Archive for the ‘Missiology’ Category

The following are anecdotes from the labors of Puritan missionary John Eliot (1604-1690) among the Native Americans of early Massachusetts.  The extract is drawn from The Life of John Eliot by Nehemiah Adams (1847).

Specifically, we witness Eliot and company catechizing the heathen, ushering them into the holy knowledge of the faith and so into the bosom of the Church.  Obviously, our Puritan forbears entertained a broad view of this discipline.  It was not simply for those in the Church seeking to deepen their understanding of  but also for those laying hold of the skirt of a Jew and begging for guidance to Zion’s God.

After one or two more posts, I’ll conclude with some reflections on Eliot’s evangelistic catechesis.

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An hour and a quarter was occupied in the discourse. Mr. Eliot gave the Indians first a brief exposition of the ten commandments, showing the wrath and curse of God against those who break the least one of them. The subject was then applied, and the law having been brought to do its work in their hearts, and their sins being pointed out to them, as Mr. Eliot says, with much sweet affection, Jesus Christ was preached to them as the only Saviour. He told them who Christ was, and what he did, and whither he had gone, and how he will come again to judge the wicked and burn the world. The creation and fall of man, the greatness of God, heaven and hell, the pleasures of religion and the miseries of sin were then explained in language and with illustrations suited to their capacity.

The sermon being finished, Mr. Eliot proposed some questions to them, and first inquired whether they understood what had been said, and whether all or only some of them understood it ? A multitude of voices exclaimed that they all understood every thing which had been spoken. Leave was then granted them to put questions, and it is interesting to notice the first questions which these children of the wilderness proposed. The first questions were, “What is the cause of thunder?” “What makes the sea ebb and flow?” “What makes the wind blow?”

But there were some questions proposed by them which Mr. Eliot says some special wisdom of God directed them to ask, as, for example, How may we come to know Jesus Christ?

Mr. Eliot told them that if they could read the Bible they would see clearly who Jesus Christ is, but inasmuch as they could not then read, he desired them to remember what he had told them out of the Bible, and to think much and often upon it, when they lay down on their mats in their wigwams and when they rose up, and to go alone in the fields, and woods, and muse on it, and so God would teach them.

He told them that if they would have help from God in this thing, they must begin to pray, and though they could not make long prayers as the English did, yet if they did but sigh and groan, saying, “Lord, make me to know Jesus Christ for I know him not,” and if with all their hearts they persisted in such prayers, they might hope that God would help them. But they were especially to remember that they must confess their sins and ignorance to God and mourn over them and acknowledge how just it would be in God to withhold from them any knowledge of Christ, on account of their sins.

This instruction was communicated to them by Mr. Eliot through the Indian interpreter whom he had brought with him, but he says he was struck with the fact that a few words from the Preacher had much greater effect than many from the interpreter.

One of them asked, whether Englishmen were ever at any time so ignorant of God and Jesus Christ as they themselves?

Another put this question: Whether if the father be naughty and the child good, will God be offended with that child ? because in the second commandment it is said that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children.  They were told in reply to this that every child who is good will not be punished for the sins of his father, but if the child be bad, God would then visit his father’s sins upon him, and they were bid to notice that part of the second commandment which contains a promise to the thousands of them that love God and keep his commandments.

One of them asked, How is all the world now become so full of people, if they were all once drowned in the flood? This led to the story of the ark and the preservation of Noah.

Mr. Eliot then proposed some questions to them, for example, Whether they did not desire to see God, and were not tempted to think there is no God because they could not see him?  Some of them answered, They did desire to see Him if it could be, but they had heard from Mr. Eliot that he could not be seen, and they did believe that though their eyes could not see him, he was to be seen with their soul within. Mr. Eliot endeavored to confirm them in this impression, and asked them if they saw a great wigwam or a great house, would they think that raccoons or foxes built it? or would they think that it made itself? or that no wise builder made it, because they could not see him who made it?

