Recent Articles

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Why Do I Do This Job?

images-104Many times, people make a big deal about how it takes special people to work in special needs. On the contrary, one of my favorite quotes has become, “A child with special needs will inspire you to be a special kind of person.” God molds us into a useful vessel for His service. We may feel like the “cracked pitcher” much of the time, but miraculously, he allows us to pour out exactly what is needed at any given moment.

The special needs community was first put on my heart in high school. I’m one of the many fortunate youth who were able to work Camp Joy several summers. Through that experience, the Lord kept that ministry in the forefront of my heart. Although it was not the focus of my college studies, I have continued to work with our special friends throughout the years. I am currently a full-time, Special Needs bus driver. In this job, you learn something new every day, even after several years of service and extensive training. No two days are ever the same. These students are “my kids” and I take care and love them as if they were my own. My own children are being raised to treat everyone the same and take care of those who may be mistreated. They ride my last afternoon bus route and I get to experience the daily joy of their hearts being poured out in their simple interactions with our special friends.

For many of us our jobs are our primary ministry opportunity. For me, that means showing God’s love by truly caring for my students and their support team of parents, teachers and other co-workers. One day, several years ago, a parent asked me, “Why do you do this job?” I responded simply with, “It’s where God led my heart!” She smiled thoughtfully at my response and thanked me for making her child feel so loved. As the year continued, she would ask me questions about m y faith. Eventually, she said that she had started to attend a local church, where she and her child with special needs felt completely welcomed. Moments like those add to the many reasons why I love my job.

Why do I find pleasure ministering to special needs children and their families? There are many reasons. The loving mother in me cares so much for these kids. I make sure I greet each one in the morning with a smile and let them know how happy I am to see them. As each departs in the afternoon, I do the same in wishing them a great night and I’ll see them tomorrow! Since our routes are so spread out, we are given a long time with them on the bus. We learn their likes, dislikes, positive/negative triggers and their overall personalities. We learn the best ways to love and care for them, not only through daily interactions with them, but also through their parents and teachers. For some of them, sadly, I may be the only smiles and love they receive throughout the day.

Ephesians 4:16 describes the Church as “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Each m ember of the Body is essential, and has a vital role to play. Whether that member is an adult, teen, or covenant child, each brings a unique set of gifts and calling to the whole. I don’t see myself gifted as a public speaker, fancy teacher or Bible scholar. I can show love in all the ways the Lord has equipped my heart, mind & soul. I can include people and teach on my own level. My calling and life passion is to show God’s love in all I do while using my specific abilities for His purpose. I have a passion for my job. I believe the things we have a passion for are not random, they are our calling. I truly feel that I am exactly where God has called me to be and I thoroughly feel that I am making a difference for Him!

Jenn Locke is a pastor’s wife serving at the First ARP Church in Tucker, Georgia and currently the Second Presbyterial President. She works full time for the Gwinnett County Public School System as a special needs bus driver. She and her husband, Tony, have 4 children.

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Wheels for the World

0116 ron brothersWheels for the World (WFTW) is one of the ministries of Joni and Friends. My involvement for the last 12 years includes the collection of wheelchairs in the upstate of South Carolina and western North Carolina as well as the distribution of the wheelchairs in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The Ministry includes the Chair Corps team that is a nationwide network of volunteers that collect used, but restorable, wheelchairs. The wheelchairs are transported to restoration shops located in our nation’s correctional facilities, where inmates restore them to their original usefulness. Finally, the wheelchairs are shipped to distribution sites worldwide. There, outreach teams make sure each recipient is carefully fitted to a wheelchair that meets their individual needs.

The Joni and Friends Wheels for the World program is changing lives … one wheelchair at a time. There are 4 major steps that make the WFTW program work.

Donated Chairs

The volunteer organization, called Chair Corps, collects used wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes.

Transportation

Donated wheelchairs and other mobility equipment are transported from local collection sites to the restoration shops in correctional facilities. Once they’ve been restored, they are transported again, from the restoration shops to the ports of departure.

Restoration

Wheels for the World currently restores wheelchairs at 15 correctional facilities, located in 12 different states. These prisons include federal, state, and private institutions. Inmates are trained to restore wheelchairs to like-new condition. The inmates learn teamwork and the mechanical skills required to produce a product that makes a difference in someone’s life. Hardened inmates have been moved to tears when they see the photo of a little boy or girl receiving a wheelchair they helped provide.

Distribution

After wheelchairs have been restored to like-new condition, they are shipped to countries like Dominican Republic, Haiti, China, Cuba, Romania, Ghana, Thailand, and India.

At the distribution sites in these countries, the volunteer teams of disability specialists fit each wheelchair to the recipient and provide training in its use and upkeep. Recipients also receive a Bible in their language and the message of God’s love.

Ron McKnight is a member of Pinecrest Presbyterian Church in Flat Rock, NC.

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Rejection of the Old Paths

images-102The statistics are alarming. Research organizations such as the Barna Group report that the percentage of residents in the United States who don’t attend church has increased by 30% over the last decade. Other data only increases the concern. Studies by several groups indicate that the actual percentage of the US population worshipping in churches on any given Sunday morning is just under 18%. Research related to these studies leads to the conclusion that even those who are considered committed church members attend church much less frequently than in the past.

Alarm over national statistics can give way to outright panic when a pastor realizes that attendance is steadily declining in the church he serves on Sunday mornings. Elders and church members alike may wonder out loud, “What is wrong?” and, “How can we fix this?” It is a fair question: How does a church respond to apparent decline?

In some churches, the default response has to do with staff. New personalities, new faces, and new voices are the key to reenergizing the church! A new preacher with charisma is the ticket! Another approach in recent decades has been to import whatever programs and methodologies seem to be “working” at churches like Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or, more commonly of late, from any number of megachurches whose pastors have reached celebrity status. When the new programs that worked in Chicago, or Southern California, or New York City don’t bring much change to small towns and rural churches in other parts of the country, yet another approach may be tried: Change the worship style!

In the face of this, the word of God through the prophet Jeremiah comes to mind:”…My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13) Is this not precisely what we do as God’s people when, out of a proper concern for the effectiveness and faithfulness of the ministry of His church, we turn first to personalities, methodologies, and ministry styles, rather than humbling ourselves before God and examining our hearts and ministries in light of His word?

