/ James Faris

Dr. Roy Blackwood (1925-2019)

The Lord took Dr. Roy Blackwood to be with himself on the Lord's Day, February 24, 2019. Fittingly, he entered the presence of God from his earthly home at 10:45 a.m., at the same time Second Reformed Presbyterian Church entered into corporate worship in the presence of God. Fellow elder Russ Pulliam writes the following tribute:

Humanly speaking, Roy Blackwood was the spark for a spiritual renewal or awakening in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, 1960-2000.

With origins in Scotland and northern Ireland, the church made its way to America in the 1700s, looking for freedom, remembering the severe persecution of Covenanters in the 1600s. Church growth came primarily from families of Covenanter heritage.

The Lord used Dr. Blackwood to add several important scriptural themes into the DNA  of the church, especially evangelism and discipleship, or what he liked to call doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way.

He became known as a church planter – a human instrument behind the multiplication of Reformed Presbyterian churches in Indiana.

He was a disciplemaker, practicing II Timothy 2:1-10 and imparting that vision to many others, by example as well as by teaching.

He was also a good preacher, opening the Word at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church and other pulpits week by week.

He was a pastor, visiting, baptizing, marrying and burying the people under his care in Indianapolis, Southside Indianapolis, Lafayette, Bloomington, Columbus.

Born in 1925, he grew up in New Concord, Ohio, under his aunt’s supervision after his mother’s death when he was very young. He served in the U.S. Navy in the later years of World War II, went to Geneva College, then the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh before pursuing of a doctorate in church history in Scotland.

He was a first-class church historian, teaching seminary-level classes in Indianapolis and Ottawa, Canada, through the stages of church history. For many Protestants he opened up new vistas in the medieval period, showing how the Lord was building his church and advancing his kingdom despite wrong doctrinal turns, especially in the late medieval period.

As a student of church history he wrote a life-changing Phd. thesis on William Symington and his major work on Christ’s kingship, Messiah the Prince. That vision turned Dr. Blackwood into a kind of informal pastor to business and political leaders in Indiana in the midst of Christ’s multiplication of churches beginning in the mid-1960s. The doctrine of the kingdom prompted him to ministry well beyond immediate church membership. He would be invited to teach and speak at Christian Businessmen’s Committee luncheons or ministering to students at Indiana and Purdue University campuses, as well as Ball State, Indiana State, Butler, often through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Navigators. He was an informal pastor to a loose-knit coalition of political leaders who have attempted to apply their faith in civil government. That ministry continues today through Public Servants Prayer ministry, headed up by Matt Barnes, an informal chaplain in Indiana state government.

Dr. Blackwood’s doctoral thesis topic was the doctrine of Christ’s kingdom, and the practical result in his life was a II Timothy 2:2 multiplication of his life into the lives of many other men, as well as the multiplication of churches in the Midwest. Another result is a little harder to trace but is equally important. This doctrine, growing out of the Scottish reformation, has been very helpful to people trying to apply Christ’s Lordship to all areas of life, especially the world of politics and business. This indirect impact of kingdom thinking has been similar to the way Dutch reformation influences in America have given a vision for Christians to be engaged in the political and social issues of their time, applying their faith to all the difficult political and social of modern life.

Dr. Blackwood learned to think and teach in terms of Christ’s kingdom whether he was leading an evangelistic home Bible study that might grow into a church, or advising governors, senators or state legislators on how the doctrine of Christ’s kingdom could help them write God’s laws into the laws in civil government. Christ was king over the state as well as the church and that church and state could cooperate for kingdom advancement. They could come into conflict as well, but His kingship meant that Christ would work through them both in a cooperative way, with both sectors looking to Christ for guidance.

One example came in the early days of Prison Fellowship. Roy and his wife Margie had a prisoner living in their home and working on a community service project. The state was calling on the church for spiritual help that the prisoners needed in order to be ready to come back to society after time behind bars. At one point then Indiana Secretary of State Ed Simcox, thankful for Roy’s personal counsel and Bible study with him, made Dr. Blackwood an honorary Secretary of State.

