October, 2014

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 18

We are a Biblical, Historical, and Connected Community. We have seen each of these terms as a facet of what it means to be in covenant with God Almighty. He is our God and we are His people. Therefore, we live out our whole lives in light of and in response to this covenant relationship. We seek to live as God’s covenant people by glorifying Him and growing in His grace.
Our community is connected in several ways. First, we are connected by means of a covenant. The covenant binds us to God and God to us. It also binds all believers to one another. The Church is family. Second, we are connected with our local community. We live in a particular time and space. This is not mere happenstance, but God in his providence has placed us here for such a time as this. We are to be salt and light to our community. Third, we are connected to the world. The story of redemption is a global story. The whole Church is called to participate in the global mission of the Gospel. We are connected to the nations.
Covenant Presbyterian Church endeavors to see worshipers of the triune God raised up from among all the people of the world. We receive the Scriptures to be the authoritative and infallible rule for our lives. We understand these Scriptures through the theological heritage of the Reformation. We are compelled by the Word and Spirit to be involved in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ locally, domestically, and internationally (Matthew 28:19 & Acts 1:8).
The first component of this vision is to connect. We want the whole congregation from youngest to oldest to be connected to the world of missions. We have regular contact with our missionaries. They visit and give reports of their ministries. They share about the progress of the Gospel. They tell stories of God’s faithfulness. Our hope is that missionaries are not just people “over there,” but they are regular people who faithfully followed a call.
We also want to connect our church family to the global goal of the story of Redemption. The story of Scripture is of a God who creates a good world. That world falls into sin. And the good Creator sends a Redeemer to restore creation. We want to have this story constantly in our mind and on our lips as we seek to make this great God known throughout his whole creation.
Beyond simply being connected, we offer meaningful support. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we will never accomplish God’s work in our world. God has so ordained the world that He will execute his divine will through our prayers. Our prayer for missionaries is a real and vital manner of not just connecting with their ministry but of supporting it. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
Beyond our support through prayer, we seek to support the global work of the Gospel through faithful stewardship of our financial resources. Scripture is clear that everything we have cames from God’s good hand (James 1:17). Our responsibility as stewards is to give generously to provide for the support of God’s mission. Our generosity should rival the Israelites during the Exodus. In Exodus 36:5-7 Moses actually has to tell the people to stop giving because they have given more than can be spent. What a great problem to have! As a connected community we are to support the mission with our prayers and gifts.
Pastor John Piper has remarked that there are three responses to the Great Commission. The believer can go to the nations, send others to the nations, or disobey. As a connected community we are a church that sends and goes. We want to be a community where it is normal to talk about one’s faith. We want to be a community where it is normal to participate in missions. We want to be a community where it is abnormal to disobey God’s clear command to take the Gospel to the nations.
Our prayer is that the allure of worldly success and fame cannot hold a candle to the thrill of following a calling to the nations. Our desire is that the sons and daughters of CPC will be supported and encouraged to be deeply and passionately involved in missions, and that they would go.
A connected community is connected by faith to the Church family. They are connected by proximity to the local community. And they are connected to the nations by the Lord’s call to be his witnesses to world. We are a connected community.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 17

