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Archive for the ‘Parish Theory & Practice’ Category

Just finished a new addition to the Chalmers Audio Library, “The Right Ecclesiastical Economy of a Large Town.” (Original here.) While it is somewhat ponderous in its Victorian style and treats some antiquated matters, the core of this piece is a profoundly relevant contribution to historic, Reformed missiology. If only every Reformed and Presbyterian office-bearer would read it and process it!

Here is a little extract to give an idea of his parochial approach:

“If he go much among them through the week, the unfailing result in time will be, that they shall come much about him on the Sabbath. This is the ligament, and we know not a more important one in the whole mechanism of human society, by which to elevate a degenerate population, and again to place them on that higher moral platform from which they have descended. There is no romance, there is a sober and home-bred reality in all the steps of this operation. On the very first movements of the clergyman, he will meet with the smiles of encouragement and welcome from every quarter of his parish, with a thousand promises of attendance on his church, many of which in the first instance will not be realized; but, with every month of perseverance in the assiduities of his office, he will find a lessening reluctance on the part of his people, and that even the obstinacy of their practical heathenism is not unconquerable. It will at length give way under the power of his sustained and duteous attentions. Providence will open a door for him, even to the most ruthless of the families; and, implicating his presence with the sicknesses, and the deaths, and the funerals of every household, he will, on the sheer efficacy of his Christian worth, and with no other engine by which to make his way than Christian kindness, obtain an ascendant over the hearts of his people, only to be won by the omnipotence of charity” (Chalmers, Works 18:73-74).

For any who wants a simpler, more accessible introduction to Chalmers’ thought, you can listen to this lecture.

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Music courtesy of Ernst Stolz, “Psalm 72 Genevan Psalter – setting by Claude Goudimel – viols & organ.” All images not my own are from the public domain (attributions here).

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IMG_0103Should robust, confessional, reformed Christianity be the preserve only of white, middle and upper class folk? Chalmers didn’t think so, much less that the Gospel should be left to the demands of the religious marketplace. Another appeal for establishments, and especially aggressive, territorial missions.

Another addition to the Chalmers Audio Library. Sermon on Isa. 26:9, “For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” In this message on the occasion of the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales, Chalmers argues that such national calamities are God’s instruments to call the nation to learn righteousness. He takes the opportunity to rebuke the fashionable upper classes for whom religion is a mere occasional, token exercise, and makes a general appeal to support the spread of righteousness among the nation’s poor and neglected by way of an endowed, territorial system, worked by godly ministers.

 

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ISS035-E-007148_Nile_-_Sinai_-_Dead_Sea_-_Wide_Angle_View“A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation— this we have long thought does for Christianity, what is often done in agriculture by system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation, over the surface of the land. It is thus for example, that, by the establishment of ducts of conveyance, the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt—the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does’ not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above causing the river to overflow its banks—there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country, that should have no agriculture and could bring no produce. Let not therefore our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment; and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high.”

-Thomas Chalmers, “On the Analogies Which Obtain Between a Natural and a Spiritual Husbandry”

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IMG_4156“I will come by you into Spain.” (Rom. 15:28)

Ever since I turned my sights to South Providence, there was no looking back. While conversions have been slow in coming (O come, Holy Spirit!), yet there has been a striking openness, especially among the Hispanic community there. I have been invited into the homes of many families and sweet, little old ladies, proclaiming the timeless truth of Jesus with my rather flawed, Gringo-Spanish. I have many an open door to read Scripture, expound, exhort, and pray. And of course, I’m keen to introduce the richness of the Reformed faith where there is quite a range of sub-par ‘Christianities.’

The struggle, of course, has been that our regular services have only been in English. With our slender resources, we’ve done various things to bridge the gap. We’ve had special midweek meetings with translation. And we’ve attempted on and off to have our services translated into Spanish. But because I can’t predict when someone will take up the offer to worship with us, it has really put a damper on that project.

Well, in recent weeks, things have changed. One Hispanic family – we’ll give them the surname here, “Ortega” – has started coming. Last Lord’s day was the second time in three weeks, and they seem rather interested. A brother in our church and I had met them doing door to door a couple of years back, and they were quite receptive. Finally, something clicked. They came to our uber-Presbyterian, psalm-singing, KJV-reading church … and they weren’t scared away. They seem to track with and appreciate the preaching. It is a young unmarried couple with a little boy and a grandmother. The couple is evidently unconverted, whatever their opinions of their state might be. The grandmother seems to be a devout Bible reader, judging from her very used copy.

The couple is bilingual, but the grandmother is not. So we’re working on some kind of translation of my sermons, which is not straightforward. If you are bilingual, Reformed, and willing to help from a distance, please drop us a note!

And please keep these folks in prayer. They could easily lose interest and drift away. I’m quite prepared for that, as I’ve seen in my day many promising starts fizzling out. Please pray ultimately for a regenerating baptism of the Spirit of God, clothing the Word with power.

We were also struck that a Liberian sister who joined our church from the outreach saw the young lady and realized that they were good friends from high school. Perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into that. But a coincidence? I think not.

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In this 1816 charge to Thomas Chalmers’ newly elected elders, he winsomely appeals to them to ‘repair the breaches’ of the old system of spiritual, district visitation. Let the elders together with the ministers be once again the friends and spiritual patrons of all men, especially the poor. Ad urbem!

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“I am well aware how widely the practice of our generation has diverged from the practice of our ancestors—how, within the limits of our Establishment, the lay office-bearers of the Church are fast renouncing the whole work of ministering from house to house in prayer and in exhortation and in the dispensation of spiritual comfort and advice among the sick or the disconsolate or the dying. On this subject I urge nothing upon you. I am aware that a reformation in this department can only be brought about by an influence of a more gentle and moral, and withal more effectual kind than that of authority; and I shall therefore only say that I know of almost nothing which would give me greater satisfaction than to see a connexion of this kind established between my elders and the population of those districts which are respectively assigned to them—that I know of nothing which would tell more effectually in the way of humanizing our families, than if so pure an intercourse were going on as an intercourse of piety between our men of reputable station on the one hand, and our men of labour and of poverty on the other,—I know of nothing which would serve more powerfully to bring and to harmonize into one firm system of social order the various classes of our community; I know not a finer exhibition, on the one hand, than the man of wealth acting the man of piety, and throwing the goodly adornment of Christian benevolence over the splendour of those civil distinctions which give a weight and a lustre to his name in society; I know not a more wholesome influence, on the other, than that which such a man must carry around him when he enters the habitations of the peasantry, and dignifies by his visits the people who occupy them, and talks with them as the heirs of one hope and of one immortality, and cheers by the united power of religion and of sympathy the very humblest of misfortune’s generation, and convinces them of a real and longing affection after their best interests, and leaves them with the impression that here at least is one man who is our friend, that here at least is one proof that we are not altogether destitute of consideration amongst our fellows, that here at least is one quarter on which our confidence may rest—ay, and amidst all the insignificance in which we lie buried from the observation of society, we are sure at least of one who, in the most exalted sense of the term, is ever ready to befriend us, and to look after us, and to care for us.”

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