Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Attributes of God

The fourth question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is God?" It answers, "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." 

God has revealed himself to man, so that we are not in the dark about his existence or nature. Our knowledge of him, when based upon his revelation of himself, is limited but true. He has revealed himself in his creation (Rom. 1:19-20) and in the Holy Scriptures.

What does it mean that God is a Spirit?
God reveals that he is a Spirit (John 4:24). This means that the divine nature is not physical. God as God has no body. As our confession of faith says, he is "a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions." When Jesus rose from the dead, he contrasted spirit with body: "Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). Jesus only had a body because he took on human nature. 

What about references to God’s hand, God’s arm, God’s eyes, God’s face?
These are figures of speech that use human body parts to refer to God’s invisible attributes (e.g. his power, knowledge, favor, etc.). He sees, he hears, he acts, he speaks, but without physical eyes, ears, hands, or mouth. He does not need the organs for these activities.

What does it mean for God to be infinite?
He is without limit. He is not bound or measured. He is everywhere, filling heaven and earth, and even they cannot contain him (Jer. 23:24, 1 Kings 8:27).

What does it mean for God to be eternal?
He is not limited by time, but is beyond time. He existed before time began. He has no beginning and no end. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, 'Return, O children of man!' For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:2–4).

What does it mean for God to be unchangeable?
He is perfect and therefore cannot grow better or get worse. He is infinite and eternal, not a creature of time. He does not vary or change (James 1:17). “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Psalm 102:26-28).

How is God’s being different from our being?
It is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, and these attributes apply to his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. That is, his being is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. His wisdom is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. His power is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. And so forth.

What is God’s wisdom?
It is his perfect knowledge of himself and all things by which he orders and connects all things with purpose and design and ultimately for his glory. His wisdom is displayed in the design and order of the creation and his providence (Psalm 104), in his law (Deut. 4:6), and in his work of salvation through Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1-2).

What is God’s power?
It is his ability to do whatever he pleases (Ps. 135:6-7). He has supreme authority over all things and he has infinite power. He works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:10; note the union of wisdom and power). His power is displayed in creating all things out of nothing by his word (Rev. 4:11), by sustaining all things by his word (Heb. 1), by working all things to fulfill his purposes (Dan. 4:35), and by overcoming sin and Satan through the miraculous incarnation and work of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:24).

What is God’s holiness?
Holiness has to do with separation, consecration, and purity. Thomas Vincent describes it this way: “The holiness of God is his essential property, whereby he is infinitely pure; loves and delights in his own purity, and in all the resemblances of it which any of his creatures have; and is perfectly free from all impurity, and hates it where he sees it.” Consider Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8, and 1 Peter 1:15-16.

What is God’s justice?
God is perfectly just and right in himself and in his dealing with others, rendering to everyone his due. He is just in the laws he gives, in his actions toward his creatures, and in his judgments as the Judge of the earth. As Abraham said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). He will by no means clear the guilty (Ex. 34:7). As Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” He displays his justice in the sacrifice of Christ to satisfy divine justice, in his temporal judgments in history, and in the final judgment on the last day. His justice is a good thing, for which creation longs (Ps. 96, 98), and to which we appeal as those in Christ (1 John 1:9, Gen. 18:25, Luke 18:1-8).

What is God’s goodness?
It is that whereby he is goodness himself, is generous and kind, and is the author of all good. Consider how man was made. Before man did anything, God supplied him with a world of good things, full of beauty, usefulness, and delight, and gave him dominion over it. Even now, God is generous to all and patient toward the rebellious. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). His kindness is meant to lead men to repentance. His goodness is especially shown in his work of love and grace in the salvation of sinners through Christ. By grace, he brings us back to an enjoyment of himself, the true good, and the right use of all his good gifts. To the redeemed, the creation is their Father’s world. Truly, as Psalm 145:8–9 says, “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”

What is God’s truth?
God is faithful and true and speaks the truth, not falsehood. “…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…” (Titus 1:2).  The devil is a liar and the father of lies who deceived Eve. But God cannot be mistaken and he cannot be unfaithful. He is faithful, so that what he says is true and what he has said he will do he will perform - he is true to his word. He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6).

God is not limited by time or space. Neither is God foolish, weak, common, unjust, miserly, or fickle. Our experience can at times provoke us to feel that God is weak, unjust, miserly, etc. But we must hold fast to his word and believe that God is who he says he is in the midst of trials. Remember what he has done for you. Remember what you have received from him. Remember what he has done for his people in the past. Remember what he has done in your life, taking pity on you when you were doomed to death. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Presbyterians and the American War of Independence

Last Sunday, I preached on how God makes his people a blessing to their land. You can listen to that sermon at this link. "By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown" (Proverbs 11:11). One historical example of this can be found in the work of Christians in the struggles of our own country during its war for independence. Consider the contributions made by our fellow Presbyterians at that time. 

In 1768, John Witherspoon accepted an invitation to become the president of the College of New Jersey. He was a Presbyterian pastor from Scotland who had become notable as a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland against the moderates. At the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University), he taught 500 students, including 
a president of the United States (James Madison), a vice president (Aaron Burr Jr.), twelve members of the Continental Congress, five delegates to the Constitutional Convention, forty-nine US representatives, twenty-eight senators, and three Supreme Court justices. Added to this impressive list were 114 ministers of the gospel, 19 of whom became presidents of institutions of higher learning. (Reformed and Evangelical across Four Centuries: The Presbyterian Story in America) 
Around the same time, British policy toward their colonies began to change. The British Parliament began claiming authority to tax and regulate the internal affairs of the colonies, an authority which the colonies argued was illegitimate and which belonged to their own representative legislatures. Parliament only had authority to regulate external trade for the advantage of the mother country, not to raise revenue. They rightly saw this imposition a usurpation and one that undermined their rights as British freemen and the security of their hard-won property.

Another threat was that the British Parliament might attempt to impose a bishop on the colonies aligned with the power of the state, a tyranny from which the colonists had escaped by coming to America. Congregationalists and Presbyterians were united in their concern for religious liberty and were concerned with good reason that the suppression of civil liberty might lead to the suppression of religious liberty. Historically, they knew how kings had used bishops to gain greater control over the church and feared that such a bishop might be empowered with authority over dissenters. In 1766, the Presbyterian Church (the Synod of New York and Philadelphia) and the Consociated Churches of Connecticut formed an association with a regular convention for better communication between them and for a united stand for the gospel and religious liberty and against the imposition of a bishop.

The Presbyterian synod rejoiced with the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 and reminded its people to give thanks to God for delivering them both from the French and Indians and from the Stamp Act and to respond with renewed obedience to God, rather than risk his judgment by ingratitude. In all the coming trials of the war, pastors would remind the people to look beyond the British to the hand of Providence and to humble themselves before the Lord in prayer and repentance.

As war approached, Presbyterian pastors were careful to be pastors not politicians. Preaching on politics directly was more the exception than the rule, and was done most often on special days of fasting or thanksgiving. But centuries of Reformed teaching on the magistrate and proper ways of resistance had a strong influence on the colonies, and pastors did not ignore the events of their time. They approved the struggle for American rights and liberties and gave pastoral exhortations for how to pursue this course in a godly way. 

The Synod sent out a pastoral letter of 1775 drafted by John Witherspoon to this effect. In it, they advised those under their charge to express their attachment and respect to their Sovereign (but misled) King George; to seek only the preservation of those rights which belonged to them as freemen and Britons and to desire reconciliation on those terms; to honor, pray for, and observe the resolutions of the Continental Congress; to maintain church government over the morals of members; to each fulfill his debts and duties to his neighbors amid disorder and disruptions; to preserve a spirit of humanity, only fighting as necessary; and to continue steadfastly in prayer. The letter was signed on May 12, 1775 and it was read from the pulpit in the churches on a national fast day, July, 20, 1775, a year before independence was declared. John Adams sent a copy of this letter to his wife and was very pleased with it and with the Presbyterian preaching he attended in Philadelphia from Rev. George Duffield, a future chaplain to the Continental Congress. You can read the pastoral letter here.

On May 17th, 1776, a day of prayer and fasting declared by Congress, John Witherspoon preached “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men.” In this sermon he preached on God’s providence and a right use of it and the importance of virtue. In it, he declared his opinion “that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature.” He concluded his sermon by saying, 
Upon the whole, I beseech you to make a wise improvement of the present threatening aspect of public affairs, and to remember that your duty to God, to your country, to your families, and to yourselves, is the same. True religion is nothing else but an inward temper and outward conduct suited to your state and circumstances in providence at any time. And as peace with God and conformity to him, adds to the sweetness of created comforts while we possess them, so in times of difficulty and trial, it is in the man of piety and inward principle that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. — God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.
Only two months later, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. Witherspoon was one of its signers, along with 11 Presbyterian laymen. Speaking of him, a member of Parliament said, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.” 

