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Archive | Church History

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 […]

A Church Planting Testimony

On the evening of September 11, around two hundred people gathered as the Marion Reformed Presbyterian Church was organized by the presbytery in Marion, Indiana.  One of the highlights of the evening was the history of the work uniquely expressed by Scott Hunt, an attorney in Marion who was installed as a ruling elder in the new congregation. With his permission I am sharing this history below.

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Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,.. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,…and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon….and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way (Matthew 1:2, 6, 11, 16-18).

It is clear from a cursory reading of God’s Word that the history of His people is important.  Whether it is the descendants of Adam in Genesis or a list of David’s […]

The Timid Sheep

It does not take much reading in the newspaper or media sites to realize that our culture is rapidly changing. I am not saying that our culture is going from Christian to secular (that’s another discussion);  but I do believe that we are seeing less toleration of Christianity, especially among the self-proclaimed tolerant.

Fear sets in, doesn’t it? Timidity replaces trust at times. Will the church press on courageously, trusting in Christ’s purposes or will we retreat due to the fear that overwhelms us?

This is going to prove to be a pastoral problem in the church. As the church faces this new age of forced-toleration, how ought we respond to those who who suffer under the fear and timidity that may plague our souls?

Martin Bucer (1491-1551), gives us wisdom here. He writes:

Those who become timid, so that the cross and tribulation become too heavy for them, must be addressed kindly and comfortingly, faithfully impressing on them the goodness of God and the salvation of Christ, so that they may recognize and believe that our dear God’s intentions towards them are entirely fatherly and faithful in all the sufferings he sends them. They are always to be dissuaded from thinking about their sins and […]