August 2015

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This Is How You Say Goodbye : Paying Due Respect to a Beloved Pastor.

When the War ended in 1865, the Rev. Thomas D. Witherspoon answered a call to serve the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tennessee. That historic church, founded in 1844, continues to this day and since 1989 has been affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there began on September 3, 1865 and lasted but five years, ending early in October of 1870, when ill health forced him to retire from that pulpit to seek a less demanding post. Some of those years in Memphis had been tumultuous and challenging for a young pastor. Memphis suffered its worst race riot in 1867 and Witherspoon’s sermon logbook records something of his ministry on several occasions at the Fort Pickering mission, where the riot began.

He found that quieter pulpit as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Christiansburg, Virginia church, though he remained in this post for only one year while restoring his health, taking on subsequent duties as chaplain at the University of Virginia from 1871-1873.

The following resolutions, offered up by his congregation in Memphis and published in The Christian Observer on this day, August 31, 1870, serve as a model of how the Lord’s people might express their love and esteem for a faithful pastor. For a closer look at Rev. Witherspoon’s ministry there at Second Presbyterian, our readers can view an annotated transcription of his sermon logbook by clicking here.

witherspoon04Resignation of Rev. T.D. Witherspoon, D.D.

Copy of Resolutions introduced in the Congregational Meeting of the Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, by B.M. Estes, Esq., and unanimously adopted.

The congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, assembled to take action upon the letter of resignation of their beloved pastor, do unanimously agree to adopt the following resolutions, viz:

  1. That in uniting with T.D. Witherspoon, D.D., in his application to the Presbytery of Memphis to dissolve the pastoral relation existing between him and this church, we have discharged a sad and painful duty, and that we have taken such action only at his earnest request, and because we are constrained to concur with him and his physicians in the belief, that on account of impaired health it is necessary that he should remove to a more invigorating and healthful climate and assume ministerial duties less onerous.
  2. Resolved, That we greatly deplore the necessity which compels us to agree to a severance of the tender ties which have bound our beloved pastor to us for nearly five years, and while with bruised and sorrowful hearts we give him up, we tender to him the assurance of profound sympathy for him in his affliction, and of our ardent affection for him personally, of our admiration and reverence for him as a minister of the Cross of Christ, and of our deep concern and interest in his future welfare and career.
  3. Resolved, That to the faithful, loving ministry and labors of Dr. Witherspoon as an instrument in the hands of the Great Head of the Church, we attribute the present peaceful harmonious and prosperous condition of this church and while we collectively and as individuals recall the multiplied instances of his love for us, of his deep sympathy and tender offices in times of bereavement and sorrow, our hearts overflow with emotions of gratitude and affection to him, and of sorrow that we must be separated from him.
  4. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to Dr. Witherspoon as a testimonial of the appreciation and affection which the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis entertain for him, and while our earnest prayers for the restoration of his health, and for his future welfare and usefulness will follow him wherever he may go—we beg that his prayers may ascend daily to our Heavenly Father for the peacefulness and prosperity of this church, and especially that the Master will provide for us another faithful minister to watch over the spiritual interests of this church.

Excerpted from The Christian Observer and Commonwealth, August 31, 1870, page 4, column 2. [Readers can view this page of the above newspaper at http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7gxd0qs68k_4]

Rev. Witherspoon remained at Second Presbyterian until early October 1870. His final sermon there was on Act 20:32, delivered on 9 October (No. 1106 in his Register)

Words to Live By:
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
—I Timothy 5:17.

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 34 — What is adoption?

A. — Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.

Scripture References: 1 John 3:1; John 1:12; Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:10.

Questions:

1. What is the difference between adoption in the sight of men and
in the sight of God?

Adoption, according to man, is simply a taking into the family a child because of some qualification on the part of the child or because of some need of the adopting parent. God adopts those who are strangers, the children of wrath, those in whom there is nothing commendable and gives them all the rights and privileges as children of God.

2. What is involved in this new relationship?

A. A. Hodge states, “Adoption presents the new creature in his new relations – his new relations entered upon with a congenial heart, and his new life developing in a congenial home, and surrounded with those relations which foster its growth and crown it with blessedness.” (Confession of Faith, Pg. 192.).

3. Are all children of men adopted by God?

No, only those who believe on Christ. (John 1:12).