Knowing that the doctrine of one God was a great stumbling block to them, Mr. Eliot asked them if they did not think it strange that there should be but one God, and yet this God be in Massachusetts, and in Connecticut, in Old England, in this wigwam, and the next, and every where at the same time?  One of the most sober of them replied that it was indeed strange, as every thing else they had heard preached was strange, and they were wonderful things which they never heard of before, but yet they thought “It might be true, and that God was so big every where.” Mr. Eliot illustrated the truth by the light of the sun, which, though it was but a creature of God, shed its light into that wigwam, and the next, in Massachusetts and Old England, at once.

He inquired of them if they did not find something troubling them within after the commission of murder, theft, adultery, lying; and what would comfort them, and remove that trouble of conscience when they should die and appear before God?  They replied that they were thus troubled, but they could not tell what they should say about it, or what would remove this trouble of mind, whereupon Mr. Eliot enlarged upon the evil of sin and the condition of the soul which is cast out of the favor of God.

Having spent three hours in this interview, Mr. Eliot asked them if they were not weary, and they said, no. But thinking it best to leave them with an appetite, Mr. Eliot concluded the meeting with prayer.


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“We must not sit still and look for miracles. Up and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee. Prayer and pains through faith in Jesus Christ will do anything.”

-John Eliot, Puritan missionary (c. 1604-1690)

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“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 the 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.”

– Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

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“In these circumstances do we know of no expedient by which this woful degeneracy can be arrested and recalled, but an actual search and entry upon the territory of wickedness. A mere signal of invitation is not enough. In reference to the great majority, and in reference to the most needful, this were as powerless as was the bidding to the marriage-feast of the parable. We must have recourse at last to the final expedient that was adopted on that occasion; or, in other words, go out to the streets and the highways, and, by every fair measure of moral, and personal, and friendly application, compel the multitude to come in. We must do with the near, what we are doing with the distant world. We do not expect to Christianize the latter, by messages of entreaty, from the regions of paganism. But we send our messages to them. Neither do we give a roving commission to the bearers, but assign to each of them their respective stations in that field, which is the world. And we most assuredly need not expect to Christianize any city of nominal Christendom, by waiting the demand of its various districts for religious instruction, and acting upon the demands as they arrive. There must just be as aggressive a movement in the one case as in the other. There is not the same physical distance, but there is nearly the same moral distance to be described with both ; and they who traverse this distance, though without one mile of locomotion to the place of their labour, do, in effect, maintain the character, and fulfil the duty of missionaries.”

-Thomas Chalmers, Works 14:84-85

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James Bannerman (1807-1868), one of the “Disruption Worthies,” wrote a comprehensive two-volume work on the Presbyterian doctrine of the Church, The Church of Christ.  It is a definitive treatment of the subject and really ought to be on the shelf of every Reformed minister, if not of every Reformed head of household.

The following quote comes from a selection in the first volume on the subject of the necessity of a friendly connection between the Church and State.  One of the reasons is that the State cannot be altogether neutral to the universal claims of the of the Kingdom of God within its boundaries.  While the Church does not have a right to interfere in the sphere of civil government, yet it demands audience from king and people of all lands.  Her warrant comes from none less than the Most High:

“[The Church’s] first principle and first duty is that of aggression. The ministers of the Gospel claim it as a right to go into every nation, however fenced around and guarded from intrusion, and to demand an entrance in the name of Him who sent them, even although the magistrate should bid them depart from his coasts. Further still, the messengers of the Cross arrogate to themselves thee title to enter into every human dwelling where a sinner is to be found, – seeking admittance in the name of the Saviour of sinners, that they may negotiate with the inhabitant in behalf of their Master, however sternly the door may be closed against them by jealousy of their errand, or hatred to their cause.

It has been the eloquent boast of freedom in our country, that every man’s house is his castle; and that, be it but a straw-built shed, open to every breath of heaven, yet fenced about by the protection and the sanction of law, there even ‘the king cannot and dare not enter.’  But where the king cannot enter, there the missionary of Christ claims to be admitted; and, with a higher warrant in his hand than that of human law, bids the gates be lifted up, that with the Gospel he may enter in” (The Church of Christ, 1:142).

