And I see not, but those who doe confound them, may also say, that the Christian State and Christian Church be all one state, and that the government of the one must be the government of the other; which were a confusion of the two kingdoms. It is true, God hath not prescribed judicials to the Christian State, as he did to the Jewish State, because shadows are now gone, when the body Christ is come; but Gods determination of what is morally lawful in civill laws, is as particular to us as to them; Samuel Rutherford, Due Right of Presbyteries, 70.
On this day in church history, 1837, the Plan of Union was abrogated by the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, meeting at the Central Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The Plan of Union was made in 1801 as an agreement between the Presbyterian Church and Congregational Churches to work together for planting churches in the west. The Baptists and Methodists were outrunning both, establishing churches among formerly Presbyterian or Congregational settlers at a wildfire pace. For them, it was enough to find a man with gifts, give him a Bible and one or two other books, put him on a horse, and smack the horse’s rear, sending him forth to preach and plant churches! With their emphasis on an educated ministry, the Presbyterians and Congregationalists just could not compete. It took them years to churn out a minister. But they felt that there could be synergistic gains by working together. After all, both denominations were Reformed, Calvinist, and Paedo-baptizers, with an emphasis on simple and reverent worship. It seemed like a good idea. And the Presbyterians were badly in need of ministers. The majority of Presbyterian pulpits in the west were vacant. They did not have the institutional strength of the Congregational churches such as the seminaries Harvard and Yale, (to which many Presbyterian students already went), nor the amount of giving to home missions and pool of young candidates that New England had. The Presbyterians needed Congregational money and young men! Men licensed to preach would go out and establish congregations, whether Congregational or Presbyterian, and the church plants could decide later upon being duly constituted, whether they were going to be Presbyterian or Congregational. Presbyterian ruling elders or Congregational committeemen could join together in the regional presbytery/association in the mission regions.
A few decades later, the agreement was ended. The Presbyterians to this day lament the New Haven Theology that came into the western presbyteries through men educated at Yale, and the Congregationalists lament that so much of their own members’ treasure and sons, in the end, had planted in the west, not so many Congregational as Presbyterian churches. As the Rev. Mr. Lawrence proclaimed (to laughter) at the General Convention of Congregational Churches in Albany, New York, 1852, “They have often come from the West to our New England, and ranged over our fat pastures, and borne away the fleeces from our flocks; they have milked our Congregational cows, but they have made nothing but Presbyterian butter and cheese.”
On the contrary, we are rather to believe that in these days there shall be no lack either of those who fall away from, or of those who attach themselves to the Church; but there shall be such resoluteness, both in parents to seek baptism for their little ones, and those who shall then first believe, that they shall conquer that strong one, even though unbound—that is, shall both vigilantly comprehend, and patiently bear up against him, though employing such wiles and putting forth such force as he never before used; and thus they shall be snatched from him even though unbound. The City of God, book 20, chapter 8
Augustine of Hippo spends one chapter in his work, the city of God recapping the various philosophical schools of Greece and Rome. He relates and critiques their debates about the supreme good and evil, virtue, pleasure, and their interrelation. Then he contrasts that “earthly city” with the “city of God”, in the process affirming the doctrine of justification by faith alone, adapting the philosophical categories and terminology to his purpose for the benefit of his pagan readers:
“if then, we be asked what the city of God has to say upon these points, in the first place, what its opinion regarding the supreme good and evil is, it will reply that life eternal is the supreme good, death eternal the supreme evil, and that to obtain the one and escape the other we must live rightly. And thus it is written, ‘the just lives by faith,’ or we do not as yet see our good, and must therefore live by faith; neither have we in ourselves power to live rightly, but can do so only if he who has given us faith to believe in his help do help us when we believe and pray.” Augustine, the City of God, book 19, chapter 4
For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 3:5 made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;” Matthew 10:32 and in another place, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Matthew 16:25 And this explains the verse, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, chapter 7.