4. Who specifically does the act of adopting?

The act of adoption belongs to God the Father. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God.” (I John 3:1)

5. What are the privileges to which the adopted children of God are entitled?

The list could be endless. Primarily the privileges are:
(1) Protection from evils of all kinds (Ps. 121:7).
(2) The bearing of his likeness (Col. 3:10).
(3) The access to God the Father (I In. 5:14, 15).
(4) The provision of the needs of the believer (Ps. 34:10).
(5) A surety of entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Rom. 8:17).

FELLOW CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph.2:19). The hymn writer spoke the truth when he said, “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, Since Jesus came into my heart.” Because we have been adopted by God we are different, we are no longer aliens or those who do not rank as citizens, but are fellow citizens with the saints.

This new relationship brings the believer into at least two links with the Father. The first is a privilege, that of having within himself a spirit becoming the children of God. This spirit is a free spirit as it is free from the sense of bondage and of guilt and of death itself. This spirit is a royal spirit. The Bible teaches us that the believer is “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people (a People of God’s own possession).” This spirit is the spirit of glory, one that means the believer is blessed.

The second link with the Father is a responsibility. The Bible teaches, “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.” (Heb. 12:5). As children of God, as adopted children of God, the Bible teaches us that we are prone to punishment when we do wrong in the sight of our Heavenly Father. This link is as important as the link mentioned above, the link of privilege.

The relationship as adopted children of God is one we should accept with all seriousness. We should ever keep this relationship in our minds in order that we might act as children. A child has respect for his parent. A Christian child should have the utmost of respect (fear is pertinent here) for his heavenly Father. A child is to obey his parent. A Christian child should live In the very atmosphere of obedience toward his heavenly Father. A child is to love his parent and show that love in pleasing his parent. A Christian child should adore his heavenly Father and strive to please him, no matter what the situation might be. A child should accept discipline. A Christian child should literally pray for the discipline of the heavenly Father. (Eph. 5:1).

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol 3 No. 34 (October, 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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We continue today with our Saturday excursions into the little book by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE (1883). Today’s chapter concerns the office of the deacon in the Church.

CHAPTER IX.

DEACONS.

These officers were unknown in the Church of God until the time of the apostles. In Acts vi. is given an account of the election of the first Deacons. Being elected by the people, they come under the definition of Presbyterianism.

The elders, having charge of the spiritual concerns of the Church, could not give to temporal matters the time and attention they deserved; so they called upon the people to select

“seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)

The office thus instituted was extended over the whole Church, and has continued in the Presbyterian body unto this day.

The Deacons are subordinate to the Session, as the Session is subordinate to the Presbytery. Except the highest of all, there is no assembly which is not subject to the review of a higher body The work of the Deacons is to have care of the poor, the sick, prisoners, the property of the church and the money contributed for pious uses. This office has proved of immense benefit in the Church, and should be honored by those who occupy it, as well as by the people whom they serve.

In some branches of the Presbyterian Church godly women have been set apart to assist in the work of the Deacons, as among the sick and the poor there are many duties pertaining to this office which can be better discharged by females.

The divine authority for this office is derived principally from Romans xvi. 1, 2 : “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant” (a “ deacon ” in the original) “ of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you : for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”

Because this office was perverted and grievously abused by the Roman Church it was generally abandoned by Protestants at the Reformation, but it is now being slowly reinstated by the Church in various parts of the world.

For more resources on the diaconate, see http://pcahistory.org/bco/fog/09/resources.html

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Upon request, we are re-running this post from last year.

Remembering Dr. Harvie M. Conn [1933-1999]

[A tribute written in 1999 by Dr. Mark R. Gornik, upon Dr. Conn’s death. We are grateful to Dr. Gornik for granting permission to reproduce this tribute here today.]

He had a face turned to the city and a heart broken by the things that break the heart of God. A few days ago, Harvie Maitland Conn, pastor, missionary, seminary professor, theologian, and missiologist, completed his earthly urban pilgrimage. The cause of his death on August 28, 1999 was cancer.

From his 12 years as a missionary in Korea to his 25 years of teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia (1972-1998), Harvie Conn left a singular legacy of calling the church, especially the Reformed and evangelical communities, to Christ’s mission in the city.