He was, humanly speaking, the founder of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church Indianapolis in 1964, located there in part because it was the state capitol. It was second because of another attempt to launch a church in the city after the Civil War. The doctrine of Christ’s kingdom included His rule over the civil government, not just the church, so a call for Christ’s building of His church in a state capitol was like Paul keeping his eye on the chance to go to Rome, the key seat of civil government back then.

Dr. Blackwood learned the kingdom doctrine unconsciously as he grew up in the RP church in Ohio, raised by an aunt after his mother died when he was young. He remembered her taking him on trips to Florida, where she would fish with him. They would stop on the way at Selma RP Church, where he later became friends with Pastor Claude Brown and learned more of the history of the church’s early opposition to slavery and efforts to help freed slaves escaping to the north on the underground railroad.

After earning his degree at the RP seminary in Pittsburgh, he started doctoral work in Scotland on the topic of the kingdom, then came back to the United States and served as pastor of the Bloomington Indiana RP Church in the 1950s. There he learned evangelism and disciplemaking alongside his friend Leroy Eims of the Navigators, as they found plenty of practice on the Indiana University campus.  

Roy kept track of many people, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the new Southside Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis (organized in 1979) and the development of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Columbus (1978) and Lafayette (1965), Indiana. A Bible study he led in Muncie, Indiana grew into a PCA church.  

Roy’s life as a pastor made this doctrine very practical. Christ’s doctrine of the kingdom is not primarily political, or imposed from the top of civil government down on society. Instead the King had outlined His approach in places such as Matthew 28:18-20 and II Timothy 2:1-10.

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. II Timothy 2:2  

A couple of books helped, The Lost Art of Disciplemaking, by Roy’s friend, Leroy Eims, and the Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman. Leroy was a staff member of the Navigators disciplemaking ministry and helped Reformed Presbyterians in Pittsburgh after World War II, including Ken Smith and Roy, to learn some practical aspects of discipleship.

The key was Roy, or Ken Smith, or Leroy Eims, working with a few men in personal discipleship through Bible study, leading to a commitment, or personal practical application to our own lives, in the spirit of what Paul did with Timothy. The goal has been working with a man, or a few men, who can share their faith with others, who then go on to teach others also. At times this approach may seem a little slow, maybe even inefficient. In business it’s called “labor-intensive,” and requires much sacrifice of self. Why not have a big evangelistic meeting and see hundreds of people converted to Christ and usher in Christ’s kingdom faster?

Roy had served in those crusades and other evangelistic ministries. Yet he knew  that those converted would need the II Timothy 2:2 followup approach of the King. Christ outlined these kingdom principles in the parables, and He started small, with a few disciples. He also used mass meetings. Yet primarily He worked with a few men who would turn the world upside down.

Dr. Blackwood was following the pattern of Christ’s own life in the gospels, ministering to large groups and keeping an eye on a few men he would minister with more closely as Christ’s means of building His church.

Roy poured what he was learning into the lives of men such as Don Fields of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; Jim McMahon, a Reformed Presbyterian evangelist; John Purvis of the Navigators; Don Prichard, an RP church-planting ruling elder; Jim Bishop, another RP church-planting ruling elder; Bill Long, an RP ruling elder who was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; Keith Magill, an RP pastor; Jack Baumgardner, an RP pastor; Frank Schutz, an RP pastor; Rich Johnston, an RP pastor; Dean Filson, an RP ruling elder; and Michael LeFebvre, an RP pastor.

Keith Magill spent time with other men, such as the late Dave Long and Fikre Menbere. Dave Long became the Lafayette RP Church pastor before he went to be with the Lord. Dave spent time with a man named Barry York. He became founding pastor of the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, Indiana, which grew out of the Lafayette Reformed Presbyterian Church, which had grown out of a home Bible study that Dr. Blackwood had led in the 1960s, with a vision for ministering especially to students at Purdue University. And many others Roy discipled in the same way did not become pastors but have gone on to apply II Timothy 2:2 in other settings, such as education, business and politics.