One of those other Presbyterian signers was Thomas McKean. He was a Scots-Irish Presbyterian, born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Ireland, and educated by Rev. Francis Alison (an Old-Side Presbyterian minister) and at the University of Pennsylvania. He represented Delaware in the Stamp Act Congress and in the Continental Congress (1774-1782). He voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence, served as a colonel in the war, helped draft the Articles of Confederation and voted for them. He served in the Delaware House of Assembly and drafted Delaware's 1776 Constitution.  He was the chief justice of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1799, a member of Pennsylvania’s convention who voted to ratify the US Constitution, and the governor of Pennsylvania from 1800 to 1808. Even at the age of 80, he was active during the War of 1812 in leading a Philadelphia citizens group to prepare for a potential British invasion. 

In fact, due to the strong support Presbyterians gave to the patriot cause, the war became known among many of the British as a Presbyterian war, especially since the Congregationalists were so closely united with the Presbyterians as to be grouped together with them. In fact, some Tories believed the war was caused by a Presbyterian-Congregationalist conspiracy to set up a Presbyterian establishment in the colonies - a rumor that Presbyterians would go out of their way to disprove. One loyalist Anglican minister, Rev. William Jones, wrote in 1776 to the British government that “…this has been a Presbyterian war from the beginning as certainly as that in 1641…” (referring to the British Civil War). 

While Presbyterians of various ethnic background largely sided with the patriots, the Scots-Irish were especially numerous and prominent. They sided with the patriots quite earnestly, except for a few areas where local disputes divided them. They were some of the most loyal troops that stuck by Washington at Valley Forge. Their Presbyterian ancestors had opposed tyranny under the authority of lower magistrates and legislatures in the British Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and now they did it again. One Hessian captain wrote to a friend, saying, “call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion” (Capt. Johann Heinrichs, January 18, 1778). This also meant that Presbyterians and their ministers and churches were often targeted by the British Army. For example, Rev. James Caldwell was a chaplain in the Continental Army and his wife was killed by the British, his house and church was burned by Tories, and his death was probably an assassination.

As the war shifted to the south, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians of the backcountry would provide important victories at King’s Mountain and Cowpens. At King’s Mountain, these Scots-Irish frontiersmen had been encouraged by the preaching of Presbyterian preacher Samuel Doak and were led by five colonels who were also Presbyterian elders. General Daniel Morgan who defeated Tarleton at Cowpens came to faith during the war and joined the Presbyterian church shortly after the battle. 

Not only did they fight, but Presbyterians also emphasized the importance of rightly responding to trials and humbling themselves before God in prayer and repentance. Both Congress and the Synod repeatedly set days to call people to repentance, prayer, thanksgiving, and new obedience throughout the war. Presbyterians looked to God to deliver and use this new country for good, but they also realized the need for national repentance and reformation if this was to happen, and preached for it. In 1779 and 1780, the Presbyterian church called for a day of prayer and fasting in this way: 
The Synod taking into consideration the great and increasing decay of vital piety, the degeneracy of manners, want of public spirit, and prevalence of vice and immorality that obtains throughout our land, and that the righteous God, by continuing still to afflict us with the sore calamity of a cruel and barbarous war, is loudly calling the inhabitants to repentance and reformation, and as a means thereto, to deep humiliation, frequent and fervent prayer, do therefore appoint Thursday, the 17th day of August next, to be observed by all under our care, as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; and do also renew the recommendation of former Synods to all their congregations, to spend a part of the last Thursday in every month, in social prayer, as their circumstances may admit.
The Presbyterian church also responded to victory with calls for thanksgiving. In 1783, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia sent out another pastoral letter to its churches, writing, 
We cannot help congratulating you on the general and almost universal attachment of the Presbyterian body, to the cause of liberty and the rights of mankind. This has been visible in their conduct, and has been confessed by the complaints and resentment of the common enemy. Such a circumstance ought not only to afford us satisfaction on the review, as bringing credit to the body in general, but to increase our gratitude to God for the happy issue of the war. Had it been unsuccessful, we must have drunk deeply of the cup of suffering. Our burnt and wasted churches, and our plundered dwellings, in such places as fell under the power of our adversaries, are but an earnest of what we must have suffered, had they finally prevailed.

The synod, therefore, request you to render thanks to Almighty God, for all his mercies spiritual and temporal; and in a particular manner for establishing the independence of the United States of America. He is the supreme disposer, and to Him belong the glory, the victory, and the majesty.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Presbyterian Statements on Women and the Draft

Since it is in the news again that the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces is proposing (once again) to start requiring women to register for the draft in the 2025 NDAA (see here), I thought I would share a few statements from Presbyterian denominations in NAPARC on women and the draft/military. This is not comprehensive, as other denominations have made similar statements. My local church also has its own statement on this in its constitution. Hopefully this provision is taken out of the final bill, and perhaps these statements might be worth including in a letter to your senator or representative. I believe the requirement for women to register for the draft to be both unwise and immoral on account of the distinction between the sexes revealed in creation and in the Bible. In the Bible, men alone are assigned the responsibility for national defense (Neh. 4:14, Num. 1:2-3, Deut. 24:5), and this was not something pertaining to ancient Israel alone, but a moral principle based in the creation order (Gen. 1:27, Is. 19:16, Jer. 51:30). 

Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 68th General Assembly, 2001:
“The 68th GA declares that the use of women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God.”
Presbyterian Church in America, 30th General Assembly, 2002:
"1. Acknowledging that the child in the womb is 'a person covered by Divine protection' (Statement on Abortion, Sixth General Assembly); and that women of childbearing age often carry unborn children while remaining unaware of their child's existence; and that principles of just war require the minimization of the loss of life-particularly innocent civilians; the PCA declares that any policy which intentionally places in harms way as military combatants women who are, or might be, carrying a child in their womb, is a violation of God's Moral Law. Adopted

"2. This Assembly declares it to be the biblical duty of man to defend woman and therefore condemns the use of women as military combatants, as well as any conscription of women into the Armed Services of the United States. Adopted

"3. Therefore be it resolved that the Thirtieth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America adopts the above as pastoral counsel for the good of the members, the officers, and especially the military chaplains of the Presbyterian Church in America. Adopted

"4. Be it further resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America supports the decision of any of its members to object to, as a matter of conscience, the conscription of women or the use of women as military combatants. Adopted"
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 168th Synod, 1998:
“Therefore, be it now resolved: That, while recognizing the right and duty that women have to self-defense, which may involve physical violence (Judges 9:53), it is our conviction that Biblical teaching does not give warrant to employ women for military combat.”
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, 2016, Index 20:
“The Word of God gives no warrant expressed or implied that women are to be conscripted into military service or required to participate in military combat. Therefore, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church opposes the registration of women for Selective Service and the assignment of women to combat duty or to duties which involve a significant risk of engaging in combat.”

Many of these quotes are also found in Paul Barth's post on the topic: Women in the Military and in Combat. The PCA and OPC's statements can be found along with the committee reports that preceded their adoption here (PCA) and here (OPC), although I would note it is the statements rather than the reports that were adopted by the general assemblies. You can also find my earlier post about the 7th century "Law of Adamnan" on this topic here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The 21st Century: American Presbyterian Churches Today

Mt.  Zion A.R. Presbyterian Church
“Presbyterians have been an important part of American life and culture for a very long time. With roots planted deep in the English and Scottish Reformations, growing numbers of Presbyterian families began to settle throughout the American colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, bringing with them a deep respect for the Bible, a yearning for spiritual renewal and spread of the gospel, a theological seriousness, and a desire for a society transformed by Christian principles.” 
(Reformed & Evangelical across Four Centuries: The Presbyterian Story in America, 2022)
In my final lesson on American Presbyterian history, I summarized this history in three parts:

1700s - Foundations. This period saw the church organized (Makemie, first presbytery in 1706, first general assembly in 1789), confessional subscription established (adopting act, Hemphill case), the work of evangelism and church planting (the Great Awakening), and contributions to the American founding (Witherspoon, pastoral guidance, and patriotic application by members).

1800s - Maturation. This period saw expansion, especially westward (plan of union, revivals, home missions), the work of education (seminary, theologians, children), defense of orthodoxy (old vs. new school, evolution, inerrancy), internal debates (worship, sacraments, status of children, polity, slavery, church-state relations), foreign missions, and contributions and applications to society (the vision of a Christian nation).

