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Archive for the ‘Family Religion’ Category

“There is one lesson that we need not teach, for experience has already taught it, and that is, the kindly influence which the mere presence of a human being has upon his fellows. Let the attention bestowed upon another, be the genuine emanation of good-will, and there is only one thing more to make it irresistible. The readiest way of finding access to a man’s heart, is to go into his house; and there to perform the deed of kindness, or to acquit ourselves of the wonted and the looked for acknowledgment. By putting ourselves under the roof of a poor neighbour, we in a manner put ourselves under his protection—we render him for the time our superior—we throw our reception on his generosity, and we may be assured that it is a confidence which will almost never fail us. If Christianity be the errand on which the movement is made, it will open the door of every family; and even the profane and the profligate will come to recognise the worth of that principle, which prompts the unwearied assiduity of such services. By every circuit which is made amongst them, there is attained a higher vantage-ground of moral and spiritual influence; and, in spite of all that has been said of the ferocity of a city population, in such rounds of visitation there is none of it to be met with, even among the lowest receptacles of human worthlessness. This is the home walk in which is earned, if not a proud, at least a peaceful popularity—the popularity of the heart—the greetings of men, who, touched even by the cheapest and easiest services of kindness, have nothing to give but their wishes of kindness back again; but, in giving these, have crowned such pious attentions with the only popularity that is worth the aspiring after—the popularity that is won in the bosom of families, and at the side of death-beds.”

Thomas Chalmers, Collected Works, 14:49-50

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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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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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IMG_1621“The Assembly, considering that the long-waited-for fruits of the Gospel, so mercifully planted and preserved in this land, and the reformation of ourselves and families, so solemnly vowed to God of late in our Covenant, cannot take effect except the knowledge and worship of God be caried from the pulpit to every family within each parish, hath, therefore, appointed that every minister, besides his paines on the Lord’s day, shall have weekly catechising of some part of the paroch, and not altogether cast over the examination of the people till a little before the communion. Also, that in every familie the worship of God be erected where it is not both morning and evening, and that the children and servants be catechised at home by the masters of the families, whereof account shall be taken by the minister and elders assisting him in the visitation of every family; and, lest they fail, that visitation of the severall kirks be seriously followed by every Presbyterie, for this end among others. The execution and successe whereof, being tried by the Synods, let it be represented to the next Generall Assembly.

-Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1639

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X. Sess. 13 et ult., April 27, 1708.—Act and Recommendation concerning Ministerial Visitation of Families.

“. . . Seeing, for the faithful discharge of ministers’ work, they ought, besides what is incumbent to them in the public congregation, to take special care and inspection of the particular persons and families under their oversight and charge, in order to which, it hath been the laudable custom of this Church, at least once a year, if the largeness of the parish, bodily inability in the minister, or other such like causes, do not hinder, for ministers to visit all the families in their parish, and oftener, if the parish be small, and they be able to set about it.

“For the more uniform and successful management of which work, although in regard of the different circumstances of some parishes, families, and persons, much of this work, and the management thereof, must be left to the discretion and prudence of ministers in their respective oversights, yet these following advices are offered and overtured as helps in the management thereof, that it may not be done in a slight and overly manner.

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FAMILY CATECHISING.

[From the United Presbyterian Magazine, Scotland, 1851.]

Of all the periods of human life, youth is the most favourable for religious impression. At first the judgment, though weak, is not pre-occupied; the heart, though depraved, is not yet hardened; and the conscience, though evil, is not yet seared as with a hot iron. Then, like the young sapling, the mind will take any bend you are pleased to give it. But when it has long been inured to sin, it becomes stubborn as the sturdy tree that resists our pressure. We are told, on the best authority, it is as unlikely for one to do good who has been accustomed to do evil, as for the Ethiopian to change his skin, or the leopard his spots. Hence it is that so little can be done with the aged, and many think that few are converted after their twentieth year. It is true we must not limit the Holy One of Israel, and we know he can save even at the eleventh hour. But though a man may be born again when he is old, few, we fear, are changed at this time of life, and most of the aged who are coming to the grave like a shock of corn in its season, are those of whom God says, “I remember the kindness of thy youth.”

