June 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Transitional Presbytery Organized 

Someone came up with the bright idea for sure.  Why not set up a transitional presbytery for conservative Presbyterian churches who are in the process of leaving the liberal Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to join temporarily, until they decide property issues and denominational choice?

And so it was on June 20, 2007, in response to a suggestion by the conservative churches in the Wineskin organization itself, that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) voted overwhelmingly at their General Assembly to set up a New Wineskin Transitional Presbytery, to aid the varying time schedules of those churches in the PCUSA in joining it.

This new non-geographical transition presbytery was to have a five-year history to it, designed to come to a close on July 1, 2012.  At that time, all the churches in it were to make decisions about  joining the EPC, or have the opportunity to decide otherwise.  While the time has now been extended to December 31, 2013, in the light of the 2011 decision by the PCUSA General Assembly and presbyteries  to allow homosexual clergy into  church ministry, this methodology has brought many new congregations into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  From July 2010 to May 2011, twenty-six former Presbyterian Church in the USA were received into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  And that number is expected to grow.

Understandably, the UPUSA, seeing many of their congregations depart to the EPC, brought accusation of what amounted to “sheep-stealing” against the EPC.  But the latter rebutted their charges that they are only responding to legitimate requests for church fellowship from interested churches.  No evidence was ever brought forward to justify the charges of the UPUSA.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which began in 1981, continues to grow numerically from all these joining churches.  And the Transitional Presbytery organized back in 2007 was a way for departing churches to “catch their spiritual breadth,” and fully access the mutual expectations, before committing to a momentous move of affiliation.  It was a brilliant idea.

Words to Live By:  It was Solomon who first observed in Proverbs 15:22 that “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.” (NAS)   In times like these, especially in the church world, the consultation of other presbyters or elders, teaching and ruling, bring plans to fruition instead of frustration.  Don’t be afraid to contact your Session or Presbytery for help in times of need.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 17 – 19

Through the Standards: Uses of moral law agree with the gospel

WCF 19:7
“Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Charles Hodge enters into eternity

Early in July of 1878, on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 14 – 16

Through the Standards:  Special and particular uses to saved and unsaved, in the catechisms

WLC 96  — “What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
A.  The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.”

WLC 97 “What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A.  Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule to the obedience.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Covenant Presbytery begins in 1973

Covenant Presbytery was one of the original sixteen Presbyteries constituted upon the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, and it is specifically numbered as the seventh PCA Presbytery.

From the Minutes of the organizational meeting of the Covenant Presbytery (PCA), we read that the meeting was held at the First Presbyterian church of Indianola, Mississippi, at 10 AM on June 18, 1973. The host pastor, the Rev. John W. Stodghill, preached a sermon on John 17:1-26, titled “One in Christ.” Following this, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was observed, conducted by Rev. Stodghill and assisted by ruling elders of the host church.

It was a humble beginning, with only two teaching elders and seven ruling elders numbered as official participants. Another eleven ruling elders were present as observers from other area churches and an audience of some forty-seven church members also attended. The meeting proceeded with the Rev. Stodghill elected as moderator and the Rev. Robert L. Mabson, pastor of the Eastland Presbyterian church, Memphis, TN, was elected as Clerk.

At this first meeting, the new Presbytery was careful to adopt a resolution stating certain foundational principles and in particular resolving:

  1. That we, the undersigned, do covenant together to form an association to be known as Covenant Presbytery; and,
  2. That this association shall have as its purpose to perpetuate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as it is proclaimed in the Scriptures and declared in the Westminster Standards; and,
  3. That we, the undersigned, met in Indianola, Mississippi, at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, June 18, 1973.

An appended document defined the rights of particular churches, with noted attention to insuring the property rights of local congregations.

Also noted among the audience at that organizational meeting of the Covenant Presbytery were two seminary students, Mr. Tom Barnes, approved as temporary student supply for the Itta Bena and Morgan City churches and Mr. Edwin Elliott, approved as temporary student supply for the First Presbyterian church, Water Valley, MS and the Oak Ridge church, also of Water Valley, MS.

From those humble origins, the Covenant Presbytery has grown to now number fifty-three churches, making it one of the largest Presbyteries in the PCA. The Presbytery represents a total membership of nearly 9,000 communicant and non-communicant members.

