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I try to avoid promoting my own sermons very often. But after giving a short series on the doctrine of hell, I continued with a second short series on the subject of biblical, Reformed church growth, something very near my heart. Specifically, I spoke from Matthew 16:18 about building up the church from within by training up, winning over, and thus retaining our baptized, covenant children. We must promote and encourage Christian child-bearing and so helping populate the (visible) Kingdom through these “federally holy” sinners, a mission field in its own right. Then, I laid out in the final messages a call and battleplan for aggressive, local and regional missions. As Prof. Murray said when personally engaging in church-planting in New England, we must “go where the people are, not where you hope they will come.”

As we are planted in southern New England and are involved in a church plant in New Jersey, I call us to pray earnestly and labor believingly for the extension of confessional Presbyterianism here in our northeastern “Samaria.” It may be spiritually ‘rocky soil,’ but God can create sons of Abraham from these stones. He did it before! If things go from bad to worse, a strategic retreat is possible. But let us not give up the Messiah’s ground without a fight! And who knows? Perhaps the Lord will make this “desert to blossom as the rose” again, and restore the pure worship of our godly Puritan forbears.

Do you live in the northeast — in New England, New York, or New Jersey? Are you committed to the old paths of the Puritans and Presbyterians? Do you long for a Third Great Awakening today? Would you be interested in hosting special meeting in your area? Please get in touch with me at 515-783-5637 or mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

And if you don’t live in the northeast, would you pray for us? And maybe even consider joining us, if Providence opens a door?

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Below is an expanded and updated set of diagrams I’ve worked on to explain covenant theology in its various dimensions. The earlier version was posted here.

I ended up making three interrelated diagrams so as to avoid things becoming too convoluted. These should be pretty intuitive for the average Reformed office-bearer and the better-educated Reformed believer. (And note, ‘construct covenants’ is a term I’ve coined. If there is a more standard one of which I’m ignorant, by all means let me know.)

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The following is the text of a new leaflet introducing visitors to our worship practice.

Out of the Ordinary

Our worship practice is certainly a very different experience for many who visit us. We are certainly not your conventional evangelical church; and in many ways, we may stand out from even other modern Reformed and Presbyterian churches. To some, this worship is unique, even quaint; to others it may seem strange, overly solemn, and even off-putting.

One thing is for sure: we don’t worship this way to conform to trends, much less to attract those who already know what they want in a church. While our practice is very historic—this once was, after all, the universal practice among Reformed churches in Puritan New England, and other Reformed Churches in continental Europe—that’s not the reason either. The church, after all, is the house of God, not a museum! And just because something is ancient does not make it biblical.

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Somehow I was voted into it. Last year, on December 24 no less, I was invited by Les Lanphere to debate Rev. Joseph Spurgeon on the lawfulness of Christmas. (Other platforms.) Joseph was for, while I was against; and Les did a great job of moderating. I thought it went really well, and I came away feeling that I did a service to this unpopular position. I also endeavored to be as charitable as possible. Perhaps I overshot things by being so affable; but I’d rather fall into that error than the other way, lest folks think that being against Christmas is somehow a function of a grumpy predisposition. After all, I consider myself the merriest neo-Puritan I know. Ask my kids!

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In light of the ‘National Day of Mourning’ tomorrow, I find New England Puritan Increase Mather’s sermon here such an illuminating and worthy rejoinder. As the King Philip’s War (1675-1678) raged, natives attacking English settlements, he leads his contemporaries to probe the source. And it’s no hateful rant against the Indians! (Listen here; read here.)

Mather indicts the English settler’s provocations of the natives, including land-greed, which may well have contributed to the war. For these and other offenses, Mather takes off the gloves and summons his peers to repentance. But more, he rebukes them for growing cold and even in some cases becoming hostile to the explicit missionary intentions of the New England Fathers. How many had become prejudicial to these poor souls!

Definitely a cause for mourning, as the bodies piled up and the houses burned in 1676. But a far cry from the mourning of the modern “1619 Project” types who have swung from the one extreme of myopic idealization and historical whitewashing, to the other extreme of tarring and feathering everything that is European. The truth, as they say, is often in the middle.