1900s - Realignment. This period comes in three parts: the fundamentalist-modernist controversy (1910-1936), conflict in the mainline churches (1960s-1970s), and realignments in the aftermath (1980s-present). This period saw the rise of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology and confessional Presbyterianism, and the progressive decline (numerically and spiritually) of the mainline church.

The Present

Formerly, the mainline churches (including the PCUSA) acted as an informally established church in American society. The decline of the mainline churches, including the PCUSA, numerically and spiritually, has had disastrous consequences for the USA, leaving it without a Christian religious center. Roman Catholics and evangelicals have attempted to fill in the gap, with mixed results. The witness of the church in America is divided. Nearly every major tradition has a liberal and conservative branch(es).

With the decline of the PCUSA, will the other Presbyterian denominations become a new mainline? Confessional churches have their work cut out for themselves: rebuilding what was lost as well as continuing the work of the church.

Presbyterians have also shrunk as a proportion of the American population and of the American Christian population since the colonial period. Presbyterians have often punched above their weight with an influence beyond their numbers, but it is worth noting that we are a minority even among Bible-believing Protestants in America. 

Yet besides these challenges, there are reasons for hope as well. Following the realignments of the 20th century, churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church in America have a self-consciously confessional identity. We are in a better place than we were in the early or middle 20th century, when most confessional Presbyterians were either in organizations compromised with unbelief or new organizations that were poor and starting from scratch. Now that we have realigned on the basis of biblical authority and confessional faithfulness, and in the case of the OPC have nearly a century of work to build upon, we are better set up to go forward with the mission of the church. Each church in NAPARC has its own respective gifts and strengths. In recent decades there has also been an increased interest in Reformed theology and a more historically-rooted and doctrinally-rich manifestation of the church, while liberal Christianity and lesser errors like classic Dispensationalism no longer have the power they once had.

The Task Ahead of Us

Here is a goal: that the whole visible church be organized on a confessional Presbyterian basis and that everyone in America (and the world) comes to Christ and his church. Even this would not be an end goal, but the start of discipleship. A more immediate goal for us would be to contribute, as a branch of the visible church, to the discipleship of the nations, and especially this people, the American people, through the conversion of the lost and the perfecting of the saints in Christ.

The church faces its task in America today while its own ranks are in disorder. We have a twofold task, the reform of the church and the fulfillment of its mission. We must rebuild the progress that was lost with the falling away of the mainline (and other major departures from the faith). We must gain lost ground, planting or reforming churches and reaching abandoned communities. We must also press forward with the gospel and the Great Commission, with the church’s ministries of word, sacrament, prayer, and with the faithfulness of each member in this fellowship and in each one’s calling in the world.

We should think of both individuals and communities, both population and geography. Each church is an outpost in the advance of Christ’s kingdom, and we want every person in the country to have access. We want a healthy gospel church in every community in the USA (to adapt a slogan from the Free Church of Scotland). We want a confessional Reformed church in every community in the USA. And we want to build up and maintain a healthy church here that will continue to send missionaries abroad, missionaries that will export a sound gospel and establish healthy churches. 

The work ahead of us includes:
  • Replace (or reform) liberal churches, a new work in the aftermath of the previous century. 
  • Gather the scattered flock (de-churched Christians), a task as old as the colonial era. 
  • Evangelize the lost.
  • Disciple, shepherd, edify, equip, and catechize the saints, including our children.
  • Keep the faith and God’s ordinances pure and entire, keeping watch over ourselves. 
  • Work with and for other faithful churches and Christians, contributing to the edification of the larger body of Christ and seeking greater reform and agreement.
In this work, we should not be sectarian on the one hand nor embarrassed about our distinctives on the other hand, but building up the body of Christ in the fullness of the faith and the whole counsel of God. The Presbyterian church is well set up for this, receiving as members of our church the members of the visible church - those who profess the true religion and their children - while requiring confessional subscription of its officers. Baptism is the beginning of a process of discipleship, not the end. It is important to be “catholic” (not in the Roman sense) and serious about discipleship and catechizing. This depth should include both doctrinal depth and a breadth of application, teaching Christians a biblical worldview that they might serve the Lord in every area of life. This is all the more important today as we live amid modern secularism. 

Let us press onward with the mission to the American people and church, while not going astray ourselves. May we keep the faith, keep our kids, and keep advancing, in breadth and depth, following Christ the King.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Presbyterian Reunions and Divisions of the 20th Century

Elsberry A.R. Presbyterian Church, est. 1911
In my last post, I described the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which was formed by those who left the northern mainline church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, in 1936 due to the PCUSA's actions against those who opposed liberalism in the church. I also mentioned that in 1937, the Bible Presbyterian Church departed from the OPC. The Bible Presbyterians held to Premillennialism, abstinence from alcohol, and support for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The rest of the 20th century saw multiple reunions and divisions among American Presbyterians. This account is adapted from a lesson I gave in my lesson series on American Presbyterian history, available here.

Developments in the North in the 1950s and 1960s

The Bible Presbyterian Church divided into two groups in 1956. They came to be named the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church.

In 1965, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church united with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (a “New Light” Covenanter denomination), forming the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES).

The PCUSA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) united in 1958, forming the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). The UPCNA had been formed in the 1800s from several northern denominations in the Reformed Presbyterian (“Covenanter”) and Associate Reformed (“Seceder”) traditions. The Covenanter and Seceder traditions originated from groups that left the Church of Scotland in 1662-1689 and 1733, respectively, before coming to America. Two other denominations, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (in the north) and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (in the south), remain independent representatives of those traditions.

In 1967, the UPCUSA produced the Confession of 1967 (strongly influenced by the “neo-orthodox” theology of Karl Barth), a “Book of Confessions,” and revised ordination vows that redefined and basically eliminated confessional subscription and a commitment to biblical authority, although the full implications of the change would become evident later.

Developments in the South, 1930s-1970s

The Presbyterian Church in the United States (the southern Presbyterian church) resisted liberalism longer than its northern counterpart, but controversy began to heat up in the late 1930s, when major confessional revision was narrowly avoided and attempts to discipline several high profile liberals failed. Liberals had organized a secretive organization to advance their cause in the PCUS (“The Fellowship of St. James,” later replaced by “The Fellowship of Concern”).

Confessional members in the PCUS formed four organizations that would prove important for the later formation of the Presbyterian Church in America: (1) The (Southern) Presbyterian Journal, est. 1942, edited by L. Nelson Bell 1942-1959 and by G. Aiken Taylor 1959-1987; (2) The Presbyterian Evangelical Fellowship, est. 1958 by Bill Hill, (3) Concerned Presbyterians, est. 1964 by Kenneth Keys as an organization for ruling elders, and (4) Presbyterian Churchman United, est. 1969 by John Richards as an organization for ministers.

Reunion with the northern mainline church was defeated in 1954, but looked likely by 1970. Delegates from the four organizations formed the Conservative Caucus in 1970. A steering committee was formed to organize a withdrawal in 1971. The first general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America met on December 4, 1973. At its founding, the PCA had 260 church with 41,000 communicant members. Initially it was called the National Presbyterian Church, but when the church by that name in Washington DC challenged them in court, they changed the name to the Presbyterian Church in America.

In their "Message to all Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World," the PCA said, 
We declare, therefore, that the Bible is the very Word of God, so inspired in the whole and in all its parts, as in the original auto-graphs, to be the inerrant Word of God. It is, therefore, the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. … Deviations in doctrine and practice from historic Presbyterian positions as evident in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, result from accepting other sources of authority, and from making them coordinate or superior to the divine Word. A diluted theology, a gospel tending towards humanism, an unbiblical view of marriage and divorce, the ordination of women, financing of abortion on socio-economic grounds, and numerous other non-Biblical positions are all traceable to a different view of Scripture from that we hold and that which was held by the Southern Presbyterian forefathers.
More Departures from the Mainline

Meanwhile, the northern mainline church was going more liberal. In 1975, the judicial commission of the UPCUSA overturned the ordination of Walter Kenyon, who had informed his presbytery that he would not participate in the installation of women ministers. This prompted some churches and ministers to leave and join the PCA, including R.C. Sproul (both he and his friend Kenyon had been students of John Gerstner, a confessional professor at the UPCUSA seminary in Pittsburgh). In 1979, the UPCUSA’s general assembly ruled that all congregations must elect both men and women to the office of ruling elder. About 40 churches departed, including Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, which joined the RPCES.

