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Archive for the ‘Parish Theory & Practice’ Category

IMG_5335District, door-to-door evangelism done right is distinctly Reformed, being a distinctly household-oriented approach to Gospel outreach.

Follow me here. Doesn’t God administer His grace to individuals as well as to households? Doesn’t it start with the head and flow to the members? Isn’t it interested in reconciling the father to the son and the son to the father? Abraham, Joshua, Cornelius, Lydia. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We aim for the heads of households; and if we get them, we get the family. (more…)

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IMG_3302“I am quite aware that the situation of some of the largest of our city churches in those central districts from which the better class of the population is rapidly receding towards the suburbs, and leaving their neighbourhoods to be occupied chiefly either by enormous warehouses, or by crowded masses of the very poorest people, renders it exceedingly difficult to use them in strict accordance with the territorial principle. I have a strong opinion that such districts will never be made what they ought to be in reference to church attendance and religion till this difficulty is boldly faced and completely overcome, and till the districts are worked and superintended as regular parishes, with their own ministers and kirk-sessions, responsible to the Church at large, and particularly to the presbytery of their bounds, for their faithful management. In some instances, however, transitional expedients might for a time be resorted to with advantage. A church confessedly too large for one parish of manageable extent might, for example, be used as the church not only of the district specially designated as its proper parish, but also of several other districts annexed to it for the nonce. Each of these should have its own minister from the first, and eventually would have its own church; but till things were made ripe for this latter consummation, the ministers of all the districts would work together from a common centre and have different services in the same church. Possibly in this way, by combined endeavours of a systematic kind, and by a variety of agencies and services, good might be done for all the districts in question, which could not be done for any one of them apart by itself. Nevertheless the expedient at best is of doubtful issue, and should only be tried in extreme cases ; and the thorough-going remedy of separate churches and of independent territorial work, wherever practicable, is to be preferred.”

– William Smith, Endowed Territorial Work, pp. 171-72.

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The following chapter entitled, “The Parson Catechizing,” is taken from George Herbert’s (1593-1633) classic of pastoral theology, A Priest to the Temple, or, The Country Parson his Character and Rule of Holy Life. Herbert, a celebrated English poet, was a minister in the Church of England. Though a conformist, his work surely merits serious attention by the heirs of nonconformity – a definitely pre-Baxter Baxterian. May the lost duty & art of pastoral catechizing be revived and stimulated by this rich contribution! [Recorded in audio here.]

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The Country Parson values catechizing highly: for there being three points of his duty; the one, to infuse a competent knowledge of salvation in every one of his flock; the other, to multiply, and build up this knowledge to a spiritual temple; the third, to inflame this knowledge, to press, and drive it to practice, turning it to reformation of life, by pithy and lively exhortations; catechizing is the first point, and but by catechizing, the other cannot be attained. Besides, whereas in sermons there is a kind of state, in catechizing there is an humbleness very suitable to Christian regeneration; which exceedingly unnameddelights him as by way of exercise upon himself, and by way of preaching to himself, for the advancing of his own mortification; for in preaching to others, he forgets not himself, but is first a sermon to himself, and then to others; growing with the growth of his parish.

He useth, and preferreth the ordinary church catechism, partly for obedience to authority, partly for uniformity sake, that the same common truths may be every where professed, especially since many remove from parish to parish, who like Christian soldiers are to give the word, and to satisfy the congregation by their catholic answers.

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My 2018 journal article, “Desert Rose: Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment (1844-1847),” published in the 2018 edition of The Confessional Presbyterian. Images used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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Figures_Moses_fixes_the_brazen_Serpent_on_a_pole“As to the attendance of the people on the Sabbath ministrations of the missionary, you will doubtless find that they will give you very fair promises. They may all say they will go to church; but by many of them the promises will not be kept. In such circumstances, a very good plan, which I would recommend to you, would be this, — Let either the agent of the district, or some person on whom he can depend, after the hour at which the various churches go in, go to the district where the defaulters, — reside, and entering one of their houses, beg to be allowed to conduct a family exercise, to which the neighbours may be called in. Depend upon it, they will take it very well. They will of course feel themselves caught . . . but still they will tolerate you, and make their escape next Sabbath, by going to the place of worship. That’s one of a variety of doing the thing. It will bring them in contact with the gospel at any rate. The great matter is to get them into the habit of church-going.”

