RSS feed for this section

Archive | Church History

Biographies Towards Community

We live in a time when many in the church struggle to connect with other members of the body. Many consider connectedness something that happens online rather than through living in community. If you don’t believe me, ask the closest millennial–his or her deepest relationships may be with people they know via pixels and screens. We are “alone together” as sociologist Sherry Turkle has put it. The struggle for community is a problem in the world and increasingly it is also a problem in the church.

Besides this lack of connection—or communion—the 21st century North American church is also largely ahistorical. Being ahistorical, having a disregard for the history of the church, has led to old errors being revived, to a disconnection with ancient Christianity (hence the number of evangelicals that go to Rome or the Eastern Church in search of historical connection), and to an inability of individual Christians to gauge their experience against the experience of others.

Lack of connection and community, as well as an ahistorical approach to Christianity, has caused a deficiency in the lives of believers. What can be done to help encourage connection, community, and history? There are several vital remedies for regaining vibrant and experiential […]

Neither Jew nor Gentile: The Musings of a Modern Covenanter on Racial Reconciliation

This past Friday I had the privilege of conversing with Ligon Duncan, Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. In that short exchange, Dr. Duncan expressed similar sentiments to ones he later posted the next day on Facebook, which read in part: “Just as a little historical tip for those interested, no Presbyterian and/or Reformed denomination in America has a better record for taking a biblical stand on slavery and racism than the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The Covenanters were right on this long before the rest of us caught on.” You can see the rest of his comments here. 

His remarks sparked me to share the following article by Michael LeFebvre, Pastor of Christ Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, and Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary Board President. As you can see, Dr. LeFebvre recounts this history, not for the sake of any prideful boasting, but to encourage greater modern applications of the history where racial divides still exist. This article originally appeared in Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal, Spring 2017 (Vol. 3, Issue 2). Used by permission.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Introduction

Several months ago, I was at a large Christian university. I was there for a conference, and a campus tour was offered during an afternoon break. On […]

The Eschatological Insufficiency of the Archaic

In the church, as in life, it’s often hard to give up things that have become old friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to know when they have outlived their usefulness, and we must exercise wisdom in removing archaic fixtures.

You might have seen that Basking Ridge Presbyterian’s 600-year old white oak tree has died. Under that tree in Bernards, New Jersey, George Whitefield preached to over 3,000 people in 1740. Legend has it that George Washington picnicked beneath its outstretched limbs. My own ancestors worshiped at that church; indirectly, the shade of that tree has helped shape my own soul. That which served so well has died and must be removed.

Remove archaic fixtures we must, because devotion to the archaic reveals in us an insufficient eschatology. Loving what met needs in the past over what meets the need of the moment fails to anticipate the glory that is to be revealed. It trades a vision for the glory of Christ for earthly forms that are passing away. With the Apostle Paul, we must always seek fidelity to Christ as we count everything as loss for the sake of Christ that we may ultimately attain the resurrection from the dead. With Paul, we forget […]

Presbytery Exam Fun with J. Gresham Machen

For those in the Presbyterian tradition, oral exams for students of theology pursuing licensure to receive a call as a pastor can be terrifying. Students sit on a platform before dozens of elders and answer questions on Scripture, theology, history, ministry, and more. However, after many hours of exams in one day at a presbytery meeting, the exams can also become quite tiring for elders who must listen, ask follow-up questions, and vote to sustain or not to sustain the students.

As my fellow students of theology and I went through our exams more than a decade ago, we noticed these trends over the several years during which we sat before presbytery. We decided to try to spice things up just a bit as we sat before these men whom we deeply loved and respected. So, we occasionally worked rather obscure bits of history or theology into our answers for the fun of watching the faces of our examiners. And it was fun, even as we took our exams very seriously.

Later, one of my comrades read Ned B. Stonehouse’s biography of J. Gresham Machen, a father of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. There, we learned to our surprise and joy that we had […]

Who Built That?

President Obama famously said while campaigning in 2012, “You didn’t build that,” as a way of emphasizing the role of government in the success of various business ventures.  While seeming to undercut the value of risk-taking and initiative, the former president did stumble upon a biblical truth that everyone in the church needs to keep front and center.