In 1981, the UPCUSA’s general assembly upheld the reception from the United Church of Christ of a minister, Mansfield Kaseman, who refused to affirm the deity of Christ, his sinless nature, and the bodily resurrection. The ordination vows were interpreted in the decision as no longer binding officers to a confessional system of doctrine, but to a general willingness to be guided by the confessions. This decision, on top of other concerns, prompted more churches to leave, including those that founded the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church was formed in 1981 by churches that left the mainline churches, both the UPCUSA and the PCUS. It is a confessional Presbyterian denomination, although it allows for churches to decide whether to have women elders and deacons and for its presbyteries to decide whether to have women ministers. It also allows for different views on the gifts of the Spirit within certain parameters. It rejects the practice of abortion and homosexuality.

North and South Unite

The RPCES joined the PCA in 1982 by the Joining and Receiving Act. With the RPCES came Covenant Seminary, Covenant College, and Francis Schaeffer. (Initially the OPC was going to be a part of this, but the PCA presbyteries did not approve its reception.) By receiving churches from the mainline denominations in the 70s and 80s, receiving the RPCES in 82, and its own church planting efforts, the PCA grew rapidly and spread throughout the USA.

The mainline denominations, the UPCUSA and the PCUS, united in 1983, forming the Presbyterian Church (United States of America). At the time, the PC(USA) had 3.2 million members. Evangelicals in it had obtained the guarantee that Southern churches could have eight years after the reunion to leave with their properties to another Reformed body, a provision which a number of churches used during those years, many of which joined the PCA. The PC(USA) has only continued to grow more liberal in this century, especially on sexual ethics. As churches left it, the EPC doubled in size from 2007 to 2012. The PC(USA) has declined to an aging membership today of 1.1 million.

In 2012, another denomination was founded by churches leaving the PC(USA), called ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Their departure was prompted by the PC(USA)’s decision to ordain practicing homosexuals. The formation of a new denomination, rather than joining an existing one, was prompted by ECO’s egalitarian commitment to women’s ordination. ECO’s loose practice of confessional subscription is guided by its “Essential Tenets” and it did exclude the Confession of 1967 and the PC(USA)’s 1991 Brief Statement of Faith from its Book of Confessions. Meanwhile, the PC(USA) is considering at this year’s general assembly whether to require the affirmation of homosexuality and transgenderism of its officers.


American Presbyterian Denominations, by Membership
Members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council marked with an asterisk. These statistics are taken mostly from 2021, so growing churches like the OPC and PCA have more today, while shrinking churches the PCUSA have less. This does not include denominations from Dutch or German Reformed traditions.

Presbyterian Church (United States of America) 1,245,354 members, 8,813 churches
Presbyterian Church in America* - 386,345 members, 1,932 churches
Evangelical Presbyterian Church - 145,000 members, 627 churches
ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians - 127,500 members, 391 churches
Korean American Presbyterian Church* - 80,000 members, 650 churches
Cumberland Presbyterian Church - 70,810 members, 685 churches
Korean Presbyterian Church Abroad - 55,000 members, 302 churches
Orthodox Presbyterian Church* - 31,112 members, 328 churches
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church* - 29,317 members, 264 churches
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America - 15,142 members, 113 churches
Korean Presbyterian Church in America (Kosin)* - 10,300 members, 135 churches
Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America* - 7,076 members, 100 churches
Bible Presbyterian Church* - 3,500 members, 29 churches
Vanguard Presbytery - 26 churches
Free Presbyterian Church in North America - 22 churches
The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hanover Presbytery - 17 churches
The Covenant Presbyterian Church - 12 churches
The Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly - 11 churches
Free Church of Scotland (in North America) - 9 churches
Presbyterian Reformed Church* - 7 churches
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) (in North America) - 6 churches

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

A History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8)

I thought this verse was appropriate to accompany a history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and not only because it is in the letter to the church in Philadelphia. Even though the OPC began as a small group who had lost their buildings and resources when they left the mainline church, it has worked diligently to keep the faith, maintaining its profession of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And slowly but surely, the Lord has sustained and blessed the OPC over the years. 

You can listen to my recorded lessons on the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy and the History of the OPC. To accompany these lessons, here is a timeline of OPC history. (You can find the reports to the OPC General Assembly here and the minutes of the OPC General Assembly here.)

1910 - The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) affirmed the “five fundamentals” - biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, penal substitutionary atonement, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and Christ’s miracles - as among the essential and necessary articles of faith. This was also reaffirmed in 1916 and 1923. 

1921 - J. Gresham Machen becomes known for his role in the defeat of the proposal to form a federal union of 18 denominations known as the United Churches of Christ in America on a meager creedal basis. B.B. Warfield, of Princeton Seminary, also died the same year.

1922 - Harry Emerson Fosdick preaches, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" He argued that the Fundamentalists were illiberal and intolerant, trying to kick out those who were seeking to adapt the faith to the “new knowledge” that had been discovered in the modern age.

1923 - J. Gresham Machen's book Christianity and Liberalism was published, in which he argued that “The great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief … called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism.’”

1924 - In reaction to the previous year’s reaffirmation of the five fundamentals, a group of PCUSA ministers signed the Auburn Affirmation, denying inherency and protesting the use of these “theories” as tests of orthodoxy. 150 ministers signed it by January, and 1,273 ministers had signed it by its reprinting in May. 

1927 - The General Assembly rescinded the five-point deliverance of 1910, 1916, and 1923 on the grounds that the assembly had overstepped its authority. It also determined to reorganize Princeton Seminary.

1929 - The PCUSA reorganized Princeton Seminary, and four of its professors, including J. Gresham Machen, and four of its alumni moved over to found Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. 

1932 - The release of Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen's Inquiry After One Hundred Years, which promoted a more liberal approach to foreign missions. 

1933 - After the General Assembly failed to act to reform its foreign missions board, Machen helped to establish the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, “to carry on truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian Foreign Missionary work.”

1934 - McAllister Griffiths, Murray Thompson, and Gordon Clark attempted to defrock signers of the Auburn Affirmation in the Presbytery of Philadelphia, but the charges were dropped by the presbytery. The General Assembly also directed its presbyteries to discipline all those who refused to resign from the Independent Board.

June 1, 1936 - The General Assembly upheld the censures against those who remained on the Independent Board, 7 suspensions from the ministry (including Machen) and 1 admonition. Carl McIntire was the only one who also suspended from the communion of the church, and Wheaton College President Oliver Buswell was the one who was admonished. 

June 11, 1936 - Those who were suspended, and other ministers, elders, and lay members who supported them, gathered in Philadelphia to found a new denomination. Its original name was the Presbyterian Church of America, and its first General Assembly was held with 44 ministers and 17 ruling elders. The suspensions were lifted. One of its founding lay members was Thomas Hodge, grandson of Charles Hodge. Thomas Hodge came to the next General Assembly as a ruling elder.

November 12, 1936 - The second General Assembly was held, with over 100 ministers enrolled; 64 ministers and 23 elders were present. The same month, Machen lost reelection as president of the Independent Board for Presbyterians Foreign Missions.

January 1, 1937 - J. Gresham Machen died from pneumonia during a trip to encourage the churches in North Dakota.  

1937 - The third General Assembly distanced itself from the Independent Board (due to its shift away from being distinctly Presbyterian) and declined to commend abstinence from alcohol and "questionable amusements," reaffirming instead the position of the Westminster standards on Christian library and the sins of drunkenness and lascivious entertainment. Therefore some led by McIntire and Buswell left and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church, which also proceeded to amend its confession of faith to affirm Premillennialism.

1938 - The new church had 4,225 communicant members in 60 congregations with 99 ministers.

1939 - After the PCUSA brought a lawsuit in 1936 and won it against the PCA in the Common Pleas Court in 1938, the PCA renamed itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The lawsuit had claimed the name of the new church was too similar to the PCUSA. 

1942 - Report to the General Assembly on Freemasonry (“Masonry is a religious institution and as such is definitely anti-Christian”).

1942 - The Christian World Order Conference held by Westminster Seminary.

1944-1948 - The controversy over the ordination and teachings of Gordon Clark. 

1945 - The OPC had 7,412 members (5574 communicants) in 73 congregations, around 100 ministers.

1946-1947 - Report on song in worship, setting forth the regulative principle of worship, debating exclusive psalmody, and setting a framework for the production of a new hymnal.

1948 - A committee was established to begin revising the Book of Church Order, beginning with the Form of Government. A revision of the Form of Government was finished in 1957.

1961 - The OPC published The Trinity Hymnal.

1961 - Report to the General Assembly on the teachings and practice of the Peniel Bible Conference, which declared Peniel’s doctrine of the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be erroneous.

1970 - The OPC had 14,300 members, 190 ministers, 116 churches.

1972 - In response to the previous year’s report on abortion and to an overture from the Presbytery of New Jersey, the General Assembly adopted a statement on abortion. It began by stating: “Believing that unborn children are living creatures in the image of God, given by God as a blessing to their parents, we therefore affirm that voluntary abortion, except possibly to save the physical life of the mother, is in violation of the Sixth Commandment.”