But now, by the greater and more admirable grace of the Saviour, the punishment of sin is turned to the service of righteousness. For then it was proclaimed to man, “If you sin, you shall die;” now it is said to the martyr, “Die, that you sin not.” Then it was said, “If you trangress the commandments, you shall die;” now it is said, “If you decline death, you transgress the commandment.” That which was formerly set as an object of terror, that men might not sin, is now to be undergone if we would not sin. Thus, by the unutterable mercy of God, even the very punishment of wickedness has become the armor of virtue, and the penalty of the sinner becomes the reward of the righteous. For then death was incurred by sinning, now righteousness is fulfilled by dying. In the case of the holy martyrs it is so; for to them the persecutor proposes the alternative, apostasy or death. For the righteous prefer by believing to suffer what the first transgressors suffered by not believing. For unless they had sinned, they would not have died; but the martyrs sin if they do not die. The one died because they sinned, the others do not sin because they die. By the guilt of the first, punishment was incurred; by the punishment of the second, guilt is prevented. Not that death, which was before an evil, has become something good, but only that God has granted to faith this grace, that death, which is the admitted opposite to life, should become the instrument by which life is reached.
Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, Chapter 5
Pray for Awakening Week 4 March 2018 (Ligonier)
THE WORLD AND THE GLOBAL CHURCH
Pray that the nations and their leaders would fear the name of the Lord and seek His glory, not their own.
Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. — Ps. 102:15
Prayer by highplainsparson
O Lord, you sent your Spirit to produce a great harvest of souls in America and Britain during the 18th century. Men of you preached the glorious message of reconciliation far and wide, including such names as Whitefield, Edwards, Howell Harris, and the Tennents. Many souls were converted to Christ, and as result of their changed lives, people prayed for a great harvest of souls overseas. You raised up men and women to answer the missionary call like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and Asa Thurston to far-flung places: India, Myanmar, Hawaii, and to the ends of the earth. The gospel of your Son Jesus Christ spread far and wide across the globe as the movement of your Spirit brought more laborers to the harvest. We pray for the churches that you have planted in all of these nations around the globe, that you would strengthen them in your word by your Spirit, and add new converts to their number. Empower and enable their witness for you, and protect them from persecution by their enemies, and yours. Smite their enemies to heal them by the balm of Gilead, or take them out of the way so that they do not hinder the spread of the gospel anymore. Let your love and transforming Grace be known where it is not yet known. Let every nation bow the knee to you and acknowledge you as Lord, as individuals, communities, and even nations submit to the loving rule of your Son Jesus Christ, kissing the Son. Let individual lives and families be transformed. Let new churches be planted. Let the morals and governments of communities and societies be reformed according to your word. Let the papacy, Islam, and every anti-Christian religion be discredited and shunned. Subvert irreligion and atheism, especially in the Western world. Let nations which have known you in the past repent and turn back from their wicked ways. Embolden your church to proclaim the Royal Dominion of Christ over the modern world. Let your glory fill the earth, expecting until that day when your son Jesus Christ will come to consummate his kingdom. Even so Lord, come. Amen.
Dean Abbott recently made an insightful post on the patheos blog.
I would like to offer some agreement and some critique of his thesis. The theme is basically the title, “Engaging the Culture Doesn’t Work.”
“It has also been, largely, a failure. The evidence is plain. In spite of the resources poured into these efforts, American culture has increasingly embraced the cultural and sexual Left.”
By what measure, I would like to ask Mr. Abbott, has Christian cultural engagement in America been a failure? Brothers I have met in places like the United Kingdom, Germany, or Australia do not share that perspective about Christianity in America. They wonder speechlessly that Christianity in America is as successful yet, as it is, in permeating American society. They marvel at the boldness and freedom that we personify in talking about our faith in public, or to express views contrary to say, for example, “gay marriage”, because it is simply not possible for them to get by this way as we do in the United States of America. This is not by any means a reason to boast, or take pride in ourselves. It is a reason to give thanks to God. Where else in the developed world are Christians yet considered an important voting bloc, to whom even non-Christian politicians wish to ally themselves and make promises to appoint justices who will maintain their values, and pass laws to protect their religious liberty? This kind of recognition of strength is not happening in any other western nation that I am aware of. Where else in the world do Christians maintain the full liberty to preach the gospel on a bustling street corner, or to homeschool their kids in the Christian faith?
