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Smellie, Thomas. “Fenwick Church.” 1905

During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many Christian churches have closed their doors, cancelling regular public worships services, though often utilizing telecommunications to facilitate God’s worship in private home contexts. What principles do confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian elders consider when making their decision? These are the ones that factored in to my mind.

1. Worship is priority number one. God’s honor comes before man’s honor, His being before ours. “Thy love is better than life.” We should sooner join the three Hebrew children and lay down our lives than surrender an inch of God’s worship. The First Table comes before the Second, and if there is an apparent conflict, the general rule is to surrender our own interests.

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Here is something I designed for our catechism class to help young and old track with the main contours of Covenant Theology and its bearing on redemptive history. Comments below.

The Covenants Diagram

Much of this is self-explanatory for those with a working knowledge of Reformed doctrine. But a bit of clarification on my design. I added a dashed, horizontal line & arrow from Covenant of Works moving through the OT and NT dispensations to help reduce the impression that it is somehow a cipher after the Fall. I also configured the OT period to begin at Sinai (as technically it does), though canonically it usually embraces everything from Genesis to Malachi. Third, the dashed, vertical line above Sinai intersecting the horizontal lines of the Moral and Ceremonial law is intended to reflect the development and institutionalization of the latter and the explicit publication of the former. Last, the dashed and hard vertical lines at the cross represent the distinction between the definitive abolition of these laws at 33(-ish) A.D. and their actual, outward end with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

I omitted the ‘biblical’ covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic), leaving that for another day and another diagram.

And now you’ll need a chart to understand all that! Seriously, though, if you can help me perfect this further, I’m open. Just as long as you’re no Dispy, Hyper-Preterist, or any of the countless bunny trails from good old 1646 Federalism.

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A few years back, our family traveled to the U.K. by way of Holland. One of my daughters became entranced by all things Dutch while aboard a KLM flight, with tall, blonde and brunette stewardesses speaking freely in their mother tongue. While she had little firsthand experience of modern Dutch culture, she already had some exposure to the richness of Dutch Christianity, having read Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler (re-read chapter 1!) and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. And it wasn’t long before she started trying to learn Dutch online. So when I found myself back in Grand Rapids, I had my antennae up, on the lookout for a trinket for my Lowlands-smitten girl.

I was staying for a week at my hosts, the Kamps, the dearest Christian seniors you will ever meet. When my daughter came up in conversation, they really rose to the occasion. Mrs. Kamp right then and there hopped up, and busily rifled through her very tidy house (are there any messy Hollanders?). I would have been quite content with a cheap curio, something easily parted with and forgotten. While she did hand me a few inexpensive momentos, I was profoundly humbled that she offered the old book above without so much as a blink.

The volume is a late 19th century Dutch New Testament, a metrical Psalter set to the grand old Geneva tunes, and at the end, the Three Forms of Unity. The book exudes the “beauty of holiness” from the best of their heritage and serves as a handheld Ebenezer of God’s covenant faithfulness. As I hold it in my latecomer, ‘Gentile’ hands, I glory in a rich tradition I now own. In it, I hear the voice of generations past, confessing the true, Reformed religion, their “only comfort in life and in death.” I hear the august psalmody of the venerable dead, the spirits of just men made perfect who have gone to their reward. I hear their roaring thunder as they, the great cloud of witnesses, cheer us on while we yet run the race that is set before us.

I have been grafted into the good olive tree, as the Dutch, the Scots, the English, and many others before me. And my children, by covenant, are now holy to the Lord. May they too own “their father’s God.” May they never reject what they have received, selling their birthright for a full stomach. And may they cherish this volume and all that is stands for in an age that is fast losing its way.

For more images, visit here.

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In this video, I share about my efforts to evangelize and promote the Reformed faith in Rhode Island and especially in a multi-ethnic, working class area of Providence (read more here). At the end, I make an appeal for help.

