Standards Definition

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Presbyterian Martyr in the Abolitionist Cause

This Presbyterian minister was called by some the first casualty of the Civil War. Certainly, his death on November 7, 1837 was over the primary issue of that War Between the States, namely, that of slavery. With the intriguing name of Elijah Lovejoy, the pastor of Des Peres Presbyterian Church and later, the College Avenue Presbyterian Church, was well-known in the twin states of Missouri and Illinois in the early part of the nineteenth century.

He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, but Elijah only came to faith in Christ as a young adult, while sitting under the preaching of a Presbyterian preacher. No long after, he made the decision to attend Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1833, shortly after graduation. (See April 18th historical devotional). It wasn’t his ministry in the pulpit which was so controversial. Nor was it his service as the Stated Clerk of the local Presbytery. Both of these positions were acceptable to the church world, and unexceptional in the world at large. What set him up in notoriety was that he had organized the American Anti-Slavery Society in the area. He then backed up that organization as a newspaper editor of an abolitionist paper in both St. Louis, Missouri and Alton, Illinois.

Both of these places were on the front line of this issue. Missouri was a slave state, even though all around her were free states. It was also the focal point of slave catchers who would enter into their confines to hunt down slaves who had escaped their plantations. In short, it was the center of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the population. And Elijah Lovejoy became the voice of the latter faction.

Initially, reactions against Rev. Lovejoy’s work were aimed solely at the tools of his publishing trade. The pro-slavery citizens of the area simply responded to the good Presbyterian minister by destroying the printing press of his abolitionist newspaper, which effectively stopped him from printing either the St. Louis Observer or the Alton Times. Three times, his printing press was destroyed and its parts were scattered into the Missouri River. Each time, another press was located and the abolitionist newspaper continued to be published.

As Rev. Lovejoy sought to prevent yet another attempt to hinder his work, his next printing press was moved to a warehouse building near the waterfront. This time a dozen or so law enforcement men were organized to guard it, assisted by Rev. Lovejoy, and his supporters. But the people who were determined to stop him were larger in number. There are varying reports of the ensuing skirmish. Some say that when Rev. Lovejoy tried to shove a ladder, placed there for the purposes of burning the two-story building, away from the structure, he was killed by a shotgun slug fired from the front of the building. Others say that he tried to reason with the mob on the ground floor before being shot. In either case, he was killed instantly in the ensuing gun battle. The printing press was again destroyed after his killing, and with his death, tensions continued to be inflamed. A later attempted prosecution in the courts failed to find anyone guilty.

A monument was erected in 1897 in his memory, at a cemetery in Alton, Illinois. But in the ensuing years, and particularly with the heat of national crisis in 1861–1865, in many ways Lovejoy became little more than a footnote in the nation’s history. To this day there are certainly those who work to keep alive the memory of his work, but for most, it seems he is largely forgotten.

Words to live by:  Elijah Lovejoy had a firm conviction that the righteous God would overrule the sin of slavery, for the good of black and whites alike, to say nothing of His own glory. With firm conviction, this Presbyterian clergyman became a catalyst in print for efforts to put an end to the terrible institution. He paid the ultimate price for his stand against slavery. The church today needs godly men and women to take stands against the evils of our day. Will you be one who will answer that call for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ?

Through the Scriptures:  John 11 – 13

Through the Standards: Definition of baptism in the Larger Catechism

WLC 165 — “What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ has ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of the ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection and everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Reminder to the Preachers 

With persons, places, and things of historic Presbyterianism difficult to find for this October 12, I want to follow our last devotional in the Larger Catechism (See October 4) with another emphasis on the Word of God, only this time with an emphasis to the preaching pastors of our readership.  Larger Catechism number 159 reads: “They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, and fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.”