A Day in God’s House in the 1850s

The following is a lively description of a typical Lord’s Day in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana in the 1850s. The author, Daniel Cargill Faris (1843-1919), recounts his experience in the church of his youth. He was the son of James Faris who was the first pastor of the congregation. The account is found in his personal writings. Daniel Cargill Faris would later serve as the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Barnet, Vermont.

“PREACHING”

by D. C. Faris

Written on Nov. 21, 1904

While the building in which the congregation gathered for worship on the Sabbath was called the “meeting house”, the services held there were not called “meeting”, that name being given to the week-day services held from house to house in the homes of the people. The religious exercises in the “meeting- house” were named from their principal part, “preaching”. That is the meaning of the noun which I am not able to find in the dictionary; but it was so used among us in my boyhood. My mother might have said to us, “It is time to get ready to go to “preaching”; and one of the boys might have asked […]

I believe in the (cryogenic) resurrection of the dead

I just heard on the news this morning that in a landmark ruling a judge in England granted the dying wish of a 14 year old girl with cancer to have her body cryogenically frozen until the day when medical knowledge is sufficiently advanced to revive and cure her. In a letter to the judge she wrote,

‘I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.’

Isn’t it tragic that the very thing this girl was longing for was exactly what is being held out in the gospel? Isn’t it tragic that she put her trust in a quasi-scientific fairy tale for her hope of resuscitation life rather than the resurrection life the Lord Jesus Christ achieved when he rose from the dead on the third day? Isn’t it just so unspeakably sad that someone would put their […]

The Trumpet Blasts that Were Never Heard

We live in times where the church is needing to think through her relationship with the state and the rulers over us. This is not the first time in the history of Christianity where we have had to meditate on our doctrine of the magistrate or our relationship to those in authority. This is not the first time that we have had to choose between losing our right hand and losing our left. Where would you turn to read about the relationship between the church and an oppressive government?

Looking for a book on the relationship between the church and a tyrannical government may be useful for the church in the next few decades. Consider the following statements:

* It is not by birth that one can rule over a people; those under him must approve of that rule.
* Those who practice idolatry or are living publicly scandalous lives are not to be placed in public office.
* If a ruler proves to be a tyrant or is willfully disobedient to God’s Word, then not even an oath can keep him in office.
* If people too quickly or without due consideration put someone in office and it is later found that he is […]

Refreshment on Revival

At last…..  almost a month without proper internet access & the stress of moving to a new house. Which reminds me of a few thoughts I had some time ago on Revival from Zechariah 1.1-6….

Exile was now over. The people had returned. State-sponsored rebuilding of the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem had been decreed by Cyrus . The harsh reality of life in the Empire back in their homeland which had not, as yet, lived up to their dreams of restoration. The Jews as a consequence had grown spiritually gloomy and cold. So the Prophet of God is sent to stir up his returned Church. There are at least ten lessons or principles the Spirit gives us which help us think properly about revival…

1. The Church always tends to decline so is constantly in need of revival v4.

2. Church revival comes through the efficacious preaching of the Word of God v1, 3 & 6.

3. Church revival comes with messages which place a stress on sinful behaviour or practice & the need for the grace of repentance v2, 4 & 6.

4. Church revival comes after a period of chastening & acknowledgment of waywardness on the part of the people of God v6b.

5. Church revival is forgotten by previous generations […]

Confessional Boundary Stones

Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.” -Proverbs 22:28

Around western Pennsylvania where I live, it is common to see yards and farmlands with stone walls taken from the the abundant flagstone found in this region. As you walk or drive by one of these walls, they convey a sense of boundary, antiquity, and definition. The walls almost seem to give off an aura of peace and permanence.

In recent weeks the Lord has given me a number of experiences where I have had that same feeling when it comes to the historic confessions and creeds of the church.

At the beginning of the academic year our seminary faculty treated the subject of providence from the Westminster Confession of Faith, and there was a sense of security in standing with these men reviewing and rediscovering the beautiful and comforting truths of this doctrine.

In a class on preaching I teach, we are discussing each week a portion of the statement on preaching found in the Westminster Directory of Publick Worship.

During the recent internet firestorm regarding the errant teaching on the eternal submission of the Son, it has been comforting to […]