Too often we fail to appreciate this authoritative dimension to missions.  While the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be patient with all men, yet he is not go to into the world hat-in-hand.  Mission forbids timidity, for we have been sent by the King of kings.   No, we should not force entry, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.  Yet alternately, we should not so ‘respect’ the boundaries of men when our Lord counts it no trespass.  It is His claim after all, the deed and grant of His Father.  And the warrant is in our hand.

So let us go.  Aggressively.

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The following extract comes from Thomas Chalmers: A Biographical Study, by James Dodds (1870).  In it, he recounts a lesser known story from the career of Thomas Chalmers.  While not an effort on par with his earlier St. John’s and his later West Port Experiments (he was teaching divinity at the University of Edinburgh at this time) the Water of Leith story nonetheless exhibits his ardent commitment to territorial or parochial urban mission.  Not to mention his readiness to roll up his sleeves!

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HALMERS, in 1833-4, was residing in Forres Street, Edinburgh, not far from the line of the Great North Road by Queensferry.  In his walks out to the country in that direction, he would often cross the lofty and spacious Dean Bridge, then newly erected,—the latest wonder in Edinburgh, —spanning the ravine through which, far below, foams the Water of Leith, turbid and brawling, and laden with pollution.  From this elevation he would look down upon the village of the Water of Leith, — almost sunk out of sight and sound of the world, though within a few hundred paces of the metropolis, — antiquated and decayed; cooped within steep narrow precipices; with tall gaunt chimneys, untenanted and crumbling granaries, rough dirty streets, miserable hovels into which ‘every element of heaven may enter;’ with scarce any sign of life or action, except two or three lounging figures, the noise and froth of mill-wheels, the grunting of pigs, and the squalling of children without childhood.  This abject and neglected place had made itself very notorious, in the late visitation of cholera, by its extreme ignorance and violence.  Yet in many ways it had a quaint, old-fashioned, half-savage charm.  To the antiquarian, this village was a curious relic of the past, lying close to, yet with a kind of repulsion hiding itself from, the encroaching pomp of the New Town of Edinburgh.  To the painter or poet it had strange bits of ancient masonwork; and it had frothing pools, and steep banks clustered all over with wild vegetation, and aspects of a rude primitive life. Chalmers was not insensible to the associations of the past; for, was he not born and brought up amongst the old decayed towns of the East of Fife?  He had also the artist’s eye for quaint and out-of-the-way nooks, either of nature or of human habitation.  But these lighter moods, though neither scorned nor abjured, were in his mind always subordinated to the sentiment of Christian benevolence.  Looking, then, from the height of the Dean Bridge, he might feel, ‘How antique!  how it carries one back to the time when Mary Stuart rode her palfrey across that now toppling old bridge in her excursions to the Highlands!’  Or, ‘ How quaint and picturesque these straggling houses, in the deep ravine, with the babbling brook running through the midst!’  But his uppermost feeling would be, ‘What a spot, as if scooped out by nature, and thrown aside by man, to plant a Territorial Church, with all its reclaiming and purifying influences!’

And in the Water of Leith he resolved to show to the world a new model of that Territorial system, which he had begun in St. John’s of Glasgow.

On a survey, it was found that the inhabitants were 1356 in number, but of these only 143 had sittings in any place of worship.  There was a meeting-house of some denomination in or near the village, but only five of the inhabitants had sittings; it was attended almost entirely by persons coming from a distance, outside the territory of the Water of Leith.  Chalmers, assisted by the liberal friends who never failed him, determined to raise here a territorial church, specially devoted to the inhabitants of the Water of Leith.  A missionary began his labours amongst them in 1833.  He visited from house to house, made the acquaintance of the people, was courteously received by them, conversed with them, visited the sick, was with them in the hour of affliction and death, was their daily counsellor and friend.  He invited them to come to meetings, where he addressed them—in fact, preached to them.  His audience became more and more numerous; he had to seek out places of meeting larger and larger; at last he resorted to an old maltgranary, where, with great packing, some 400 people could attend.  A church was then erected by subscription, which was opened in May 1836. The sittings were about 1000, and at a moderate charge, and offered in preference to the inhabitants.  Soon after the opening, about 700 of the sittings were taken, and almost entirely by inhabitants. It was a true territorial church.