The Moderator’s theme this year is “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths,” and the emphasis for this month is “Insight into a willful rejection of Old Paths.” Could it be that instinctively turning to the latest, most popular methodologies in church ministry out of concern for the effectiveness of the ministry of the church is a willful rejection of “Old Paths?” I’m not suggesting that there are no helpful programs of ministry which might help sharpen the ministry focus of our churches. Neither am I suggesting that we cannot or should not learn from others in ministry. But I wonder, when our default response to declining attendance, or lack of new members, or similar concerns, is to look for a program, or a strategy, or a personality to “turn around the church,” if we lack trust in the means God has promised to bless in building His church. Rather then looking for something “new” to effect change, should we not first examine whether or not we have even tried the “Old Paths”?

Old Paths

What are the “Old Paths?” The faithful ministry of the means of grace is the most important place to begin an examination of any church’s ministry. Is the word of God being faithfully preached? Are pastors offering more than moral instruction or, worse, clever homilies that are meant to entertain a congregation? Is Christ Himself being proclaimed and the free offer of the gospel held forth before sinners so that redemption is celebrated and offered week by week to the glory of God? In my own ministry of preaching, I have recently realized that clear explanation of the gospel from the pulpit is not the same as issuing the gospel call and pleading that sinners should repent and turn to the Lord. Our forebears in the Seceder Church emphasized the absolute importance of the free offer of the gospel. This is a goodly heritage, and to neglect this “Old Path” of faithful gospel preaching is surely to reject one of the primary means that God has given for the building of His church.

Hearers of the Word

Of course, an effective ministry of the word requires more than a faithful preacher. There must be faithful hearers. The Westminster Shorter Catechism exhorts hearers of the Word of God to “attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.” (Q. #90) If there seems a dullness to the ministry of the word in our churches, the need may not only be for the minister to recommit himself to the faithful preaching of Christ, but also for church members to give themselves to a more faithful preparation for and participation in worship. If our weekends are so full that we take no time to prepare spiritually for worship; if we stay up late into the night on Saturday, with no attention given to the word of God and to prayerful confession and repentance, if we do not plead for His blessing upon our worship on the Lord’s Day, then perhaps we should expect worship to be nothing more than a perfunctory, lifeless exercise of duty. Yet our God has called us to so much more than this! If we neglect the “Old Path” of faithful anticipation and preparation for worship, and the hearing of His word in our observance of the Lord’s Day, where will we find refreshment in the joy of our salvation? Would we turn to entertaining personalities or some hip new church program for this? Would that not be turning to broken cisterns that hold no water, while our God has offered us “the fountain of living waters”?

Prayer

Of course, prayer is essential to the ministry of the word. In fact it under girds the exercise of all the other means of grace. Prayer for the preaching and the hearing of the word is vitally important. What is more, prayer is indispensable for the ministry of evangelism. Is there anything more obvious than that we should gather for prayer when we are concerned for any matters in the worship and life of our church? When there is concern for declining attendance and evangelistic effectiveness in the church, a humble, passionate pleading with God in prayer by the church family should be the first priority. But to which are we more likely to turn: A new strategy or program to generate some excitement or interest in the church, or a call for the church family to meet to pray to God that He would draw sinners to Christ through the ministry of the church? For which do we have a biblical mandate? I hope the answer is obvious.

Sacraments

The sacraments are also important means of grace. But even as these well known priorities of Scripture are presented, it may be easy to think, “Of course we preach and teach Scripture, and pray, and administer the sacraments. Tell us something new we can try!” But I have more than a hunch that all too often our people have become accustomed to “sermonettes” and even prefer these to faithful, biblical expository preaching of Christ from the Scripture. I greatly fear that our prayer meetings, if they are held, are more a rehearsal of the sick list of the church before God than a passionate pleading for the outpouring of His saving and sanctifying power upon H is church. I can’t help but think that there may even be some in our churches who resent the fact that the administration of the sacraments prolongs our time in worship, because we prefer to think of Sunday as a day that contains “the Lord’s hour,” rather than as the Lord’s Day.

And all the while we are wanting a new strategy, or a new personality, to brighten up the programs and the prospects of the church, we may, wittingly, or unwittingly, be rejecting the “Old Paths” which our God has given in His word as paths of righteousness for His people and paths of blessing for His church. We may not even have tried them! This should be more alarming to us than any set of statistics, or even a declining attendance in our own churches. In fact, as we give ourselves to the “Old Paths,” we should be reminded that our God has called us to be concerned with faithfulness in these. When we are faithful, He will bring fruit that w ill last, whether or not that fruit is seen in increasing attendance, or conversions, or excitement in our churches. Our part is to faithfully and continually turn to the “fountain of living waters” rather then hewing our own broken cisterns that will never hold water! Return to the Ancient Paths!

Rev. Rob Patrick is the pastor of Bartow ARP Church in Bartow, FL.

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Now is the Time to Impact the Future of the ARP

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.25.49 PMEvery agency director in the ARP tells me it makes sense to have adequate financial resources in place to sustain current program operations and open new works within the ARPC. New opportunities stretch our resources and can put current operations at risk. To that point, I had a generous donor tell me the key to expanding and growing the good works in any organization – our churches and all ARP Agencies – is sustainable resources: “decades of excellent staff work can be wiped away in one bad year of funding” and went on to encourage planned giving and endowments in our plans for future growth.

Endowing projects secures the present, and lets us dream for the future! The ARP Foundation has received many such gifts that will impact the future: A recent $100,000 gift to ONA for part-time youth pastors leveraged matches from three small churches for another $90,000; A $20,000 gift of a low performing CD would endow a full scholarship to graduate a nurse from the ARP Hospital in Pakistan from now on and provide a 6% annual return to the donor for life. A gift of $15,000 endows a total annual scholarship for students attending the Pakistan School. A recent unexpected gift of $20,000 grew our Dunlap Pastor’s Adoption Assistance fund to a level it can now begin spending the interest! A gift of stock generated a total $90,000 to build a new church in Turkey – totally paid for!