It was quite possible to overlook Conn’s preceding 12 years of mission work in Korea, but only until you saw the list of books he wrote in Korean or heard him teaching in homiletics class in Korean. In Korea, his outreach to women in prostitution signaled his concern for an evangelism that saw people as both sinners and sinned against.

Dr. Conn joined the faculty of Westminster in 1972 and taught apologetics and missions. His concern for missions eventually became his full-time academic focus. As a teacher admired for his engaging pedagogical style, students also considered him among the most demanding.

In his teaching, Conn forged a transformational theology of the church and mission. Working with Reformed themes such as covenant, kingdom, and redemptive-history and in dialogue with Reformed theologians such as Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin and Edmund Clowney, Conn developed a doctrine of the church that, if implemented, would bring renewal to existing ecclesial models and the social context.

While committed to the traditions of the Reformed faith, Conn’s vision of the church was much broader. He firmly believed in the global church as a subject and not a Western object, and this influenced his theologizing.

Photograph of Dr. Harvey Conn, seated at right, speaking with an

Pictured above : Rev. Harvie Conn, at right, speaking with the Rev. Edward Kellogg during a conference break.

Much of Conn’s legacy is to be found in a considerable body of writing and editing. He was the author of a number of pacesetting books including Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue (1984). A Clarified Vision for Urban Mission: Disspelling the Urban Stereotypes (1987), and The American City and the Evangelical Church: A Historical Overview (1994). We await the publishing of The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, co-written with Westminster colleague Manuel Ortiz. [This volume appeared in 19 .]

Conn also edited books on church planting and church growth, as well as pastoral theology and hermeneutics. The most recent volume that he edited [was] entitled Planting and Growing Urban Churches. From Dream to Reality (1997), a study made especially valuable with his section introductions.

In addition, Conn wrote scores of editorials, articles, and book reviews, especially for Urban Missions Newsletter and Urban Mission Journal (founded by Roger Greenway, Conn served as editor from 1989-1999). The range of topics varied greatly and included urbanization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the role of diaconal ministry, Jonathan Edwards’ public theology, family life, church growth, youth ministry, evangelism, and parish life.

During his time at Westminster, Conn played a significant role in leading the faculty’s commitment to what was to become the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS), an effort founded by African American pastors and Bill Krispin. His contact with the students of CUTS continually shaped his thinking about ministry and theological education, just as he helped to shape women and men for the ministry.

Conn’s most enduring missiological contribution was his concentration on the importance of the city. He wanted the church to focus on the city not because it was trendy—it was not—but because he read closely both the biblical material and the demographic data, bridging them together with a focus on a third horizon, God’s mission to the cities of this world.

No longer, Conn argued, could the world be considered a global village. Instead, it is a global city. This is the church’s context and challenge, and to be effective, the church would need to sort out urban myth from fact. He not only helped to put the city on the evangelical agenda, but he changed the way we think about the city. In light of new understanding of the city, he pressed heavily for church planting and the developments of models that pointed to God’s future.

His theology of the city was drawn from a redemptive-historical or narrative framework to Scripture. When asked his “favorite” biblical text on the city, Conn replied,

“Picking one biblical text to sum up my view of urban ministry is an assignment too awesome and dangerous for me. Too awesome because wherever I turn in my Bible it shouts “urban” to me. Too dangerous because the text I might select could leave out a piece of the picture too crucial in another text and distort the whole. We need a hermeneutic serious enough to link Genesis to Revelation in the unending story of Jesus as urban lover and the church as God’s copycat.”

In many respects, Conn was driven by a concern for what he saw in Paul as a special concern for the “outsider.” This is evident from the way in which he engaged Latin American liberation theologies, North American black theology, and a variety of feminist theologies. While his criticisms were not insignificant, he saw in them a profound challenge for the evangelical church to recover the holism of the gospel.

Conn often wrote sentences like “Jesus loved the leftovers and left outs, and so should we.” This quote reflected his Christology: Jesus was the poor one who embodied the jubilee in all of its holism for the city.

Christology and urban mission, word and deed, belonged together for Conn. Features of how this played itself out are evident from this quote taken from Eternal Word and Changing World :

“Theology, if it is to become truly and comprehensively communal, must emerge from a praxis of commitment to God’s peace for the poor (1 Cor. 1:27-28). To become revolutionary and not revolutionary, our theologizing will have to validate itself and its claims in the same way Jesus validated His. His allegiance to the poor marked His preaching and was a sign of the coming of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-21). His healing of the sick and the blind and his preaching to the poor became a validation to a doubting John the Baptist of his messsianic theologizing (Matt. 11:2-6). It must become an integral part of ours as well. Where shall we begin this identification? By sitting where the poor and disenfranchised sit, in the ghettoes of our cities, in the waiting rooms of public health clinics, in the unemployment lines and welfare offices.”