Chalmers officiated at the opening, and dwelt paternally upon the effect of its territorial character.

‘Instead of leaving this church to fill as it may from all parts of the town, we first hold out the seats that we have to dispose of, at such prices as we can afford, to its own parish families. . . . Our fond wish for Edinburgh and its environs is that, district after district, new churches may arise, and old ones be thrown open to their own parish families, till not one house remains which has not within its walls some stated worshipper in one or other of our Christian assemblies; and not one individual can be pointed to, however humble and unknown, who has not some man of God for his personal acquaintance, some Christian minister for his counsellor and friend.’

This new and eminently successful model of Territorialism, coupled with his long teachings, the private exertions at the very same time of his old Glasgow friends, and also the religious darkness and fearful profligacy especially of the large towns, were at length stirring the Church of Scotland from its culpable neglect. . . 

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William Smith’s chapter “Endowed Territorial Work as Contrasted with Voluntaryism” in his Endowed Territorial Work (1875) is just so full of really profound, meaty material with surprisingly contemporary relevance that I’m just going to cut and paste a large swath here.  If you’re confessionally Reformed and zealous for mission that doesn’t pander, read this and read on.  You absolutely must cut your teeth on Smith; and if you’re hungry for more, by all means pick up Chalmers! 

A few things I love about this passage.  First, Smith represents the Reformed parish in all its vigorous masculinity.  Unlike the gathered church-model of Voluntaryism (19th century de-establishmentarianism), this construct keeps the church at the center of the community regardless of demographic and socio-economic shifts.  The Reformed parish church stands as a steady bulwark; it holds the standard like an intrepid solider on a contested hill.  Tragically, churches over the last 100-200 years have retreated from the inner-cities.  Not so the Reformed parish church.  And I would think that those who are won over to the ideals of ‘the auld Kirk’ would head unbanward to retrieve long-surrendered ground. 

Not only is the Reformed parish church steadfast, as Smith points out, but it is consciously God- and not man-pleasing.  The tendency of the alternate system yielding to market principles is to fawn and pander.  The latter tends to discharge its duty to men in the sight of God.  True, the Reformed parish church is designed to serve men.  But it serves them as that institution invested with the keys of the Kingdom, assigned to a definite geographic charge, and answerable to its King.

Related to this, Smith makes something clear that I haven’t yet seen in Chalmers.  He points out how territorialism tends to retard the downgrade of confessionalism.  If this model in principle resists the forces of market demand, then at least there is a kind of barrier raised against the inroads of populist latitudinarianism. 

Last – and so much more could be said – I love how Smith shows that the old Reformed parish plan smothers the cult of personality in its infancy.  Being Presbyterian, it takes overseer parity seriously both inside and outside the local context.  And since it respects without worshipping geographic, ecclesiastical boundaries, it promotes diligent attendance on the means of grace on faithful, not necessarily sensational pastors.  Oh, and there is no chapter on sheep-stealing in its playbook.

Alright.  Enough of Ives; enter Smith.