In recent years Barry York in Kokomo helped a number of men who are in the pastorate, or on the way there, including some who are very active in a local rescue mission. The Kokomo church has trusted the Lord for the development of a new church in nearby Marion, Indiana, through a new pastor, Jason Camery, whom Barry has worked with for several years. More recently Barry has responded to a call to train more men for the pastorate as the president of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, back in Lafayette, that church is now mother of a new congregation nearby in West Lafayette, the location of the Purdue University campus. Their pastor, Jared Olivetti, had been discipled by Dave Long when Jared was a Purdue student and later served as associate pastor of the Lafayette church.

Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, one of the men Roy helped earlier, Rich Johnston, became pastor of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Rich was a public school teacher who attended seminary after spending more than 25 years in the classroom. He was joined in that pastorate by James Faris, who grew up in the Lafayette church and went door to door with Pastor York in Kokomo in the early years of that church. Another man, Michael LeFebvre became pastor of Christ Church on the west side of Indianapolis, which grew out of Second Indianapolis and was formed in 2006. Michael LeFebvre republished Dr. Blackwood’s original Ph.D thesis on the kingdom, now entitled William Symington, Penman of the Scottish Covenanters, which is available through Reformation Heritage Publishers of Grand Rapids. Joining Michael in publishing has been his brother-in-law, J.K. Wall, a business journalist and researcher and author of an abridged version of Messiah the Prince, in hopes of a wider audience for that work that has been so vital in Dr. Blackwood’s ministry.

In earlier years these men would spend weekly personal time with Roy, or sometimes in small group studies. In our living rooms he would go through the life of Christ in the gospel of John, and young men and women would bring their friends to hear the gospel and the claims of Christ.

As men progressed in faith, Roy helped us learn what was called ABC Bible study. The label sounded like elementary school stuff. Yet it is a very challenging approach to the Bible. The analysis (A) gives us a chance to work through a chapter, writing out the themes or an outline. It can be a few sentences of paraphrase or an outline. Or it can expand into in-depth word studies using Strong’s Concordance and the Dictionary of New Testament Theology and the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.

Then we look for the best verse (B) to summarize the theme, or a verse that speaks to us in a special way.

The key is the commitment (C). What are we going to do with what we have learned in the chapter? How will we obey? In what specific way can I be a doer of the Word? Some applications are very exact: “I will by the grace of God give up television this week and read 30 minutes each evening to the children.” It has a kingship approach to the King’s Word because the King has commanded this approach.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

Some applications can go much deeper into marriage, personal relationships, pride and humility. The approach gives Christ a simple but regular way of convicting us of sin and helping us to change from what we have been to what Christ wants us to become. Or it can be a way to remind us of a basic truth, such as Christ’s love, with no particular or specific task to carry out.

What this approach has provided is a way of regularly working on the exciting truth that we are not stuck as we are. We can be changed by the King. If I am selfish, I can develop applications to grow out of it. If I need to break a bad habit, I can commit to grow a new and better one, with the help of memory verses and the prayers of friends and regular accountability. It is discipline, and it can be miserable at times because the self or flesh gets in the way. But they are disciplines under a King who has shown His love for us by dying on the cross.

This approach also helped keep Dr. Blackwood truly reformed and Presbyterian, in the sense of restraining him from the natural temptation to control churches too much. Keith Magill put it this way in honoring Roy at a 2008 Presbytery meeting: “You did not try to take over and be His little king here in this Presbytery. Many men, who were used to build a large ministry, eventually decided that they should control that ministry themselves. But you knew deeply in your soul that no one can replace or supplant King Jesus as the Head of the Church. So those of us who’ve known you well and worked closely with you, know that you trusted us to Jesus. You did not make us dependent on you in a wrong kind of way. You trained us and equipped us and sent us out. The one thing you have labored diligently to do is to keep us tied together, laboring together, loving each other and helping and encouraging each other.”

As Dr. Blackwood taught seminary-level church history classes, we saw these kingdom and discipleship themes come alive in another way. We learned how William Farel and Martin Bucer became Pauls in some ways to a young, shy John Calvin. Calvin then was used to multiply what he had learned into the life of Theodore Beza as well so many others.

A young man named John Knox also found his way to Geneva, where he learned from Calvin and took lessons back to Scotland. Earlier in Scotland, Knox had learned from another “Paul,” named George Wishart, and went on to teach many others.

