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Archive for the ‘Sabbatarianism & the Church Calendar’ Category

Somehow I was voted into it. Last year, on December 24 no less, I was invited by Les Lanphere to debate Rev. Joseph Spurgeon on the lawfulness of Christmas. (Other platforms.) Joseph was for, while I was against; and Les did a great job of moderating. I thought it went really well, and I came away feeling that I did a service to this unpopular position. I also endeavored to be as charitable as possible. Perhaps I overshot things by being so affable; but I’d rather fall into that error than the other way, lest folks think that being against Christmas is somehow a function of a grumpy predisposition. After all, I consider myself the merriest neo-Puritan I know. Ask my kids!

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I paused from my morning series on the Gospel of Luke to preach a topical sermon on the subject of witchcraft. I seek to answer from the Scriptures whether witchcraft is real and whether it is a real threat in the modern day.

Watch the message here.

Following the sermon, we had a youth discussion time, in which we watched the this video that illustrates the allure of contemporary ‘neo-paganism’ and then discussed it critically from Scripture.

While the sermon was not primarily an expose of Halloween, I have preached directly as well as written on that topic in the past.

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The following is a series of messages given to lay out the distinctives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, a denomination organized through the instrumentality of Professor John Murray in 1965, committed to the principles of historic Scottish Presbyterianism in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, as enshrined in the original Westminster Confession of Faith (1646).

(Note: The title “Our Testimony” is merely thematic, and does not refer to a supplementary ecclesiastical document besides the Westminster Standards as is done among Reformed Presbyterian brethren.)

Original Series

Our Testimony, Part 1: Psalm Singing

Our Testimony, Part 2: Instruments in Worship

Our Testimony, Part 3: Presbyterianism

Our Testimony, Part 4: Holy Days, True & False

Our Testimony, Part 5: Confessionalism

Our Testimony, Part 6: Experimental Religion

Our Testimony, Part 7: The Free Offer of the Gospel

Our Testimony, Part 8: Religious Establishments #1

Our Testimony, Part 8: Religious Establishments #2

Our Testimony, Part 9: Head Coverings

Our Testimony, Part 10: Liberty of Conscience

Our Testimony, Part 11: Our Communion Practice

Our Testimony, Part 12: Frequency of Communion

Additional Messages

One Table, One Cup, One Bread

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Classic Presbyterianism has been enjoying a small renaissance. It seems like every day I’m encountering new people and pastors embracing the “regulative principle of worship,” singing psalms exclusively, removing instruments in church, and objecting to holy days of human origin, such as Christmas. Sacred cows are a-falling, or at least are being questioned.

With respect to Christmas, then, it’s been reassuring to see more and more voices pointing out its pagan origins, and more and more being willing to cross the personal Rubicon … and not looking back. I rejoice in these things and thank the Lord for any and all Reformation gains. But I am concerned that for some, even good fathers and brothers in the faith, certain concessions are made that I fear leave a weed in place to grow back in full force. In other words, I respectfully express my concern about the informal retention of Christmas while officially going on the record as against it.

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I once read somewhere that one of the Puritans recognized they were very odd ducks. As I recall, the term was “speckled birds.” Who likes being the outsider, the stranger in a strange land?

Kids can have an especially nasty way of tapping into this instinctual longing for inclusion and reinforcing herd-conformity. As a boy, I distinctly remember a time when a group of my friends and I took a break from our game of street baseball. Somehow it came up in discussion that one boy’s family didn’t observe Christmas. “What!” Replied another. “You don’t observe Christmas? Man, if I didn’t observe Christmas, I’d kill myself!” Oof. Of course, it was adolescent hyperbole; and we were soon back to the diamond. But I must confess, I also was on the shocked side. Not having Christmas? Not having the stockings hung by the chimney with care? Not waking up at dark-thirty to wake up the parents? No giddy, vulture-like descent on the presents? I mean, come on! My quirky friend felt the sting. He was not one of us! He might as well have had three eyes.