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Voluntaryism cannot, on its own footing, maintain itself in [poor] districts. Innumerable instances have occurred in which Voluntary chapels, planted originally in districts occupied by industrious and church-attending families, have been removed from these districts to more affluent and attractive neighbourhoods so soon as, from the extension of the town and the concentration of poverty and crime, there occurred an influx into these districts of a poor or vicious population. Parish churches remain permanently in their first position. Though erected originally for the rich, who occupied as their palatial mansions tenements now converted into stores and warehouses, and now surrounded by drunkenness, pauperism, filth, and crime, they maintain their places unchanged, and continue to ring out their Sabbath-bell warning against the sins that prevail around them. Parish ministers, true to their trust, do not abandon the degraded poor whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.”  The fold and the shepherd remain, whatever change the flock may undergo.”  But Voluntaries, more fickle in their affections and less restricted in action, change continually the sites of their chapels, and follow on the skirts of a paying population. Edinburgh exhibits examples of this. Glasgow exhibits still more. But perhaps the most notorious scene of such unworthy and recreant migrations is to be found in Liverpool, where more than fifty such deserted sites may be traced on the map of the town, and where thirty-three chapels have occupied a hundred and thirty different sites— the congregations, in their corporate capacity, remaining the same.  The principle that operates in this way to the abandonment and neglect of the poorer districts, that the wealthier may be courted and cultivated, is surely not a right or commendable principle. It does not harmonise with the spirit of the Gospel, nor can it fulfil the command or do the work of Him who said, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither ” (i.e., to the Gospel feast) “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. … Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house be filled.”

Dissenters, as a rule, do not systematically visit the poor. It is not part of their system. Their energies are sufficiently tasked otherwise in recruiting their ranks from the multitude of respectable artisans and small shopkeepers who, in our overgrown town parishes, are driven from the national Church by the lack of sufficient accommodation, or by the system of exclusive and proprietary pews that has sprung up, fungus-like, in some quarters. If any Dissenting congregation does adopt the system of local house-to-house visitation, the manner and the meaning of it will soon be detected. The zeal of many of the visitors will be found to expend itself in plying with fulsome flattery, or cajoling with astute misrepresentation, the more respectable adherents of other Churches, if haply they may be seduced to speak the shibboleth and swell the numbers of their congregation. The degraded classes will be lightly passed by. The clamant poor will be silently left, or actually certificated and commended, to the care of the parish minister. The system that countenances, necessitates, or involves such procedure as this, is a selfish, hollow, and rotten system. It cannot cope with the adverse circumstances of society; it cannot overcome the evil of the world.

The system of endowed territorial work, on the contrary, is in strict keeping with Christ’s commission to go and make disciples of all nations. It accords with the plan on which the apostles and first promulgators of the Gospel founded Churches in different places. It conserves the general principles laid down in the New Testament for the guidance of the Church to the end of the world. It approves itself to sound reason as best adapted alike for diffusing generally, and for maintaining permanently, the power of the Gospel in any land. It secures for the pastor a proper sphere, and invests him with the requisite influence, authority, and independence. It places the office-bearers and members of his congregation in a right relationship to him, one to another, and towards such as are without. It marks out for them all a field, the faithful cultivation of which at once exercises the graces and gifts, enhances the joys and rewards, of those that cultivate it, and adds to the trophies of the great Husbandman into whose garners its crops are gathered.  On all these grounds, and on many more which time would fail fully to specify, endowed territorial work approves itself as the system which, most consistent with Christian principle, is in practice found to be most effective and successful.

