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Archive for the ‘The Church in America’ Category

Funny, but damningly true. Again, reinforcement that Adam Smith was dead wrong about leaving religion purely to market forces.

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A revealing (and heartbreaking!) article on the secularizing migration of America into the frontiers of heathenism. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Psa. 137:1-2).

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Over the years, I’ve heard about different pastors in America, from various evangelical traditions, more or less acting like old parish ministers. That is, they didn’t just look at their faithful congregations as the limits of their pastoral responsibility. Their ‘cure of souls’ reached to the communities where they were placed.

Not long ago, a friend of mine told me about an Assembly of God pastor he knew who fit this description. The following is used with permission from David Shedlock.

And if you know of a similar story, would you kindly forward it to me?  Feel free to drop me a note at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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Grinnell, IAWhen I first met Pastor Reaves, he had just finished mowing. I didn’t know this, because he came into the house wearing a tie. He shared with me later that he did this so that he would be ready in case he got a call to the hospital. I would also learn soon that a visit to the hospital with him, in this town of about 9,000, could turn into an all-day event. That is not because he overstayed his welcome. On the contrary, he seemed to know just how long to stay, usually less than 15 minutes. No, it was because he visited so many patients.

Back then, a minister could freely visit anybody in the hospital, whether or not they were members of his denomination. Pastor Reaves, of course, did not force his way into people’s rooms, but kindly asked if he might pray for them. Hardly anyone turned him down. You see, he believed the whole town was his church. And many in the town, who never darkened the door of the small, Assembly of God Church he pastored, would think of Sam Reaves as their pastor, and as their friend.

One of the family’s favorite stories was this: If one of the members in the congregation was being rushed to the hospital in Des Moines, he would often beat the ambulance there. A time or two, he got pulled over by the police. But, he would nicely tell them, not ask, that he was headed to the hospital, and they would be better off tagging along, and use their lights to help him get there, not to slow him down. You would have to have known him to know that his look was serious and no policeman ever held him up after his little speech.

Here are thoughts about that, from his daughter, Debi:

“Yes, this is correct. If he could, he would try to get behind the Ambulance rolling out of town and the police knew dad’s car. Then they would radio ahead. Many times he would have family members with him because they were too upset to drive. He was basically the chaplain for the community back in the day. Today I think every pastor should try to be a police chaplain to have the same effect that dad did in Grinnell. I never realized the impact he had till the day of his funeral. They had been away from Grinnell for over 12 years at the time of his death and the place was packed!”

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I am a whole-hearted supporter of free market capitalism. But like Thomas Chalmers, I demur when it comes to Adam Smith’s opposition to church establishments. He thought that the free market, when applied to the sphere of religion, would yield the best results both for religion and society:

But if politics had never called in the aid of religion, had the conquering party never adopted the tenets of one sect more than those of another when it had gained the victory, it would probably have dealt equally and impartially with all the different sects, and have allowed every man to choose his own priest and his own religion as he thought proper. There would in this case, no doubt’ have been a great multitude of religious sects. Almost every different congregation might probably have made a little sect by itself, or have entertained some peculiar tenets of its own. Each teacher would no doubt have felt himself under the necessity of making the utmost exertion and of using every art both to preserve and to increase the number of his disciples. But as every other teacher would have felt himself under the same necessity, the success of no one teacher, or sect of teachers, could have been very great (Wealth of Nations, 792).

Free market religious competition, further, could possibly result in an ideal “pure and rational religion, free form every mixture of absurdity, imposture, or fanaticism, such as wise men have in all ages of the world wished to see established” (793).

Well, having been born and raised in the land of religious free enterprise, I can think of at least a couple of reasons to disagree ….

 

kenneth-copeland-jesse-duplantis

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Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones – who explicitly avow Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

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Only a few days away from Halloween, I’ve been thinking more about why we don’t celebrate it, as well as reviewing online why other Christians do. I realize that there are many good believers who don’t see a problem with the festivities, and I’m not prepared to discount the evident grace of God that they have. Further, we are, every one of us, filled with sins and blind spots, myself included. But it is troubling to me how little argument is made against Halloween within the Church. So if you’re on the fence – and even if you’re not – may I at least challenge you with the following questions, friend?

