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Archive for the ‘Missiology’ 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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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 are quotes from Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) who was passionate about relieving the poor and above all, bringing them the glad tidings of the Gospel.

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“Such is the peculiar adaptation of the Gospel to the poor, that it may be felt in the full force of its most powerful evidence by the simplest of its hearers” (Chalmers, Works 6:256).

“The proper work of an establishment . . . is to reclaim and christianize the common people” (Chalmers, Works 18:206).

“In respect of immortality, the great and the small ones of the earth stand on an equal eminence” (Chalmers, Works 6:288).

“Yet I must say I liked the Irish part of my parishioners. They received me always with the utmost cordiality, and very often attended my household ministrations, although Catholics” (Chalmers, Works 16:243).

“The main impulse of [the parish minister’s] benevolence, lies in furnishing the poor with the means of enjoying that bread of life which came down from heaven, and in introducing them to the knowledge of those Scriptures which are the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth” (Chalmers, Works 11:290).

“There is none we think of correct moral taste, and whose heart is in its right place, that will not rejoice in such a spectacle, as far more pleasing in itself, and, if only universal in our churches, far more indicative of a healthful state of the community, than the wretched system of the present day, when the gospel is literally sold to the highest bidders among the rich, and not preached to the poor” (Chalmers, Works 11:381).

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And some longer quotes:

“Now the great aim of our ministry is to win souls; and the soul of a poor man consists of precisely the same elements with the soul of a rich. They both labour under the same disease, and they both stand in need of the same treatment. The physician who administers to their bodies brings forward the same application to the same malady; and the physician who is singly intent on the cure of their souls will hold up to both the same peace-speaking blood, and the same sanctifying Spirit, and will preach to both in the same name, because the only name given under heaven whereby men can be saved” (Chalmers, Works 11:356).

“It was saying more for the common people of Judea that they heard the Saviour gladly, than for the Scribes and Pharisees who heard him with envy, prejudice, and opposition; and it is saying more for the common people of this country, that they hear the doctrine of Christ gladly, than for those learned who call that doctrine foolishness, for those men of taste who call it fanaticism, for those men of this world who call it a methodistical reverie, for those men of fashion and fine sentiment who shrink from the peculiarities of our faith, with all the disgust of irritated pride and offended delicacy” (Chalmers, Works 11:358).

“If a poor child be capable of being thus transformed, how it should move the heart of a city philanthropist, when he thinks of the amazing extent of raw material, for this moral and spiritual manufacture that is on every side of him—when he thinks, that in going forth on some Christian enterprise among a population, he is in truth, walking among the rudiments of a state that is to be everlasting—that out of their most loathsome and unseemly abodes, a glory can be extracted, which will weather all the storms, and all the vicissitudes of this world’s history—that, in the filth and raggedness of a hovel, that is to be found, on which all the worth of heaven, as well as all the endurance of heaven can be imprinted—that he is, in a word, dealing in embryo with the elements of a great and future empire, which is to rise, indestructible and eternal, on the ruins of all that is earthly, and every member of which shall be a king and a priest for evermore” (Chalmers, Works 6:260).

“It was not thus with the ancients of our Church when spoiled of her endowments by the rapacity of the Crown, and of those nobles who formed the all-powerful aristocracy of that generation. True there was but the population of a million in these days; but whole tracts of country were rifled by the hand of violence of their ecclesiastical patrimony, and no means were left for the Christian education of the people who would have sunk into a state of moral barbarism but for the efforts of so many patriots as courageous and enlightened as the world ever saw,—the fathers and founders of the Kirk of Scotland. The territory had been desolated of its provision both for churches and schools; but they went forth upon it notwithstanding, and chalked out their parishes, and planted their stations for the ministry of the word, and without the visible means of sustenance or support, laboured both with the Church’s plat, and the Church’s polity, till the God in whom they trusted overthrew the counsels of their adversaries, and forced out of their sacrilegious hands a hardwon maintenance for an order of men whom now it is the fashion to stigmatize, but who have ever proved, throughout all the periods of our bygone history, and have now the opportunity of proving still, that they are the best friends of the poor man and of the labourer” (Chalmers, Works 18:289).