On the minister it devolves the burden of territorial responsibility, by assigning to each, at his ordination and induction to a parish, a certain amount of well – defined and overtakable, work.  This is its grand underlying principle. Practically, the principle has been departed from in many instances, and especially in our large towns, in consequence partly of the increase of population without a corresponding increase of parishes and parish churches, partly of the rivalry of Dissenters resulting therefrom. But wherever and from whatsoever cause the principle has not been fairly and fully wrought out by the national Church, it has been to the ultimate loss of that Church, and to the detriment of true religion. “Where the principle is strictly acted on—and it ought to be so in every case, both in town and in country parishes—the minister naturally and of necessity feels an interest in his work of a totally different kind from that which is possible in the case of him who acts on the Voluntary principle. The Voluntary minister is bound to the people who are attracted to his ministry by his eloquence and ability in the pulpit. The distance from which these are drawn is limited only by the range of the influence of that attraction. The greater his ability, or popular gifts rather, the wider is the scope of his attractive influence, and consequently the larger the area from which his congregation is drawn, and the vaster and more promiscuous the mass of population among which they are scattered here and there. His relations to his flock are personal only, and change continually with its shifting and fluctuating units. The greater his success and the larger his congregation, the less intimate and the less influential will these relations necessarily become. Whereas, in the case of the minister bound to a territory of manageable extent, his relations not only to the members of his congregation, but to all the inhabitants of that territory, are of a totally different character. They are more solid, intimate, and permanent. He belongs to them. He is officially and solemnly bound to serve them. The consciousness that he is so, and the consequent concentration of his attention and efforts on the scene of their daily avocations, impart to him a feeling of property in them. They belong to him. They are his people. There is thus insensibly created between him and them a link of friendly and familiar correspondence, which leads to the most beneficial effects. Thoroughly acquainted with the dimensions of his field of duty, and aware of the extent of his responsibility, the minister enters upon his labours with alacrity and good hope, and is stimulated and encouraged to steady perseverance in them by the comfortable and enlivening sense of being able to overtake them. Visiting his parish from house to house, he not only ministers on the best footing to those parishioners who by attendance in his church have expressed a desire for his ministrations, but, without any appearance of intrusiveness, without the possibility of offence, and without prejudice to the message he bears, he obtains easy access to home after home, where one circumstanced and accredited as he is can alone preach the Gospel with effect to those so utterly lapsed and careless that no amount of mere pulpit attraction will ever draw them to Christianity.  Besides, what wide and effectual doors are opened for his usefulness by the feeling which pervades the sphere of his activities that in the time of need the poor may apply to him, assured of sympathy and friendly aid—that in the season of sickness he is ready at hand to visit the most abandoned and depraved on their bed of languishing or pain, and to counsel and direct them when conscience at last finds her voice, when their fear cometh as desolation, and when distress and anguish come upon them!  The people know that they can in such cases confidently count upon his succour. Their mutual intercourse and acquaintanceship strengthen this feeling from day to day, till at last, by the cementing force of sympathy, the minister is throned, as Chalmers says, “in a moral ascendancy over his district;” and from his very position there goes forth a commanding influence for the highest ends, that reaches every home and heart within it.

For it is not the good of the poor only which the system of endowed territorial work is calculated to promote. That system is as much required and as well adapted for behoof of the careless and godless among the wealthier classes, who, but for it, would in the great majority of cases be left entirely to themselves, without instruction, counsel, or reproof, in the matter of their spiritual concerns. They are quite as liable as their poorer brethren to fall away altogether from religion. God has formed their hearts alike. By nature they are equally corrupt and depraved. The temptations of wealth and luxury and refinement are not less powerful in seducing men from the paths of piety than the temptations peculiar to a low, crushed, animal condition. The rich, therefore, need the visits and the ministrations of a faithful minister whom they respect, as much as the poor do. But in nine cases out of ten the visit of a minister acting on the Voluntary system would only give offence to the wealthy, create in them additional prejudice against religion, and so issue in doing far more harm than good. Whereas, on the other hand, the minister acting on the territorial system has, in the very nature of his work, a passport to every house in his parish. The reason of his visit being simply the discharge of incumbent duty, will be readily recognised and regarded with respect by the highest in common with the lowest; and, in point of fact, the relations which, on this ground, have been established between the landed aristocracy and gentry on the one hand, and the ministers of the Church of Scotland on the other, have been fruitful in manifold benefits, not only to the rich themselves, but to all classes. They have helped in some measure to neutralise the tendencies of these later revolutionary days towards the disintegration of society, and to keep class united to class by the bonds of mutual sympathy and respect.