The ARPC enjoys faithful and generous support from our members for the many opportunities that the Lord opens to take the Gospel into our communities and across the Globe. As we work together to build our infrastructures to support church staff, ministries and missionaries in the ARPC, we are also wise to also develop financial strategies to sustain what God has already established. Planned Gifts and bequests can be used to endow virtually any ministry purpose – large, or small – all can have a profound ongoing impact on the Gospel and the Denomination.

For that very purpose, the ARP Foundation was created to serve individuals, churches, presbyteries and ARP Agencies with a full menu of gift planning services at no-cost, as a financial ministry of Synod: 100% of funds given to the Foundation go to your choices of ministries: no fees, no commissions, no product sales.

Taxes can often be reduced, provision for our families secured, and without affecting monthly, annual gifts or tithing, anyone – young or old – can make a bequest to the ministries you choose; many can make a gift from their assets now and see the results! 85% of planned gifts are not deferred, but can go to work now for ministry during your lifetime. The most common gifts are bequests life Insurance policies, appreciated stocks, land & real estate – often set-up without an attorney.

The ARP Foundation exists to serve you to help reach your financial goals and fund the Kingdom. If you want to explore possibilities, please contact Steve Nichols 864-232-8298 or visit our website arpsynod.plannedgiving.org

 

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Planned Giving for Millennials

1115 cover horizontalMy wife Heather, and I find ourselves in the generation of Millennials characterized by emotional giving because it’s trendy to give if emotions are in it, or by not-giving because they do not think they can afford it, or just not want to give at all.

Many Millennials have compounded college loans with debt from credit cards for laptops, smart phones, and other Millennial “essentials”. The typical graduates shoulder a load of debt that really does block their ability to give now, much less invest in their future, and are even psychologically crippled to focus on any financial needs beyond their own.

I talked to a student the other day who said he could not give to his church because he wants to focus on paying his loans off first. He is an Engineering intern, lives at home and makes more than I do. The same Millennial giving mindsets even shapes their future by thinking in order to give to church, we have to set their lives in order first – reliable car, 3 bedroom house and no student loans.

My wife and I are both extremely blessed and grateful to our parents to graduate from Clemson and Erskine debt free. Because of that freedom, we are now both able to work part time and support ourselves. There is no doubt freedom from debt helps encourage our conviction to give to God first and trust that He will provide our basic needs – needs not wants. So for us, giving isn’t optional. Not only has Christ given himself for our salvation, but also God put people in our lives who graciously supported us in times of need. Giving is a way for us to obey the Lord and demonstrate a heart of thankfulness for what others have done for us – most of all the Lord Jesus.

Even with our modest incomes, we recently opened a Roth IRA. We are not able to stash millions, and never plan to, but we wanted to make some preparation for the future. I honestly had no clue I could be a planned giver at 25 years old and a pastor. We had the desire to give and applied a simple strategy suggested by the ARP Foundation to keep growing the Roth’s tax free with access to our little nest egg if we needed it, but to also designate a percentage to World Witness. When we opened the account I asked the question, “Am I storing up treasures on earth?” After I realized I could be a planned giver, I saw I could prepare for the future and give to God at the same time.

It was so easy! It took little effort on my part. I went to my banker and told her what I wanted to do. She printed off some papers, I signed them and just like that I made a planned gift. But that was just the technical part.

It was not easy spiritually. When I was heading to the bank, I kept thinking of all the reasons why I should not make the changes on our account. “What if there isn’t enough for Heather? What if we have kids and they need the money in the future? What if…what if…” It took the grace of God in our hearts to trust that God will provide for Heather, and our future kids. It took trust in the Lord that he could use that money to bless the work of gospel ministry through World Witness in the future and that our family would be okay. The enemy does not want the work of gospel ministry to expand and he knows that the money idol is a big one for everybody. Do not give in but GIVE, GIVE, GIVE, to God. John Piper said, “Go, send or disobey.” For now, we are senders.

We believe the call to lead in ministry means that we do more than preach, and teach. If we want the people we shepherd to be generous givers, we should be givers. Peter said that elders should shepherd by example (1 Peter 5). We try to be “lavish givers” in the words of John Piper but we also have basic needs to meet. Planned Giving was a way we believed we could lead by example, take a step of faith in God, and act now for the kingdom.

Walker Suits is the pastor of Travelers Rest ARP Church Plant in Travelers Rest, SC.

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Insight into the Sabbath Rest

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.58.13 PM The theme for the ARP denomination this year is “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths.” The theme is based on Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus says the Lord, stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is. And walk in it. Then you will find rest for your souls.”

In Jeremiah 6:16, God is calling the people of Judah to turn from their own sinful ways and back to His ways. The picture is of a person at a road intersection, having to choose a particular road to follow. God calls His people to pause and consider the road they will choose, essentially God’s road (the old or ancient paths) or the other roads that are not of God – “Stand in the ways and see.” The verse teaches that following God’s ways leads to “finding rest for our souls.” Unfortunately, the Israelites chose their own way, the road leading to finding no soul rest; “we will not walk in it” (Jer. 6:16d) was their response.

One of these old/ancient paths of God that rest our souls is devotion to the Sabbath. We often think of the Sabbath as “Sunday” since that is the day Christians are to observe it. Common questions today are: is the Sabbath really important in the Bible?; is it really important to me as a Christian today?; does it really apply to the contemporary church? Let’s answer those questions one by one.

First, its Biblical importance. In the Ten Commandments, the Fourth Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” – Exodus 20:8-11. Simply that God chose the keeping of the Sabbath as one of the Ten Commandments speaks of its vast importance. As B.B. Warfield wrote, “The presence of the Sabbath commandment in the midst of this series of fundamental human duties, singled out to form the compact core of the positive morality divinely required of God’s peculiar people, is rather its commendation to all people of all times as an essential element in primary human good conduct.” All of the Ten Commandments came from God and all are, therefore, equally important.