Words to Live By:
Pray for this Presbytery and for the deliberations at General Assembly, as the Presbytery now comes before the 40th General Assembly this June 19-22, 2012 and seeks, under Overture 42, to incorporate churches from the dissolved Louisiana Presbytery :

OVERTURE 42 from Covenant Presbytery (to MNA)
“Expand Covenant Presbytery Upon Dissolution of Louisiana Presbytery”
Whereas, Louisiana Presbytery has initiated the process of dissolving as a presbytery; and
Whereas, Covenant Presbytery includes all of Arkansas excluding the counties of Miller,
Lafayette, Columbia, and Union, which are currently part of Louisiana Presbytery; and
Whereas, the Joining and Receiving Commission of Louisiana Presbytery has encouraged Covenant Presbytery upon their dissolution to receive these counties; and
Whereas, Covenant Presbytery has expressed a desire to see churches planted throughout Arkansas with a prayerful goal of one day planting a new presbytery in the state; and
Whereas, there are no existing churches or works in these counties;
Therefore, Be It Resolved that Covenant Presbytery respectfully overtures the 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to redraw the boundary of
Covenant Presbytery to include the whole state of Arkansas upon the dissolution of
Louisiana Presbytery.
Adopted by Covenant Presbytery at its stated meeting.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 11 – 13

Through the Standards:  Special and particular uses of the law to saved and unsaved

WCF 19:6
“Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty , it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining  themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience.  It is likewise to use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruption, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law.  The promises of it, in like manner, shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.  So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Their Plans Were Spoiled

As biblical separation took place in the mid thirties over the apostasy in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., more and more pastors and church members were struggling to hold on to their properties which they had built and paid for out of their own pockets.  This battle was expected.  They all knew that the Special Committee on Legal Procedure of the PCUSA had specifically stated that “the members of the individual Presbyterian Churches cannot by solemn resolution repudiate the authority of the PCUSA, then by subsequent resolution attempt to take their church property out of the denomination, even if their effort in so doing is unanimous.”

One church would be an exception to that rule.  The First Presbyterian Church in Leith, North Dakota, had voted unanimously on August 2, 1936 to renounce the oversight of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  Their pastor, the Rev. Samuel Allen [1899-1954], had already done so, and was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, which later on became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Despite this oneness of heart, the Presbytery of Bismarck brought suit in civil court against the leaders and people of the Leith congregation.  Their purpose was simple.  It was to gain possession of all properties of the church.  It took three years for the decision to come down from this court.  But it did come down.

On June 17, 1939, the civil court awarded the property to . . . the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church!  What made the difference between this case and all the other cases across the country?  In one word, unanimity of the congregation was the difference.   On that basis, the state court recognized that there was no schism on the vote.  And so they awarded the property to the congregation.

While there is no Orthodox Presbyterian Church today in Leith, North Dakota, there is still one in  Carson, the other preaching field of the Rev. Samuel Allen.  God has been faithful to the Presbyterian people of  faith in North Dakota.

Words to Live By: In most cases in those years, the faithful people of God, along with their pastors, had to “let goods and kindred go” as they lost their church properties.  While there were memories associated with those buildings, there were far greater memories associated with their allegiance to the Word of God.  Let us follow their example always.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 8 – 10

Through the Standards:  Uses of the moral law since the fall into sin

WLC 94 “Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A.  Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law: yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.”

WLC 95 “Of what use is the moral law to all men”
A.  The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.”

Image source : Marsden, Robert S., The First Ten Years, page 75.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Little Known Truth

Only a short period of time after the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America had passed that political resolution in 1861 about support for the Union and  President Abraham Lincoln, the southern commissioners returned to their  homes and churches.  It wasn’t long in coming, but on June 16, 1861, Dr. Jacob Henry Smith stood up in his presbytery, which was the Orange Presbytery, and proposed that steps be taken to begin a new Assembly.  By December 4, 1861, that new assembly was known as the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America.

Jacob Smith, with such a common name as “Smith,” was an uncommon man.  Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1820 of Scotch descent on his mother’s side, and German descent on his father’s side, he joined the membership of the Presbyterian Church of Lexington.  He studied at Washington College in his home town, and later, believing that God had called him into the ministry, completed his studies at Union Theological Seminary.

Entering the pastorate at Pittsylvania Courthouse in Virginia in 1846, he labored there for four years before becoming a headmaster at an academy in Halifax County.  The Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia from 1854 – 1859 next enjoyed his preaching.  Many souls entered the kingdom of grace under his ministry.

His  last congregation was the Presbyterian Church at Greensboro, North Carolina, where he labored for 40 years until his death in 1897.  Despite the civil war which raged for the first five years of his pastorate, the Word of God was not bound in any way.  Ten members went into the pastorate, including three from his own home.  It was said that he was a home in the pulpit and a model of a great preacher of the Word.

Words to Live By: Dr. Smith might have been recognized in church history  for his wise counsel to begin what later on became the Presbyterian Church of the United States.  But there was more to this fearless pastor of the Lord.  He was remember best as an expositor of the Word.  And having said that, there really is nothing else to be said, except for you reader to pray much that the challenges of each week in your pastor’s life might not hinder him from preparing adequately for the proclamation of the Bible.  That is his most important calling in life.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 5 – 7

Through the Standards:  The moral law binds everyone to obedience of it

WCF 19:5
“The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.  Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.”

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