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Archive for the ‘Transgenerational Faith’ Category

IMG_5335District, door-to-door evangelism done right is distinctly Reformed, being a distinctly household-oriented approach to Gospel outreach.

Follow me here. Doesn’t God administer His grace to individuals as well as to households? Doesn’t it start with the head and flow to the members? Isn’t it interested in reconciling the father to the son and the son to the father? Abraham, Joshua, Cornelius, Lydia. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We aim for the heads of households; and if we get them, we get the family. (more…)

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The following chapter entitled, “The Parson Catechizing,” is taken from George Herbert’s (1593-1633) classic of pastoral theology, A Priest to the Temple, or, The Country Parson his Character and Rule of Holy Life. Herbert, a celebrated English poet, was a minister in the Church of England. Though a conformist, his work surely merits serious attention by the heirs of nonconformity – a definitely pre-Baxter Baxterian. May the lost duty & art of pastoral catechizing be revived and stimulated by this rich contribution! [Recorded in audio here.]

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The Country Parson values catechizing highly: for there being three points of his duty; the one, to infuse a competent knowledge of salvation in every one of his flock; the other, to multiply, and build up this knowledge to a spiritual temple; the third, to inflame this knowledge, to press, and drive it to practice, turning it to reformation of life, by pithy and lively exhortations; catechizing is the first point, and but by catechizing, the other cannot be attained. Besides, whereas in sermons there is a kind of state, in catechizing there is an humbleness very suitable to Christian regeneration; which exceedingly unnameddelights him as by way of exercise upon himself, and by way of preaching to himself, for the advancing of his own mortification; for in preaching to others, he forgets not himself, but is first a sermon to himself, and then to others; growing with the growth of his parish.

He useth, and preferreth the ordinary church catechism, partly for obedience to authority, partly for uniformity sake, that the same common truths may be every where professed, especially since many remove from parish to parish, who like Christian soldiers are to give the word, and to satisfy the congregation by their catholic answers.

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A few years back, our family traveled to the U.K. by way of Holland. One of my daughters became entranced by all things Dutch while aboard a KLM flight, with tall, blonde and brunette stewardesses speaking freely in their mother tongue. While she had little firsthand experience of modern Dutch culture, she already had some exposure to the richness of Dutch Christianity, having read Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler (re-read chapter 1!) and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. And it wasn’t long before she started trying to learn Dutch online. So when I found myself back in Grand Rapids, I had my antennae up, on the lookout for a trinket for my Lowlands-smitten girl.

I was staying for a week at my hosts, the Kamps, the dearest Christian seniors you will ever meet. When my daughter came up in conversation, they really rose to the occasion. Mrs. Kamp right then and there hopped up, and busily rifled through her very tidy house (are there any messy Hollanders?). I would have been quite content with a cheap curio, something easily parted with and forgotten. While she did hand me a few inexpensive momentos, I was profoundly humbled that she offered the old book above without so much as a blink.

The volume is a late 19th century Dutch New Testament, a metrical Psalter set to the grand old Geneva tunes, and at the end, the Three Forms of Unity. The book exudes the “beauty of holiness” from the best of their heritage and serves as a handheld Ebenezer of God’s covenant faithfulness. As I hold it in my latecomer, ‘Gentile’ hands, I glory in a rich tradition I now own. In it, I hear the voice of generations past, confessing the true, Reformed religion, their “only comfort in life and in death.” I hear the august psalmody of the venerable dead, the spirits of just men made perfect who have gone to their reward. I hear their roaring thunder as they, the great cloud of witnesses, cheer us on while we yet run the race that is set before us.

I have been grafted into the good olive tree, as the Dutch, the Scots, the English, and many others before me. And my children, by covenant, are now holy to the Lord. May they too own “their father’s God.” May they never reject what they have received, selling their birthright for a full stomach. And may they cherish this volume and all that is stands for in an age that is fast losing its way.

For more images, visit here.

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The following is especially written for young men.  It’s advice I hope to give to my own son when he comes of age.  But of course, there are principles that carry over for females as well.

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1. It is billus-08etter to marry than to burn. If you are not called to be celibate, be honest with yourself (Matt. 19:12, 1 Cor. 7:9). Then make three things your full-time job, in this order. First, become outwardly ready. If you’re miles away from financial readiness, don’t waste time and energy by toying with what you can’t yet have. Yet, don’t wait for a perfect readiness that may never come, or you may tempt yourself. Second, seriously begin finding a suitable partner. Finally, get married as soon as reasonably possible. Don’t prolong things unnecessarily. This is a recipe for trouble.

2. Do not be unequally yoked. This means that you ought to seek a sincere, orthodox Christian, above all (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14). Then after this non-negotiable, seek one of relatively the same spiritual maturity, of relatively the same confessional and practical convictions, and of relatively the same outward circumstances – age, appearance, socio-economic background, etc. Race, however, should not be a factor. As a rule, the better the match, the better the marriage. The more mismatched, the more occasions for problems down the road.