1. Are you open-minded about it?  For a Christian, everything is fair game for re-examination under the Word of God. I fear that too often, we are looking for tailor-made arguments to suit our conclusions. We must not trust, but ever examine ourselves and let the light of God’s Word shine on even our most cherished practices. The Bible not merely some encouraging how-to handbook for ‘living our best life now.’ It is also a floodlight to expose our sins, that we might turn from them and find pardon and direction for new obedience. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

2. Have you educated yourself?  We really ought to understand why we do what we do. We must not be “as the beasts that perish,” unthinking and instinctive. Even if we conclude that it is harmless or even proper, we should “in understanding be men.” An unwillingness to inquire into the origins and development of Halloween for fear of what we may learn betrays a bad bias. We do not need to go on a witch-hunt for evil. But if we are going to adopt a practice, let’s do it with both eyes open. My wife and I recently watched a documentary about Halloween (with a bit of fast-forwarding) by the History Channel here. It only reinforced our decision.

Also, have you educated yourself about the biblical teaching on witchcraft and the occult, which Halloween unashamedly celebrates? For starters, read Deut. 18:9-14, 1 Sam. 15:23, 1 Sam. 28, 2 Chron. 33:6, 1 Jn. 5:21, and Acts 19:19. If you haven’t read them recently, re-read them. And note that witchcraft is branded in Paul’s catalogue of the works of the flesh, right along with other gross immoralities, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Even if we participate only in the ‘innocent’ aspects of modern, American Halloween, aren’t we somehow validating, or at least winking at the occult? We ought to have no fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20) and should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

3. Are you leading or following?  We are always products of our environment. But we should never let environment, culture, the marketplace or anything else call the shots. The crowd is not always right. And more often than not, it just isn’t. Counting heads is risky business, even when we are counting the heads of Christian trick-or-treaters. Let’s get in line behind God! Let’s be Joshuas, fearlessly pioneering the path of godliness, not the path of least resistance. So if that makes us strange and even lonely (1 Pet. 4:4), so be it. Let them say what they want. Let’s follow the pillar of fire by night. He will guide us safely through the darkness without.

4. Are your following your feelings?  Believe me, I know this all too well. The older I get, the more nostalgic I find myself. I remember the brisk, cool evenings, the costumes and the plastic jack-o-lantern pails. I remember with fondness going door to door, and telling my buddies which ones were giving out full-size Snickers. Halloween is in my American boyhood bloodstream, running black and orange every October 31. But I am not my own any more. I am bought with a price. I am Christian first, and an American second. How does God feel about Halloween? If my feelings are at variance, then those feelings must be put to death.

5. Do you have the hearts of your children?  The prophecy “a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6) is not to be confused with the curse of children-rulers (Isa. 3:4). Let’s face it. In America, Halloween is a day for children, and our age is the age of youth. But as adults, we must always be in the lead. And if we decide that Halloween is unwholesome at best or ungodly at worst, we should lead accordingly. I especially think this entails loving them demonstrably enough the 364 other days so we don’t cave on Halloween out of guilt. If we are in the lead, we can give alternatives and fill any void with deep, Christian, parental love, that will more than make up for any perceived loss.

6. Is Halloween really edifying?  Is this celebration of the dead (and the ‘living dead’) consistent with “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil. 4:8)? Does not the Halloween mask somehow mask over the obvious? As a rule, that which passes under cover of night is not worthy of those who are “of the day.”

7. Is Halloween really harmless?  I know that we sophisticated moderns dismiss ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and all things that go bump in the night. But are our secular, pagan neighbors really all that cut off from the reality and the draw of the Kingdom of darkness? I am of the mind that old, superstitious paganism is more alive than dead, like the Dracula of Halloween lore. It is a real, abiding threat. And as Christians who know better about the spiritual world, can we suggest that we are immune? We are not. If we flirt with the occult as though it were a child’s game, we may be drawn in never to return. Thus the ban on all paganism in both Old and New Testaments.

8. Are you being a good & effective witness?  This is a recurring argument, made no doubt by well-intentioned believers. I don’t impugn their motives. But having the only house with the lights out on Halloween is not inherently undermining our Gospel witness. Some apparently believe this rather strongly. But I fail to see how non-participation is necessarily boorish. If we go out of our way to get to know our neighbors as we should, show them the love of Christ, and speak the Gospel to them the rest of the year, I hardly see why I need Halloween to commend Christ. Our neighbors respect us, even if they don’t understand us.