What strikes this writer first is the biblical nature of this catechism, taking phrases straight out of Scripture. Titus 2:1 speaks of “the things which become sound doctrine.” (KJV)  Apollos, in Acts 18:25, “spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” (KJV)  The phrase “in season and out of season” come literally from 2 Timothy 4:2. That we pastors are to speak plainly thought “not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” is right out of 1 Corinthians 2:4. Making known “the whole counsel of God,” was Paul’s testimony to the Ephesians in Acts 20:28. Inspired Scripture can be found in all the remaining phrases as well.

Standing out second of all, to this retired pastor  are all the adverbs which describe the manner of our preaching, fellow pastors. We are to preach “diligently,” “plainly,” “faithfully,” “wisely,” “zealously,” and “sincerely.” Now here is a check list for us on Monday morning, as we listen again to the tape recording of our sermons the previous Sunday. (I once had the embarrassing case of falling asleep, listening to my recorded sermon the following day.  If I did that to my own preaching, what did the people do when they listened to it the first time?)  Review the adverbs of our answer, and ask yourself, do those characterize my proclamation in the pulpit?

Last, are the ends of my preaching those mentioned in this Larger Catechism?  Am I preaching sound doctrine in season and out of season?  If my people took one of those tests so often mentioned in our newspapers, would they know anything more than the poor records of Americans?  Am I depending on the Spirit and His power, and not in my own wisdom?  Is the whole counsel of God my focus, or am I riding some theological hobby-horse over and over again? Am I conscious of my people’s spiritual necessities and capacities, resulting from my in-home visitation with them? Or am I preaching over their theological heads and  hearts instead of down to their level? When it gets down to it, do I love God and my people being the people of God?  Do I aim at God’s glory, and if so, is He happy with my sermons? Is the final end their conversion, edification, and salvation?

These are questions which you alone might answer. Or, if you are really courageous, take them to a loved one, or even your ruling elders, or a beloved brother in the church, and find out their answers, and whether they agree with your answers.

Words to live by:  It is a good idea to write this catechism on the flyleaf of your Bible, and refer to it often, or place it in a noticeable place in your study, so you can use it as a guide in sermon preparation. Further than that, I tried to read a good sermon “how to” book at least once a year, taking from it principles and practices which I could incorporate into my sermons. And if you are a layperson who is reading this devotional guide this day, make the above catechism answer your prayer for your pastor in his pulpit ministry. Encourage him in these statements and compliment him when he engages in them. Lay the others matters before God. In short, your regular prayers for your pastor in the pulpit can make him a powerhouse for God in the hearts of God’s people.

Through the Scriptures:  Nehemiah 7 – 9

Through the Standards:  Definition of the visible church

WCF 25:2
“The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

WLC 62 — “What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.”


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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Adoption Act of Subscription Exceptions Added to PCA Book of Church Order

Can a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America be permitted to honestly express his reservations with  sections of the Westminster Standards to his Presbytery which do not strike at the essentials of religion before ordination? That was the question raised in the denomination, with some presbyteries allowing it and others not providing liberty for it.  The issue was settled with the following section being added upon favorable vote to the Book of Church Order’s Form of Government on June 12, 2003 at the Thirty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

“While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation of every statement and/proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good faith to receive and adopt the Confession of  Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. (cf. BCO 21:5, Q.2; 24:5, Q. 2).

“Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific instances of which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions.  The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”

The key phrase of this Adoption Act is in the last sentence “. . . only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”  Time will tell, in this contributor’s opinion,  whether “the court’s judgment” of our presbyteries will defend the faith once delivered unto the saints or allow all sorts of various doctrinal differences to slide in unnoticed into the church.

Words to Live By: How important it is to pray for the teaching and ruling elders of our Presbyterian churches that they will hold solidly to the Reformed faith, not allowing any weakening of “the vitals of religion.”  We have with sadness watched the gradual slide of other mainline Presbyterian churches into departures from the faith.  Let us not imitate them, but resist the temptation of the world, the flesh, and the devil and  stand firm and hold true “the vitals of religion.”

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 7 – 9

Through the Standards: Definition of the moral law

WLC 93 — “What is the moral law?
A.  The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.”

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