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William H. Rutgers (1898-1980) | Heritage Hall, Hekman Library

Name: William H. Rutgers (1898-1980)

Historical Note:

In 1978, Dr. W. Rutgers took part in the installation service of Rev. L. Kerkstra at Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church. He recalled the crisis time when he had accepted a call and the same congregation – in the fall of 1952. In June of that year Dr. Rutgers was one of the members of the Calvin Theological Seminary Staff involved in the “seminary situation”. Synod did not reappoint him to the chair of dogmatics. The Grand Rapids Press headlined an article reporting the action of Synod as follows: “Synod Action Ousts Four of Calvin Seminary Faculty”. Rutgers had served in the Seminary since 1944. In the brief message to the congregation of Kelloggsville he said, “Permit me to relate an experience I had with the call to this congregation several years ago, 26 to be exact. It was at a time that I had passed through a shattering Waterloo sort of experience. I guess most people, if we live long enough, will have some such low-valley experience in life. Seemingly, for me, the rug had been pulled from under my foot; for a moment, everything seemed to lie in ruins. However, God was so merciful. I say this not to be boastful, but as an experience of fact, within a month or so He provided me with eight calls. I cannot tell you how ashamed or embarrassed I was for my valley experience and the sinking of heart experience. But now where to go? But do you know, after much though and prayer before the three weeks ended, all the others were cancelled out and this call, the first to be cancelled, was the very one I accepted.”

The Seminary situation experience, although a spirit and mind shattering one, did not leave him embittered. He testified that God’s grace was all-sufficient in his bitter disappointment. He was a man with a forgiving and forgetting spirit.

William H. Rutgers began his life in Firth, Nebraska on October 26, 1898. His parents, John and Sena Rutgers moved to Lynden, Washington where William received his elementary and high school education. For a few years, he worked on the farm, in a grocery store, at a lumbermill, and served in the U.S. Navy.

When he made profession of faith at twenty-one, he was constrained to enter the ministry. His preparation included studies at Calvin College and Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary and the Free University in Amsterdam where he received his doctor’s degree with a thesis on Premillennialism in America.

After graduation from the Free University, he became president of Grundy College and pastor or the Grundy Center and Holland, Iowa Churches. In 1933, he moved to Cicero, Illinois to serve the First Cicero congregation. He remained there for ten years. A farewell program gave thanks “for capable and effective leadership, for consecrated service, for nobility of character, for diligence and patience, for comradely fellowship in joy and sorrow.”

The Synod of 1943 elected Dr. W.H. Rutgers as alternate to the chair of Dogmatic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. When Dr. Cornelius Van Til declined to occupy the chair, William Rutgers accepted this call of the denomination and served from 1943 until 1952, when his teaching was terminated.

From 1952-1958 Dr. Rutgers served as pastor of Kelloggsville, Michigan CRC; from 1958-1964 he was minister if Bethany CRC in Bell Flower, CA; and from 1964-1969 his ministry was at 2nd Highland CRC in Illinois. During his retirement years, delegates at various classes heard William Rutgers enthusiastically speak about the work of the American Bible Society and the Evangelical Literature League. He wore the two hats capably.

Dr. W. Rutgers’ wider ministry included delegation to seven Synods, member of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary and of the Board of home Missions, and synodical representative to the National Association of Evangelicals.

A heart attack laid him low, and after being hospitalized, he died on July 31, 1980. He was survived by his wife of 53 years, Johanna (Bloemendaal), 1 son, and 2 daughters.

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