Further, I am convinced that Halloween continues to be a heathen coping-mechanism, which I cannot endorse for their sake. That is, death is real, yet so troubling that they must somehow manage its reality – only on their terms, short of God. Laughter and frivolity are like the booze that drowns their troubles away. But on November 1, the specter of death still stares the sinner in the face. We, however, celebrate the Lord’s Day fifty-two days of the year. We celebrate life. New life – life over death!

Now there’s a celebration that calls for full participation. And invitation.

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1629_seal_Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_MassachusettsArchivesThe following is an excerpt from The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629.  The royal charter, in the name of “CHARLES, BY THE, GRACE, OF GOD, Kinge of England, Scotland, Fraunce, and Ireland, Defendor of the Fayth, &c.” was drafted with the view that the “said People, Inhabitants there, may be soe religiously, peaceablie, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderlie Conversacon, maie wynn and incite the Natives of Country, to the KnowIedg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Sauior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which in our Royall Intencon, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantacion.”

Alas, “from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed” (Lam. 1:6).

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In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers.  On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church.  But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.

The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church.  It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:

It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.

Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).

Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth.  The ministry has neglected catechizing.  Church catechizing, that is.  Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ – most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters.  At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people.  But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity.  An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention.  A profound insight indeed.

My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther.   I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point – but forever irretrievable, I fear.  The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson.  The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer.   Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.

We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”  And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them.  Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them.  And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?

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The following comes from President Edwards’ The Life and Diary of the Rev. David Brainerd (1743).  It in an insightful snapshot of the old Reformed discipline of catechesis and demonstrates how integral it is to evangelism itself. 

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THE method I am taking to instruct the Indians in the principles of our holy religion, are, to preach, or open and improve some particular points of doctrine; to expound particular paragraphs, or sometimes whole chapters, of God’s word to them; to give historical relations from Scripture of the most material and remarkable occurrences relating to the church of God from the beginning; and frequency to catechise them upon the principles of Christianity. The latter of these methods of instructing I manage in a twofold manner. I sometimes catechise systematically, proposing questions agreeable to the Reverend Assembly’s Shorter Catechism.  This I have carried to a considerable length. At other times I catechise upon any important subject that I think difficult to them. Sometimes when I have discoursed upon some particular point, and made it as plain and familiar to them as I can, I then catechise them upon the most material branches of my discourse, to see whether they had a thorough understanding of it. But as I have catechised chiefly in a systematical form, I shall here give some specimen of the method I make use of in it, as well as of the propriety and justness of my people’s answers to the questions proposed to them.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at death.

Q. I have shown you, that the children of God receive a great many good things from Christ while they live, now have they any more to receive when they come to die?–A. Yes.

Q. Are the children of God then made perfectly free from sin?–Yes.

Q. Do you think they will never more be troubled with vain, foolish, and wicked thoughts?–A. No, never at all.

Q. Will not they then be like the good angels I have so often told you of?–A. Yes.

Q. And do you call this a great mercy to be freed from all sin?–A. Yes.

Q. Do all God’s children count it so?–A. Yes, all of them.

Q. Do you think this is what they would ask for above all things, if God should say to them, Ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?–A. O yes, be sure, this is what they want.

Q. You say the souls of God’s people at death are made perfectly free from sin, where do they go then?–A. They go and live with Jesus Christ.

Q. Does Christ show them more respect and honour, and make them more happy* than we can possibly think of in this world?-A. Yes.

Q. Do they go immediately to live with Christ in heaven, as soon as their bodies are dead? or do they tarry somewhere else a while?–A. They go immediately to Christ.

Q. Does Christ take any care of the bodies of his people when they are dead, and their souls gone to heaven, or does he forget them?–A. He takes care of them.

These questions were all answered with surprising readiness, and without once missing, as I remember. And in answering several of them which respected deliverance from sin, they were much affected, and melted with the hopes of that happy state.

Questions upon the benefits believers receive from Christ at the resurrection.

Q. You see I have already shown you what good things Christ gives his good people while they live, and when they come to die; now, will he raise their bodies, and the bodies of others, to life again at the last day?–A. Yes, they shall all be raised.

Q. Shall they then have the same bodies they now have?-A. Yes.

Q. Will their bodies then be weak, will they feel cold, hunger, thirst, and weariness, as they now do?–A. No, none of these things.

