Posts Tagged With: Congregationalism

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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Preacher in the hands of an angry church: the fall of Jonathan Edwards

Encouraging material for any pastor.

Grateful to the dead

Minister. Thinker. Revivalist. America’s greatest theologian. “Homeboy” to today’s Young Reformed. Hero. Icon.

Failed pastor.

Why exactly was Jonathan Edwards, godfather of American evangelicalism, ejected from his own congregation–the church he had served faithfully for over twenty years? And what happened next? How did he respond? I explored these questions in an article for Leadership Journal:

[For a few reflections on what Edwards could still mean to the church today, see this post. For his claim to the title “father of evangelicalism,” see this one. On Edwards as the original “ancient-future” evangelical, see here.]

Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church
by Chris Armstrong

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point…

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Independent Ministers In the Welsh Methodist Connexion

[Mr. Thomas Gray] lived among the Methodists and with them only he mixed.  Many ministers came over from the Independents in this way, the Rev. Benjamin Thomas being another example.  It was hardly considered that a formal reception was necessary for them.  Almost imperceptibly to themselves and to others, they slipped into their places within the Connexion.

Jones and Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, The Banner of Truth Trust, vol II, 198.

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The Savoy Declaration of Faith on the Imperatives of the Gospel

creeds.net

creeds.net

Although it has become popular in certain theological circles to define the law/gospel dichotomy as being equivalent to the difference between the indicative voice: gospel, (that is, what Christ has done,) and the imperative: law, (that is, what God requires of us,) this is an artificial distinction.  The gospel itself, as the divines of the 1658 Savoy Assembly note, has precepts added to it and required in it, namely, “repent and believe”.  This is important for our understanding of the gospel.

From the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658), Chapter XX, Of the Gospel: The revelation of the gospel unto sinners, made in divers times, and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein…

Mark 15:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.*  

*Scripture proof added.  To my knowledge the Savoy Assembly did not produce a list of Scripture references to go with the Savoy Declaration of Faith. (1658)

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John Owen on Images Depicting Christ

The great Congregational theologian John Owen (1616-1683), one of the greatest Christian minds in history, writes on the topic of images depicting Christ in his work, The Glory of Christ:

“In this way Roman Catholics are deceived. They delight outwardly in images of Christ depicting his sufferings, resurrection and glory. By these images they think their love for him grows more and more strong. But no man-made image can truly represent the person of Christ and his glory. Only the gospel can do that.

John writes not only of himself but of his fellow apostles also, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). Now what was his glory of Christ which they saw, and how did they see it?

It was not the glory of Christ’s outward condition for he had no earthly glory or grandeur. He kept no court, nor did he entertain people to parties in a great house. He had nowhere to lay his head, even though he created all things. There was nothing about his outward appearance that would attract the eyes of the world (Isa. 53:14; 53:2-3). He appeared to others as a ‘man of sorrows’.

Neither was it the eternal essential glory of his divine nature that is meant, for this no man can see while in this world. What we shall see in heaven we cannot conceive.

What the apostles witnessed was the glory of ‘grace and truth’. They saw the glory of Christ’s person and office in the administration of grace and truth. And how did they see this glory? It was by faith and in no other way, for this privilege was given only to those who ‘received him’ and believe on his name (John 1:12). This was the glory which the Baptist saw when he pointed to Christ and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29).

So, let no one decieve himself. He that has no sight of Christ’s glory here shall never see it hereafter. The beholding of Christ’s glory is too high, glorious and marvellous for us in our present condition. The splendour of Christ’s glory is too much for our physical eyes just as is the sun shining in all its strength. So while we are here on earth we can behold his glory only by faith.”

Categories: The Church | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Biggest Obstacle to Faith in Christ the Savior

Amid the rampant unbelief in the world, one often hears people putting up roadblocks and obstacles by describing that which keeps them from believing the good news of reconciliation with the Creator through Jesus Christ.  The most common objections verbalized tend to be along the lines that evidence is lacking for God, for the integrity and truth of the Bible, that the morality revealed in Scripture is outdated, or that the Bible’s record on such things as creation is contradicted by modern science.   But as we know from human experience, things are not always as they appear when it comes to people saying why they do not accept something.  People are prone to not indicate the real obstacle that prevents them from coming to Christ.

Would it surprise you to know that the biggest obstacle to people’s acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ today is not a lack of evidence, but self-righteous pride?  The Bible humbles the pride of man.  It describes him not as righteous, but as ungodly, unholy, evil, undesirable, and unworthy of any consideration or favor from the Creator.  According to the Scriptures, the good news is that God has offered eternal blessing in Christ to those who only deserve His eternal curse and punishment in hell forever.

Romans 3

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

People just cannot accept the picture that God paints of them in Scripture.  They are offended by what He says about them in His word: that they are vile, corrupt, and worthy only to be cast into hell forever.  That is the biggest obstacle that the average person has to receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is pride.  It is an unwillingness to accept that they are as worthless as God says they are.  For it is only those who recognize their need as sinners, and their utter inability to help themselves or to do anything pleasing to the Creator, which makes them ready to receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ the Savior.  The world’s biggest obstacle to receiving the gospel is not a lack of evidence for God or the Bible; It is the pride of humans who think they are good people.

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Old South Church, Boston

Ebenezer Pemberton, a Congregational minister who served as the pastor of the Old South Church, Boston from 1700-1717, puts it this way,

“The freedom and riches of divine grace to the greatest of sinners is an essential part of the glory that is displayed in the gospel.  But we are naturally slow of heart to believe; a self-righteous spirit appears in a variety of forms to obstruct our approaches to God through Jesus Christ*.”

Thanks be to God that for those of us who have embraced Christ when we heard the gospel, the Lord subdued our self-righteous pride and stubborn will, informing us of our miserable condition, making us willing and able to receive Him as He was offered to us as Savior.

*Ebenezer Pemberton, Don Kistler, ed., The Puritan Pulpit, Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2006, p. 207.

Categories: Doctrine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

William Edward’s Preaching vs. That of The Dissenters

[William Edward of Rhyd-y-gele] was full of fire and passion, was very gifted, and possessed the ability to address sinners, but was naturally awkward and uncultivated in his manner.  He was a Methodist, he had been converted under Howell Harris, but had mixed much amongst the Dissenters and when attending their special services sat with their ministers.  They considered him too fiery and irregular.  He thought them lifeless and unevangelical.  He explained to them once the difference between his way of preaching and theirs, using the illustration of a house on fire:

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“Your way is to say, ‘On travelling one night, firstly, I perceived a fire.  Secondly I saw smoke.  Thirdly, I understood that a house was on fire.  Fourthly, I knew that the family inside were asleep.  Fifthly, I came to wake you and to call you, in case you were destroyed.’  My own method, on seeing the house aflame and the family asleep, is to shout out, with no firstly or secondly, ‘Hey!  Hey!  Fire!  Fire!  Awake!  Come out at once or  you will be burnt to ashes!'”

Jones & Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (The Banner of Truth Trust), vol. I, p. 346.

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