The benchmark to which a mutual fund is compared is not zero. It is to be expected that stocks will go up and down. It’s in comparison with indices like the S&P 500 or total market indices that the performance of a managed mutual fund is judged. Let us apply this technique to this topic. Christianity in America has had its losses, like Obergefell vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court Decision that imposed “same-sex marriage” on all fifty states. (The final chapter in that national debate is yet unwritten.) But we have also had our successes. We scuttled the Equal Rights Amendment, deregulated home-schooling, banned late-term abortions, put hundreds of abortion clinics out of operation by putting onerous regulations on them, pushed back on recognition of transgenderism in the military, and achieved landmark precedent on the right of Christians to run a business in accordance with our Christian values. Where else in the modern western world do Christians enjoy the liberty that we do in America, and what would it be like today if Christians had not been engaging culture with the law and gospel, in all areas of life? Christians would be barred from approaching the bench as lawyers, getting any desirable jobs, or opening businesses, unless they hid their lights under bushels and pretended to be the opposite of what they are. Merely stating the unique claims of Jesus Christ as Savior in certain public settings would be considered criminal hate speech, as it now is in the United Kingdom. In most of the western world, a refusal to enroll ones children in government-approved schools is cause for arrest, but in America we have the freedom to educate our own children from the starting point of a Christian worldview. I am working in urban Southern California at a mid-sized corporation with offices nationwide, and have the privilege of attending a weekly Bible study at lunchtime in the office with co-workers, which is occurring at most of the corporate buildings, and is even recognized as an official employee activity. It is a small group, but nevertheless one that would not be tolerated in most of the secularized western world. We mourn at the decline of Christian values in America, but on the other hand, in comparison with the most culturally similar nations in the world, things are looking much better in America. In America’s military and prisons you will still find a preponderance of paid staff chaplains generally conservative and evangelical in their view of Scripture. You can still get Christian radio stations on the radio in America. Churches can still rent (or even get free use of) public space or sign up to set up an evangelistic book table at a show or special market, or start a student group at a University. Things would certainly be a lot worse for Christians, and the progress of the gospel, if they had not been working hard at engaging the culture socially, evangelistically, politically, and even artistically over the last forty years. So, has Christian cultural engagement been a total failure? Not at all, and we have much to be thankful for.
Speaking of the post-World War II era, Abbott writes, “Millions of people still attended church.
But, even then, in elite circles, Christian belief was a mark of low status.” And “We have now arrived at a moment when this dynamic can no longer be hidden. The hostility of our elite institutions and those who run them is well documented.”
I think that Mr. Abbott makes the mistake of placing the cultural center of gravity of American life in the “elite circles.” In America, elites are more the object of derision than objects to emulate. The center of gravity in America is the great wide majority, the great middle class also known as the bourgeois. It is they that drive the culture and define it, unlike in many other countries like the United Kingdom or France. America has always had a very wide anti-establishment and even an anti-intellectual streak. America’s cultural center is more Hollywood than Opera, more hamburgers and pizza than coq au vin. This has had good and bad ramifications for Christianity in America. But, it is something that Abbott’s thesis fails to consider.
“Christianity has become marginalized because Christian belief has become an obstacle to getting what most people want: social status and the privileges which accompany it.”
Americans in general loathe and disdain the cultural elite. The American culture, or, if you prefer, cultures, are more popular than elitist. This is one of the distinctive things about America that is obvious to every European or Asian who visits. Our heroes are self-made businessmen, power-hitting baseball players, and compelling Hollywood actors, not blue-blooded politicians, impressionist visual artists, or aristocrats. In America, success is not generally measured by social status or fitting in the upper class, but by individual achievement, particularly pulling oneself up to wealth and fame by the bootstraps. The American Dream is the aspiration of the middle class. So, in the American context, Christianity as the anti-establishment faith of the people has flourished far more than the established mainline church social clubs. Note the demise of the mainline churches even as non-denominational churches have flourished. The latest Pew Research, indeed, shows that evangelicalism in America, in contrast with other developed western nations, is holding steady, not declining in numbers.
What is the alternative to cultural engagement? If, as Mr. Abbott describes, engagement has been a failure (which I have demonstrated to be false), what is his alternative? He proposes none. His reference to Rod Dreher makes me think it is hermitism, a retreat to introspective preservation. But, rationally speaking, that will only accelerate the current trends and bring the wrath of the world to bear upon the Church in America in more nasty ways more quickly. How could it not? The current political climate shows that just as it’s not enough for evangelicals to engage winsomely, it will not be enough for them to disengage, either. The unbelieving world will come after us in all their fury if we retreat. There is no shrinking from the cultural battle at hand. How did insular ghettos work for the Jews in Europe? They attracted pogroms and the Holocaust. Giving up on the creation mandate is tempting, because sometimes the result of our labor is disappointing or frustrating, but it is not a practical option. And let us be cheerful, because our God will prevail. To use a historical analogy, after the Alamo came San Jacinto.