One finds no better summary of what Conn took to be the obligations of the kingdom than the title of his book, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace.

Dr. Conn had several distinctive and memorable traits. One example was his, at times, frustrating propensity to work alone. Perhaps this was a result of the many frustrations he faced as an advocate for new ways of seeing and thinking about following Christ.

He was well-known for his sense of humor and hearty laugh. While a student at Westminster, I never looked for him in the library, but rather I listened for his laugh over by the periodical section. To paraphrase Langston Hughes, Conn’s laugh was like a handshake heard across the room. It was welcoming and inviting. Perhaps he was laughing at his own jokes, but that was always the best reason to laugh along.

Conn kept personal struggles such as his health very private. When he and his wife Dorothy’s poor health finally necessitated his retirement from Westminster, Conn wanted no attention drawn to his career. That was quite consistent with his character, but a disappointment to many who very much wanted to express gratitude for his influence. Never a credit taker, he always pointed away from himself and to the Christ he followed. In a Christmas letter from some years ago, he wrote: “Over forty years ago, Dottie and I chose the path of the wise men and followed His star. We have been Jesus-stargazers ever since. . . He still goes before; we still follow—not always wisely, not always obediently. But always hopeful.”

Conn loved to conclude his sermons, essays, books, and lectures with a barrage of questions. The motive for this format might have been to exercise his prophetic ministry in a less direct way. Or perhaps it was his way of saying he was helping to set an agenda, not resolving it. Probably both, and with a nod to Christ’s style in the gospels.

Here are some questions that a celebration of his life and legacy requires:
Will the church heed the Lord’s call to the global city of the next century and beyond?
Will theological education rise to the challenge?
Will we allow missions to be the guide for our theological agendas?
And in all of this, what about the poor and the excluded?
Will the church change for the sake of a gospel that is good news for the poor?

At heart, Harvie Conn was an urban evangelist who proclaimed sovereign grace so that the “world may believe” (John 17:21). His passionate focus on the gospel for the city called many, including me, to see the city as the primary site of Christ’s mission. May the witness of Conn’s Jesus stargazing in the city influence our lives so that we might faithfully proclaim and live for the One whom he followed.

Rev. Mark R. Gornik
New York City
August 30, 1999.

[Rev. Gornik now served as Director of the City Seminary of New York.]

Photo source: Presbyterian Journal Photo Collection, Box 246, file 2, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO.

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Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotland

You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States?  And that is a fair question.  But it is quickly answered by two considerations. First, this Reformed standard—The Westminster Confession of Faith—was, with few changes, the subordinate standard of all the Presbyterian denominations in the United States.  And second, the Scots-Irish immigrants who came over to this country in its earliest days held strongly to this Reformed creedal statement.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was formulated by the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e, pastors and theologians) in the mid-seventeenth century, meeting at Westminster Abby in London, England.  To the one hundred and twenty divines, primarily from the Church of England, were added nine Scottish divines from the Church of Scotland.  While the latter were seated as non-voting members of that Assembly, still their presence was felt in very effective ways during the six-year study that produced this confessional standard.

When it was adopted by the Parliament in England, it then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where it was adopted without amendment onAugust 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was adopted by both the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate in each local church, in every Presbyterian and Reformed church deriving from that tradition. Small changes have been made by conservative Presbyterian bodies in our United States which do not affect the overall doctrinal contents of the Confession. The majority of those changes were made in 1789. You can ask your pastor for more information about those changes.

The historic importance of this document is one reason why we have daily reference to it in this devotional guide, as we seek to make our friends more knowledgeable of its magnificent statements.

Words to live by: Most of the Presbyterian denominations do not require their lay members to take vows which speak of their adoption of these historical creedal standards in order to join the church.  Yet a careful study of, and acceptance of this Confession of Westminster will give you a solid foundation for understanding the doctrine and life of the Word of God.  We urge you to do so, perhaps asking for a class in your church on it, or just studying it yourself for your personal and family benefit.

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