1974 - Report to the General Assembly on meeting the problems of race.

1974 - Anna Strikwerda became the first martyr of the OPC, when a OPC-operated hospital in Eritrea was raided and its people taken hostage (she was killed as they were marched away).

1975 - Greg Bahnsen, having been raised in the OPC, was ordained as an OPC minister.

1975 - The first meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), founded “to facilitate cross-denominational conversation and co-operation,” including representatives from the OPC, CRCNA, PCA, RPCNA, and RPCES. Later the CRCNA would be removed and others added, like the URCNA, RCUS, and ARPC (12 total).

1975 - The OPC and Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod sought to merge, but the RPCES voted it down, due in part to the influence of Francis Schaeffer in the RPCES.

1978 - Report to the General Assembly on the Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, affirming the cessation of tongues and prophecy. This report was prompted by an 1976 appeal of a minister, Arnold Kress, who had asserted that they may continue in the church today. Kress moved on to the CRC in 1978.

1979 - Another revision of the Form of Government was completed.

1979 - The Presbyterian Guardian (est. in 1935 by Machen) merged with the Presbyterian Journal, which had been established by Southern Presbyterians. In 1987, the Presbyterian Journal was succeeded by World magazine.

1980 - New Horizons in the OPC is founded as a denominational magazine.

1981 - The PCA, RPCES, and OPC were going to merge by the Joining and Receiving Act, but the presbyteries of the PCA declined to join and receive the OPC, leaving them out of the merger (the RPCES did join the PCA). This was in part because of concern in the PCA with the teachings of Norman Shepherd at Westminster Seminary on justification, faith, and works. Shepherd was dismissed by Westminster’s Board of Trustees by the end of the year.

1983 - The revised Book of Discipline was adopted.

1986 - The PCA extended an invitation for the OPC to join them, but the measure failed to get a 2/3 majority in the OPC General Assembly.

1987 - Report to the General Assembly on Paedocommunion, in response to a mission to Ethiopian immigrants in Washington D.C. that had initially been permitted to practice paedocommunion while the presbytery overtured the General Assembly. Its presbytery later rescinded its permission.

1988 - Report to the General Assembly on women in office. This was prompted by an overture that Bethel OPC in Wheaton, IL had sent its presbytery in 1979. The church had been promoting and moving toward greater inclusion of women in church leadership and the leading of worship, but Elder Brinks brought a complaint against the church that was upheld by the Presbytery of the Midwest and the General Assembly. In 1989, most of Bethel’s church, including its pastor and most of its session left to start another church, leaving behind 44 of 300 members. Doug Clawson and Lendall Smith helped bring healing and stability to the church. This situation also prompted a report on unordained persons in worship in 1991.

1989-1990 - Two of the very few years in which the OPC has declined in total membership. This was due to some churches and members joining the PCA after the denominations failed to merge. 

1990 - A revised edition of The Trinity Hymnal was released through the collaboration of the OPC and PCA.

1993 - The General Assembly petitioned President Clinton to stand against the sin of homosexual activity and to not lift the ban on homosexuals in the military.

1995 - The OPC had 21,131 members, 355 ministers, and 189 churches.

2001 - Report to the General Assembly on women in combat. The General Assembly responded by declaring “that the use of women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God.”

2003 - The trials of Lee Irons and John Kinnaird. Irons was a disciple of Meredith Kline. Irons had been found guilty by his presbytery for denying that the 10 Commandments have binding authority over Christians as the standard for holy living. Kinnaird was a ruling elder associated with Norman Shepherd. Kinnaird had been found guilty by his session for allegedly teaching justification by faith and works (his point regarded the necessity of holiness for glorification). The General Assembly heard both on appeal. It denied the appeal of Irons, so that his presbytery moved to suspend him from the ministry. The General Assembly upheld the appeal of Kinnaird, reversing his conviction.

2004 - Report to the General Assembly on the views of creation days.

2006 - Report to the General Assembly on the doctrine of justification. This was prompted by the Federal Vision controversy and the desire to vindicate the denomination from accusations resulting from its acquittal of Kinnaird. The report contended that aberrant views on justification had been promulgated from within the "Federal Vision" and the "New Perspective on Paul" movements. 

2011 - The revised Directory for Public Worship, including a new membership vow explicitly affirming the doctrine of the Trinity, was adopted. You can find it with the rest of the Book of Church Order here.

2023 - The OPC has 32,720 members (24,073 communicants), 584 ministers, 301 churches, and 31 mission works.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

19th Century American Presbyterian Missionaries

In my Sunday school series on American Presbyterian history, I recently gave a lesson on American Presbyterian foreign missions (with a focus on the 1800s and early 1900s). You can listen to it here. In this post, I thought I would introduce a few of the missionaries from this time. 

Justin Perkins (Iran/Persia)

Presbyterian missionaries went to many Middle Eastern peoples, such as the Syrians, Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Egyptians, Jews, Assyrians, and Persians. Rev. Justin Perkins was the first Presbyterian missionary to Persia (modern-day Iran). He was from Massachusetts and a graduate of Andover Seminary. In 1833 he received a commission from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (mostly composed of Congregationalists and Presbyterians) and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. After a long and perilous journey, he arrived on the field in 1834. In 1835, Perkins established his headquarters at Urmia (northwest Iran), founding a church, a school, and a printing house. 

The plan was to disciple the Assyrian Christians and equip them to carry the Christian message to their Muslim neighbors. The Assyrians were known as “Nestorians,” members of the Church of the East that had been cut off during the Nestorian controversy of the 5th century, although they did not necessarily hold to Nestorianism. Perkins found them to be more simple and scriptural than other Eastern denominations, with a respect for Scripture, despite only have a vague and meager understanding of it. He was able to work with the Nestorian church leaders. He and other missionaries were invited to preach in their churches and to help teach their ministers. You can read his accounts and writings, as well as his biography written by his son, on the Log College Press website: Justin Perkins (1805-1869)

In 1869, Rev. Perkins died and “The Mission to Nestorians” was renamed “The Mission to Persia.” More efforts were given to evangelize Muslims directly, although this was difficult. At some point, they also began establishing Presbyterian churches. Not only did some Assyrians and Armenians became members of Presbyterian churches, but also some converts from Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. In 1871, the work was transferred from the American Board to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church. In 1934, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iran became an independent denomination, having previously been a synod of the PCUSA.

Archibald Alexander Hodge (India) 

A.A. Hodge is better known as a theological and seminary professor at Western and Princeton seminaries. But before that, he went to India as a missionary. Named after the first professor of Princeton Seminary and the son of another professor, he grew up in Princeton, NJ in an environment in which missions were often discussed and promoted. At Princeton Seminary, there was a monthly meeting for prayer and an address on foreign missions, a brotherhood of those who had committed themselves to missionary work and who recruited others, and a “Society of Inquiry on Missions and the General State of Religion.” This interest was also supported by their Postmillennial eschatology, believing that it was God’s plan to bless the church’s labors in such a way that the nations would come to Christ and be brought under the sanctifying influence of the gospel. For example, take professor Samuel Miller's 1835 address before the American Board, "The Earth Filled with the Glory of the Lord." 

As David Calhoun recounts in history, Princeton Seminary, vol. 1 (p. 193), A.A. Hodge adopted these convictions and took an interest in missions from an early age. 
“Ten-year-old Archibald and his [younger] sister Mary Elizabeth gave a letter on June 23, 1833, to Princeton Seminary graduate James R. Eckard, who was soon to sail for Ceylon. Addressed to the ‘heathen,’ it read:

‘Dear heathen: The Lord Jesus Christ hath promised that the time shall come when all the ends of the earth shall be His kingdom. And God is not a man that He should lie nor the son of man that He should repent. And if this was promised by a Being who cannot lie, why do you not help it to come sooner by reading the Bible, and attending to the words of your teachers, and loving God, and, renouncing your idols, take Christianity into your temples? And soon there will be not a Nation, no, not a space of ground as large as a footstep, that will want a missionary. My sister and myself have, by small self-denials, procured two dollars which are enclosed in this letter to buy tracts and Bibles to teach you. Archibald Alexander Hodge and Mary Eliz. Hodge, Friends of the Heathen.’” 
After he graduated from the seminary in 1846, he and his wife set off to Allahabad (modern-day Prayagraj) in northern India where he served as a missionary evangelist. Three years later, they were forced by health problems to return to the USA. As Barry Waugh explains, 
Even though his service had been only a few years, he had provided significant guidance to the mission at Allahabad by harmonizing disagreeing elements and providing a unifying force through his leadership and congeniality. But what was more important, his experience in the mission field enhanced his zeal for the mission cause, gave him a grasp of missionary problems, and began a life-long interest in overseas work that made him a trusted counsellor for all those among his pupils contemplating a missionary career.
The same century saw the rise of a different eschatology, that of Premillennial Dispensationalism, which took a less optimistic view of the future. It believed that history is marked by a series of dispensations that end in apostasy; that Israel and the church are very distinct; that we live at the end of “church age” in progressive apostasy; that Christians will be raptured before a seven year tribulation which ends in Christ’s coming and a millennial kingdom in which Israel would enjoy its promises, followed by the eternal state. One of its founders, J.N. Darby, said in 1840, 
What we are about to consider will tend to shew that, instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good, we must expect a progress of evil; and that the hope of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord before the exercise of his judgment, and the consummation of this judgment on the earth, is delusive … Truly Christendom has become completely corrupted; the dispensation of the Gentiles has been found unfaithful: can it be restored? No! Impossible.
While Premillennial Dispensationalists would continue sending missionaries, the expectations and strategies would shift in accordance with their shift in doctrine, as Iain Murray recounts in his book The Puritan Hope. A.A. Hodge noticed this shift and continued to uphold the older long-term vision of the Postmillennial hope. Commenting on Premillennial ("Millenarian") missionaries, he said, 
Millenarian missionaries have a style of their own. Their theory affects their work in the way of making them seek exclusively, or chiefly, the conversion of individual souls. The true and efficient missionary method is, to aim directly, indeed, at soul winning, but at the same time to plant Christian institutions in heathen lands, which will, in time, develop according to the genius of the nationalities. English missionaries can never hope to convert the world directly by units. (Quoted in Murray, p. 215)
Hunter Corbett (China)

Presbyterian missions in China began in 1843, and twenty years later, in 1863, Hunter Corbett graduated from Princeton Seminary, was ordained, and sailed to China. He nearly died on the six month voyage to China, and he arrived during the Tai-ping rebellion. Despite receiving advice to return, he stayed there and began by opening a school. In 1866, he became pastor of a church in Chefoo (Tantai), in northeastern China, between Beijing and Shanghai. 

Corbett continued as the pastor at that church for the rest of his life and also traveled throughout that province as an itinerant preacher. He died at the age of 84 in 1920. In 1913, the mission in that province had 69 organized churches and 12,411 communicant members. 

In 1905, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA published, Counsel to New Missionaries from Older Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church. Corbett contributed a chapter "The Spirit and Methods of Evangelization." He opened his chapter by saying, 
The supreme aim of every missionary should be to preach Christ so that every one must hear, and that souls will be won for Christ and believers established in the faith.

“Do the work of an evangelist,” testifying to everyone “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” should be ever heard as God's voice from heaven, constraining everyone to labor with untiring zeal, in the confident hope that by the blessing of God the entire land will be soon filled with self-propagating and self-governing Christian churches.
In that chapter, he went on to promote the use of well-placed street chapels, in addition to regular churches, for daily preaching, perhaps with an attached museum and reading room. He also promoted and gave advice for itinerant circuit preaching, Bible classes, raising up native evangelists, Christian schools, medical work accompanied by evangelism, and the continued discipleship of converts. You can find this chapter and his other writings on the Log College Press website: Hunter Corbett (1835-1920)

Ashbel Green Simonton (Brazil) 

The first Presbyterian missionary to Brazil was Rev. Ashbel Green Simonton. He was inspired to missionary work while studying at Princeton Seminary by a sermon by one of his professors, Charles Hodge. In his journal, he wrote,
I have listened today to a very interesting sermon from Dr. Hodge on the duty of the church as a teacher. He spoke of the absolute necessity of instructing the heathen before success in the spread of the Gospel could be expected, and showed that any hopes of their conversion based upon the extraordinary agency of the Holy Spirit directly communicating truth were unscriptural. This sermon has had the effect of leading me to think seriously of the foreign mission field. The little success apparently attending missionary operations has tended to dissuade me from thinking of going. But I see I have been wrong. That the heathen are to be converted to God is clearly revealed in the Scriptures and I am convinced that day is coming rapidly. Those who are now laboring are preparing the way and God will not suffer their labor to be in vain. He who lays the foundation will receive an equal reward with those who perfect the building. I have never before seriously considered the question as to my duty to go abroad, always taking for granted that my sphere of labor would be somewhere in our great and rapidly growing country. It is, however, I feel convinced, a matter to be taken into deep consideration whether since most prefer to remain it is not my duty to go.
In 1859, he graduated from seminary, was ordained, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He came with a plan and got to work in earnest. He organized a church (1862), a newspaper (1864), a presbytery (1865), and a seminary (1867), before dying of malaria or yellow fever in 1867 at the age of 34. As his biography states, "He was not content merely to proclaim the Gospel as widely as possible, nor to set up a 'mission' which would do the job of evangelism. His supreme purpose was to lay the foundations for a Church that would be the instrument of evangelistic penetration throughout Brazil." You can find his writings and biographies at the Log College Press website: Ashbel Green Simonton (1833-1867)

Other missionaries from the southern Presbyterian church (the PCUS) came to Brazil as well. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil held its first synod in 1888 and at that point had 20 missionaries, 12 native ministers, and about 60 churches. In 2021, it reported having 5,420 churches and 702,947 members. It remains a confessional Presbyterian denomination and has fraternal relations with my denomination, the OPC.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Presbyterians, Creation Days, and Evolution

In 1830, Sir Charles Lyell argued for uniformitarianism (interpreting the earth as something formed by continual and uniform processes) in his Principles of Geology, asserting that the earth was far older than previously thought. This debate became active among American Presbyterians in 1852 with the article, "Is the Science of Geology True?" in the New School Presbyterian Quarterly Review. The article argued that Christians must accept that the earth is millions of years old and that creation was a gradual work through countless ages.

There were several different approaches that people took with respect to the age of the earth and creation days of Genesis 1. Some held to the gap theory, proposing a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Some held to the day age theory, arguing that the days of creation were not literal, but referred to times or ages. Others continued to hold to six day creationism, that the days were natural light/darkness days and that the six days covered everything from creation ex nihilo to the creation of Adam. Others of a more liberal or unbelieving bent agreed that Scripture taught six day creation, but is that Scripture was wrong.

Those who held to the gap or day-age theory did not necessarily believe that the theory of evolution was true. It was in 1859 that Darwin published his ideas in On the Origin of Species, arguing for the evolution of species by natural selection. But belief in an old earth eliminated one objection to embracing evolution, and the controversy concerning biological evolution would follow upon the heels of that concerning geology and the age of the earth.

I think the Westminster standards affirm the six day creation view and should have at least have required officers to state a scruple to the standards if they held to the gap or day-age theories. R.L. Dabney argued for this in 1871, saying, 
I would beg you to notice how distinctly either of the current theories [Gap and Day Age] contradicts the standards of our Church. See Conf. of Faith, ch. iv, I. Larger Cat., que. 15, 120. Our Confession is not inspired; and if untrue, it should be refuted. But if your minds are made up to adopt either of these theories, then it seems to me that common honesty requires of you two things; to advertise your Presbyteries, when you apply for license and ordination, of your disbelief of these articles; that they may judge whether they are essential to our system of doctrine; and second; to use your legitimate influences as soon as you become church rulers, to have these articles expunged from our standards as false. (Systematic Theology, p. 256)
Nevertheless, it was argued by others that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms simply copied the Bible’s terminology, and since this was capable of these interpretations, so also the statement of the standards. Yet, I would note that the standards did not simply use the Bible’s phrase, but used the phrase "in the space of six days," emphasizing the six days as the time period in which God’s work of creation was accomplished. 
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good. (WCF 4.1)
The phrase had appeared earlier in James Ussher’s Irish Articles of Religion (1615), "In the beginning of time when no creature had any being, God by his word alone, in the space of six days, created all things, and afterwards by his providence doth continue, propagate, and order them according to his own will."

Woodrow vs. Dabney

In 1861, Dr. James Woodrow (Woodrow Wilson's uncle) became the Perkins Professor of Natural Science in Connection with Revelation at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina. Dr. Woodrow, at his inauguration as professor, stated that he believed old earth geology to be true, that those who believed in the extreme antiquity or multiple origins of man to be wrong, and that the extent and character of the Noah’s flood was something (at least presently) uncertain. His views were already beginning to diverge from Southern Presbyterian leaders like Thornwell, Dabney, Palmer, and Girardeau, who believed in six day creation and a young earth (c. 6,000 years old). R.L. Dabney, professor at Union Seminary in Virginia, engaged the issue that same year, 1861, with an article “Geology and the Bible,” in which he defended Scripture and its relevance for science and critiqued the arguments for an old earth.