The Sabbath’s Biblical importance is further seen in the fact that God instituted the Sabbath just after He finished His creative work (Ex. 20:11; Gen. 2:2-3). God, as a Spirit, did not need rest ,we people do. However, God rested on the seventh day in order to establish a permanent pattern for mankind to follow. This fact is given as the underlying basis for the fourth commandment – “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). The Sabbath is a “creation ordinance” since it is grounded in God’s creative work and therefore applies to all people for all times.

Made for Man

The Lord Jesus puts His own stamp on the importance of the Sabbath when He states that, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Jesus expressly stated that the moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, is in effect for all times – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).

The Biblical importance of the Sabbath is the same today as it has been since God instituted it on the seventh day of creation.

Why is the Sabbath significant now in your life as a Christian and in the life of the contemporary church? “Sabbath profanation has of late years been making progress with fearful rapidity…” wrote Robert Shaw. One would think Shaw wrote this today; he actually wrote it in 1845 to describe declining Sabbath observance in Scotland. Today, it is harder than ever to observe the Sabbath. In recent decades, Sunday has become simply another day in the week. Most employers no longer close on Sunday, businesses are open for “business as usual”, and the options for entertainment on Sunday are just as numerous as the other six days. It was not that long ago that a small degree of Sabbath observance in the United States was built in to the fabric of society – a vestige of a country founded on Christian values. Not today. So why is the Sabbath still significant in your life and in the life of the church you attend – despite what the world says?

A Blessing

First, we must understand that God gave us the Sabbath as a blessing. “The Lord blessed the Sabbath day” (Exod. 20:11). We are to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isa. 58:13). Jesus stated, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). Many Christians see Biblical Sabbath observance not as a benefit but as a burden or restriction on what they would like to do on Sundays. This is a faulty view. John the Apostle tells us that God’s commands “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). James tells us that true freedom and blessing for the Christian is actually found in following God’s “law of liberty” (James 1:25). As John Murray wrote, “…liberty consists in being captive to the Word and law of God. All other liberty is not liberty but the thraldom of servitude to sin.” Psalm 119:44 tells us that we walk at liberty when we seek God’s precepts in our life.

Needed

Second, we must understand that God made the Sabbath because you and I need it. Why do you and I need the Sabbath? Two reasons: as John Murray stated, “It is…a rest from the ordinary employments of the other six days. But it is also a rest to and rest in the Lord.”

Exodus 20:9-10 commands that we do our normal work six days of the week – “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work” – but we are to rest and not perform that work on the Sabbath – “but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” B.B. Warfield wrote, “Unbroken toil is not good for us: the recurrence of a day of rest is of advantage to us, physically, mentally, spiritually.” I have a friend who has worked in carpentry for years. We are both the same age. Not long ago a member of my family ran into him at a local store. The family member later asked me why my friend looked so much older than me. The answer came to me suddenly; he had worked seven days a week most weeks for a number of years in a row. God made us humans as creatures who need mental and physical rest from our worldly occupations and recreations one day in seven. God rested Himself on the seventh day of creation to set a precedent for humankind to follow since God made us to need that day of rest. So, as Murray wrote, the Sabbath, “…is…a rest from the ordinary employments of the other six days.”

Rest

Murray continued, “But it is also a rest to and rest in the Lord.” This is the second reason why we need the Sabbath. Warfield wrote, “We are to rest from our own things that we may give ourselves to the things of God. Man’s true rest is not a rest from human, earthly labor, but a rest for divine heavenly labor.” It is “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) and not our day. Thus, it only makes sense that we totally orient ourselves to God on His day. We are to “remember it to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8) by public and private worship, by focusing our thoughts and words on the things of God, and by performing works of necessity and mercy. We find true rest for our souls in this manner. We humans are comprised of two parts: physical/body and spiritual/soul (Rom. 8:10). Did you know you need spiritual/soul rest as much as you need physical rest? Jesus said so in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Our Saviour expressly says here that we are to come to Him for soul rest. One of the main ways we “come to Jesus” for soul rest is by dedicating our Sabbath to God and the things of God so that our spiritual batteries can be recharged.

You and I NEED the Sabbath. We need that one day in seven to rest our tired bodies and minds from the daily grind of the other six days. Also, we need the Sabbath to rest our weary souls by purposefully directing ourselves to the things of God.

What about the contemporary church? Is the Sabbath important for the church in 2015? Yes. Today’s Church needs the Sabbath just as much, and possibly more so, than in previous times. As I said earlier, we are busier than ever before and the world is pressing in on us more than ever. Sunday is simply another day in the week for society today. Without intentionally setting aside one day in seven for God our religion will necessarily deteriorate. C.S. Lewis said, “It is only in the presence of God that we learn to behave ourselves. And, when the sense of His presence is diminished, humanity tends to lark about.” One of the sources of the modern church’s “larking about” is a lack of emphasis on Sabbath observance where we intentionally push back from the world and intentionally enter into God’s presence. In 1890 Robert L. Dabney remarked about the state of religion in part of Protestant Germany where the Sabbath had been rejected, “…leaving the populace without a weekly rest and without Christianity. Experience proves that to neglect the Sabbath day is virtually to neglect religion.” Green wrote in his Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, “No Sabbath, no religion, is a maxim which you may safely apply, both to individuals and to communities” – and, I would add, to churches also.

There is much talk these days about “church revitalization” in denominational circles, including in our denomination. One of the key ways to see our churches revitalized is by Sabbath observance in the church. Sunday mornings at church is often mostly taken care of in regard to the Sabbath. Sunday school and worship are vital in Sabbath observance. However, what about Sunday evenings? Ending the day in congregational worship or Bible study and prayer is a great built in help to our churches on the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath includes the entire day – “remember the Sabbath day” (Exod. 20:8).

When Sunday morning and evening times are set at church, that leaves a few hours in the afternoon. What do we do with that time? Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #60 states, “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except

so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”

Practically speaking, how do we follow this in 2015? There is much that could be said here but I will give just a few points to consider.