We are a Biblical, Historical, and Connected Community. We have seen each of these terms as a facet of what it means to be in covenant with God Almighty. He is our God and we are His people. Therefore, we live out our whole lives in light of and in response to this covenant relationship. We seek to live as God’s covenant people by glorifying Him and growing in His grace.
This does not happen in a vacuum. Our lives are lived outside of the walls of the church building. Our faith is bigger than the four walls of the White Oak Ridge Chapel. We are a connected community in the sense of our fellowship with all those around the world who have repented of their sin and turned to Christ by faith. We are part of a global church. But in a very different sense we are a community connected simply by coexisting in a shared time and space. No one chooses when and where they are born. We live in towns and communities that do not necessarily acknowledge Christ as Lord, and yet we are connected to them because this is the shared location in which God has placed us.
We live out our faith in an environment that has been marred and affected by sin at the atomic level. This world groans under the weight and burden of sin (Rom 8:22). Things are not they way they should be. Our communities, even at their best, are full of broken and sinful people. The reality of this sin in our world is seen in every cemetery. Disease, decay, and death are the unnatural realities of a world that exists east of Eden. This is the state of the world today. These are the communities in which we live.  And this is the time and place in which God has placed us that we might be His people. We are connected to the broader community by God’s grace so that we might exhibit God’s grace.
We are a connected community in the sense that we are called to be the “salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). We are not to retreat from the broader community, but to be connected to it. Even in its brokenness, every square inch of creation is under God’s sovereign control. Every atom of the universe is to be redeemed by God. And that will be done by Christ through the coming of His Kingdom. To this end we are to participate in the coming of the Kingdom of God by being salt. Salt gives zest, preserves, and prompts thirst. As a connected community, we are to be in the broken and fallen world around us to give it the flavor of life, to preserve from spiritual decay, and to prompt a thirst for living water.
We are to give zest to the world around us. Our lives should give off the aroma of Christ. The way we love, serve, work, speak, and live should “spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14). Salt is supposed to bring out and heighten the flavor in food. Every aspect of our lives is to be done with the intent of highlighting and proclaiming the work of Christ in our lives. Does your life give off the zest and flavor of Christ? Living as a connected community means giving zest to the world around us.
We are to be a preservative in the world around us. Theologian RC Sproul commented, “Christianity is the preservative that has prevented Western Civilization from decaying from its own internal corruption.” In the time of the early church, the Roman emperor was astounded by how the Christians sacrificed themselves as they cared for those dying of the plague. Hospitals, orphanages, universities, and nursing homes were almost universally begun by Christians seeking to live out this call to be a preservative in society. Our legal system and even basic human rights find their genesis not in the autonomy of the individual but in the notion that all have value because all are created in the image of God. The only worldview that provides a plausible rationale for preserving and caring for the environment is the biblical one. As a connected community we are called to preserve life, preserve justice, and preserve the world around us.
We are to promote thirst in the world around us. This world longs for satisfaction and contentment. Every advertisement is a mini gospel presentation that attempts to define the need of the human heart and an offer to meet that need through the acquisition of some good or service. But when has more stuff ever satisfied? Every addiction is fed by a desire to quiet the deafening pain of emotional trauma. And yet the addiction never satisfies. It only wants more and more. As a connected community we are called to promote thirst for living water. Jesus told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14-15).
We are connected to one another through the familial bonds of faith in Jesus Christ. But we are connected in a different manner to the unbelieving world around us. As God’s covenant people, we are called to be the salt of the earth. We are called to live as beggars pointing out to others where an endless feast is to be found. We are called to be connected to our communities that we might point others to the grace that may be found in Jesus Christ.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 16