The benefits of endowed territorial work have indeed for some generations been obscured by the partial extent to which the system has been maintained in this country.  Even at the period of the Reformation, the statesmanlike idea of Knox in regard to it was never fully realised. Through lack of sufficiently qualified ministers, and more particularly in consequence of the ruthless spoliation of the Church’s patrimony already referred to, the parochial economy of the Church was never, up to the measure of his policy and wish, made sufficiently large and comprehensive for the population of the country. Instead of one thousand only, as he desired, more than three thousand were assigned, on the average, to each parochial charge. In the years that followed, matters grew gradually worse and worse in this respect. In the course of time the population was trebled, and yet no appreciable addition was made to the territorial machinery of the Church. In the towns, where the principal increase of population took place, and where Church extension was chiefly required, the evil arising from neglecting this extension was in particular greatly aggravated by the all but total relinquishment there of all regard to territorial limits in the management of such churches as existed, and in the membership and discipline of their several congregations. These congregations, drawn indiscriminately from all quarters of the town, and from whatsoever parishes formed or environed the town, speedily lapsed into a state of semi-independency. In most instances, their numbers and demands were such as tasked all the energies and took up the whole time and attention of their respective ministers. In consequence of this, the territories assigned to their pastoral care remained untended and unvisited. For all practical intents and purposes, their boundary lines might have been erased from the map. The great mass of their population fell out of all ecclesiastical oversight. And thus the territorial system, sinking into something very like desuetude in many of the most important and conspicuous parts of the country, has not had fair play, and by many is supposed to have proved a failure, simply because it has never been tried.

Another thing which has operated strongly to the damage and disparagement of the territorial system is the overlapping competition of Voluntaryism. By virtue of the tolerant spirit of the times, and because of the liberal character of our civil constitution, Dissenters participate largely in the civil privileges flowing to all that profess religion out of the existence of an endowed territorial Church, although formally they refuse to be parties to any compact between Church and State, such as makes such a Church most easily possible. They derive no trivial advantage from the publicly recognised standard of truth and duty necessarily maintained by the national Church, and to some extent they share also in the benefits arising generally out of its parochial economy and organisation. In point of fact, as I have already indicated, Dissent flourishes only when and where the national Church is strong. Were that Church annihilated to-morrow, and were Voluntaryism thenceforward to become the universal order of the day, the first effect of the change would be a sapping of the chief strength there is in Voluntaryism, which is traceable mainly to the efforts of rivalry.  Gradually, every standard raised by it now, would be lowered further and further. Salaries now forced up by jealous comparison with stipends would become beautifully less. Systems of doctrine, kept pure and unrelaxed because of the continued existence in authority of the Westminster Confession, would, from time to time, be altered in one point after another, to suit the shifting sentiment of the hour. Work now stimulated into general activity by the arbitrary routine of official labours would degenerate into selfish and time-serving efforts.

And yet Dissent, owing her existence and much of her activity to the territorial system, does her very utmost to degrade the character and destroy the benefits of endowed territorial work—like the ivyplant, which, as it climbs, tends to choke the stalwart tree that supports it. Erecting here and there places of worship, maintaining in them ordinances which in most cases are nowise distinguishable from those dispensed by the national Church, and drawing to her, for various reasons, many nurtured in different parishes, she poaches at her capricious pleasure, now in this parish, now in that, and prosecutes, where the work will pay, enterprises that overlap and jar with proper territorial agencies, so as to prevent these from producing the benefit which, left alone to themselves, they would certainly do. What experience is more common at the present day than that of the earnest parish minister who, carefully mapping out his territory into convenient districts, and assigning to each such a staff of labourers as, under the presidency and direction of pious elders and deacons, could sufficiently attend to all the wants, both temporal and spiritual, of the whole population, finds that no sooner is the work thus planned and provided for begun, than it is imitated in its method and machinery by the emissaries of some neighbouring Voluntary congregation, who, previously satisfied with work of a congregational kind, select as a locality for their systematic cultivation not one altogether neglected, which would be good and praiseworthy on their part, but preferentially one which he already is sufficiently caring for? It may seem invidious thus to speak of such labours, by whomsoever and in whatsoever field they may be prosecuted. Those who are only superficially acquainted with such territorial work may imagine that the spiritual wants of any district can never be entirely overtaken, and that therefore no amount of work bestowed on it can ever be superfluous, or any number of workers in excess of its actual requirements. Such persons may consequently be inclined to attribute the remarks now made to jealous or spiteful feeling towards Dissenters.  But, in point of fact, all earnest workers in such fields must know well that there arises no greater hindrance to success in endeavouring to reclaim the outcast and elevate the fallen, than that which is caused by the clashing interference of two or three sets of similar agencies overlapping each other in one locality; and when, as too often happens, Dissenting agencies expend their principal care and strength on fields previously occupied by others, and in attempts to proselytise the children and dependants of those already more or less closely connected with other communions, the ultimate result of their efforts in this way can be only detrimental to the cause of religion in the locality, and tend to damage, not to promote, the success of thorough territorial work.

