Posts Tagged With: history

On this day in 1837, the plan of Union ended

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.”

 

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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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Pastoral Letter — Oct 27, 2013

From Pastor Riley, to the members and friends of Hope Congregational Church,

Greetings in the name of Him who is reforming His Church, bringing her to greater conformity to His will!

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer.  Temperatures are dropping.  Perhaps spending more time indoors than we normally do in the summer months will give us time to reflect on some important topics.  The one I would like to focus on at the moment is Reformation.  Reformation is a work of God found in the Scriptures, when He conforms and reforms His Church to His will as expressed in His holy word.  In the days of Hezekiah the King there was a mighty reformation, a time of revival and smashing the idols that people had been following instead of God.  We see the same thing occur under the reign of Josiah after the book of the law was rediscovered.  There are times of blessing when the word of God is rediscovered, ignorance is uprooted, and idols are smashed for the glory of God and the blessing of His Church.

On October 31, 1517 such a work of God began through the humble protest of a conscientious monk and Bible professor at Wittenberg University named Martin Luther.  Luther95thesesIn the middle ages Christianity had overtaken Europe, although North Africa and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), once important centers of the Christian faith, had for the most part been overrun by Islam through successive conquests.  In the Middle Ages Bibles were scarce, and if available, it was only available in the Latin Vulgate translation.  As a result, many superstitions and errors had developed to cloud and obscure the gospel of Jesus Christ based on some key mistranslated passages in the Vulgate.  A general ignorance prevailed over Christian people, who generally did not have access to the Bible and heard homilies in Latin every Sunday, a language they could not understand.  Due to the interest of Renaissance scholarship, the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures became more widely available in western Europe for the first time.  God used these events to bring about a reform movement back to the source of truth, the Holy Scriptures, and to restore the purity of the gospel in the tenets of the Reformation: upon the Scriptures alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for God’s glory alone.  On Sunday, November 3rd, in the afternoon following a potluck at church, you will have an opportunity to learn more.  I would like to invite everyone, including friends, relatives and neighbors to our first ever Reformation History talk.

Church History is important to the body of Christ.  It is our history, as God’s people.  It lets us know where we’ve come from, gives us an opportunity to praise God for what He has done, warns us of the errors of the past (which tend to keep reappearing under new names), and gives us hope that the God of our fathers is the same God who leads us today.  As we follow Him, in thankfulness for what He has done in history, let us also remember that as His Church we are to be ever increasing in our knowledge and application of what He requires of us.  A watchword of the 16th century Reformation was, Semper Reformanda – “always reforming”, (from Latin.)  God has helped us until now, but we always have room for improvement.  The correct attitude toward obedience to God as His church is to always be willing to change in ways (and only in those specific ways) that God requires of us in His word, the Holy Bible.  Just as individual Christians are to be brought more and more into conformity to Christ, so it is with His Church made up of them.  May God continue to richly bless us and reform us in accordance with His word.

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An Unexpected Conversion

O soul! what preparations, what thought, what clear intent,
Dwelt in you on that morning, when heaven’s call was sent?
That unexpected moment my foolish heart was drawn,
By unexpected measures, my very life reborn.

‘Twas God’s decree in action, His pure and holy plan,
All unbeknown, drew near me, His grace towards me ran;
All things worked to their purpose, wheels within wheels went round;
Saul sought his father’s asses, but ended being crowned.

Zaccheus little pondered, when climbing up the tree,
That God’s gift of salvation his house that day would see,
And so with Paul and Peter, with Magdalen and more,
I also, without seeking, found life for evermore.

William Williams of Pantycelyn, known as the author of the hymn: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” and many others, reflects on his unexpected conversion by God’s free, pure, and sovereign grace, when one day he heard Howell Harris preach.

quoted from The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, Jones & Morgan, p. 213.