-Thomas Chalmers, 1844 lecture on the eve of the West Port Experiment

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Here is the latest edition to the “Chalmers Audio Library,” a work composed in 1835 entitled “The Cause of Church Extension, and the Question Shortly Stated, Between Churchmen and Dissenters in Regard to It.”

In this essay, Chalmers clarifies the true goals of the Church Extension movement in Scotland in the 1830s, indicating that it is much more than an effort to build more churches for the establishment. It is a means to Christianize the entire home population of the nation, including the poor. The essay is rather encumbered with historical details that will seem remote to the modern Christian. However, if one perseveres, he will find that this contributes significantly to the body of Reformed missiology and offers much of enduring value for the Church’s contemporary witness.

For more about the Church Extension movement, see The Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, p. 182.

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IMG_0229Chalmers made no bones about the fact that the parish method of home missions was best. And with the confident precision of an engineer, he detailed how it should work. But he was no Pelagian mechanist:

“Let us not forget that, however indispensable the things for which we plead, they are, after all, but ‘the outward things of the house of God,’ — most important no doubt, as being the aqueducts for a diffusive and general conveyance of spiritual blessings; yet a vain and useless parade, if the grace only given to those who ask it, shall not light upon our tabernacles. With all our value for the mechanism of a well-ordered church, we must remember that its great master springs are in the hands of Him who casteth down the imaginations of the confident, and delights in lending Himself to the supplications of the humble, — so that, whatever glory may accrue from the wisdom of its rulers, it is in its of men of faith and prayer that the main strength of our Establishment lies.”

– Thomas Chalmers, Works 18:138-139

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Mike Hutchinson with the True Presbyterian Podcast interviewed me on a recent episode, “The Parish Ministry of Thomas Chalmers.” (What else? 😉) He does a pretty good job – check out his other episodes also!

 

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Just finished a new addition to the Chalmers Audio Library, “The Right Ecclesiastical Economy of a Large Town.” (Original here.) While it is somewhat ponderous in its Victorian style and treats some antiquated matters, the core of this piece is a profoundly relevant contribution to historic, Reformed missiology. If only every Reformed and Presbyterian office-bearer would read it and process it!

Here is a little extract to give an idea of his parochial approach:

“If he go much among them through the week, the unfailing result in time will be, that they shall come much about him on the Sabbath. This is the ligament, and we know not a more important one in the whole mechanism of human society, by which to elevate a degenerate population, and again to place them on that higher moral platform from which they have descended. There is no romance, there is a sober and home-bred reality in all the steps of this operation. On the very first movements of the clergyman, he will meet with the smiles of encouragement and welcome from every quarter of his parish, with a thousand promises of attendance on his church, many of which in the first instance will not be realized; but, with every month of perseverance in the assiduities of his office, he will find a lessening reluctance on the part of his people, and that even the obstinacy of their practical heathenism is not unconquerable. It will at length give way under the power of his sustained and duteous attentions. Providence will open a door for him, even to the most ruthless of the families; and, implicating his presence with the sicknesses, and the deaths, and the funerals of every household, he will, on the sheer efficacy of his Christian worth, and with no other engine by which to make his way than Christian kindness, obtain an ascendant over the hearts of his people, only to be won by the omnipotence of charity” (Chalmers, Works 18:73-74).

For any who wants a simpler, more accessible introduction to Chalmers’ thought, you can listen to this lecture.

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Music courtesy of Ernst Stolz, “Psalm 72 Genevan Psalter – setting by Claude Goudimel – viols & organ.” All images not my own are from the public domain (attributions here).

More about RPM

 

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