I mourn today for all the wrongs my ancestors have done to those who lived before us — though hardly all of them, or even the majority. I further mourn for our national apostasy and covenant-breaking with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and grieve for the judgments we are even now experiencing, one of which is a generation that has been taught to reject and abhor all things past, including the Pearl of Great Price that our ancestors brought with them to the New World.

But tomorrow I’m going to give thanks and remember the Pilgrim Fathers, and Squanto, and Massasoit, the fair treaties that were honored, and John Eliot’s work among the Massachusetts, and their Praying Villages, the myriad of other blessings we now enjoy in civil society where the rule of law prevails, and above all, the freedom to worship God according to His Word. God knows the New World was no native paradise before 1619.

For more audio resources from our Reformed heritage, visit WPE Audio.

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The following is a series of messages given to lay out the distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, a denomination organized through the instrumentality of Professor John Murray in 1965, committed to the principles of historic Scottish Presbyterianism in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, as enshrined in the original Westminster Confession of Faith (1646).

(Note: The title “Our Testimony” is merely thematic, and does not refer to a supplementary ecclesiastical document besides the Westminster Standards as is done among Reformed Presbyterian brethren.)

Original Series

Our Testimony, Part 1: Psalm Singing

Our Testimony, Part 2: Instruments in Worship

Our Testimony, Part 3: Presbyterianism

Our Testimony, Part 4: Holy Days, True & False

Our Testimony, Part 5: Confessionalism

Our Testimony, Part 6: Experimental Religion

Our Testimony, Part 7: The Free Offer of the Gospel

Our Testimony, Part 8: Religious Establishments #1

Our Testimony, Part 8: Religious Establishments #2

Our Testimony, Part 9: Head Coverings

Our Testimony, Part 10: Liberty of Conscience

Our Testimony, Part 11: Our Communion Practice

Our Testimony, Part 12: Frequency of Communion

Additional Messages

One Table, One Cup, One Bread

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Classic Presbyterianism has been enjoying a small renaissance. It seems like every day I’m encountering new people and pastors embracing the “regulative principle of worship,” singing psalms exclusively, removing instruments in church, and objecting to holy days of human origin, such as Christmas. Sacred cows are a-falling, or at least are being questioned.

With respect to Christmas, then, it’s been reassuring to see more and more voices pointing out its pagan origins, and more and more being willing to cross the personal Rubicon … and not looking back. I rejoice in these things and thank the Lord for any and all Reformation gains. But I am concerned that for some, even good fathers and brothers in the faith, certain concessions are made that I fear leave a weed in place to grow back in full force. In other words, I respectfully express my concern about the informal retention of Christmas while officially going on the record as against it.

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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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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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There we were in the manse on Saturday night, in that sleepy little Canadian town. The minister’s wife was giving him a haircut before his Sabbath labors the next day. He was, well, idiosyncratic. The thin-framed parson had quite the shock of unmanageable white hair, much like Doc Brown. He sat there with some smock-like cloth draped around him, his helpmate-hairdresser poised with bowl of water and comb. Soon she set to taming the wild mane with the moistened comb. Water applied, it seemed as though his head had shrunk by half.

As she went to work with her clippers, the old minister told me about The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire, an old classic of the glory days of 18th and 19th century Highlands-Islands Presbyterianism. His eyes beamed, and he cackled with boyish delight as he retold his favorite story about Samsonesque Aeneas Sage and his rather unconventional missionary exploits. There was something about this all that strongly impressed me. There was something of greatness, a romance and even a mystique about that legacy that lingered about the place. The old Scots-Irish town, its church, manse, and, of course, this amusing old minister still retained something of the glow of the “years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Suffice it to say, this green goyim just had to find and read the book. And I did, again and again. And having been ‘bit,’ I’ve retold the story of Rev. Sage over and over to anyone who would listen. My children can probably repeat it verbatim … with a few eye rolls thrown in for good measure! And as an old bookish minister friend of mine would sometimes say, “And if it isn’t true, it should be!

Just finished reading and recording it. You can access it here. I also post a wide variety of classical Reformed, Puritan, and Scottish Presbyterian sermons, articles, and books. I aim to fill gaps with relatively quality audio recordings, especially for the benefit of pastors and elders who work with thinner margins of time.

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