  • First, recognize that God fully gives us the grace to follow any of His commands, including the Sabbath – pray for God to help you make the Sabbath a priority and He will. For families, it will take some prior planning on Saturday to ensure details that would detract from Sabbath observance are minimized. Husbands should help their wives to ensure she gets as much of a Sabbath as possible.
  • Second, over lunch and in the afternoon, instead of idle discussion, steer your conversations toward the sermon or Sunday school lesson.
  • Third, some tough decisions may be necessary with regard to sports practices, games, etc. Trust that God will honor those tough decisions we make for His glory on the Sabbath.
  • Fourth, turn the TV off and pick up your Bible or some devotional reading.
  • Fifth, go visit someone that needs to be shown Jesus’ love – at their home, in a nursing home, hospital, etc. Doing any of these things will easily take up those few hours in the afternoon before Sunday evening church activities and you and your family will experience the blessing of having your souls refreshed in doing them.

What if you have a job that is a “work of necessity” on Sunday (pastor, nurse, fireman, dairy farmer, etc.)? Make sure you take another day for the Sabbath. There are other questions you may have about the Sabbath in regard to your specific life situation and I would encourage you to work through those questions with your pastor.

One final point of importance. As we observe the Sabbath we are reminded that our ultimate rest as Christians awaits in heaven (Heb. 4:3-11). Geerhardus Vos wrote, “The Sabbath…teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond.” As Peter put it, “…according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). During the time of the Apostles the day of observing the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday to mark Jesus rising from the dead on Sunday. Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25) and, as we faithfully observe the weekly Sabbath, we are reminded that we will be raised with Him to glory. Charles Hodge said, “[The Sabbath] is the day…to rejoice in the hope of [Christ’s] salvation.” We Christians need such a reminder every week (if not every day) where we then freshly rejoice in this great hope of our own resurrection to glory with Jesus.

The promise of God is that if we choose His “ways/paths” we will find that “soul rest” we all so desperately need. One of those “old paths” is making the Sabbath a priority in our personal life and in the life of the church.

Rev. Stuart Fowler is the pastor of Crowders Creek ARP Church in Gastonia, NC. He is married to Dana and they have three children Steven (14), Samuel (10), and Carolanne (5).

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Who Are We?

By: Nathan M. Frazier, Ph. D.

images-90Our Scottish roots tap into the powerful Reformation emphases on grace, the Puritan attentiveness to the affections of the heart, and evangelical zeal for the revival of Church and nation. This identity of fierce piety and fervent ministry did much to transform the lives of thousands of ordinary Scots, many of whom would establish America. Those old roots bear relevance today for our Synod and nation; they should motivate us to embrace our identity and energize us in our calling to biblical faithfulness and mission in presenting the Gospel!

Living in Charlotte, I regularly observe many automobile bumper stickers; some good, many not so good. What they all have in common is that these bumper stickers say something about “who” owns the vehicle and how they wish to be identified. People yearn for identity and belonging, don’t they?

It is always good to recall why we post our bumper sticker of “grace alone” for all to see. Given our Synod’s roots, we insist that our denomination’s identity is founded in the Gospel of grace: embracing it, living it, and preaching it. The eighteenth-century defined our Synod’s identity and in a time of great change, Scotland’s people experienced anew their belonging to God. How did this happen?

In the decade preceding the formation of the Associate Presbytery, a controversy arose over a book. It communicated weighty doctrines in a readable way, outlining the nature of the Gospel and its application within the Christian life in the form of a dialogue between an evangelical (a biblically informed believer), a legalist (believing himself to be saved by obedience alone), and an antinomian (believing that grace abrogates the Law’s obligations on the Christian). Written by a Puritan layman, “E.F.”, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (1645) was written around the time of our Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). The Marrow was edgy, but biblically balanced. It utilized numerous quotations by well-known theologians from Calvin to the Puritans. Providentially, it would satisfy the eighteenth-century soul as it encouraged a Gospel identity. Yet it also provoked controversy in Scotland’s Church.

 

Marrow Controversy

To understand the enduring imprint left by the controversial Marrow on our Synod, some context is necessary. With the 1690 legal “settlement” of Presbyterianism as the religion of the land, the Church of Scotland thought of itself as doctrinally pure. The nation assumed a Christian status of a “godly commonweal,” appointed by God to lead other nations. A nominal Christianity stood at the center of social life. Moreover, Scotland was to experience a tidal wave of socio-political change and theological declension. By 1707, the Scottish nation had unwillingly assimilated into the United Kingdom and questions regarding the monarchy’s support of Protestant (evangelical) Christianity loomed large. The ruling class determined pastoral calls, not the congregation. To make matters worse, biblical doctrine began to be dulled by lifeless orthodoxy, and pastoral incompetency.

Scotland’s Church in the first quarter of the eighteenth-century was not struggling with subscription to its confessional standards. While there were the rare few who challenged Trinitarian doctrine, or advocated antinomianism, the Church had become not so much theologically liberal as stale and ingrown! Pastors lacked spiritual vibrancy and preached boring messages that failed to inspire the reverence and awe of God. In turn, coolness emerged in pulpit and pew instead of the warmth of the prayerful, introspective, Spirit-filled life defined by the Bible. Ministers and congregations were careless with the Gospel, stifling its accessibility toward those who didn’t bear the markings of a pre-conceived holiness. Many ministers simply believed that it was their “job” to officiate services, rather than to communicate the most important message that the world will ever hear: the unconditional application of grace in the Gospel to sinners who must only receive it.

It was in this environment that rumblings about the doctrine of grace began as early as 1717 in an insignificant and hard to pronounce place called Auchterarder, during a presbytery meeting of all things! There the precedent had been set that divine grace preceded any action of a person in matters of salvation, and affected how the Christian was to live. It was in this context that perhaps Scotland’s greatest pastor-theologian, Thomas Boston (1676-1732), recommended the Marrow to fellow ministers in order to encourage balanced and passionate Gospel preaching. Then in 1718, the Marrow was republished.

Immediately the edginess of the Marrow ignited controversy. When sound bites from famous theologians are used without context misunderstanding inevitably occurs. Ministers took sides, and without the aid of the Internet, “blogging” in those days was conducted through mass printings of pamphlets. Committees were assigned and charges leveled within the Church’s courts. Soon the denominational theologian James Hadow (1667-1747) presided over a sub-committee for preserving Scotland’s perceived “purity of doctrine.” By the spring of 1720, the General Assembly condemned the book and prohibited ministers from even recommending due to its perceived antinomianism.

