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I could use some helpers, from near or far. Here’s the situation.

I’ve been doing a series in our second services on “Reformed Biblical Theology” (or Covenant Theology, if you like), tracing the one unfolding plan of God to save His people through Christ. The original purpose – beyond edifying our own folks locally – was to build a distance learning course for Westminster Theological Academy, our denomination’s program to train Liberian pastors and theological students. Since then, opportunities to use it among Spanish speakers have developed, both at home and abroad. A theological academy in Latin America has expressed interest in it, and now I’ve been approached by a Hispanic pastor here in Providence who is trying to get a Bible school off the ground.

Because my Spanish is not yet at the level where I can preach and teach in it, I need to utilize helpers. I’m considering a subscription to a transcription service to render my sermons/lectures into English manuscripts. Before they are translated into Spanish, I just need a volunteer (or more) to listen to the original audio, edit, and perfect the English manuscript. Then, I could a bilingual helper – fluent in English & Spanish – to translate the English manuscript into a Spanish one. We can then take it from there, whether reading and recording into audio, or utilizing for video subtitles.

To give you an idea of what you’d be working with, this sermon/lecture has been transcribed here.

Interested in helping? Drop me a note: mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com. Or, 401-484-8089.

In the following quote, Chalmers explains how a territorial establishment, where parish missions bring the Gospel to every home and hearth, is a double blessing. Even if few souls are saved, the social and moral impact of the Gospel effort leavens the lump:

“And perhaps it will give in your eyes less of a Utopian, and more of an experimental character, to our anticipations of a result so general—if we ask you to consider the just observation of Mr. Wilberforce, on the effect of Christianity even beyond the circle of its own proper and genuine disciples. It elevates the general standard of morals, in every country or neighbourhood which it enters. Even though it should but spiritualize the few, it civilizes the many. Over and above its direct influence on those whom it converts, it has, through the medium of their example and their virtues, a reflex or secondary influence on the families of every little vicinity around them-insomuch that the sanctities and the extraordinary graces of a small number, with the influence of a purifying and preserving salt on the general mass, tell, by a certain overawing power, in restraining the profligacies, and so in raising the character for decency and morals of society at large. This will be remarkably seen in any parish that is under a reclaiming process from the out-fields of heathenism, if the experiment be but well and vigorously conducted. We do not say that the minister will Christianize all; or that he will introduce the worship of God, the voice of psalms, into every family. But the melody that is heard in the habitations of the righteous, will have a certain softening and subduing effect on the inmates of other habitations; and it will be found no romance, but in strict accordance with the realities of human nature, if-by means of his schools and of his other parochial institutes, and (of no small account either) if, by means of his own frequent and various intercourse with the people, and the dignifying effect upon all the householders of their personal acquaintance with the clergyman, and of the personal cognizance which he takes of them and of their families—he mollifies, and to a very great degree, the general aspect of that parochial community over which he presides ; and bequeaths to​ his successors a far blander and better generation, than he had to encounter himself at the outset of his great undertaking” (Works 14:334-335)

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Song 2:11-12).

As spring draws near, some RPM updates for praise and prayer.

For starters, Covid derailed my regular house-to-house visitation plan in 2020. In its place, I started up a couple of online Bible studies aimed especially at the lost and the unchurched. I recruited a small number of believers both from within and outside the church to form a core, into which I could invite these other warm contacts from the parish and elsewhere. We’ve been studying Genesis and the Pauline epistles. One Muslim woman, “Fatima,” has participated and was very interested to read about places in the Bible nearby her ancestral home! We’ve also had another African friend, “Lionel,” who has participated a good amount and has asked very thoughtful questions.

Sadly, “Leah” has fallen by the wayside. At some point, she dropped from the online Genesis study, and it became hard to reach her. And of course, no church. When we did get through, she said that her job had begun making her work on Sundays. Please pray that God would mightily draw her to Jesus, overcoming all barriers. I hope to stop by in as I resume the door-to-door rotation. Also pray for her live-in boyfriend “Mark,” and their two precious little boys.

After a year of this Covid-hiatus, I am now planning on a foray into my South Providence and Warwick parishes. One of my helpers from another church, “Ronald,” is interested in coming along. Since he is bilingual, speaking Spanish fluently, I anticipate that he’ll be a big help. I plan to get a couple of see-through facemasks just in case anyone is nervous about the spread of the coronavirus, but I’m going to guess that most folks who answer the door won’t care. Do pray for good success as we sow seeds – and pray that we’ll be surprised and find plants growing from previous seasons!

During the winter, I was also able to arrange and host several webinars introducing Thomas Chalmers, the concept of ‘parish mission,’ and my efforts in Rhode Island, the “Reformed Parish Mission.” It really is exciting to share what has excited me over the years. I hope to offer these every once in awhile. If you’re interested, do let me know. If I can cobble together a group of five, I’d be happy to schedule another. And, if you’re a church leader or preparing for the ministry), I’m thinking of trying to start a group that meets virtually 2-3 times per year to do readings in Chalmers, discuss parish theory, and even compare ‘field notes’ as we try to apply these principles where God has uniquely placed us. (e-mail: mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com)

Last, my good friend and fellow-laborer, Pr. Luis Morales, recently closed his small church of eight years. He has helped me several times with Spanish translation in my outreach to South Providence. Please pray for all his dear folks, that all may find spiritual homes and be embraced by new communities of believers. Yet while our hearts go out to them, it is with great joy to report that Pr. Morales and family have decided to worship with us at the PRC of R.I. This dear family is a very welcome addition to our congregation. Pray that the Lord would bless, renew, and use them among us. I am also very hopeful that Pr. Morales and I will be able to partner together more and more, both in the Spanish- and English-speaking spheres of our witness.

