Rev. Jake Eppinga has been with the Lord for some months now. But his pastoral insights and gentle humor have continued to grace the inside back cover of The Banner until today. In this issue be sure to catch his last installment—the one that caps 40 continuous years of his contributions.
With Jake’s graduation to glory, the Christian Reformed Church has lost one of its leading visionary conservatives. In print and in person Jake wasn’t shy about stating clearly where he stood on any issue, but he did so with wit, pastoral wisdom, a warm heart, and respect for those who thought differently. He listened carefully and honored the reality that the church of Jesus cannot fly on just one wing, be it the left one or the right one. I found that out about Jake earlier on in my own ministry. He was conservative on many issues, and good for him. But first and foremost he was a committed servant of Christ’s Word and someone who loved the church and the way it was embodied in the Christian Reformed denomination.
Several decades ago I was a co-pastor in a large West Coast Canadian congregation when the phone jangled at 5:30 a.m. (in his defense that was 8:30 a.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich.). I woke to Jake’s gravelly voice telling me the Banner editor search committee he chaired wanted me to throw my hat in the ring. Jake told me they had seven candidates for the position—three “left-leaners,” three that tilted more to the “right,” and one squarely in the middle. So they needed another “middler” to balance things out.
Jake personally felt that the church should have as wide a choice as possible. Each end of the spectrum was represented by both U.S. and Canadian candidates, but the middle only by one from the south country. After some hemming and hawing I agreed to the proposition—how do you refuse Jake when he makes an “altar call”? Jake was ever so gracious during the whole process and a great comforter when I went down to inglorious, public defeat at the next synod. (I fared better, years later, the second time around.)
What I took away from that episode I rediscovered over and over again in Jake’s writing. He didn’t just care about “left” and “right.” He cared about the church. And his appeal wasn’t only to one or another in-group: to lefties, righties, or tweenies. He was read and appreciated by so many CRC folks who weren’t like him in some way or another: younger, rural, more progressive, Canadian, blue-collar, you name it.
The ability to communicate like that is so rare. Jake was a special gift from God to all Banner readers. Will we find a writer to replace him? Will that person be a conservative, a Canadian, a woman, a farmer? God knows. We’ll be on the lookout.
For now, though, as we say in ice-hockey country, we’re retiring Jake’s jersey. We’re leaving space for the Spirit to work it out in God’s good time. We’ll do some praying and some patient waiting with thanks for Jake’s 40 grace-filled years.