Covenant means that we are connected community. A covenant is a “relation between the Lord and a people whom he has sovereignly consecrated to himself” (Frame, John. Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 115).  We are connected with God and He with us by means of a covenant.
Many of you enjoy researching and learning about your genealogy and ancestry. Perhaps you have found that your ancestors passed through Ellis Island, were a passenger on the Mayflower, or were dehumanized and victimized by the African slave trade. Regardless the circumstances of your ancestors, there is a thrill to see the connections with prior generations. One of the most profound aspects of our covenantal community is the connection we have from generation to generation. Throughout the Scriptures we see that God’s love for His People extends from generation to generation.
The promises of the covenant are passed from one generation to the next. Before the Fall (Genesis 3) God  established the family as the basic building block of all humanity. When Adam was alone, God did not create a community or the state or just a really good buddy for him. God gave him Eve. He blessed them and gave them instructions about what life in His creation looked like (Gen 1:28). God’s instruction to Adam and Eve is commonly called the “cultural mandate.” This was God’s command for man to go out into His creation and work it, cultivate it, prosper it, and exercise dominion over it. It was God’s command to go throughout all the land and imprint the image of God on all creation. And the first manner in which God instructed them to do this was to “be fruitful and multiply.” The first manner was to fill the creation with more image bearers of the Creator; families and families of people who bear the image of God. The cultural mandate, therefore, cannot be be done by one person. It doesn’t take a village. It takes a family.
It is remarkable that had the Fall never happened, the Church (that is, the people of God) would continue to grow. There would be no evangelism, because no one would be lost in their sins. But there would be many added to the number of the faithful. This would be through families having children. This has not fundamentally changed after the Fall. The primary manner in which the Church is to grow is through the covenantal promises made to families and the passing of the blessing from generation to generation. The blessing to Abraham was passed to Isaac (Gen. 21). The promise to Isaac was passed to Jacob (Gen. 26), and so on. The Psalms declare, “one generation shall commend your works to another” (Ps 145:4) and “from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (Ps 79:13). The normal mechanism for Church growth is the family.
There is no denying, however, that the Fall has radically marred the way the family operates today. All of us deal with families that have failed to faithfully pass on the promises and blessings of the Lord to the next generation. We are all sinners, but we are not without hope. One year during the PCA General Assembly, I sat with my good friend Jonathan Iverson, and his dad Dan Iverson, and Dan’s dad Bill Iverson, who planted CPC. The speaker was preaching on that passage from Psalm 145 I mentioned above. I thought about Bill’s dad, Daniel Iverson. Daniel was a Presbyterian minister who wrote the hymn “Spirit of the Living God” (#726 in our hymnal). Four generations of pastors who faithfully preached God’s word! I mentioned to Dan that it made me sad to think about my own family history. Dan looked at me and said, “It always starts with one.” Every parent is a sinner but God is still faithful to instruct and equip us to teach the next generation. Hear Moses’ words in Deuteronomy:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)
Your family may have been godly and faithful. Or maybe it wasn’t. Likely, your family fit somewhere in between. Regardless, God wants those little ones who bear his image to be raised, trained, taught, and instructed in an environment full of His word, basking in his promises, and resting in the hope of Jesus Christ. We are all born sinners. We all need the redemption found only in Jesus Christ. And we should primarily find that in the family. When we speak about being a “connected” community, we are speaking about a church that values the family, that loves children, and that labors with an eye toward the generations behind us and before us.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 15

Covenant means that we are connected community. A covenant is a “relation between the Lord and a people whom he has sovereignly consecrated to himself” (Frame, John. Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 115). We are connected with God and He with us by means of covenant. God is not only transcendent and “up there” but he is also intimate and “with us.” This is the beauty of the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” God is both a loving Father and he is the supreme King of heaven. Without losing any of his majesty and glory, God condescends to man so that we can know him. God willingly connects himself to us by means of a covenant.
Our connection to God as His People also means that we are connected to one another. All who call God “Father” can call other believers “brother” or “sister.” The Church is a big family. And because of God’s covenantal faithfulness to the generations, every family is a little church. As a covenantal family, we seek to be connected to our God and to one another.
This connection is typically called “fellowship.” The word we translate as “fellowship” is the greek word koinonia. Koinonia broadly means “common.” It can refer to a partnership, a contribution, a participation, sharing, or fellowship. When we speak of the word “fellowship” what we mean is a “commonness; it is sharing something with someone else” (Frame, SBL, 263). Fellowship is the shared living out of our common covenantal relationship with God and one another.
In Scripture the word fellowship is used in reference to our relationship with God (1 Cor 1:9, 2 Cor 13:14, 1 John 1:3, 6). And it is used in reference to our relationship with other believers (Acts 2:42, Gal 2:9, 1 John 1:3, 7). In fact, a close look at these passages will show that the fellowship we have with one another is only on account of the fellowship we have with God. This makes sense given what we have already mentioned about covenants. The apostle John makes this point in the first chapter of 1 John. Jesus has been revealed to us. It is manifest and has been proclaimed to us. Verses 3 & 4 tell us, “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
Commonality in relationship and connection to God are a source of joy for the Christian. It is a means of encouraging one another. It is an opportunity for strength and good works. This is why the author of Hebrews instructs the believer to “consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24, 25). Apparently, though, it was the habit of some in that day (as in this day), to neglect this joy.
Recently, a popular Christian writer declared that he didn’t go to church because “I wasn’t feeling much of anything.” The selfishness of the statement struck me. The fellowship of God’s people, the connection we are to have with our Father and with our brothers and sisters is about commonality. It is about sharing in the bonds of God’s covenantal love. It isn’t about whether you’re “feeling it.” This doesn’t mean feelings are not important. This doesn’t mean worship and fellowship are mere duty (though that is certainly part of it). It does mean that our fellowship is bigger than what you get out of it because you’re not the center of our connection with the Almighty God. Church, our connected fellowship on account of the covenantal love of God, is not about you. Whenever we demand our personal preferences or want our soapbox issues to get greater prominence, then we’ve done the same thing; we’ve made church about us. The joy we are to find in the meeting of one another is the corporate calling of all those adopted by the Father and gathered together under the covenant of grace and connected by Christ. We are a connected community because of the covenantal promise God made to be our God and we made to be His people.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 14

