On the Death of a Soldier

Cabbages and Kings

Weekly, even daily, we hear the sad news. The statistics climb ever higher of soldiers making the supreme sacrifice. I pray daily, and ever fervently, for our men and women in military service; for the ending of the

current conflict, and for peace with justice.

There is another war of far longer duration, with the greatest enemy of all, enlisting all Christians. Decisions are made in some of their churches to discontinue singing such hymns as “Onward Christian Soldiers” and similar warlike songs. More’s the pity. A sanitized gospel is no gospel. One cannot be a Christian without being an enlistee in the battle for truth.

All of this is to say that word has just reached me of the death of a soldier of Christ whose loyalty to the cross was an inspiration for me. Klaas Runia (1926-2006) was a minister in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands; a professor at the Theological Seminary in Kampen, the Netherlands; and a teacher in the Reformed Theological College of the Reformed Churches in Australia.

For many years he was editor of the Gereformeerd Dagblad, the weekly paper of the Gereformeerde churches in the Netherlands. He was knighted by the queen of his country. His writings inspired and helped me in my own soldiering.

I first met him in 1976 in Capetown, South Africa, at an interchurch conference. I still prize his comments and insights during several conversations, which have remained with me to this day.

Years ago there was a popular song in our country that was No. 1 on the Hit Parade. It contained the words, “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don’t mess with Mr. In-between.” Very likely Klaas Runia never heard of that song, but there was something about his soldiering that reminded me of that song all America was singing.

Even when Klaas tackled the negatives of heresy where he found them, his emphasis was always on the positives of the gospel. I learned from that and have always tried to put my weight down as a pastor-soldier on the positives.

It is no secret that the Netherlands, once the most religious country in Western Europe, has become the most secular. On the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly peered into the future of the United States and said that he feared our country might well follow in the steps of the Netherlands if we are not alert—departing from our Judeo-Christian roots and landing in the total secularity of the Dutch. It is a mystery to me how this transition took place in almost one generation in the land of my ancestors. It was in this context that Klaas Runia soldiered on.

One might have expected that he would have withdrawn from his faltering denomination. Many are quick to do so. My own denomination was born out of secession. Klaas, however, was not of that spirit. He was like John Stott and N.T. Wright, both Anglicans, who have also not withdrawn from a church that gives forth an uncertain sound.

Something to ponder.

Clarence McCartney and Gresham Machen, close friends, agreed that history would exonerate the one who left the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A (Machen) or the one who stayed with it (McCartney). I am not sure today what history has declared, for God blessed both their ministries. At the same time, in the case of Klaas Runia, I believe that his ministry was the more effective for having remained where God placed him.

Thank you, Lord, for Klaas, who went from private first class to general in the army of the Lord. And keep me from Elijah’s mistake (1 Kings 19:18), for there are yet more than 7,000 in the land with which we are historically bound who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  n

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
X