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Alexander the Great in Prophecy and Fulfillment

by Pastor Riley Fraas

In a backwater nation made up of tribes of farmers and sheep-herders lying in the hills to the north of ancient Greece, a young man named Alexander, who had been tutored by Aristotle until age 16, became King (of Macedonia) in 336 B. C., his father having died.  What would follow just a few short years later has captivated historians for decades.  This king of tiny Macedonia would become a legend who would change the known world and push on into unknown eastern frontiers never before crossed by western conquerors.  His phalanxes, (a tight and impregnable formation of shielded spearmen perfected by Alexander) rolled east with all the speed and ferocity a tidal wave, and as a result Greek philosophy, language, and culture percolated down through the eastern sands until it became an integral part of life in places as far away as Libya, Persepolis, and Jerusalem.  What began with a minor military expedition against the Archaemenid Empire, planned before by his father, continued through modern-day Turkey, down through Syria and Palestine, Egypt and Libya, and to the Persian imperial capital of Persepolis.  By age 25, in 330 B. C. Alexander ruled over the largest empire the world had ever seen.  The swiftness of his victories still astounds historians.

The wake of Alexander’s conquests provided a key part of the cultural and linguistic milieu in which Christ the Lord would be born, and the New Testament penned.  The New Testament was written in Greek.  Have you ever wondered why the Jewish authors of the New Testament wrote in Greek?  A few centuries before, Alexander had blown through the Near East like a hurricane, leaving big chunks of Greek language and learning behind in his path.  By the time of Jesus’s Birth, the Romans had taken over what was left of Alexander’s former empire, but it was still the Greek language, and not Latin, which dominated.  Greek was the best language to speak and write in if one wanted to be understood as widely as possible.  It was the standard language for commerce and learning in all places surrounding the Mediterranean, all as a result of Alexander’s awe-inspiring adventure, when it seemed to him that he would conquer to the very edge of the earth in just a few short years.

Like a speeding locomotive, Alexander had conquered all the way through modern Iran and Afghanistan, across the Indus river in modern day Pakistan, to Punjab in what is today India with a speed and endurance that has been unmatched either before or since by any other leader.  But what could possibly have enabled Alexander’s Macedonian army to accomplish such a feat unequalled in world history?  What power drove his success?  Was it an über-natural skill in battle, intimidation factor, unparalleled leadership, or advanced military science?  For Bible-believers, the question is not a difficult one.  The answer is this:  the God of Israel had long before determined that Alexander would conquer the known world, with exactly that degree of speed and scope, as he had spoken through the prophet Daniel over 200 years prior:

Daniel 7:6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.

The seventh chapter of Daniel records a vision.  In this vision, Daniel saw four beasts.  The first looks like a lion, and has its wings plucked off.  It represents the Chaldean empire which Daniel served in captivity at Babylon.  The second is like a bear with three ribs in its mouth, eating flesh.  This represents the Medo-Persian Empire that would conquer Babylon and take control of Arabia.  The one side of the bear which rises higher than the other is the Persians, who gained in power of the Medes.  Finally, we see a leopard, but not just any leopard.  This one has four wings.  The four wings represent the swiftness which carried the leopard, already of itself a very fast animal, across the known world over the longest distance in a short time.  This is Alexander’s Macedonian Empire.  Yet its dominion is short-lived.  For we see in verse 8 that a beast appears which has iron teeth and is more fearsome than the rest.  This can be none other than the Roman Empire that conquered the remnants of the Hellenized states carved from Alexander’s empire.  Alexander’s fast but short-lived dominion stretched from Macedonia to Punjab in less than a decade. 1

In India, crossing the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab rivers deep into Punjab along the Beas, Alexander’s strength waned.  His leadership faltered.  His dreams died.  Visions of the massive armies of the Magadhan Empire along the Ganges must have made them think twice about whether to push onward.  This Gangan plain was no cakewalk, for it was the territory of another great Emperor, Nanda of Magadha.  As John Keay relates,

the Nanda’s army of 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, two thousand four-horse chariots and three to six thousand war elephants would have represented a formidable force, even if decimated by roll-call reality. It was certainly enough to strike alarm in stout Greek hearts, to awaken in them fond memories of Thracian wine and olive-rich homesteads beside the northern Aegean, and to send packing the age’s only other contender as a one-umbrella world ruler. 1

The Ganges lay beyond in a great fertile plain, inhabited by an advanced civilization full of culture, life, and potential subjects for Alexander the Emperor.  That mighty river could have taken Alexander all the way to the sea, as he had always dreamed.   (Okay, maybe not to the end of the world, but at least it could have taken him to the Indian Ocean.)  But Alexander’s loyal army grew homesick and weary (as well as daunted by the prospect of fighting the mighty Magadhans.)  In order to avert a mutiny, and perhaps to exit without recovering conquered land, as if he were in retreat, Alexander headed south along the Indus River. 1  Part of the army boarded a fleet in the Arabian Sea, and the rest trekked back along the north of the sea, in the desert located in southern Iran today.  As far as his stamp in India, Keay says,

