A great reason to read biographies is because they are an antidote to short-term thinking. When you’re caught up in the moment it’s easy to fixate on how hard-pressed you are, or how weak, or how hurt. When we’re thinking about only the now, we’re liable to question where God is, and forget how faithful God has shown Himself in the past.
Biographies take us out of the immediate by showing us how God has operated in a person’s life over that lifetime. So yes, they faced challenges and difficulties, but an overview of their whole life will often allow us to see exactly how God caused “all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).
RP’s newest release, Man of the First Hour by George Van Popta, is a biography about his father Jules Van Popta, the very first pastor of the Canadian Reformed Churches. If you’ve ever despaired about how things today are getting worse and worse, it’ll be such an encouragement to see that some of the challenges this pioneer had to face have definitely improved since then. In fact, one of the challenges his generation had to face has been transformed into a blessing that benefits us greatly today. As George van Popta writes in this excerpt from the book:
“One of the questions that confronted my father right from the beginning was whether a member of the church could join a trade union (ch. 7). This issue had arisen in the New Westminster church and the consistory had decided that membership in a trade union was incompatible with church membership. Brother Efraim Baartman, an office-bearer in New Westminster, and my father published articles about unions and union membership in the first yearbook (1952) of the churches. Both articles demonstrate the incompatibility of such dual and conflicting memberships. My father’s very thorough piece is added as an appendix to this book (appendix 3). He carefully analyzed a number of union constitutions and showed how a member was required to pledge to obey future decisions the union would make. A Christian, said my father, owes that allegiance to Christ, and to Christ alone.
“My father’s position on union membership left a stamp on the Canadian Reformed Churches. In Canadian Reformed culture there has been an aversion to joining and binding oneself to a union. The pages of the Year-End issue of Clarion, a magazine widely read in the Canadian Reformed Churches, are replete with advertisements and well-wishes from many businesses owned by members of the churches. Some companies trace their origins to the stalwart efforts of the early immigrants. These independent businesses have been an incalculable blessing to the churches, providing employment for thousands of people who, in turn, are well able to support the ministry of the gospel, the Christian schools, old age homes, summer evangelism, political associations, diaconal relief efforts, and more.”
There were other reasons not to join a union: their adversarial underpinnings, an offshoot of Marxist thinking that sees the worker as having to fight ownership; union members striking while also preventing replacement workers from filling in (they acted as if the job was theirs, rather than belonging to the business owner who created it, and in this way they stole the job); and union dues being used to fund ungodly political efforts. While these issues haven’t gone away, we can see that many of them have gotten better. For example, the Christian Labor Association of Canada is a union that specifically renounces the Marxist adversarial approach.
More encouraging still is seeing how God used the difficulties then to build His Church now. Entrepreneurs started businesses so that they and their brothers and sisters could find non-union work, and some of those businesses today fund much of the good our Church community is involved in.
This can be an encouragement for us today. Our corporate culture’s embrace of “Pride Month” in June is another indicator of how hard it’s becoming for a Christian to get a job in a big company. Will they hire someone who won’t pretend that Fred – who now goes by Fredina – is a woman? What will they think of someone who doesn’t want a rainbow flag on his desk? Certain jobs may be out of bounds once again for the faithful Christian. That is a challenge. In the short-term that can be downright depressing. But God has promised that He will turn this to our good. And in reading great biographies like Man of the First Hour, we can be encouraged to see how He has done so many times before.
Order ”Man of the First Hour” at Press.ReformedPerspective.ca.