Since these things are so, can too much attention be paid to the training of the young? And should not every expedient be resorted to for improving the precious season of youth? In what follows, we intend to confine our remarks to one branch of the subject—family catechising. Of the importance of this department of parental duty, we cannot form too high an estimate. A family thus instructed, becomes a little nursery for the church and for heaven. The advantages of the practice have been seen in the lives and in the deaths of multitudes, and yet the day of judgment alone can reveal them fully.

But this practice, so invaluable to the young, has sadly declined in these degenerate days. The time has been, when no head of a family, who pretended to the name of a Christian would have dared to neglect it; but, as with family worship, what was once the rule has, we fear, become the exception. Nay, there is too much reason to doubt, that rare as is the worship of the family, the family catechising is still more rare; and some who observe the former duty have no relish for the latter. The chief cause of this is, no doubt, the decline of vital religion; but there are particular circumstances at the present day, which cannot be held as evincing such a decline, and yet have had their influence in producing the result we are deploring. Since Sabbath-schools have become so numerous, many parents think the work of family catechising is taken out of their hands. Now this is a great mistake. Sabbath-schools are a blessing, and a great blessing, to the country. But they are at the best but a remedy for a prevalent disease, and if every father could, and would, instruct his own household, Sabbath-schools would be quite uncalled for. No Christian parent is at liberty to devolve on a proxy the religious training of his offspring. And what instruction can be compared to that of a father? The school teacher may be very kind, and deeply concerned for the salvation of his pupils. But the child knows that his parent has far more interest in him than any stranger can have; and if the lessons of the school are not seconded by home tuition, they will in general be in vain. The neglect of this duty we believe to be one great reason of a fact which all Christians deplore, that while Sabbath-schools were never more numerous, juvenile wickedness was never more prevalent.

The frequency of preaching on the Sabbath evenings, especially in towns, may be another cause which has led to this evil. These sermons are extensively placarded and earnestly pressed on attention. The names of the preachers and their particular subjects are diligently advertised and intimated from every pulpit, as if it were some performance where men go to be entertained. Parents think they are well employed when they are hearing the word; and, as this is felt to be much easier than doing their more appropriate work at home, it is often preferred. Now, no head of a family should ever think, in ordinary circumstances, of going to these evening discourses. He is the priest in his own household, and his work at home is far more important than hearing the most popular preacher, on the most exciting theme he can bring before them.

The neglect of the good old way has been most disastrous. It is owing to this that such ignorance now prevails among the members of churches, and that the attainments of most professors are so very circumscribed. None who examine candidates for communion, or parents who are seeking baptism to their children, but must be pained at this. Many people can make but little of sermons, as preachers cannot be always dwelling on first principles; and as church examinations, either from the neglect of the pastor, or the pride of the people, are now almost entirely obsolote, unless the examination be practised in the family, ignorance must increase. And is it not owing to the same neglect that the grossest errors and wildest views on religious subjects are so rampant in the present day? Though the age be distinguished for shrewdness and acuteness in detecting flaws in science and literature, what monstrous opinions are entertained on religion!

Now, if in early life a systematic view of Christian doctrine were obtained, and digested and stored in the memory, the analogy of faith would be seen; the bearing of one doctrine on another would be apparent, and the pernicious dogmas, which gain assent so easily, would be at once rejected. In times of change like the present, when a respect for all that is sacred is sneered at by many as weakness and superstition, when the march of intellect, as they call it, is the pretext for so much change, and when all the foundations have gone out of their course, how important for the young especially to be rooted and grounded in the truth, that they may not be the dupes of every impostor, and be tossed about by every wind of doctrine!

In catechising a family, much will depend on the mode of procedure. To be efficient, it must be done frequently, seriously, intelligently, affectionately, attractively, and prayerfully.