Marrowmen

All of this motivated, in 1721, a small group of ministers (known as the “Marrowmen”) to appeal the Church’s decision. They sought to rectify the perceived confusions about the book and God’s sovereign grace as a motivation for obedience instead of a result of obedience. The debate concerned the nature of Reformed (covenant) theology’s application in preaching and the Christian life. The Marrowmen ably defended the book’s doctrinal emphases: that there were no conditions to God’s extending of His covenant of grace; that the atonement particularly applied to the elect and; that saving faith, repentance, and holiness are not prerequisites for God to save sinners. Therefore, they reasoned, the gospel was to be offered unconditionally to all people, but by sovereign grace it would be the elect alone who receive it. This assurance of God’s handling of salvation, they urged, should motivate preaching to the lost as well as stirring believers to greater, joyous, obedience.

While failing to sway the opinion of the ecclesiastical court, historians have shown that the Marrow’s defenders were in fact in harmony with the Westminster Confession. While their appeal rendered little immediate impact on Scotland’s Church, the divisive effects of the controversy garnered national attention—as did the book and the men who defended it!

Three of the Marrowmen—Thomas Boston, along with Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine—were marginalized through denominational politics but never acquiesced in preaching the majesty of the Gospel, that it was anything but unconditional grace to sinners! Although isolated to pulpits of little prestige, these men did what God had called them to do. The Erskines outlived Boston, and remained committed themselves to the faithful proclamation of Gospel and its application in the Christian life. They exposed their congregations to sovereign grace, believing “all Scripture to be God breathed out and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness, that the child of God would be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Sadly the national Church grew theologically colder, its profession but a posturing of a national identity as “Scotland’s Kirk,” failing to identify with or influence a booming and urbanizing population. Ebenezer and several others wearied of working within an institution that continued to abandon its evangelical identity of preaching unconditional grace, and thus formed the Associate Presbytery in 1733.

This new presbytery, devoid of buildings and finances, envisioned the Lord’s Church in Scotland as it ought to be: fierce in her piety and fervent in her ministry of the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. In order for ministry to be effective it had to be authentic, filled with the Holy Spirit, and passionate about God pouring out his grace on actual sinners from his Word. Soon Ralph would join his brother Ebenezer along with many other men in calling Scotland back to the doctrines of grace, never veering from Reformed theology’s identity of evangelical zeal conveyed from pulpit to pew, and from pew into society.

Revival

Yes, the Associate Presbytery was defined by faithful biblical preaching and Westminster Confession Calvinism, things that summarize biblical, evangelical doctrine. But the presbytery, amidst incredible societal instability, demonstrated its theological identity as more than just that. In its love for people, they called upon God publicly for national revival and to such ends they made their identity known by an Act Concerning the Doctrine of Grace and a national covenant in 1744. The Erskines traveled throughout Scotland gathering those disenchanted with mere religiosity. And gather they did! They preached to any who would listen. They called down the heavens in prayer for people to embrace the Gospel, for the nation to receive Christ. Soon, Scotland was ablaze with revival.

In time the Associate Presbytery transformed into hundreds of congregations, multiple presbyteries, eventually dividing into synods, and sending pastors to evangelize the new world. Ralph and Ebenezer did not simply affiliate themselves with the Marrow; they deeply understood the Gospel’s emphasis on sovereign grace, imparting it from pulpit to pew, from pew to society. Their legacy of a Gospel identity is admirable. It is also one that we must aspire to possess and to impart to our churches and nation!

Rev. Nathan M. Frazier has been the pastor of a growing congregation in Charlotte for the past five years, King’s Cross Church. He is married to Sara and has three boys, Ethan (7), Titus (4), Josiah (2). A graduate of Toccoa Falls College (1998), Erskine Theological Seminary (2000, 2001), Nathan was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh (UK) in Ecclesiastical and Modern History in 2009. Always wishing to be a farmer, he maintains an urban farm with crops, chickens, and ducks in Charlotte.

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The Need to Consider the Ancient Paths

images-89As I begin to write today, the Supreme Court of the United States has just announced the ruling in the case of Obergefell v Hodges, the matter of homosexual marriage. The public reaction has been predictable.

For my part, I am impressed again of the need to hear and to consider carefully the theme for our denomination this year: “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths.” The theme comes from Jeremiah 6:16; “Thus says the Lord, stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is. And walk in it. Then you will find rest for your souls.”   Will there be rest for souls because of this court ruling? I doubt it.

Jeremiah, called the “weeping prophet,” brought a prophetic vision of a “boiling pot” that will break forth on the inhabitants of the land. This comes because Israel ” has forsaken Me, says the Lord. Burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.”(Jeremiah 1:13-16)   Will we “stand in the ways and see” and repent?

Way-Marker

The “Ancient Paths” or “way-markers,” to which we should look are biblical truths and the experience of Holy Spirit conversion. Last month Rev. Matt Lucas reminded us of the beginning and essential pentecostal experience.   Without the Holy Spirit’s work in the inner man, one cannot come to Jesus or understand the Law of God.

In the following pages, Dr. Nathan Frazier explains the “way-marker” laid out by Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, and the commitment of our “old fathers” in understanding the compulsion of Christian experience.   When the gospel is preached and freely offered to sinners, revival is the result.

The experience of revival is part of who we are as Associate Reformed Presbyterians. Conversions have filled our churches in the past and have supplied missionaries and ministers. Erskine College has been transformed by revival movements in past years. Today the ARP Church needs to be warmed, yes thawed, by another revival experience.

Revival

Also, in this issue, Cathy Wilson has written of the experience of Mrs. Katherine Neal Dale. Mrs. Dale was raised in a Christian home where the foundations of faith were laid. While a student at Due West Female College (1890) there was a group of students who began to pray. The group became larger as time went on and a revival began so that it could be said that “the movement grew in spiritual momentum, and before the close of the week every student in both institutions had been brought into the fold of Christ.” During this revival, Mrs. Dale sensed her call to prepare for Christian missions as a doctor. This is who we are; this evangelistic and missional outlook, the result of prayer and revival, is a “way-marker” for the ARP Church today.

