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Archive for the ‘Contemporary Parochialism’ Category

“Chalmers’ method was simple, systematic, spiritual, and unadorned. It was concerned with reaching souls rather than building brands; it sought them out. A gathered team of committed individuals connected with their local community and the lives of individuals through visitation and interaction. Such a method has massive challenges in a society where community has disintegrated but that is not to say it is impossible. No doubt something resembling it is bearing fruit in some communities.”

In this article below, my good friend Matthew Vogan recounts the old national vision of our Scottish Presbyterian forbears like Thomas Chalmers, who maintained confessional fidelity while also aggressively engaged in home missions. Does anyone among the theological heirs of Chalmers have such a national vision? Or even more pointedly, does anyone care?

Well, I for one deeply believe that they do care. And that they have the almighty Spirit of God dwelling in them and resting upon them. Nothing can defeat the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, nothing can stop these ‘sons of oil,’ for it is “not by might, nor by power, but by [His] Spirit, saith the LORD.” They will hear their charge, and they will go, shaking off all inhibitions and possessing the good land that rightly belongs them–and much more, to the Heir of all!

(There. That’s the closest this stodgy Presbyterian will ever get to ‘naming and claiming!’)

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This article is found in The Bulwark, popular magazine published by the Scottish Reformation Society. To read it more easily, you will likely need to download and rotate view.


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Years back, my heart got large for missions — especially urban missions to those on the ‘other side of the tracks.’ At about the same time, I became Reformed (a high octane, old school Presbyterian no less!), putting me in a a sub-subset of a subset. My life and ministry has ever since lived somewhat in the frontiers the unlikely and the implausible. A straightlaced, tall gringo Presbyterian goes out among immigrants, trying to evangelize in broken Spanish and recruit sinners to the “outward and ordinary means” in a humble, little Reformed church 15 minutes to the south. And to sing Psalms. Without musical accompaniment. In English.

I admit that there are all kinds of problems with this model, from a human perspective. But it is actually more plausible than one might think. Yet before I deal with the plausibles, let me first set forth some principles.

The first principle is principle! Principle precedes the practical. We must first determine whether something should be done before we decide whether or not we think it is practical. We ought to go out and bring the Gospel to all. None excluded. Politics quite aside, we may and must not discriminate based on sex, ethnicity, gender, or for that matter even sexual ‘preference.’ By the mandate of our King, we must go and tell them. Yes, as Calvinists, we know that not every “all” means “all.” But “every creature” does in fact mean “every creature.” Even if they don’t look like us, eat like us, or even use our language. It doesn’t matter whether they ‘have papers’ or not, vote Democrat or not. How they got here and whether they should by law be here, is a separate issue for a different discussion (and full disclosure: I lean quite “red” when it comes to immigration policy!). But that they are here means they are here for us to evangelize. And not just gripe about and avoid them as much as possible.

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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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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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Writing more than a century before the McDonaldization of the Church, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) exposed the fallacy of faith in structures for evangelization.  It is a “Quixotic imagination, that on the strength of churches alone, viewed but in the light of material apparatus, we were to Christianize the population – expecting of these new erections, that, like so many fairy castles, they were, of themselves, to transform every domain in which they were placed into a moral fairyland” (Works 18:109).  While perhaps most evangelicals would probably deny the bald proposition that the building can birth a believer, yet it is very easy subconsciously to think that outward can allure the natural man out of his state of spiritual rebellion.  The fact is, if you build it, they just won’t come.  It is fleshly to think otherwise, for the arm of the flesh – and the fleshly mind – are powerless.

Yes, but what if it is well stocked with professionals?  Professional preachers, counsellors, and administrators?  All with D.Mins?  What if the attractive building is complemented with wide array of wonderful programs for young and old, and for every other conceivable demographic slice?  If you build that, will they come?  No doubt.  But then there is coming (Jn. 6:24-26), and there is coming (Jn. 6:65-66)!

Yet, church buildings are of  value.  Chalmers believed as much and zealously campaigned for the provision of more church buildings in his day.  By his efforts, more than 200 were built in the 1830s throughout Scotland.  But buildings are nothing unless they are furnished with a faithful ministry.  What is more, he contended, they must not serve the public indiscriminately.  To the church and its ministry a fixed, geographical district ought to be assigned for its regular and faithful cultivation.  A church ought to be a neighborhood church, a parish church, with a busy parish minister.  

Build that, and they will come.  Those whom the Father draws, that is.

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Here’s a great little piece on the contemporary applicability of the parish system, from a friend in the Anglican communion of Australia.  Maybe they can help bring us Presbyterians back to our own parochial inheritance!

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