Want to learn more about our effort? Would you like to make a donation?

The following quote from Thomas Chalmers in his Lectures on the Establishment and Extension of National Churches (1838) captures his ideal for domestic missions. The ‘parish’ is not a synonym for ‘congregation.’ Rather, it is the defined sphere of pastoral and even missionary activity by a minister and his elders. This is the local or territorial principle.

* * * *

“Now the specific business which we should like to put into the hands of a Christian minister is, not that he should fill his church any how—that he may do by the superior attractiveness of his preaching, at the expense of previous congregations, and without any movement in advance on the practical heathenism of the community: But what we want is, to place his church in the middle of such a territory as we have now specified, and to lay upon him a task, for the accomplishment of which we should allow him the labour and perseverance of a whole lifetime; not to fill his church any how, but to fill this church out of that district. We should give him the charge over head, of one and all of its families; and tell him, that, instead of seeking hearers from without, he should so shape and regulate his movements, that, as far as possible, his church-room might all be taken up by hearers from within. It is this peculiar relation between his church, and its contiguous households, all placed within certain geographical limits, that distinguishes him from the others as a territorial minister. And let the whole country be parcelled out into such districts and parishes, with an endowed clergyman so assigned to each, and each small enough to be overtaken by the attentions of one clergyman—we should thus, as far as its machinery is concerned, have the perfect example of a territorial establishment.”

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Pastors should be servants. In the spirit of their Lord who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), they should be the transparent ministers of the Savior. They should be the selfless hands, the beautiful feet, and above all, the trustworthy mouth of the Good Shepherd. To be faithful, they must be sheep and ever remain self-consciously aware that they never graduate from ‘sheep-hood.’ They must love, because they have first been loved. They must freely give, because they have first ever so freely received! “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? …. Feed my lambs” (Jn. 21:15).

Read the full two-part article at Reformation 21: Part 1 & Part 2.

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Would you like to get a basic introduction to Thomas Chalmers’ parish mission theory? And are you up to learning about how I’ve been applying these principles in South Providence, a multi-racial working class area?

I’m offering another live video presentation tomorrow (Saturday), at 1:00 p.m. Eastern lasting about 25-30 minutes, followed by questions and answers. Because I will be showing photos of a number of personal outreach contacts from over the years, I’ll be doing this by invitation-only via Zoom. So if you’d like to be invited and participate, please drop me a note at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com. Or reply in the comments below with your e-mail address.

Home heathenism

“If, in virtue of the missionary doings abroad, we read that hundreds of families in some before untrodden field of heathenism have been Christianized—let us not forget, that many are the cities of our own island, where, without one mile of locomotion, we might have converse with thousands of families, which, but for the same doings at home, would be sunk in the apathy and the grossness of practical heathenism”

-Thomas Chalmers, Works 11:445

I once read somewhere that one of the Puritans recognized they were very odd ducks. As I recall, the term was “speckled birds.” Who likes being the outsider, the stranger in a strange land?

Kids can have an especially nasty way of tapping into this instinctual longing for inclusion and reinforcing herd-conformity. As a boy, I distinctly remember a time when a group of my friends and I took a break from our game of street baseball. Somehow it came up in discussion that one boy’s family didn’t observe Christmas. “What!” Replied another. “You don’t observe Christmas? Man, if I didn’t observe Christmas, I’d kill myself!” Oof. Of course, it was adolescent hyperbole; and we were soon back to the diamond. But I must confess, I also was on the shocked side. Not having Christmas? Not having the stockings hung by the chimney with care? Not waking up at dark-thirty to wake up the parents? No giddy, vulture-like descent on the presents? I mean, come on! My quirky friend felt the sting. He was not one of us! He might as well have had three eyes.

Then about seven years later, I swam the Tweed. After my evangelical conversion, I eventually found Calvinism (or Calvinism found me!). And after Calvinism, I found Puritanism; and after Puritanism, I found Presbyterianism. But not just any kind, mind ye! No, I’d say it was full-on “Scottish Old Believer” Presbyterianism. And that, among other things, meant no Christmas. Right. Just like my crestfallen boyhood buddy. Who would have imagined!

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“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: but, as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand” (Rom. 15:21-22).

Not that Paul would have withheld the benefit of his instructions from those who were already Christians if they came in his way; but what he strove for and sought after, was to enter on altogether new ground, deeming it more his vocation to extend and spread abroad Christianity, by the planting of new churches, than to build up or perfect the churches which had been already founded. There seems to have been an emulation in these days among the first teachers of the gospel, which betokens that even they were not altogether free from the leaven which Paul had detected in his own converts, when he charged them with being yet carnal. There was something amongst them like a vain-glorious rivalship in the work of proselytizing—insomuch that the credit of their respective shares in the formation of a Christian Church was a matter of competition and jealousy. Our apostle wanted to keep altogether clear of this, and to be wholly aloof from the temptation of it—as indeed he himself intimates in 2 Cor. x, 15, 16, where he tells us that he would not boast of other men’s labours, or in another man’s line of things made ready to his hand. Certain it is, that while he refrained from building on another man’s foundation, he experienced no little disturbance from other men building on the foundation which he himself had laid-and these not only the false teachers, but even men who were true at bottom-yet would, like Peter at Antioch, have laid some of their wood and hay and stubble thereupon.

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