3. Keep perspective on attraction. Don’t discount attraction or feel unholy for desiring it – God made it (Gen. 24:16, Prov. 30:18, 19). But don’t let it override your better judgment, as the flesh can make it a snare (Judg. 14:3). Give greater weight to piety than to appearances (1 Sam. 16:7, Prov. 11:22, 31:10-31, 1 Pet. 3:3, 4). Also keep in mind that beauty is somewhat subjective. It is multi-faceted, and some aspects can take time to discover and appreciate. Marriage is but the beginning of a journey in discovering a partner’s beauty – and seeing beyond imperfections. Last, be aware of the influence of our culture’s paradigms on your remaining corruption. It wants to condition your ideals, and you must manfully resist it (Rom. 12:1, 2).

4. Navigate safely to shore. In terms of process, start with friendships in safe contexts. You can always make friends, but you should never break hearts if you can help it. Reserve your affections (as far as possible) for after engagement and your body for after marriage (1 Cor. 6:18, 2 Tim. 2:22).

5. Weigh the whole package. Look at pros and cons as impartially and prayerfully as you can. Be an intelligent reader of providence. Weigh such things as proximity, ‘availability,’ ‘attainability,’ personalities, the interest you sense or don’t sense, the in-law advantages and disadvantages, church situations, the prospect’s outlook on important life-issues, such as family, career, education, etc., and the time investment necessary in working through all this. Remember #1 and that time is ticking.

6. Ask advice and help from your parents and trusted friends – and pray. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. They will often give you helpful perspective – and perhaps help you make connections. But don’t ever forget to bring this all before the Lord. All answers are with Him (Jas. 1:5). “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”

7. Never give your ‘all’ to anyone but Jesus, and love Him above anyone else. He is the best match, and will never disappoint. And remember that the married state is temporary, while heaven is for eternity (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

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I recently read a very troubling, yet extremely revealing quote in John Macleod’s Scottish Theology.  In the context, Macleod is  speaking of  the theological decline of the 19th century Free Church of Scotland and the erosion of confessional subscription in her ranks.  To illustrate the Zeitgeist of the time, he quotes a famous anti-confessionalist by the name of James Martineau, who apparently was an influential Unitarian.  It shows the essential grudge he and others had about the time-honored practice of ecclesiastical subscription to subordinate standards:

My protest is against a Church fixing its creed, i.e., against a prior generation of life tenants prejudging the convictions of a posterior and using their own rights to the restriction of their posterity’s.  I know well that to believe a thing true is to believe it immutable; that earnest conviction naturally excludes all suspicion of possible change and carries in it a confidence of spreading to other minds and attaining to universal recognition.  Within the limits of his proper rights I would have every man surrender himself freely to these impressions, utter them and act upon them.  But limits there certainly are to his proper rights in this respect; arising partly from the presence around him of his fellows within precisely similar feeling attached to different beliefs; partly from the certainty of successors whose faculties and opportunities are not his to mortgage.

Macleod then judiciously observes, “That is to say, men may think  for themselves that they have found the truth, but the Church must be ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of it” (Scottish Theology, pp. 316-17).

As if the quote were not damning enough, it bears a disturbing resemblance to the words of a famous Deist, Thomas Jefferson.  Writing to James Madison in 1789, Jefferson wrote:

I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident, ‘that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living’: that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by an individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. . . . [thus] it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please.

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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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olaus-magnus-jpeg1I serve in a Presbyterian denomination with congregations generally consisting of first-generation converts to the Reformed faith and their children.  We don’t have swarms of young people, and many of them either leave for ‘greener’ Christian pastures or, sadly, go prodigal.  So retention is a problem, and ‘sustainability’ (to use an overused term) is a regular worry.  Sometimes, it is easy to feel like we’re on the high seas in a leaky rowboat, and the winds are kicking up.

I must confess that I look wistfully at some of those Presbyterian and Reformed congregations that are large, established, and multi-generational.  Without having sold out.  They are not many, of course.  Usually in the present day large equals compromised.  But God has been faithful to some communions.  The ones I know are Dutch Reformed.  They don’t just have Christian but Reformed schools.  That is, teachers have to subscribe to the subordinate standards.  Many of the children usually profess the faith in the congregations where they were baptized.  They then find mates, marry, settle down, bear children and further populate their ranks.  If not in their original congregation, then not far off.  Often in the same denomination. (more…)

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Let’s face it.  Those of us who practice family worship frequently don’t feel like it, often fall into formalism, and end off hopping down way too many bunny trails.  How many times, too, is the whole business interrupted because the little one has a runny nose (or worse, smelly drawers)?  The boy isn’t sitting up?  Or older sis is annoying the younger for the umpteenth time?   And after a long day of homeschooling, errands, cleaning, and damage controlling, mom is frazzled – and dad is just plain socked.   At its best, family worship is usually nondescript; at its worst, it approaches something like a three-ring circus.

And yet, when we look back on it more impartially, we find that there has been glory there all along.   After the drill is done – and done with some habit – we see in faith that the very rhythm itself has been wonderful.  All the children know their places.  The catechumens say their lines.  The old songs of Zion are taken up and singing fills the room; and those who can’t read croon right along.  The humble family Bible is taken out, and father reads a portion.  And then the approach to the throne of grace.

Yes, it’s flawed.  Messy even.  And we must confess that it is fraught with sin.  But it is covered in the blood and accepted by the Father.  Let’s open our eyes – there is glory here.  Things into which the very angels desire to look.

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