Now a point of agreement: Abbott is spot on with his criticism of the stylistic attempts of evangelical churches to engage the culture by imitating it. As he notes,
“Many evangelicals sensed something was going on. They responded as though the problem were a matter of style rather than content. They created churches calculated to prove evangelicals could be as hip as anyone else. The result was churches that had rocking worship bands, superb lighting, a million cool programs and no cultural impact.”
The only lasting success to come from this trend was to make the hip pastor in a goatee and skinny jeans a universal object of derision.”
Very true. The mistake of evangelicalism has largely been emphasizing style over substance, as if the problem were that the church were not stylistically inviting enough to the world. This approach will never work, because the world has better style (in worldly terms) than the church ever will. Faced with the problem of social and cultural marginalization, evangelicalism on the whole has chosen the wrong remedy. Abbott insightfully describes that failure.
Now, I would like to propose another course of action. As we maintain and defend our faith, our families, our lives, and our heritage, let us focus on content over style, substance over sizzle, God-honoring worship over entertainment, and our confession of faith over results. Our churches must be historically confessional and biblical, not trendy. And let us not shrink from the battle, because we know that we are more than conquerors in our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is even now reigning as king, and that He will soon finish the conquest of all His and our enemies. What a privilege it is to be a part of that operation. Let us serve God in our occupations, with our businesses, in direct evangelism, in apologetical answers, in our schools, in our communities, in running for office and in making our political voice heard. Let our churches hold to our confession of faith and our pious practice, let us pray for a great awakening across our land, and let our families continue to lead and adhere to the fear and admonition of the Lord, because nations may come and go, but His kingdom reigns forever.
Pray for Awakening
Third week of March 2018, Ligonier ministries
YOUR CITY AND NATION
Pray that God would send renewal to your nation and turn the hearts of many to Christ.
That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. — Acts 3:20
Prayer by highplainsparson
O Lord of Hosts, you poured out your Spirit in power upon our forefathers in the faith in great awakenings and revivals that changed the character, course, and career of this land, the United States of America. You awakened and converted many dead sinners, and led your people by your Spirit, leading them to soak in the word deeply, inculcating in them the doctrines of grace, as our own general assembly testified, to amend their lives, and to make great impact in their communities and society. If it had not been for these great awakenings in history, America would be a much worse place. We have backslidden against you and squandered the blessings of your word that you have lavished upon our land more than almost any other. Revive and awaken your people. Let true churches of Jesus Christ be filled with weeping and repentant sinners, while people are trying to get in the door but finding there’s not enough room because the buildings are full. Let revival begin with us. Warm our cold hearts. Give us repentance, and let us take vengeance upon our pet sins that offend you greatly with a holy vengeance. May we cast them aside and seek your face. Send us to reach our neighbors and bring them in where they may be touched by you and changed forever. Do this work in and through us and have all the glory Lord, for it is yours now and forever. Let there be a great harvest of souls across our union. Let there be a great harvest in our land before that time that only you know, when you renew the earth when the Lord Jesus returns physically, to rule it in majesty. Amen.
Awakening Prayer Guide March week 2 NEIGHBORS, CHURCH, AND COWORKERS Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. — Rom. 12:11
Awakening Prayer Guide by Ligonier
March week 2
NEIGHBORS, CHURCH, AND COWORKERS
Pray that the members of your church would be full of zeal to serve Christ and bear witness to Him in your community.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. — Rom. 12:11
Prayer by highplainsparson
Gracious God and Father, we confess that we have been lazy in doing the work that you’ve given us to do. We have not taken advantage of opportunities to share the gospel with all those that you have laid in our way. We have spent more time napping or with trifling entertainments than we have in actively working to advance your kingdom. We have lounged and coddled our bodies instead of loving our neighbor enough to spend time sharing the good news about Christ has done for us, with them. Teach us to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone and proclaim Christ to a lost and dying world that is crumbling around us. Let this be a major focus of the ministry of your church where we gather. Give us fresh ideas on techniques and opportunities to share the message of reconciliation, God reconciling himself to sinful man through Christ the mediator. Give us a holy zeal according to knowledge, that we may study and work to show ourselves approved. And let this zeal be channeled by your holy Scriptures. Sanctify us, put away our laziness, and empower our work in your church by your Holy Spirit, that by your grace working in us many more souls might be gathered and added to the number. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of the harvest. Amen.