I can be reached at 515-783-5637 or by e-mail at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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When I came to Rhode Island almost fourteen years ago, I inherited a small congregation, mostly of first generation Reformed folk. Because the core of them had become Reformed in the late 70s and early 80s, and because of the sound, faithful teaching of their minister, the congregation was solid and well-established. When I arrived, I was eager to evangelize and had been swayed by Thomas Chalmers’ (1780-1847) to attempt outreach on the parish principle. But there really was no residential neighborhood to speak of near the church building, and all of our folks traveled at least 15 or more minutes from various points of the state. While it certainly has accommodated our members, it has put me at some disadvantage to implement my parish vision. But there is no paradise this side of glory, so I do not complain. My attitude has been to work with what I’ve been given and trust the Lord to bless in His way and His time.

I began with a district in walking distance of my residence in Cranston, Rhode Island and approximately a 15-20 minute drive north of the church. When we moved to a different rental, I began working in that area. There, I had some greater success in making decent contacts. One lady came to church for a short time; and we rented a hall right in the neighborhood a few times with some small success. (more…)

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broken_glassA brother and I were making our way through a street in our district some years back. We came up to a black fellow in his 30’s as he was standing outside his apartment complex. We struck up a conversation and spoke to him about God, the soul, and the judgment to come. Out of nowhere – or so it seemed to us – this fellow broke down and wept. He confessed a deep sense of his sin, especially his sinful and violent anger. It was very touching and a more hopeful sign that God was not done with this sinner and was striving with him by His Spirit then and there.

He was soon in church, under the preaching of the Word, law and Gospel. He came with his girlfriend (something of a common law wife?) and two special children. Around that time, our family visited them in their apartment. We opened God’s Word, spoke with them about the “one thing needful,” and prayed with them. I came back frequently, as their door was always open.

“Charlene” was very engaged, hopeful that we could be of help to “Tyrone.” She explained that he would be gentle as a lamb when sober and was a very hard worker. But when he drank, the storm broke loose. He could be abusive and had been in and out of jail. It became clear to me that Tyrone had had a very troubled childhood and tried to drown his painful memories in drink. During this time, he was holding down a construction job and seemed to manage well enough. But eventually the wheels came off. Charlene had to call the police on him in one drunken outburst, and he ran. He was caught and thrown in jail.

Eventually, Charlene had enough. She left with the children and went to New York. Tyrone drifted along. Occasionally I’d reach out to him, or he’d call me. Thankfully his number never dropped, or I might have lost him for good. I learned that he found another girlfriend and began living with her. She called me one day a few months ago to tell me that he was in jail again, so I went and visited him. I spoke frankly with him about his soul and His need to get right with God through Christ.

This last Saturday, he was released. I went to visit and pray with him that night, then took him to church in the morning. I decided to break with my series in Exodus that Lord’s day to deliver a message that would be clearer for him, so I preached on the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. O that the Father would savingly draw this poor prodigal to His Son and begin to heal all the brokenness that sin and Satan have wrought!

More about RPM.

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old-door-knocker“Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Rev. 3:8).

I do door-to-door evangelism and actually believe in it – in 2018. In making that admission, I suppose I should feel like Sarah Sanders trying to tap-dance around a newly minted presidential tweet. But I simply don’t.

I’m not a JW or a Mormon. Nor am I a Fundamentalist Baptist. I’m a confessional Presbyterian, relatively well educated, and (somewhat) comfortably middle-class. So why embrace what many Reformed and evangelicals consider pointless at best and counterproductive at worst?

Since I was converted back in the early 90s, I’ve practiced a number of methods of evangelism. I do not consider any one of them ‘the’ silver-bullet, nor do I think that door-to-door is always and in every case the most ideal method. But for the last thirteen years, I’ve engaged in regular, door-to-door evangelism as key part of my overall outreach effort. I do not presume to have the final answer on all questions, nor can I boast impressive success. Do I do this perfectly? Not at all. I’m always going to be on a learning curve. And consequently, I’m open to other suggestions and critiques. But after these many years and after many, many discouragements, I still keep coming back. I still plod and hope.

Here are a number of reasons why I believe it’s worth a serious re-think.
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