“To give money, is not to do all the work and labour of benevolence. You must go to the poor man’s sick bed. You must lend your hand to the work of assistance. You must examine his accounts. You must try to recover those debts which are due to his family. You must try to recover those wages which are detained by the injustice or the rapacity of his master. You must employ your mediation with his superiors. You must represent to them the necessities of his situation. You must solicit their assistance, and awaken their feelings to the tale of his calamity. This is benevolence in its plain, and sober, and substantial reality; though eloquence may have withheld its imagery, and poetry may have denied its graces and its embellishments. This is true and unsophisticated goodness” (Chalmers, Works 11:303-4)

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“Ministers are the fishers of men; and the effect of an endowment is to lengthen their line, and enable them to reach downward to the lowest gradations of the commonwealth. The voluntaries are a kind of fly-fishers—whose operations do not reach to the muddy bottoms, to those depths and those fastnesses of society, which to them are inaccessible. And a chapel of ease, give it any ecclesiastical organization you like, is just such a voluntary [entity]. Nominally, you may give it the title of an established church; but you will never give it the power or the properties of an established church without an endowment” (Works 18:101-102)

In this quote, Chalmers is contending within his historical situation for the full inclusion of “chapels of ease” (more or less preaching stations) within the established Church of Scotland. But what is crucial, he argues, is that they should be territorial, assigned to focus pastorally and evangelistically on one defined neighborhood, and endowed, so that they do not have to be beholden to the more privileged classes attending from beyond their ‘parish.’ Without these two pillars, the ability to minister to all, both rich and poor, becomes extremely difficult. In fact, it becomes impossible when contemplated as a system for the entire nation, which is what an establishment is built to guarantee. In the end, you are back to the religious marketplace, and those who lack “wealth and will” are left to sink to the bottom.

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“If, in virtue of the missionary doings abroad, we read that hundreds of families in some before untrodden field of heathenism have been Christianized—let us not forget, that many are the cities of our own island, where, without one mile of locomotion, we might have converse with thousands of families, which, but for the same doings at home, would be sunk in the apathy and the grossness of practical heathenism”

-Thomas Chalmers, Works 11:445

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“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: but, as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand” (Rom. 15:21-22).

Not that Paul would have withheld the benefit of his instructions from those who were already Christians if they came in his way; but what he strove for and sought after, was to enter on altogether new ground, deeming it more his vocation to extend and spread abroad Christianity, by the planting of new churches, than to build up or perfect the churches which had been already founded. There seems to have been an emulation in these days among the first teachers of the gospel, which betokens that even they were not altogether free from the leaven which Paul had detected in his own converts, when he charged them with being yet carnal. There was something amongst them like a vain-glorious rivalship in the work of proselytizing—insomuch that the credit of their respective shares in the formation of a Christian Church was a matter of competition and jealousy. Our apostle wanted to keep altogether clear of this, and to be wholly aloof from the temptation of it—as indeed he himself intimates in 2 Cor. x, 15, 16, where he tells us that he would not boast of other men’s labours, or in another man’s line of things made ready to his hand. Certain it is, that while he refrained from building on another man’s foundation, he experienced no little disturbance from other men building on the foundation which he himself had laid-and these not only the false teachers, but even men who were true at bottom-yet would, like Peter at Antioch, have laid some of their wood and hay and stubble thereupon.

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Just preparing for another Reformed Parish Mission (RPM) slideshow presentation, this time at my good friend Rob Ventura’s church, Grace Community Baptist in North Providence, R.I. Many thanks to him and the dear brethren there for allowing me the opportunity to share about the work!

As I’ve had to trim things some to make sure it fits in the allotted time, here is a segment that may be of interest to anyone who wants to learn about how Thomas Chalmers proposed for ‘general,’ non-local congregations gradually to transition to the parochial plan. I made this rough-cut video of the segment – maybe someday I’ll update with a cleaner version. For now, ‘What I have recorded I have recorded.’

Also, if you think your church or group would like to host an RPM presentation (30 minutes plus Q&A) drop me a note! I’ve also done it remotely by Zoom, so that is an option too.

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My 2018 journal article, “Desert Rose: Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment (1844-1847),” published in the 2018 edition of The Confessional Presbyterian. Images used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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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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