In the January 2007 issue of The Associate Reformed Presbyterian, Jack Heinsohn, a former chaplain at Erskine College, reports of a revival which took place in Due West. “…a group [of faculty and students] began meeting at 6 a.m. in the chapel in old Bonner Hall to pray for world missions. The group also began meeting on Saturday afternoon, as many as 100 students showed up.” Then, Heinsohn reports, the ministers at the Due West ARP Church and the Due West Baptist Church became involved. An experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the town, including a visit and preaching by a young Billy Graham. This is who we are as ARPs and this is the best of Erskine College in its influence of the denomination. We are true Pentecostals! Look at this “old path,” observe the powerful experience of conversion and Holy Spirit revival. And note, such conversion and revival begins with fervent prayer.

Will you organize a prayer meeting to pray for your pastor, your congregation, and your community? Focus your prayer and see if God, by His Spirit, will come on your church, Erskine College, our missions, and church planting. Perhaps this is how God will begin to address the rebellion of our culture and our institutions.

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Insight for Hopeful Ministry Today

The Motivation of Pentecost
by Matt Lucas

Gospel ministry in the church is an impossible task. The church is comprised exclusively of sinners. We are broken, weak, and corrupt. As we minister to one another, we discover wounded souls filled with pain, bitterness, pride, and jealousy. Pastors see fragile marriages, disunity among leaders, and factions that divide congregations. Turning outward from the church to the world, ministry doesn’t get any easier. Most Christians would acknowledge that the church’s influence in American culture has greatly diminished over the years. These days it is easy for Christians to feel hopeless against the mounting tide of secularism and the growing foothold of paganism. At best, the culture looks at us as foolish and irrelevant. At worst, there is growing resentment and open hostility toward Christianity.

Research tells us that the culture views the church as out-of-touch, out-of-date, hypocritical, judgmental, and devoid of God. While we never look to the culture to tell us what the church should be like, there may be some truth in their assessment. We often need to repent of our pride and hypocrisy; after all we are saved by a crucified Savior, not by our good works. But it is that last critique of the church that gets to me – devoid of God. What a scary thought! A church filled with weak and sinful people is not only useless without God, but also hopeless. Moses knew that to be true (see Exodus 33). Without the presence of Christ the church is without hope in the world.

Imagine how the small band of 120 believers felt just after Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:6-11). Jesus was no longer physically present and they were so few in number. How could this weak and feeble church grow and expand the kingdom? How was the church to fulfill the Great Commission? The answer would come through the empowerment of the Spirit, whom Jesus would pour out upon this little group of disciples and subsequent believers in Christ. As the city of Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims coming to Pentecost, the hidden purposes of God would soon be revealed.

Before his arrest, Jesus gave his farewell address to his disciples in the upper room (John 13-16). Jesus sought to encourage his disciples with these words – “It is for your good that I am going away. If I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Helper of whom Jesus spoke is none other than the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). The sending of the Spirit had been foretold through the prophets of the Old Testament. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah (the Messiah) was described as being anointed with the Spirit (see Isaiah 11, 42, 61). Jesus was not only conceived by the power of the Spirit and consecrated to a holy life by the Spirit, but received a fresh endowment of the Spirit for ministry at his baptism (Matthew 3:16). He is the man of the Spirit, who after his death, resurrection, and ascension “became a life giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Through the Messiah’s ministry the Spirit would be poured out on dry thirsty land (Isaiah 44:3). In other words, having ascended to the Father in the power of the Spirit, the glorified Jesus is able to send the Spirit to his people (John 15:26). Jesus alone is able to baptize with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11).

Pentecost

Going back to Acts 2, Luke describes a strange scene – a sound like a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire rested on the disciples, and they were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. The day of Pentecost was a sensory overload. People from every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem for the feast. They gathered together before the apostles when they heard the sound of rushing wind. Luke tells us, “They were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (v. 6). Naturally they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Peter stood up to give answer to the crowd. His sermon centered upon two facts: 1) Jesus, whom they crucified, had been raised from the dead and is exalted at the right hand of God, 2) Jesus, having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, poured out the Spirit resulting in the phenomenon that they saw and heard. Therefore, we can speak of Pentecost as Christ’s coronation event. Having been exalted and crowned King, he gives the gift and graces of the Spirit to his church (see Ephesians 4:7-8).

Pentecost was therefore a unique once-for-all event in redemptive history – like the birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ – which has an ongoing impact on the church. Although Pentecost was an unrepeatable event, every believer in every age receives the same Spirit from Christ. Abraham Kuyper gave an illustration that helps us understand how this once-for-all event of Pentecost continues to impact the church today. Imagine a mayor dedicating a new water system that will be opened for the residents of the city. Following the ceremony water begins to flow to the all the houses and businesses that are already established. But as each new house is built and connected to the water system, it receives the same benefits that previous houses did on the day the water system was opened. As Christians in 2015, we don’t experience the same phenomenon as the events of Pentecost, but we too are baptized with the same Spirit and all the benefits of Christ flow to us by faith.

The great day of the Spirit has begun! Pentecost signaled that the atoning work of Christ was finished and the gathering of the nations into the visible church has begun. The outpouring of the Spirit was the beginning point of the worldwide church that was now equipped with power for witness to fulfill the Great Commission. The Spirit came with power, signified by the sound of rushing wind, visible tongues of fire, and the proclamation of the gospel in various languages. When that happened, Peter looked to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 to explain the phenomenon produced by the Spirit. We read:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

There are a variety of questions that arise from this passage, but what is clear is that the Spirit is now poured out with power on all flesh. All distinctions of gender, age, or social rank disappear in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Jesus will draw people of all types to himself. He had foretold this when he instructed the disciples – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The Joel prophecy ends with the promise that all “who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21).

