Friends You Should Meet (4) — W. W. J. Van Oene

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 (books@premierpublishing.ca).

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.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

10 responses to “Friends You Should Meet (4) — W. W. J. Van Oene

  • Jack Visscher

    Hi Wes,

    Thanks for giving us your Hall of Fame. You write that we do not have any prolific Canadian Reformed authors. I can, however, think of at least one and his name is Klaas (Clarence) Stam). Its hard to beat his output.

    Jack

  • Bob Lodder

    Nicely done Rev. Bredenhof. I appreciate you highlighting the efforts of ministers in the CARC federation who make the time to write and take on extra duties while managing an otherwise heavy workload in their own congregation.

    During my days as a high school student at Guido de Bres, I delivered many very thick envelopes from Rev. Van Oene in Fergus to Dr. Helder in Hamilton and back. These men put a tremendous amount of work into our Book of Praise.

  • One Christian Dad

    Reblogged this on One Christian Dad and commented:
    Rev. W.W.J Van Oene was promoted to glory this morning. The number of people he touched in 70 years in the ministry is impossible to quantify. Mightily used by God in this life, now clothed in glory not his own, he casts his crown before the throne of His Lord and King. My prayers are with his many family members on this occasion. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

  • Shirley Broekema

    If I recall correctly and not just a few years ago, I went off to the Netherlands as a very young adult to study at a Reformed Teachers College…not knowing much Dutch and with only a few English books penned by Canadian Reformed authors…one was “Inheritance Preserved” and another “Lasting Food”. Both witness to his faithful labour. The words of Peter in his first letter chapter 5 come to mind: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Thankful for faithful ministry!

  • Albert van der Heide

    Thanks for reposting this blog.

    At Maranatha, Surrey, we have many fond memories of Rev. Van Oene, who returned numerous times to our pulpit over the years, filling in as needed. He was also with us on Sunday, September 8, 2013, when the Rev. Van Oene and his wife both celebrated the Lord’s Supper with us. That afternoon, the Rev. Van Oene preached his very last sermon on the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer, LD50, with a special emphasis on that last part of the answer to Q. 125.

    As far as his prolifity as author is concerned: With Common Consent, Van Oene’s commentary on the church order is a classic. His Clarion series on our church leaders of the past, Patrimony Profile, will keeps its value. His most significant and most used contribution however went into The Book of Praise, a joint effort with a number of other men (acknowledged on page 660). This volume with the Psalms and their Genevan melodies is the greatest Canadian Reformed contribution to the English-speaking world.

    Let us be grateful and echo Roman 10:15.

  • Marsha Bultena

    Dr. Bredenhof
    Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about my Opa. This truly is a fantastic description of his life’s work and his goals, as well as him as a person. It will serve as a good memory of him to all of the churches.

  • Joanne Dieleman (Grimsby on.)

    Thank you!
    The other church in the Netherlands was Schiedam.
    He served that congregation there together with Ds. C. Vonk.
    I was one of his catichisme students.

  • Renee Huizinga

    Rev. VanOene was appreciated as he preached and pastored to the Free Reformed Church of Armadale, Western Australia. I’m sure many here remember him and his wife, Mrs. VanOene, when they were here for a year in, I think, 1985.

    Fondly remembered by W and R Huizinga

  • DongSup Song

    I visited him a couple of years ago. He gave me his thesis on Church Polity in the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Church(A Comparative Study of Two Dutch Immigrant Churches). Another note on College Aanteekeningen bij de Kerkenorde by Dr. F.L.Rutgers was given to me as my treasure in memory of him.

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