In 1863, James Woodrow wrote “Geology and Its Assailants,” defending geology (as he saw it) against men like Dabney (though not mentioning him by name). In 1871, Dabney delivered as a lecture and then published as an article, “A Caution Against Anti-Christian Science,” targeting both old earth geology and the theory of evolution. The same year, he published his Systematic Theology, in which he critiqued evolution and the gap and day age theories (although of the two theories, he saw the gap theory as the most plausible).

In 1873, Woodrow wrote “An Examination of Certain Recent Assaults on Physical Science,” in which he attacked Dabney by name. Woodrow had recently returned from a trip to Europe during which his views had hardened. Woodrow sought to present Dabney’s critique as an attack on science itself. Each of them responded with an additional article in 1873-1874.

Here is brief summary of the points of criticism Dabney brought against the Gap and Day Age theories in his Systematic Theology (1871). 

Against the Gap Theory:
  • Light, and the sun, moon, and stars - essential to life on earth - were not created until after Genesis 1:2. I would add to this point that the first day of Genesis 1 is in fact the first day, so that there is no day before it (it includes the darkness that preceded the light). 
  • Suffering and death, even that of animals, came into the world through Adam’s sin (Gen. 1:31, 3:17-19, Rom. 5:12, 8:19-22).
Against the Day-Age Theory:
  • The progression of Genesis 1 does not match the progression proposed by the geologists, so it does not even solve the problem it is supposed to address. 
  • “The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical…”
  • “The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its natural parts, ‘morning and evening.’” The morning and evening are the beginnings of the day and night that fill the twenty-four hours of a day.
  • In Genesis and Exodus, “God’s creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day.” I would add that Exodus 20:11 also undermines the Gap Theory. 
  • While “day” can refer to an era or season, the natural day is the literal and primary meaning which we revert to unless the context indicates otherwise. 
  • The day age theory confuses providence with creation. The distinctiveness of creation is that these things were not brought about by natural law, but by a supernatural divine exertion. 

Hodge and Princeton

Around the same time, up north in New Jersey, Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary addressed these issues in his Systematic Theology (3 vol., 1871-1873). Then, in 1874 he wrote What Is Darwinism? This book against Darwinism was written in the context of a disagreement with Dr. James McCosh, President of Princeton College, who had begun arguing that theistic evolution was compatible with the Bible. 

Charles Hodge has been described as “the most powerful critic of Darwinian evolution in America in the late nineteenth century” (Reformed and Evangelical, p. 204). Hodge was open to an old earth if indeed the findings of geology established it with certainty, first leaning toward the gap theory and then to the day age theory as an explanation, but he opposed the theory of evolution. 

Here is a summary of some of his arguments against the theory of evolution in his Systematic Theology (vol. 2): 
  • Darwin’s theory cannot be true, because “it assumes that matter does the work of mind.”
  • The “system is throughly atheistic, and therefore cannot possible stand.” It denies design in creation, since it explains everything as the survival of the fittest to survive (natural selection).
  • The theory “is a mere hypothesis, from its nature incapable of proof.” 
  • The history of species and the fossil record are against the theory (e.g. missing transitional forms).
  • It is contrary to the Bible’s doctrine of creation, that in the beginning God created, or caused to be, every distinct kind of plant and animal, including mankind.
  • Hodge distinguished natural species (the “kinds” of Genesis 1) and artificial species (distinctions made for the convenience of naturalists, variations within natural kinds). Natural species were specially created by God, “not derived, evolved, or developed from preexisting species.”
  • He taught that mankind is not evolved from a preexisting species, but that God made man in maturity and in the image of God, beginning with a literal Adam and Eve, from whom the whole human race is descended. He also argued against the idea that man has been on earth for 100,000+ years, and for the idea that mankind was created around 6,000-10,000 years ago.
His successors at Princeton and Westminster seminaries, like A.A. Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and E.J. Young, continued to be open to an old earth, yet did not embrace evolution, did affirm doctrines like the special creation of a literal Adam and Eve, and had various degrees of openness to whether some limited aspects of evolution could be compatible with the Bible. Warfield initially embraced evolution, but he rejected it around the time he became professor at Princeton. The Dutch Reformed tended to hold to six day creation, including Princeton professor Geerhardus Vos. In 1958, Meredith Kline, professor at Westminster, began to popularize the framework hypothesis, another reinterpretation of the creation days that would allow for an old earth. 

Controversy in the South

After years of growing suspicion than Dr. James Woodrow had embraced evolution, the seminary board called on him to publish his views on evolution, which he did in 1884 with his 28-page “Evolution Address” at an alumni gathering. He defended theistic evolution, arguing that Scripture was not specific enough to address it (or science in general) and that the “dust” out of which Adam was created could refer to evolutionary ancestors, although he added that both the soul and Eve were special creations. He concluded that “the doctrine of Evolution … is God’s PLAN OF CREATION.”

This address provoked a firestorm of controversy among Southern Presbyterians. John L. Girardeau led the charge in the Synod of South Carolina to condemn the seminary board’s approval of Woodrow’s address. After the synods which controlled the seminary condemned the promotion of evolution at the seminary and elected new members to the seminary board, the new board removed Woodrow on December 10th.

In 1885, Woodrow appealed the board’s decision and the controlling synods were split on the matter. He was reinstated as professor in December, agreeing not to promote evolution. Then in 1886, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) condemned evolution and directed the controlling synods to dismiss Woodrow. It affirmed 
That Adam and Eve were created, body and soul, by immediate acts of Almighty power, thereby preserving a perfect race unity; that Adam’s body was directly fashioned by Almighty God, without any animal parentage of any kind, out of matter previously created from nothing.
This position was reaffirmed in 1888, 1889, and 1924. 

Dr. Woodrow was dismissed from Columbia Seminary. He was acquitted by his presbytery, but this was overturned by his synod, and the general assembly in 1888 upheld the synod’s decision. He remained a minister in the PCUS and became president of South Carolina College in 1891. Woodrow and his supporters lost in the church courts and the PCUS in general resisted his views. In this way, the Southern Presbyterian church avoided rank liberalism for a time. But division in the ranks continued and Woodrow’s views continued to be held by some of his students who remained active. The issue resurfaced in the 1900s. In 1969, the PCUS affirmed his views and repudiated its previous position. This was one manifestation of the growing liberalism in the PCUS that in 1973 led to the formation of the more conservative PCA. The PCA carried on the pre-1969 position against evolution while tolerating various views of the creation days. Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, founded in 1986 in South Carolina, has held to and promoted six day creationism.

Other 20th Century Developments

In the 1920s, William Jennings Bryan, a Presbyterian elder and a “day-age creationist,” led the fundamentalist opposition to evolution and promoted legislation against the promotion of evolution in the public schools. In 1923, Oklahoma and Florida passed laws against it, and in 1925, Tennessee did as well.

Tennessee's law was challenged in court in the Scopes Trial in 1925. The ACLU defended John T. Scopes, a teacher who had broken the law, and William J. Bryan participated in defense of the law. The law was upheld (even by the Supreme Court) and Scopes was convicted, but proponents of evolution used the case to ridicule its opponents and to stir up people in its support. Mississippi and Arkansas also passed similar laws against evolution in the schools, and opposition to evolution was carried out through school boards, but the Supreme Court reversed course in 1968 when it struck down the anti-evolution law in Arkansas, claiming that it violated the 1st amendment. 

In 1961, Dr. Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood, arguing for young earth creationism and a view of geology that took into account the global flood. While they themselves were not Presbyterians, their book was published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing through the influence of a Presbyterian minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by the name of R.J. Rushdoony. This book helped spark the modern creation science movement and its organizations, such as the Institute for Creation Research (1970), Creation Research Society (1964), and Answers in Genesis (1994). 

Confessionary Presbyterian denominations like the OPC and PCA do allow their officers to hold to several views of the creation days, but not theistic evolution. For example, in 1996, Dr. Terry M. Gray, a ruling elder at Harvest OPC and a professor of biochemistry at Calvin College, was suspended from office by his session for stating “that Adam had primate ancestors.” This indefinite suspension was upheld by the Presbytery of the Midwest and the OPC General Assembly. And as the OPC's 2004 report on creation notes, the ordinary day view remains the majority position in conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. 

