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Archive for the ‘The Church in America’ Category

A revealing (and heartbreaking!) article on the secularizing migration of America into the frontiers of heathenism. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Psa. 137:1-2).

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Over the years, I’ve heard about different pastors in America, from various evangelical traditions, more or less acting like old parish ministers. That is, they didn’t just look at their faithful congregations as the limits of their pastoral responsibility. Their ‘cure of souls’ reached to the communities where they were placed.

Not long ago, a friend of mine told me about an Assembly of God pastor he knew who fit this description. The following is used with permission from David Shedlock.

And if you know of a similar story, would you kindly forward it to me?  Feel free to drop me a note at mjives dot refparish at gmail dot com.

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Grinnell, IAWhen I first met Pastor Reaves, he had just finished mowing. I didn’t know this, because he came into the house wearing a tie. He shared with me later that he did this so that he would be ready in case he got a call to the hospital. I would also learn soon that a visit to the hospital with him, in this town of about 9,000, could turn into an all-day event. That is not because he overstayed his welcome. On the contrary, he seemed to know just how long to stay, usually less than 15 minutes. No, it was because he visited so many patients.

Back then, a minister could freely visit anybody in the hospital, whether or not they were members of his denomination. Pastor Reaves, of course, did not force his way into people’s rooms, but kindly asked if he might pray for them. Hardly anyone turned him down. You see, he believed the whole town was his church. And many in the town, who never darkened the door of the small, Assembly of God Church he pastored, would think of Sam Reaves as their pastor, and as their friend.

One of the family’s favorite stories was this: If one of the members in the congregation was being rushed to the hospital in Des Moines, he would often beat the ambulance there. A time or two, he got pulled over by the police. But, he would nicely tell them, not ask, that he was headed to the hospital, and they would be better off tagging along, and use their lights to help him get there, not to slow him down. You would have to have known him to know that his look was serious and no policeman ever held him up after his little speech.

Here are thoughts about that, from his daughter, Debi:

“Yes, this is correct. If he could, he would try to get behind the Ambulance rolling out of town and the police knew dad’s car. Then they would radio ahead. Many times he would have family members with him because they were too upset to drive. He was basically the chaplain for the community back in the day. Today I think every pastor should try to be a police chaplain to have the same effect that dad did in Grinnell. I never realized the impact he had till the day of his funeral. They had been away from Grinnell for over 12 years at the time of his death and the place was packed!”

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I am a whole-hearted supporter of free market capitalism. But like Thomas Chalmers, I demur when it comes to Adam Smith’s opposition to church establishments. He thought that the free market, when applied to the sphere of religion, would yield the best results both for religion and society:

But if politics had never called in the aid of religion, had the conquering party never adopted the tenets of one sect more than those of another when it had gained the victory, it would probably have dealt equally and impartially with all the different sects, and have allowed every man to choose his own priest and his own religion as he thought proper. There would in this case, no doubt’ have been a great multitude of religious sects. Almost every different congregation might probably have made a little sect by itself, or have entertained some peculiar tenets of its own. Each teacher would no doubt have felt himself under the necessity of making the utmost exertion and of using every art both to preserve and to increase the number of his disciples. But as every other teacher would have felt himself under the same necessity, the success of no one teacher, or sect of teachers, could have been very great (Wealth of Nations, 792).

Free market religious competition, further, could possibly result in an ideal “pure and rational religion, free form every mixture of absurdity, imposture, or fanaticism, such as wise men have in all ages of the world wished to see established” (793).

Well, having been born and raised in the land of religious free enterprise, I can think of at least a couple of reasons to disagree ….

 

kenneth-copeland-jesse-duplantis

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Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

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Only a few days away from Halloween, I’ve been thinking more about why we don’t celebrate it, as well as reviewing online why other Christians do. I realize that there are many good believers who don’t see a problem with the festivities, and I’m not prepared to discount the evident grace of God that they have. Further, we are, every one of us, filled with sins and blind spots, myself included. But it is troubling to me how little argument is made against Halloween within the Church. So if you’re on the fence – and even if you’re not – may I at least challenge you with the following questions, friend?

1. Are you open-minded about it?  For a Christian, everything is fair game for re-examination under the Word of God. I fear that too often, we are looking for tailor-made arguments to suit our conclusions. We must not trust, but ever examine ourselves and let the light of God’s Word shine on even our most cherished practices. The Bible not merely some encouraging how-to handbook for ‘living our best life now.’ It is also a floodlight to expose our sins, that we might turn from them and find pardon and direction for new obedience. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

2. Have you educated yourself?  We really ought to understand why we do what we do. We must not be “as the beasts that perish,” unthinking and instinctive. Even if we conclude that it is harmless or even proper, we should “in understanding be men.” An unwillingness to inquire into the origins and development of Halloween for fear of what we may learn betrays a bad bias. We do not need to go on a witch-hunt for evil. But if we are going to adopt a practice, let’s do it with both eyes open. My wife and I recently watched a documentary about Halloween (with a bit of fast-forwarding) by the History Channel here. It only reinforced our decision.