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Lately, I’ve been considering that the commitment to give oneself to the spiritual care of a particular locality and the zeal to do so are cooperative. Zeal for evangelism is a kindled sense of duty to one’s neighbor. It will impel a Christian to go after him, precisely because he will never come himself.(from flickr.com) Commitment to a locality is the product of this zeal. Yet, that very commitment can serve as the stimulant to our zeal. Let’s face it: few if any of us are always evangelizing with full wind in our sails. But to know that we are bound to our neighbors and are appointed for their deliverance draws us to our fulfill our duty, even when our hearts aren’t in it. And by following through in faith, God can reignite the passion once again.

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The minister’s house has historically been much more than a place for the man of God to hang his hat.  It was a base for mission, a fountainhead of mercy, a refuge for strangers.

Private residences of course played a major part in the growth of Christianity in the early church.  “Greet the church that meets in their house.”  This strategic utilization of private brick and mortar passed into the practice of successive generations and particularly the Reformers and their successors.  As I understand it, ministers often resided in large manses (‘parSolomon Stoddard's House (flickr.com)sonages’ in America) precisely because they were to be used as tools for doing Christian good in the community.  Just look at Solomon Stoddard’s home  in Northampton, Massachusetts (right).

Here, I think, is one major strategy we can glean from the past in our witness to modern day communities.  Let Christians use their homes as tools – and especially ministers.  May they become once again channels of Christian mercy to God’s people and catalysts for recreating Christian communities from our socially atomized neighborhoods.  Our home can be an oasis in the spiritual desert of those who reside near us.  From the living waters God has put in our home, let us irrigate the streets, lanes, and drives nearby.  And may God give us the increase.

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The labor of the Gospel is the labor of sowing seed.  The seed is the imperishable doctrine of Christ, and His ministers are privileged to share in this service.  We scatter the Word.  For many who hear it, there is no lasting benefit.  For others, there is.  And when it does, it bears fruit – thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

This dissemination is both narrow and systematic on the one hand, yet broad and sporadic on the other.  In recent years, I’ve been quite taken with the narrow and systematic type of dissemination.  It’s the main focus of this blog, a focus that seems to have been lost in contemporary Reformed evangelism.  The modern day ministry ought to reengage in localized, systematic district visitation.  We ought to rediscover and reapply the old parish principle amid the disarray of the American, market-governed scene.  Without focus and system, we will not subdue the inheritance of Christ.

And yet, this model isn’t everything.  The parish plan is not the evangelistic silver bullet.  Dissemination is also broad and sporadic.  We must preach the Gospel indiscriminately.  Not just to folks in parishes that we define and adopt.  But folks passing through, on the bus, at work, on the plane – even on the (cough!) information superhighway.  Folks we will likely never see again, but folks who, having the imperishable seed planted in their souls, might take root where they land.

Both approaches are necessary, and both are complementary.  Who knows what God will do?  Let us sow narrowly and sow broadly.  Let us sow systematically and let us sow sporadically.

And once we have sown, let us look to God who alone gives the increase.

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