This post is based on a lesson I recently gave in my series on American Presbyterian history: Presbyterians, Creation Days, and Evolution. In addition to the books and articles already mentioned, many of which can be found online, I would add that Did God Create in 6 Days? edited by Joseph A Pipa Jr. & David W. Hall is a good resource both on the history of the issue and the issue itself. You can also find my sermons on Genesis at this link.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The King and His Kingdom

Jesus made an important claim by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday. His claim would be contested throughout that week and vindicated by his resurrection on the next Sunday. This claim was that Jesus is the promised son of David, the king of Israel, the Christ.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem for Passover. As he approached the Mount of Olives, he purposefully arranged for his triumphant entry on the donkey’s colt, in accord with Zechariah 9:9 and Genesis 49:11. He did not hold back, but openly declared himself as the promised Christ by his actions and by receiving the praises of the people. Matthew and Luke both recount how Jesus defended the crowd against grumbling Pharisees. “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). His disciples and fellow pilgrims praised him as the son of David, the king of Israel, he who comes in the name of the Lord, shouting Hosanna! and laying their cloaks and palm branches before him.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10) 

Jesus is a blessed king of a blessed kingdom. The people rightfully exalted Jesus the king and his Davidic kingdom. Your king has come to you, therefore receive him with joy!

You Need This King

Without King Jesus, people go their own rebellious ways, liable to deception, destruction, and the devil.

The need for a king to rule God’s people is made evident in Scripture in the disorder in the days of the judges and the disorder accompanying the apostasy of David’s heirs and their overthrow in judgment. A remnant was saved by faith in God’s promise to establish the reign of David’s son, but they earnestly desired to see him come and establish “the coming kingdom of our father David.”

The common metaphor for a ruler in Scripture is that of a shepherd. Thus, when the Davidic kings failed to rule well under God, God described the people as sheep without a shepherd. “So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts” (Ezekiel 34:5). Without the Lord’s anointed king, people are like sheep without a shepherd, scattered on the hillsides, everyone going his own way, torn to pieces by the wolves and lions.

Driven by depravity - everyone going his own way, in bondage to sin, exposed to danger. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Is. 53:6). “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.” (Jer. 50:6).

Liable to deception - walking in ignorance, following idols, false teaching, sensuality, led by wolves in sheep’s clothing and the world’s rebellion.

Liable to destruction - condemnation and death, as sheep get devoured by wild beasts. “Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has gnawed his bones” (Jeremiah 50:17). These “lions” were instruments of God’s judgment. So the ways of sin end in death and hell.

Liable to the devil’s domain - he seizes those who follow his ways, tyrannizing over them by the fear of death, leading them deeper in ignorance and depravity, refusing to let them go to serve the Lord. He is the father of lies, the murderer from the beginning, the evil one. He seeks to stir up the forces of evil to destroy the church and to keep people from serving the Lord.

We need a merciful and mighty king to deliver and defend us.

The misery, disorder, and and despair that exists in the domain of darkness is on display before us every day. Behold the confusion, perversion, anxiety, and suffering of the world around you and see a world in need of Christ the king. 

Let this thought drive you to compassion for those who are like sheep without a shepherd, as it provoked compassion from our Lord. Let this thought drive you to gratitude for having such a king to deliver you. Let this thought drive you to greater devotion to your king. May we not neglect the benefits of his reign. May we follow the voice of our shepherd cheerfully, delighting in his government and protection. 

This King Is Good

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9, Ps. 118:26, a messianic reference). Jesus is the good king, the good shepherd (John 10).

His gentleness and mercy

Jesus assumed this mediatorial kingship for the sake of sinners. “…you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:2). He is gentle, lowly in heart, inviting all to come to him and find rest (Zech. 9:9, Mt. 11:28-30). He came on the donkey’s colt, with all sorts with him: fishermen, children, healed blind men, etc. He is merciful, showing compassion to those who call on him (Mark 10:46-52). He speaks peace to his people and the nations (Zech. 9:9-10)

His power and efficacy

Jesus spoke with authority and power, as when he healed the blind man and cursed the fig tree (Mark 10:52, 11:12-14). He gives true rest to the believing and humble. He sends judgment on the impenitent. Though he conquered through weakness on the cross, yet in this way he would powerfully cast out the evil one and draw all men to himself (John 12). He is able to deliver, secure, govern, and reward.

His person is excellent, his words are gracious, his power is great and majestic, his throne is forever (Psalm 45:1-8a). “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you” (Psalm 45:5).

This king is good, he is both merciful and powerful. He rode to Jerusalem to deliver his people from their sins by his humiliating death on a cross. He would be rejected by the builders that he might become the cornerstone.

His Blessed Kingdom Has Come

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” The kingdom of Jesus is the “coming kingdom of our father David” - the promised kingdom.

In Ezekiel 37:22-28, we find it prophesied that David (i.e. his heir) would be king over all God’s people forever. They would all have one shepherd, as when Israel lived under David and Solomon. They would walk in God’s rules and dwell securely in the land. God’s dwelling place would be established among the people.

In Jeremiah 23:5-6, we find it prophesied the Lord would raise up a righteous Branch for David who would deal wisely, reign as king, and execute justice and righteousness in the land. “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.”

In Amos 9:11-12 (cp. Acts 15:16-17), we find it prophesied that the fallen tent of David would be rebuilt and restored and that the rest of mankind would seek the Lord.

Jesus is this king, the king of God's covenant people. He is not only “the king” but “your king” if you place your faith in him. Both truths are important, but comfort from knowing that Jesus is king comes from the fact that he is your king.

The people of his kingdom are under his protection. The king gives peace and rest to his subjects, and the subjects obey and honor their king. Within his kingdom is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. His kingdom is like a tree in which which all the birds can come and take refuge.

Inward and Outward Rule

Jesus inwardly governs his people by the Spirit. He conquers their hearts so that they willingly offer themselves to him and receive his pardon by faith. He rules their hearts and inwardly leads them to walk in his ways. He writes his laws on your hearts. He thereby leads his people to practice justice, walking together in the paths of righteousness.

Jesus visibly governs his people by outward means. He rules through his word, his officers, and the keys of the kingdom. He makes these ordinances effectual by the Spirit. The church is the institutional expression of the kingdom of Christ. The church is a monarchy and Christ is its king. He organizes his people as a kingdom and he governs them using these outward means. He gave the keys of the kingdom to the visible church, to be administered by the shepherds he has given the church.

Gathering and Governing

As king, Jesus gathers sinners into his kingdom by his word and Spirit. He bestows saving grace on his elect. He offers pardon to rebels as they enlist under his banner. He saves the lost sheep and brings them into his fold, into the kingdom. There is safety in the sheepfold, in the care of the shepherd.

Jesus then rules his people as a shepherd does his sheep, for their good. He governs his people by rewarding their obedience, correcting their sins, preserving them through trials, restraining and overcoming their enemies, and ordering all things for his glory and their good.

Its Aim and Destiny

Christ’s claims and rights are universal. On the basis of his death, he has been given all authority. He claims all nations, all stations, all of life. He aims at nothing less that the subjection of the world to God. Let all people bow before the king and follow him! Let all rulers fall down before him, all nations serve him!

This kingdom will grow in this age such that all nations will be blessed in him. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah…and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10-11). “...he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10). The nations are his and he will have them. Those who reject him will be overthrown. 

The kingdom will be perfected when he returns to judge the living and the dead. His people will be blessed in the eternal glory of the kingdom with their God. 

Therefore, rejoice in the kingdom of our father David! It has been established by Jesus Christ!

May we not neglect this kingdom, but press into it and participate cheerfully in its life. Place your faith in the king and obey him with devout allegiance. Treat him as your king and treat his subjects as fellow citizens. Invite others into this kingdom, to enjoy its blessings with you.

This kingdom is not bound to any location. It can be taken from the ungrateful and given to others. So may we pray and work for its greater manifestation here. Let us maintain and spread the preaching of the gospel to the saved and the lost. Let us swell the assemblies of the saints. Let us observe and maintain the observance of the Lord’s Day, the right use of the sacraments, the exercise of church discipline and shepherding, and the Christian training of children.

Serve the king. May we offer ourselves freely to him and his direction. Observe and promote joyful service to Christ in your household. Serve King Jesus in everything you do, from the monumental to the mundane. Let everyone in every station do everything in submission to the reign of Christ and to promote the reign of Christ. Everyone from kings and queens to children has something to do.


What is the basis of this kingship? By what right does Christ gather sinners into this kingdom, giving them pardon, renewing them unto righteousness? By what right does he speak peace to the nations, who lay under a curse and the domain of darkness? He does this by right of redemption through his blood, by giving his life as a ransom for many. By his death, he crushed the serpent’s head and secured redemption for his people. Thus he rode to Jerusalem, the king who would rescue his people, the shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep. For “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). To our merciful King be all honor and glory and blessing, forever and ever!