Also, have you educated yourself about the biblical teaching on witchcraft and the occult, which Halloween unashamedly celebrates? For starters, read Deut. 18:9-14, 1 Sam. 15:23, 1 Sam. 28, 2 Chron. 33:6, 1 Jn. 5:21, and Acts 19:19. If you haven’t read them recently, re-read them. And note that witchcraft is branded in Paul’s catalogue of the works of the flesh, right along with other gross immoralities, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Even if we participate only in the ‘innocent’ aspects of modern, American Halloween, aren’t we somehow validating, or at least winking at the occult? We ought to have no fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20) and should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

3. Are you leading or following?  We are always products of our environment. But we should never let environment, culture, the marketplace or anything else call the shots. The crowd is not always right. And more often than not, it just isn’t. Counting heads is risky business, even when we are counting the heads of Christian trick-or-treaters. Let’s get in line behind God! Let’s be Joshuas, fearlessly pioneering the path of godliness, not the path of least resistance. So if that makes us strange and even lonely (1 Pet. 4:4), so be it. Let them say what they want. Let’s follow the pillar of fire by night. He will guide us safely through the darkness without.

4. Are your following your feelings?  Believe me, I know this all too well. The older I get, the more nostalgic I find myself. I remember the brisk, cool evenings, the costumes and the plastic jack-o-lantern pails. I remember with fondness going door to door, and telling my buddies which ones were giving out full-size Snickers. Halloween is in my American boyhood bloodstream, running black and orange every October 31. But I am not my own any more. I am bought with a price. I am Christian first, and an American second. How does God feel about Halloween? If my feelings are at variance, then those feelings must be put to death.

5. Do you have the hearts of your children?  The prophecy “a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6) is not to be confused with the curse of children-rulers (Isa. 3:4). Let’s face it. In America, Halloween is a day for children, and our age is the age of youth. But as adults, we must always be in the lead. And if we decide that Halloween is unwholesome at best or ungodly at worst, we should lead accordingly. I especially think this entails loving them demonstrably enough the 364 other days so we don’t cave on Halloween out of guilt. If we are in the lead, we can give alternatives and fill any void with deep, Christian, parental love, that will more than make up for any perceived loss.

6. Is Halloween really edifying?  Is this celebration of the dead (and the ‘living dead’) consistent with “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil. 4:8)? Does not the Halloween mask somehow mask over the obvious? As a rule, that which passes under cover of night is not worthy of those who are “of the day.”

7. Is Halloween really harmless?  I know that we sophisticated moderns dismiss ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and all things that go bump in the night. But are our secular, pagan neighbors really all that cut off from the reality and the draw of the Kingdom of darkness? I am of the mind that old, superstitious paganism is more alive than dead, like the Dracula of Halloween lore. It is a real, abiding threat. And as Christians who know better about the spiritual world, can we suggest that we are immune? We are not. If we flirt with the occult as though it were a child’s game, we may be drawn in never to return. Thus the ban on all paganism in both Old and New Testaments.

8. Are you being a good & effective witness?  This is a recurring argument, made no doubt by well-intentioned believers. I don’t impugn their motives. But having the only house with the lights out on Halloween is not inherently undermining our Gospel witness. Some apparently believe this rather strongly. But I fail to see how non-participation is necessarily boorish. If we go out of our way to get to know our neighbors as we should, show them the love of Christ, and speak the Gospel to them the rest of the year, I hardly see why I need Halloween to commend Christ. Our neighbors respect us, even if they don’t understand us.

Further, I am convinced that Halloween continues to be a heathen coping-mechanism, which I cannot endorse for their sake. That is, death is real, yet so troubling that they must somehow manage its reality – only on their terms, short of God. Laughter and frivolity are like the booze that drowns their troubles away. But on November 1, the specter of death still stares the sinner in the face. We, however, celebrate the Lord’s Day fifty-two days of the year. We celebrate life. New life – life over death!

Now there’s a celebration that calls for full participation. And invitation.

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1629_seal_Massachusetts_Bay_Colony_MassachusettsArchivesThe following is an excerpt from The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1629.  The royal charter, in the name of “CHARLES, BY THE, GRACE, OF GOD, Kinge of England, Scotland, Fraunce, and Ireland, Defendor of the Fayth, &c.” was drafted with the view that the “said People, Inhabitants there, may be soe religiously, peaceablie, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderlie Conversacon, maie wynn and incite the Natives of Country, to the KnowIedg and Obedience of the onlie true God and Sauior of Mankinde, and the Christian Fayth, which in our Royall Intencon, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principall Ende of this Plantacion.”

Alas, “from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed” (Lam. 1:6).

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In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers.  On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church.  But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.

The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church.  It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:

It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.

Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).

Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth.  The ministry has neglected catechizing.  Church catechizing, that is.  Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ – most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters.  At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people.  But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity.  An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention.  A profound insight indeed.

My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther.   I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point – but forever irretrievable, I fear.  The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson.  The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer.   Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.

We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”  And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them.  Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them.  And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?

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