Q. Will their bodies ever die any more after they are raised to life?–A. No.

Q. Will their souls and bodies be joined together again?–A. Yes.

Q. Will God’s people be more happy then, than they were while their bodies were asleep?–A. Yes.

Q. Will Christ then own these to be his people before all the world?–A. Yes.

Q. But God’s people find so much sin in themselves, that they are often ashamed of themselves, and will not Christ be ashamed to own such for his friends at that day?–A. No, he never will be ashamed of them.

Q. Will Christ then show all the world, that he has put away these people’s sins,† and that he looks upon them as if they had never sinned at all?–A. Yes.

Q. Will he look upon them as if they had never sinned, for the sake of any good things they have done themselves, or for the sake of his righteousness accounted to them as if it was theirs?–A. For the sake of his righteousness counted to them, not for their own goodness.

Q. Will God’s children then be as happy as they can desire to be?–Yes.

Q. The children of God while in this world, can but now and then draw near to him, and they are ready to think they can never have enough of God and Christ, but will they have enough there, as much as they can desire?–A. O yes, enough, enough.

Q. Will the children of God love him then as much as they desire, will they find nothing to hinder their love from going to him?–A. Nothing at all, they shall love him as much as they desire.

Q. Will they never be weary of God and Christ, and the pleasures of heaven, so as we are weary of our friends and enjoyments here, after we have been pleased with them awhile?–A. No, never.

Q. Could God’s people be happy if they knew God loved them, and yet felt at the same time that they could not love and honour him?–A. No, no.

Q. Will this then make God’s people perfectly happy, to love God above all, to honour him continually, and to feel his love to them?–A. Yes.

Q. And will this happiness last for ever?–A. Yes, for ever, for ever.

These questions, like the former, were answered without hesitation or missing, as I remember, in any one instance.

Questions upon the duty which God requires of men.

Q. Has God let us know any thing of his will, or what he would have us to do to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. And does he require us to do his will, and to please him?–A. Yes.

Q. Is it right that God should require this of us, has he any business to command us as a father does his children?–A. Yes.

Q. Why is it right that God should command us to do what he pleases?–A. Because he made us, and gives us all our good things.

Q. Does God require us to do any thing that will hurt us, and take away our comfort and happiness?–A. No.

Q. But God requires sinners to repent and be sorry for their sins, and to have their hearts broken; now, does not this hurt them, and take away their comfort, to be made sorry, and to have their hearts broken?–A. No, it does them good.

Q. Did God teach man his will at first by writing it down in a book, or did he put it into his heart, and teach him without a book what was right?–A. He put it into his heart, and made him know what he should do.

Q. Has God since that time writ down his will in a book?–A. Yes.

Q. Has God written his whole will in his book; has he there told us all that he would have us believe and do?–A. Yes.

Q. What need was there of this book, if God at first put his will into the heart of man, and made him feel what he should do?–A. There was need of it, because we have sinned, and made our hearts blind.

Q. And has God writ down the same things in his book, that he at first put into the heart of man?–A. Yes.

In this manner I endeavour to adapt my instructions to the capacities of my people; although they may perhaps seem strange to others who have never experienced the difficulty of the work. And these I have given an account of, are the methods I am from time to time pursuing, in order to instruct them in the principles of Christianity. And I think I may say, it is my great concern that these instructions be given them in such a manner, that they may not only be doctrinally taught, but duly affected thereby, that divine truths may come to them, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” and be received “not as the word of man.”

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The following is a review of Ashbel Green’s Lectures on the Shorter Catechism by Archibald Alexander in 1830.  Alexander (1772-1851) was the  first President of Princeton Seminary and a venerable patriarch of American Presbyterianism.  The following presents the bulk of this review, which treats the warrant and nature of the good old plan of Presbyterian catechizing.

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[If] we do not entirely misinterpret the temper and taste of the times in which we live, doctrinal catechisms, and lectures explanatory of such catechisms, are not the books which will be sought after and read with avidity. The religious taste of most readers is, we fear, greatly vitiated by works of fiction and other kinds of light reading. Nothing will now please, unless it be characterized by novelty and variety; and while many new means of instruction have been afforded to our youth, in which we sincerely rejoice, we are so old fashioned in our notions, as to feel regret that in our own church those excellent little summaries of Christian doctrine, the Westminster Catechisms, are falling with many into disuse. Our numerous (more…)

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