History

A French Huguenot minister in New York

A little family history. Here’s a letter written by a Dutch reformed minister in New York to the Classis of Amsterdam on September 30, 1696. His name is Domine Selyns. In the letter he mentions the French reformed minister who serves where my ancestors the Sicard family [bearing my paternal grandma’s maiden name] were settled in New Rochelle, New York. His name was Reverend (or Domine to use the Dutch title) Bondet, A Huguenot minister from France and a former professor at the famed Academy of Saumur. This was the pastor of some of our ancestors in of New York who had escaped France eight years before.  

Selyns writes, “Domine Brodet [Bondet], who was formerly professor at Saumur, and who lived among the Indians and preached to them for eight years, is at New Rochelle, 20 miles from here, and is very useful by his ministerial gifts and holy life.”

A History of the Reformed Church, Dutch in the United States by ET Corwin, 115.

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Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly speaks out against the secularization of public schools–affirms Christian America

prayer-at-first-continental-congress

Faced with the growing secularization of public schools in America, the PC(USA) defined the position of American Presbyterianism in the following pronouncement by her General Assembly in the year 1870:

“We should regard the successful attempt to expel all religious instruction and influence from our public schools as an evil of the first magnitude. Nor do we see how this can be done without inflicting a deadly wound upon the intellectual and moral life of the nation…We look upon the state as an ordinance of God, and not a mere creature of the popular will; and, under its high responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the world, we hold it to be both its right and bound duty to educate its children in those elementary principles of knowledge and virtue which are essential to its own security and well-being. The union of church and state is indeed against our American theory and constitutions of government; but the most intimate union of the state with the saving and conservative forces of Christianity is one of the oldest customs of the country, and has always ranked a vital article of our political faith.”

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 1870, quoted in A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States by Robert E. Thompson, 1895, p. 199.

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Presbyterians Pressured by President Lincoln

Illustration of the Bombardment of Fort SumterWhen the Confederate Army cannonaded Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, opening the Civil War, it turned out to be a moment that crystallized the patriotic feelings of many Americans in defense of the Union. Sumter awoke a sleeping giant. It was on of those “rally around the flag” moments that the South had probably not expected it to be, when people across the Union who were previously apathetic or ambivalent about the political disputes between North and South felt a rush of anger over what the South had done, and a desire to preserve the Union. Reading about this turn of events reminds me of the patriotic response many Americans exhibited during the First Gulf War, when Lee Greenwood soared to the top of the charts with his perennial favorite, “God Bless the USA”, and later, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 when Union flags seemed to fly on every car antenna in a surge of patriotic feeling.

Just one month after Sumter, in May 1861, Rev. Gardiner Spring introduced a resolution at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. calling for a day of prayer and fasting, in light of the national trouble and warfare that had already broken out with the siege of Ft. Sumter and the secession of 8 states. He was an influential and respected conservative in the denomination, hand-picked to present the resolution by the pro-Union side. It made one small mention of prayer for the preservation of the Union, without including any denunciations of the Southern States that some had wanted to see in it. What many may not know, is that the Lincoln administration was pressuring the Presbyterian Church to pass a resolution supporting the Union. The Presbyterian Church was at that time one of the three largest church bodies in the Union, and the Lincoln administration, perhaps rightly, thought that the declared support of the Presbyterian Church toward the Union would help secure the loyalty of the Border States: New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri toward the federal cause. The vote went 156-66 in favor of the resolution*. A contingent protested the resolution led by Charles Hodge, but to no avail. Moderate-mindedness could not quell the spirit of patriotism or the desire to help preserve the Union.220px-abraham_lincoln_o-77_matte_collodion_print

In response, the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States was promptly formed of the forty-seven presbyteries in the South. A schism of the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches took place, which did not reunite for over one hundred twenty years. While it was sad that political concerns split the church, it was also a continuation of the Presbyterian tradition of a mutually helpful relationship between the church and the civil government.

*See: A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States by Robert Thompson, New York: 1895.

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Presbyterianism in America

The group of ecclesiastical bodies which co(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationnstitute the Presbyterian family in America hold a place of great importance in the religious life of the nation.  American Presbyterianism has been of weight beyond its numerical strength through the services it has rendered to theological science, the interest it has maintained in Christian doctrine, the high standard of intelligence it has set up for both its ministry and its people, its capacity to develop strength of character, its superior family discipline, and its conservative influence upon the national life.

Robert Ellis Thompson, A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States, 1.

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How the West Was Lost, by the Presbyterians

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The smallness of the Reformed/Presbyterian community of churches in comparison to the larger evangelical American context is largely a consequence of a failure to plant and maintain churches among those Scot-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the Appalachian mountain chain and kept heading west from there.  It’s no secret that the Presbyterians lagged far behind the Baptists and Methodists, not to mention new groups like the Cambellites, in planting churches where people had settled in the west. They saw the problem, and tried to remedy it by forming a Plan of Union with their Congregationalist cousins to the north for planting churches in the West.  It didn’t work.  Perhaps nothing more could be done.