It must be done frequently. Not at rare intervals, as before a communion, or when about to ask admission into the church, or when the visit of the pastor is expected. It must be very regular, and often repeated. For many years it was the custom to require an answer to a question every morning, and the greater part of Saturday was devoted to a revisal of the Catechism. But in this age of bustle and business, when even the day of God is encroached on, and there is time for everything but religion, such important seasons may not be convenient. Yet once in the week is surely not too often, and the evening of the Sabbath may be employed by all.

It must be done seriously,—not like some secular exercise, but as a work involving eternal interests. The subjects of examination are all of the most solemn and tremendous moment. And yet how often are the questions repeated with scarcely a solemn sound, and by a thoughtless tongue! Now this is not only hateful to God, but hurtful to the young. On such occasions all levity must be banished from the mind. They must be taught, when examined, that they have now to do with God, and that the place they occupy is like the “holy ground.”

It must be done intelligently; without this it will be labour in vain. Many have the form of sound words to which they can attach no meaning. They can repeat the questions with the greatest accuracy; but if you vary the language and ask what is meant by the thing expressed, there is no reply but the stare of ignorance. In this matter an improvement has taken place in recent editions of the Catechism. But still there is need for more explanation, that milk may be given to babes as well as meat to the stronger man.

It must be done affectionately, in the spirit of the father when he said, “O my son, if thine heart be wise my heart shall rejoice, even mine;” or of the mother who, leaning over the darling of her heart, exclaims, “O my son, and the son of my womb, and the son of my vows, and the son of my prayers.” The young must be drawn with the cords of love as the bands of a man. We cannot compel them to be religious. We may force them to read the Bible, and to repeat the questions, but we cannot compel them to love the Redeemer. In conducting this duty, the father must try to convince his child that he loves him as his own soul, and travails as in birth that Christ may be formed in his heart.

It must be done attractively,—not in a scolding, scowling manner, which would discourage children, and beget an aversion to the exercise; not as a task or piece of drudgery, so many questions inflicted as a kind of punishment. Unless the duty is made a delight, it will be little relished. The pious Philip Henry, as his son tells us, made the work of catechising so delightful to himself and his household, that he would sometimes say, at its close on the Sabbath evening, “Well, if this is not heaven, it must be the gate to it.”

And it must be done prayerfully. The parent who knows anything of true religion, is well aware that all his efforts will be useless without the Spirit of God. He may succeed in imparting theoretical knowledge; his child may be able to answer with promptitude and precision every question he is pleased to put to him; but without the grace of God, it is all like the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal. The knowledge which is all intellectual may exist in the memory or the head, but it has no communication with the heart. Polish the marble as you please, it may display its spots and its veins, but it is marble still. No father can convert his son. Flesh and blood cannot do this; none but the Father in heaven. While, therefore, the parent questions, he must also pray; and while in the morning he sows the seed, he must look up for the early and the latter rains.

Were the exercise so conducted, might we not expect the most happy results? We know it is corruption and not grace that runs in the blood; and that many a pious father has had a wicked Absalom. But this is the exception and not the rule, and for such exceptions reasons may often be assigned, as in the case of David and Eli. Manasseh had a good father who would take care to instruct him in the things of God; and yet for a while he gave no evidence of profiting from his pious education. But see him caught among the thorns; carried captive to Babylon; lying in the dungeon, and there making supplication to the God of his father. It was his early impressions which were then revived. It was the seed sown into his mind when a child, that then sprung up and produced such a blessed harvest. And such cases are by no means rare. Parents may sometimes think they have laboured in vain. Their instructions may be buried long under the clods of corruption, but their words may be remembered when they are sleeping in the dust, and when their souls are in heaven. They may have occasion to say on hearing of the conversion of their poor prodigal, “It is meet to make merry, and be glad, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

If a parent, then, is reading these lines, we would say—for your own sake, for your children’s sake, and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, early instruct your offspring in the things of God. If your children perish through neglect of this, how can you meet them in the other world? “O father! O mother!” they might say, “if you had taught me the Catechism, if you had taken pains to instruct me in the things that belong to my peace, I might not have come to this place of torment. You took care, indeed, to cultivate my mind, and refine my manners; you sent me to every school but the school of Christ; you were careful that I should learn everything but the way of salvation. You often examined me on questions of science, but you had no anxiety to know my attainments in religion. You were proud when you saw me excelling others in branches of literature, but you thought no shame though you saw me ignorant of religion as the wild ass’s colt. The things that belonged to my peace you hid from mine eyes, and now I cannot but curse you for ever as the cause of my misery.”