Archibald Johnston, or Lord Wariston, was the lawyer for the Covenant of the 17th century, working with Alexander Henderson. Wariston’s grandmother, Rachel Arnot, had hidden Scottish reformer Robert Bruce in persecuting times and likely told her grandson the Scottish reformation stories of faith and courage, in a different Paul-Timothy pattern through the generations of family. II Timothy 2:2 also worked within a multi-generational carrying on of the faith, following the pattern of Deuteronomy 6:5-9.

The pattern was similar with Martin Luther, who learned something of justification by faith from the Augustinian monks, found it in the book of Romans and went on to train Philip Melanchthon and generations of the Lutheran church.

Later in history, the preaching of George Whitefield contributed indirectly to the conversion of William Wilberforce, who went on to lead the abolition of slavery in the British empire, in the name of Christ.

Roy helped many of us learn to read church history in a new way, through these themes of Christ’s kingdom and doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way, through II Timothy 2:2. Especially with the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Puritans and the Dutch reformed immigrants to America, the family was a crucial aspect of Deuteronomy 6:5-9 training of believers in these kingdom disciplines of Bible study, prayer, memory verses and psalm singing, with the Lord often preparing a person through multi-generational covenantal blessings of Psalm 112:1-2.

Some mistakenly saw a conflict between a discipleship ministry and the reformed doctrines of grace. But from Dr. Blackwood we saw that the reformers, Calvin and Luther on the continent, or Knox and the Covenanters in Scotland, or the Puritans in England, had practiced II Timothy 2:2, often using their own terminology and applying the truths of Christ to particular cultural settings.

As part of these history courses, Roy took individuals and families on history tours, to the Middle East and Scotland. Seeing the tide there come in and out in Scotland could help students better grasp the martyrdom of the two Margarets, who died at Wigtown for their faith in Christ in the late 1600s, as they were tied to stakes and drowned in the tide.

Roy’s wife Margie provided an important complement, teaching our children a mix of Covenanter history, evangelism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, during the Sabbath evening worship service. Two of their three children (Bill, Beth) wound up living in Scotland and England, while Bob has lived in the Fort Wayne area.

Margie was a quiet help to Roy, putting a practical edge on the great kingdom doctrine, with a special love for people. Roy had some big ideas and visions, and some of us wound up with big families. Margie had a way of tempering the good, big visions with the practical claims we had to consider as fathers and mothers, or employers or students. Roy and Margie showed us how to take care of parents in their later years. They moved Margie’s parents into their own home to provide that care.

Perhaps the most profound lesson was more practical. Somehow Roy knew we would be tempted to neglect family. He warned me that I would never regret spending too much time with my family. He also denounced the thought that quality time was more important than quantity time. “That’s a lie from the pit of hell,” Roy said. That was the most forceful comment I ever heard from him.

His counsel on family time reflected Roy’s willingness to help us learn from the mistakes of his World War II generation. He saw too many evangelical leaders, very talented and Godly men, get so busy building great ministries that their wives and children suffered.

As busy as Roy was, God used him to bring a special emphasis on the family priority in a very unusual way in our lives. Not by any plan of the pastor or church elders, Second Reformed Presbyterian in Indianapolis and other Indiana churches became a welcoming place for families that wanted something better for their family than the world seemed to be offering in the 1980s and 1990s.

Some families were attracted to the psalm singing without instruments because evangelical churches were switching from traditional hymns to an entertainment-style approach to worship. Others felt that their larger families were welcome among us. In some other churches they sensed that an abundance of children was a problem instead of a blessing. Christ the king had a kingdom way of growing his people, sometimes in ways that felt counter-cultural. The surrounding culture never put psalm singing on the radio next to the top tunes, or endorsed big families.

God equipped Roy to help these families in transition, some from a background of secularism, others coming from charismatic worship settings to a desire for more depth in theology. He helped them see that their heart’s desire for family reflected a desire for covenant theology even if they had not heard the terminology. They wanted to see their children walking with the Lord, in future for generations, in the spirit of Isaiah 59:21, “My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord.”

Those desires of parents reflected the heart of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and its history in Scotland and America and were rooted in the doctrine of Christ’s kingdom.

We will miss Roy greatly but look forward to seeing him with the Lord.

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

Read More