Alexander the Great’s Indian Adventure, though a subject of abiding interest to classically educated European historians, is not generally an episode on which historians of Indian nationality bother to dwell.  They rightly note that it ‘made no impression historically or politically on India,’ and that ‘not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any [of the] older Indian sources.  ‘there was nothing to distinguish his raid in Indian history [except “perfidious massacres” and “wonton cruelty”]…and it can hardly be called a great military success as the only military achievements to his credit were the conquest of some petty tribes and states by installment.’  Alexander’s great achievement was not invading India but getting there.1

What had happened in India?  Where was the courage?  Where was the temerity of the young conqueror who dreamed of personally upstaging the Greek mythological heroes, Hercules and Achilles?  Where was Alexander’s renowned leadership?  How could Alexander’s army, who can conquered the entire known world and beyond, be on the verge of mutiny?  How could they be driven to fear battle with the Magadhans?

The answers are difficult for historians, but not for Bible-believing Christians.  It was God who sent the leopard across the Medo-Persian Empire and beyond in the twinkling of an eye, just as he had prophesied through Daniel in 7:6, and now Alexander’s time was done.  Through Alexander’s conquest, the groundwork of history had been laid for the Lord’s mighty work of redemption.  God is the One, of whom “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”  Daniel 4:35, who “worketh all things according to the counsel of His will.” Ephesians 1:11  God is sovereign; and He had raised up Alexander to swiftly conquer large swaths of the globe, not for any worthiness or righteousness of Alexander, but for His own purpose.  Through this evil megalomaniac and pagan conqueror, God set the stage for the birth of Christ in the Greco-Roman world and the spread of the gospel throughout the Mediterranean through preaching and writing in the Greek language by apostles of Jewish background.  By the infusion of Greek language and literature that Alexander left in his wake, the Old Testament was translated into Greek for Hellenized (Greek-speaking) Jews and read in Greek in synagogues all over the Mediterranean.  (This would be the first Bible of all the New Testament churches outside of Judea.)  The territory of the Roman Empire was carved out for them, awaiting their dominance.  The beast with iron teeth would follow the leopard.  It would be the rule of Roman law, the Pax Romana, which, with its safe roads and shipping schedules, would become a means for the apostles to travel to preach the gospel in Greece and Italy in the Greek tongue, and to allow for the copying, distribution, and reading in the churches of the Greek New Testament.  The Apostle Paul’s training in classical Greek philosophy enabled him to preach meaningfully to Greeks at Athens (Acts 17:28) and is referenced in his writing to the Corinthians, (1 Cor 15:33.)  It is hard to imagine how the New Testament missionary endeavor could have borne fruit without the safe and convenient roads and shipping routes of the Romans, a Bible (the Old Testament translated into Greek,) and a common Greek language for preaching and the writing of the New Testament.

Alexander’s pride and personal ambition had nothing to do with his success, and as soon as he had outrun the bounds that God had set for him, his conquest ceased.  We saw what Alexander could do without the power of God carrying him on the Beas river in India.  Shortly after returning to Babylon, he died.  And his empire was no more.  For no sooner did the Great Alexander return from India to Babylon, then his eastern capital, but he died of hepatoma, a liver cancer resulting from the Hepatitis B virus, probably a result of his wonton debauchery.  He left his vast empire to be divided into four parts by his squabbling would-be successors, who immediately took up arms against one another to fight for supremacy.  The empire of great Alexander fractured even more quickly than it was conquered.  God had used an ungodly king of a small, backwater country as an unlikely conqueror, to do His own will.  And then He was done with him.

The moral of the story: There is one Ruler of all the earth, and no one may thwart His will.  For those of us saved by His grace, this is a supreme comfort.  For others like Alexander the Great, it leads to a fearful end.  God first raised and then brought down a king of nations to make way for the King of Kings.  Blessed be the Lord forevermore, the Supreme Emperor of all the earth, the Great One, who works all things for His own glory.

1 John Keay, India: A History, London: The Folio Society, 2003, vol I, pp. 79-85.

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