Jesus had promised that the Helper, the Spirit, would bear witness about him (John 15:26) so that people would repent and believe in Christ. The Spirit did not come to bring glory to himself, but to exalt Christ in the hearts of people (John 16:14). Peter’s entire sermon focused upon Christ, and the people were cut to the heart. They asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was simple, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Luke tells us that due to the witness of the Spirit “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

But witness is not only the work of the Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples “you also will bear witness” (John 15:27). Pentecost was a fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Lord has called us to go into the world to bear witness to his grace in our lives. There is a battle to fight – a battle for the hearts and souls of sinners. It is a battle against unbelief, but it is not waged with the weapons of the world. Instead, we labor in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming by word and deed the message of salvation in Christ, with sacrificial love for all – friends and enemies alike. But we do not go alone. The Spirit works powerfully through our words and deeds.

Ministry of the Spirit

Years ago, while working on the campus of the University of South Carolina for Reformed University Fellow, I came in contact with a student named Joe from a troubled background. He told me that he had been arrested for breaking and entering. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to community service – he was tasked with being a counselor for Camp Joy at Bonclarken. As a non-Christian who was hardened against the Lord, all he wanted was to finish his community service and move on with his life. But then a camper made an unexpectedly impact on his life. Each day, as Joe went about his work of caring for his camper, the camper would smile and say, ‘Jesus loves you Joe.’ By the end of the week Joe and the camper had established a bond. On the last day, while drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk, Joe’s camper looked up and said, ‘Joe, you know Jesus loves you!’ That day a hardened heart was melted and a sinner came to faith in Christ. The Spirit’s ministry is powerful to work through every believer.

Sure the church is weak and fragile. Yes the church faces impossible odds. But that is just the way Jesus planned it. The people of God are to rely upon the ministry of the Spirit, so that Christ receives the glory. What hope to do we have in ministry? How can we fulfill the Great Commission? How can we press on to make disciples? Christ has given the church all the equipment she needs. He has given the Spirit of power to make our ministry effective. Let us go forward by faith in the Spirit’s ministry to offer Christ to a broken, dying, rebellious, and hurting world.

Rev. Matthew Lucas is the pastor of Reformation ARP Church in Hendersonville, NC.

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Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths

images-87It is my privilege, duty, and honor to participate in a deeper way in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. In these months since being elected moderator, I have had opportunity to attend many committee and board meetings. Up-close, I have seen the work being done by many in the denomination. It is encouraging to see the elders who lead in the work of the Church. While the ministers may not have some of the same business experience, they are the “conscience” of the church. These two perspectives propel the work forward. I have been encouraged and assisted by the support people at the ARP Center. Please know that a great work of detail takes place by the Church support staff.

This 211th Meeting of Synod in 2015 is an historic event. The ARP Church hosted the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America at Bonclarken. We learned more about the respective ministries of our two denominations. The RPCNA is a cousin to the ARP Church, holding similar values and theological commitments to the ARP Church.

Our histories are somewhat parallel, expressing a common origin in the Covenanting heritage from the 17th Century in Scotland (1638) and immigrating to the New World where the Lordship of Jesus Christ can be propagated by an evangelical outreach without the inhibiting demands of government. This meeting together is a recognition of our common roots and our abiding mission in North America.

Joint Meeting of Synods

Over the last two years, a fair amount of talk has been taking place about this joint meeting of Synods. I confess that I, too, was ambivalent about the unknown. “What does this joint meeting mean?” “Are we considering a merger with the RPCNA?” “Why, they don’t even sing the hymns we have grown to love!” Upon inquiry, I have learned that our two denominations have been learning from each other for as many as ten years. And, the Inter-Church Relations Committee has been renewing acquaintance with them and planning this historic Synod meeting for more than two years. Historic it is, impulsive it is not.

Humbly, we should receive this opportunity to learn how we can fulfill our mission in a more effective way. While the RPCNA is somewhat smaller than the ARP, they have made an intentional and significant impact in Church Planting in recent years. The RPCNA has a vigorous conference ministry that has informed the church theologically and challenged the Church in a renewal of mission. And, their college, Geneva College, has approximately 1600 students, and a graduate program including Masters in Business, Counseling, Education, and Leadership.   Geneva also has a football team!

On Wednesday, we had a fun afternoon learning more of each other’s work in a series of Joint Presentations. Delegates could choose 3 of the 4 presentations, which included Christian Higher Education, Christian Education in the Church, Global Missions, and Church Planting.

The Joint Meeting of Synods is a mature event. As has been said to me, this event is not a “courting to marriage” event but rather a “family reunion.” Who knows what God has for these two churches in the future? For now, let us enjoy discovering some “cousins” with whom we had lost contact.

“Now, therefore, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Synod Emphasis Theme

The theme for 2015-2016 is “Fresh Insight from Ancient Paths.” This theme is found in Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Like Israel, the Church, with our culture has been seduced. We have been neutralized in our witness. Homes and parents are paying a dear price for a compromised lifestyle. Our children are leaving us and the church as they find other interests and pleasures. One might expect this from the unbelieving world, but we must repent of our own failure; our cold devotion and our failure to pass this “good way” gospel revealed to us and for the next generation.

Jeremiah called Israel to return to basic truths of faith and life: “To the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel.” The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church must return to the Lord in simple faith and obedience. As Jeremiah gave a call to repentance, so this small denomination must call our families and communities with the Gospel to return to the Lord. Our mission must be that of discipling our covenant families in order to win others to Christ. No area of life can be untouched by the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the costly redemption of His cross.

In the coming months this year, some of the “old paths” will be noted with lessons for the future. I hope that you will read the ARP Magazine so that your heart can be warmed as you “stand in the ways and see.” The Emphasis Committee that I assembled was very helpful as we discussed the issues, which might be helped if we would “ask for the old paths.” We certainly need to “find rest for [our] souls”. Articles are planned and are being written by individuals and I pray you will read them. Perhaps God will do a reviving work among us yet.

Now, do not misunderstand what I am saying. I believe that answers for our future can be found in the commitments of our fathers and mothers past. I am not suggesting a return to a dead and formal past, but a revival in our souls that will draw us to the essential commitments of our biblical faith. Thus, we will challenge and inspire ARP Church families to greater works and witness.

This beginning emphasis was declared on Thursday morning, as Dr. Stephen Myers preached of our glorious gospel of free grace offered to all sinners. Dr. Myers sets the tone for our year ahead. Others will be writing articles and I hope that you will be careful to read the articles in the ARP Magazine.

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