But O, how different the meeting when by instructing your children in religion you have not only kept them from error, but become the means of their eternal salvation! Then how will they hail you, as, under God, the parents not of their first only, but of their second birth! And how transported will you be when called to account for your charge, you can say, Lord, here are we, and the children thou hast given to us—given to us first by nature, and then by grace! Happy family in heaven! Here you enjoyed your domestic gatherings, but they were soon over. But now your Sabbath’s sun never goes down—your meetings never break up! The Catechism is left behind you, and also the Bible, for now you know even as you are known. But being pious and happy in your lives, in your deaths you are not divided; for they who are a family in Christ are for ever with each other and for ever with the Lord!

 

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0_post_card_portraits_-_jrre_unidentified_rev_patonHere’s a selection from the first chapter of one of my all-time favorite books, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.  These two passages are some of the more memorable ones to me, holding out the beautiful example of a New Covenant Abraham, leading his family to the throne of grace and giving a foretaste of heavenly glory.

This book is well worth the reading.  If you don’t read the book, read the first chapter.  But I dare you not to continue reading after that.  Read it to your family on a quiet Lord’s Day afternoon and develop your own memories of hallowing the day with your children.  Oh, and make sure to read the poem at the end …

The book can be accessed online for free with GoogleBooks, and you can obtain it at Reformation Heritage Books.

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Besides his independent choice of a Church for himself, there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had heretofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathising mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening Prayer,—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example! I have heard that, in long after years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of the suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from the error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Saviour” . . . .

We had, too, special Bible Readings on the Lord’s Day evening,—mother and children and visitors reading in turns, with fresh and interesting question, answer, and exposition, all tending to impress us with the infinite grace of a God of love and mercy in the great gift of His dear Son Jesus, our Saviour. The Shorter Catechism was gone through regularly, each answering the question asked, till the whole had been explained, and its foundation in Scripture shown by the proof-texts adduced. It has been an amazing thing to me, occasionally to meet with men who blamed this “catechizing” for giving them a distaste to religion; every one in all our circle thinks and feels exactly the opposite. It laid the solid rock foundations of our religious life. After-years have given to these questions and their answers a deeper or a modified meaning, but none of us have ever once even dreamed of wishing that we had been otherwise trained. Of course, if the parents are not devout, sincere, and affectionate,—if the whole affair on both sides is taskwork, or worse, hypocritical and false,—results must be very different indeed! Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds drawn, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day’s sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living “encumbrances,” got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a “lift ” either way from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, rewarding us when we got the length of “taking notes” and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story, or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the “Pilgrim’s Progress”! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get reading aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote. Others must write and say what they will, and as they feel; but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love! The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.

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The following is especially written for young men.  It’s advice I hope to give to my own son when he comes of age.  But of course, there are principles that carry over for females as well.

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1. It is billus-08etter to marry than to burn. If you are not called to be celibate, be honest with yourself (Matt. 19:12, 1 Cor. 7:9). Then make three things your full-time job, in this order. First, become outwardly ready. If you’re miles away from financial readiness, don’t waste time and energy by toying with what you can’t yet have. Yet, don’t wait for a perfect readiness that may never come, or you may tempt yourself. Second, seriously begin finding a suitable partner. Finally, get married as soon as reasonably possible. Don’t prolong things unnecessarily. This is a recipe for trouble.

2. Do not be unequally yoked. This means that you ought to seek a sincere, orthodox Christian, above all (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14). Then after this non-negotiable, seek one of relatively the same spiritual maturity, of relatively the same confessional and practical convictions, and of relatively the same outward circumstances – age, appearance, socio-economic background, etc. Race, however, should not be a factor. As a rule, the better the match, the better the marriage. The more mismatched, the more occasions for problems down the road.

