of the most valuable features of this book is the fact that the author provides translations of key primary source documents not found anywhere else. All three of these books continue to be available from Premier Printing (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What to look out for? Van Oene is the most senior of all my CanRC colleagues. I don’t have any reservations about wholeheartedly recommending his writings. Like with other authors, I may not always agree with his conclusions, but that is to be expected. The only thing I would mention is that his books do not include footnotes or endnotes. So if you are to follow up on some points, you either have to contact the author or do some detective work. I should say, however, that Patrimony Profile does feature an extensive bibliography that helps in this regard.
W. W. J. Van Oene might be described as the Jay Adams of the Canadian Reformed Churches, though with an emphasis on church polity rather than counseling. He doesn’t mince his words. He’s bold and typically calls things for what they are. John Frame wrote some years ago about “Machen’s Warrior Children” in the OPC. Can I say that Van Oene is one of the last of “Schilder’s Warrior Children”? Though Frame may have been slightly (?) derogatory, I mean it in a more complimentary way. Van Oene and others who came through church struggles like the Liberation realize that there are things worth fighting for. The key is to identify those right things and then have the courage to fight.