It’s just that the Presbyterian/Congregationalist emphasis on an educated ministry slowed the rate of growth on the frontier based on the number of licentiates that were available.  Meanwhile the Baptists and Methodists would find a young man with gifts, give him a Bible, two or three more books, and send him on a horse off to preach wherever he found people who would listen.  Who could compete with that speed and agility and maintain doctrinal integrity?

If you trace the areas where the Scot-Irish and their descendants (who were almost all Presbyterian in the beginning) settled first in America, and shaped the culture that newcomers would find and assimilate into, it extends from western Pennsylvania down to the western Carolinas, and west from there through southern Ohio, south Indiana, sKentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, South Kansas, and the North Texas Hill Country. Not to mention that these people were dominant in the initial settlements all over the far west extending to eastern Oregon. Now imagine if the dominant Christian churches over this vast region were Presbyterian.

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Happy Reformation Day!


FB_IMG_1446304917196Happy Reformation Day!

On this day in 1517 a Bible professor named Martin Luther posted 95 objections to the sale of indulgences on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral in Saxony: pieces of paper sold with the promise of forgiveness of sins by the Pope. This event is known as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which restored the church to faith in Jesus Christ alone as he is revealed in his word.

Today let us rejoice in God’s deliverance of his Church, and pray for those whose faith is yet in bondage to the traditions of men.

The photo attached doesn’t accurately depict Luther’s intent in posting the 95 theses, but perhaps its effect.

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Misconceptions about the Reformer Jean Calvin (1509-1564)

The 16th century French Reformer Jean Calvin wrote what was arguably the most important work of the Reformation period in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and was superbly talented at exegeting, preaching, and teaching the Scriptures, as evidenced by the wealth of biblical commentary and published sermons that he left to posterity. However, despite popular misconception, there are several things he didn’t do:

1. Start or found a new church.

2. Wield civil power in Geneva. (As a non-citizen, he couldn’t even vote.)

3. Teach new doctrines.

4. Lead a network or presbytery of churches.

5. Function as the only or clearly most influential voice among pastors in the Reformed churches of his day.

6. Come up with the doctrine of predestination or the “five points.”

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Review of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard

0617152145aThis book offers a breakdown and historical overview of what the author refers to as the 11 distinct ethno-geographical nations that make up the US and Canada. His broad history and analysis is mostly correct. You may be surprised at how well the history of colonial settlement, migrations, and assimilation connects and translates to today in a way that helps explain the socio-political characteristics and traits of the different American regions. Today’s political battles and cultural differences are direct product of the history of settlement and migration in the various regions of North America.  The author is writing from a secular perspective, and is left-leaning politically, although it doesn’t affect his analysis too much until the last chapters. I would recommend this book first of all for Americans to understand better what national culture they grew up in, based on where they are from, and how and why other American nations differ in their social and political habits. I’d also recommend it for those traveling or moving to a different location in the US or Canada. I’ve lived in several different parts of the US, and always noticed cultural differences of attitude, behavior, and treatment of outsiders, but I feel like I understand better where the lines are drawn and how they developed to what they are now after reading this book. (Hint, it doesn’t normally coincide with state borders.)

The author does an especially good job explaining the fascinating history of how the distinct colonial nations of the east coast expanded west and maintained many of their distinctive features in a new location, whether in the midwest or on the west coast.  He shows how the patterns of settlement determine the social and political characteristics of western states today.

Woodard could have done a better job tracing the changes in religious belief and how the nations were impacted and altered by those changes, especially “Yankeedom.” He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on that aspect, not drawing a line between the public Christianity of the puritan fathers and the social activism of liberal churches and post-Christian New England, to mark when and how the change came about, and what impact it had on the nation. He seems to think that the Puritans deemphasized individual Christian faith, although of course those who know the Puritans know that if anything they are often perceived as being too introspective about their faith. And New England was also the birthplace of the Baptists in America, an offshoot of the puritans, who later made such inroads in the Deep South.

All in all it’s a very useful book.

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Illegal Immigrants from the US, and the partitioning of the El Norte nation

In the early 1800’s Mexico was inundated with illegal immigrants from the United States, who were seeking land and opportunity there. Many were concerned about the immigrants’ resistance to learning the Spanish language and to assimilate and Mexicanize, and also their distinct practices like slavery, which was illegal in Mexico but not in the US. But despite these concerns, Mexico decided to grant the illegal US immigrants legal rights and citizenship in Mexico if they would cooperate and follow the law. In the end the immigrants decided to fight to become an independent state. They were joined in their struggle by nortenos, Mexicans from the northern parts of Mexico where the immigrants had settled. The result of wars with Texas patriots, and with the US, was that Mexico lost a third of its territory to the United States. In these areas, many nortenos still reside. They are not immigrants. They were there before the US Americans were, members of a distinct culture and nation/ethnicity called El Norte, which straddles both sides of the Rio Grande river, is distinct from the nation/culture of central Mexico, and has always had closer economic, cultural, and social ties and similarities with the US to the north than it has to Mexico City to the south. The US/Mexico border essentially cuts through the center of the El Norte nation. How might this historical perspective inform the immigration debate?

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Machen on Smoking

“The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what an aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 1987, p. 506.

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