3. Keep perspective on attraction. Don’t discount attraction or feel unholy for desiring it – God made it (Gen. 24:16, Prov. 30:18, 19). But don’t let it override your better judgment, as the flesh can make it a snare (Judg. 14:3). Give greater weight to piety than to appearances (1 Sam. 16:7, Prov. 11:22, 31:10-31, 1 Pet. 3:3, 4). Also keep in mind that beauty is somewhat subjective. It is multi-faceted, and some aspects can take time to discover and appreciate. Marriage is but the beginning of a journey in discovering a partner’s beauty – and seeing beyond imperfections. Last, be aware of the influence of our culture’s paradigms on your remaining corruption. It wants to condition your ideals, and you must manfully resist it (Rom. 12:1, 2).

4. Navigate safely to shore. In terms of process, start with friendships in safe contexts. You can always make friends, but you should never break hearts if you can help it. Reserve your affections (as far as possible) for after engagement and your body for after marriage (1 Cor. 6:18, 2 Tim. 2:22).

5. Weigh the whole package. Look at pros and cons as impartially and prayerfully as you can. Be an intelligent reader of providence. Weigh such things as proximity, ‘availability,’ ‘attainability,’ personalities, the interest you sense or don’t sense, the in-law advantages and disadvantages, church situations, the prospect’s outlook on important life-issues, such as family, career, education, etc., and the time investment necessary in working through all this. Remember #1 and that time is ticking.

6. Ask advice and help from your parents and trusted friends – and pray. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. They will often give you helpful perspective – and perhaps help you make connections. But don’t ever forget to bring this all before the Lord. All answers are with Him (Jas. 1:5). “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”

7. Never give your ‘all’ to anyone but Jesus, and love Him above anyone else. He is the best match, and will never disappoint. And remember that the married state is temporary, while heaven is for eternity (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharkseason/1419160463/in/photostream/lightbox/“Keep your children as long as you can in your own house. Domestic feeling is a sacred tie which should be preserved fresh and strong—as long as possible. Often, mothers lose all their influence over sons by their being sent abroad to school. Have as much of your children’s education, therefore, conducted at home, as is practicable. Be assured that no place is so favorable to the good feelings and morals of the young as the family circle, unless the family be destitute of religion and virtue; and for such I do not now write.

“Boarding schools for girls may be useful—but I would advise you to keep your daughters at home, under your own eye, and when they go to school in the day, let them come home by night. You may possibly find a better school by sending them abroad—but the sacrifice is too great, and the risk of evil habits and evil sentiments is not small. And as to your sons, if they must go abroad, place them in the family of some pious man, and under the maternal care of some pious woman, where they may find a substitute for parental attention. While absent, let them return home as frequently as they can, that what I have called the ‘domestic’ feeling may be preserved. If your sons must be put to a trade, or become clerks in a store or counting-house, be very particular as to the character and conscientious fidelity of their master. It is lamentable to see how youth in these circumstances are neglected; and how they are exposed to temptations from which it is hardly possible they can escape without guilt and contamination.”

– Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)

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olaus-magnus-jpeg1I serve in a Presbyterian denomination with congregations generally consisting of first-generation converts to the Reformed faith and their children.  We don’t have swarms of young people, and many of them either leave for ‘greener’ Christian pastures or, sadly, go prodigal.  So retention is a problem, and ‘sustainability’ (to use an overused term) is a regular worry.  Sometimes, it is easy to feel like we’re on the high seas in a leaky rowboat, and the winds are kicking up.

I must confess that I look wistfully at some of those Presbyterian and Reformed congregations that are large, established, and multi-generational.  Without having sold out.  They are not many, of course.  Usually in the present day large equals compromised.  But God has been faithful to some communions.  The ones I know are Dutch Reformed.  They don’t just have Christian but Reformed schools.  That is, teachers have to subscribe to the subordinate standards.  Many of the children usually profess the faith in the congregations where they were baptized.  They then find mates, marry, settle down, bear children and further populate their ranks.  If not in their original congregation, then not far off.  Often in the same denomination. (more…)

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