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Archive | Church History

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 […]

Breakfast Leftovers

Luke Harrington’s recent article at Christianity Today, How Methodists Invented Your Kid’s Grape Juice Sugar High, has made people thirsty for church history. So, I thought I’d heat up some breakfast leftovers to go along with it. A few years ago, I wrote the following article while trying to whet my junior high students’ appetite for church history.

My students seemed to find history more palatable when they see that they are already familiar with it. So, let’s check out your breakfast menu:

If you reach for Quaker Oats in your pantry, you’ll find a Quaker man staring back at you from the package label. The corporate creators of the logo who trademarked it in 1877 did not specify the character in Quaker garb as a particular individual. But, he was designed to project the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength associated with the Quaker faith. I can’t help but think his image is familiar to that of George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of the Quaker movement. The Quakers, or The Religious Society of Friends developed out of the Church of England in the 1650s. They quickly grew and spread to the new world. William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania is named, remains the most […]

The Letter of Ignatius to the Romans

One theologian spoke thus,

“Just as we become aware of a meteor only when, after traveling silently through space for untold millions of miles, it blazes briefly through the atmosphere before dying in a shower of fire, so it is with Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria.”  Writing sometime between  A.D. 98-117, the good bishop writes the following to the Christians in Rome.  

Have You Ever Read the Epistle to Diognetus?

It’s true.  I’m a fan of reading early, post-apostolic Christian writings.  There’s some really good stuff… as well as not so good.  Be that as it may, I have always enjoyed this short epistle addressed to a man by the name of Diognetus.  Overall, it is a little gem.  If you’ve never read anything like this before (from the period called the Apostolic Fathers), give it a try.

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The Epistle To Diognetus

CHAPTER 1
1:1 Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that thou
art exceedingly anxious to understand the religion of
the Christians, and that thy enquiries respecting them
are distinctly and carefully made, as to what God they
trust and how they worship Him, that they all
disregard the world and despise death, and take no
account of those who are regarded as gods by the
Greeks, neither observe the superstition of the Jews,
and as to the nature of the affection which they
entertain one to another, and of this new development
or interest, which has entered into men’s lives now
and not before: I gladly welcome this zeal in thee,
and I ask of God, Who supplieth both the speaking and
the hearing to us, that it may be granted to myself to
speak in such a way that thou mayest be made better […]

A Troubling 17th Century Presbyterian “Tweet”

What if a “tweet” about government interference in the church put you in prison for four years? Then eventually banished you from your country for the rest of your life?  Such was the case of Andrew Melville.

Perhaps nowhere else on earth has the drama of Christ’s headship over the church been more intense than when the Reformation came to Scotland. When it arrived there in the sixteenth century, popes and kings battled over who was the head of the church.

In so many words, the pope would say, “I am the head of the church, for the members of the church are my subjects and I appoint bishops to rule over it.” Similarly, the king would then respond, “No, I am the head of the church, for the citizens of the nation who attend church are my subjects and I will appoint bishops to control it.” In the midst of this dispute, the Reformers studied their Bibles and said, “No, Christ is the head of the church, for he bought its members with the price of his own blood and his Father has seated him as its Lord.”

Most of these Scottish Reformers upheld the Presbyterian form of elders governing the church to uphold this truth […]

Avoiding Hyper-Calvinism as We Preach

Could it be that, in heart and practice, many of us in Reformed churches are not preaching evangelistically because we allow our Calvinism to bind us rather than propel us as it should? Perhaps we can learn from a controversy in Spurgeon’s time.

When it comes to controversies and Charles Spurgeon, the conflict he is most known for was the “Down-Grade Controversy” toward the end of his ministry. The Down-Grade was a battle against late Puritan ministers who began sliding toward liberal doctrines, philosophical and moralistic preaching, and less than holy practices. This controversy received its name from Spurgeon who warned: “We are going down hill at breakneck speed.”

Yet, as Iain Murray makes known in his book Spurgeon v. the Hyper Calvinists, Spurgeon faced a lesser known but equally dangerous controversy. In his early ministry he was attacked by reformed ministers because they believed he was offering the gospel too freely.

These ministers taught that in preaching the gospel care should be taken that sermons spoke only to the elect. Thus, they preached (and taught others to do the same) that when people are called to respond to the gospel, they are not to be called to believe in Christ directly but rather they are to ask for faith […]

Cache Creek Indian Mission

The following article is a guest post by Russ Pulliam, who is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a ruling elder of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.

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The Cache Creek mission to Indians in Oklahoma is a noble chapter in the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

It’s also part of a larger noble chapter in American history.

Americans usually learn the mainstream story of oppression and mistreatment of Indians in school or from Hollywood. But a few faithful believers lived out another less-publicized side of the story, practicing Matthew 28:18-20 and bringing the gospel to native Americans and seeking justice for them, especially in Puritan Massachusetts in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Cache Creek story follows in that noble tradition, as the RP church sought to reach Indians in what was then the Oklahoma territory from 1889 to the 1960s, in a barren area southwest of Oklahoma City. The church’s 1871 testimony recognized the national sin of oppression of Indians, long before Americans came to a sense of regret for the injustices against them. The Testimony confesses: “The history of the government has been largely one of oppression and […]

Burning John Calvin in Indiana

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial of statehood this year. Amid all the various commemorations, it’s good to look at our theological roots; we’re still partly shaped by them. Indiana became the nineteenth state while the influence of the Second Great Awakening rippled northward from the Cane Ridge Revival (1801) in Kentucky. Arminianism took hold amid the fervor to take the gospel to the frontier; the reformed doctrine of John Calvin found little foothold by comparison.

Some Presbyterians abandoned their reformed theology and became Cumberland Presbyterians as they migrated to the Hoosier state. Thousands more left Presbyterianism altogether and began the Stone-Campbell Movement or the Restoration Movement of the Disciples of Christ. Stronger still were Arminian Baptists who tended to minimize the importance of education and relied especially on emotion in their pleas to the unconverted. But the Methodists converted the state more than any other with their methodical emphasis and missionary zeal. They sent missionaries to the Indiana frontier in droves and quickly structured life for communities, emphasized methods of the Christian life, and established rudimentary educational systems among wilderness people. All of these groups shaped the theology of the state with their commitment to Arminianism, and their influence is still widely evident. […]

Chrysostom: The Innumerable Vexations of a Pastor

In high school, I served as a leader in our presbytery’s youth program. After one event, I learned that I had hurt another person by apparently gazing judgmentally from across the room at a certain point. I hadn’t the foggiest memory of any such eye contact, and I had not judged the person in my heart. Recently, an intern showed me that John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.) faced the same challenge as a pastor in Antioch and Constantinople centuries ago as he recorded in his work On the Priesthood (Book Three). Elders may also feel a certain kinship with Chrysostom in some of his other vexations expressed here:

Again, the judicial department of the bishop’s office involves innumerable vexations, great consumption of time, and difficulties exceeding those experienced by men who sit to judge secular affairs; for it is a labor to discover exact justice, and when it is found, it is difficult to avoid destroying it. And not only loss of time and difficulty are incurred, but also no small danger. For ere now, some of the weaker brethren having plunged into business, because they have not obtained patronage have made shipwreck concerning the faith.

For many of those who have suffered […]