Then about seven years later, I swam the Tweed. After my evangelical conversion, I eventually found Calvinism (or Calvinism found me!). And after Calvinism, I found Puritanism; and after Puritanism, I found Presbyterianism. But not just any kind, mind ye! No, I’d say it was full-on “Scottish Old Believer” Presbyterianism. And that, among other things, meant no Christmas. Right. Just like my crestfallen boyhood buddy. Who would have imagined!

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There we were in the manse on Saturday night, in that sleepy little Canadian town. The minister’s wife was giving him a haircut before his Sabbath labors the next day. He was, well, idiosyncratic. The thin-framed parson had quite the shock of unmanageable white hair, much like Doc Brown. He sat there with some smock-like cloth draped around him, his helpmate-hairdresser poised with bowl of water and comb. Soon she set to taming the wild mane with the moistened comb. Water applied, it seemed as though his head had shrunk by half.

As she went to work with her clippers, the old minister told me about The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire, an old classic of the glory days of 18th and 19th century Highlands-Islands Presbyterianism. His eyes beamed, and he cackled with boyish delight as he retold his favorite story about Samsonesque Aeneas Sage and his rather unconventional missionary exploits. There was something about this all that strongly impressed me. There was something of greatness, a romance and even a mystique about that legacy that lingered about the place. The old Scots-Irish town, its church, manse, and, of course, this amusing old minister still retained something of the glow of the “years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Suffice it to say, this green goyim just had to find and read the book. And I did, again and again. And having been ‘bit,’ I’ve retold the story of Rev. Sage over and over to anyone who would listen. My children can probably repeat it verbatim … with a few eye rolls thrown in for good measure! And as an old bookish minister friend of mine would sometimes say, “And if it isn’t true, it should be!

Just finished reading and recording it. You can access it here. I also post a wide variety of classical Reformed, Puritan, and Scottish Presbyterian sermons, articles, and books. I aim to fill gaps with relatively quality audio recordings, especially for the benefit of pastors and elders who work with thinner margins of time.

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Designed the diagram below as an aid in teaching catechism last Sabbath. Focusing on the 2nd Commandment at the moment.

S Cat 049-052 Sorting Worship [CCat]

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A few striking observations from a favorite anecdote in John G. Paton’s autobiography, below. If I’m not mistaken, this would be referring to a cholera outbreak in 1832 in the U.K.

1. Healthy believers long for the courts of the Lord and don’t let lesser things get in their way. 2. However, it appears that godly Scottish Presbyterians in the early 19th century believed that public health crises could warrant church closures (or at least effectively cause them by population controls). 3. And apparently, the same believed that the state could mandate such closures (or at least effectively, etc.) in the interests of public health.

Not an argument that any of our churches must necessarily close under the present circumstances; just an observation to help put some strong opinions out there in context.

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Smellie, Thomas. “Fenwick Church.” 1905

During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many Christian churches have closed their doors, cancelling regular public worships services, though often utilizing telecommunications to facilitate God’s worship in private home contexts. What principles do confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian elders consider when making their decision? These are the ones that factored in to my mind.

1. Worship is priority number one. God’s honor comes before man’s honor, His being before ours. “Thy love is better than life.” We should sooner join the three Hebrew children and lay down our lives than surrender an inch of God’s worship. The First Table comes before the Second, and if there is an apparent conflict, the general rule is to surrender our own interests.

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16th century lawn bowls“We show and teach daily in our sermons, that God took upon him our nature: but how do men hear them? Who is there that troubleth himself much to read the scripture? There are very few that attend to these things; every man is occupied with his own business. If there be one day in the week reserved for religious instruction, when they have spent six days in their own business, they are apt to spend the day which is set apart for worship, in play and pastime; Some rove about the fields, others go to the taverns to quaff: and there are undoubtedly at this time as many at the last mentioned place, as are here assembled in the name of God. Therefore, when we see so many shun and flee from this doctrine, can we marvel that there is such a brutishness, that we know not the rudiments of Christianity?”

– John Calvin, sermon on 1 Tim. 3:16

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