A History of Covenant Presbyterian Church of Millburn & Short Hills

At the 1978 General Assembly of the PCA, Dr. Bill Iverson was chatting with Dr. Bill Brindley, pastor of Reston Presbyterian Church in Virginia, about the difficulties of sustaining a church in the inner city. As the two men talked and dreamed, the idea of planting a church in the suburbs that would become a resource for equipping the planting of churches in the inner city surfaced. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), only a few years old at the time, agreed with the idea and encouraged Dr. Iverson to pursue this vision.
It so happened that Dr. Brindley has in-laws who lived in the Millburn-Short Hills area. In God’s providence, at this same time there were several members of the White Oak Ridge Chapel who were praying that God would increase the ministry and effectiveness of that historic little church. Dr. Iverson returned from the General Assembly to his home in South Orange, NJ and began sharing his vision for a church with anyone in Millburn-Short Hills who would listen (and probably a few who wouldn’t). An initial gathering was planned at the home of Don Peterson. Among those attending this first meeting were Bill Iverson, Don Peterson, Mr. & Mrs. William Doerfler, and Jane Daly (the mother-in-law of Dr. Brindley). In October of 1978 a small group bible study began by studying the book of Hebrews.
By June of 1979 there was a sufficient number of people to begin a regular meeting for worship on the Lord’s Day. The initial name for this congregation was Covenant Felllowship Presbyterian Church. Finding a location for worship was a difficult process. Over the first five years of the church Covenant moved its location of public worship five times! The very first service and Sunday School was held on July 8, 1979. The only place available at the time was an open air parking area under the office complex at 636 Morris Turnpike. Sunday worship and Sunday School was held at this location until September when the George Bauer Recreation Building at Taylor Park was made available. Worship continued at the rec center until the summer of 1982.
In February of 1981 Dr. Iverson announced that he would leave as Covenant’s pastor following Easter. Covenant called the Rev. Michael Simone to be her second pastor in July of 1981. Dr. David Miner served as an interim pastor during the four month period between pastors. Rev. Simone served as pastor for 3 ½ years. These years proved to be a difficult period in the early life of the church. Housing for both the pastor and the church was difficult to secure. In July of 1982 Covenant had to leave their Taylor Park location. The White Oak Ridge Chapel allowed Covenant to hold a 9am worship service, but it created an unworkable parking problem. In December of 1982 Covenant once again needed a home. Until May of 1983 Covenant met at Christ Church Episcopal, gathering for Sunday School on Sunday afternoons and worship in the evenings. At this time the White Oak Ridge Chapel was without a pastor and experiencing declining membership. The leadership of White Oak Ridge Chapel and Covenant came to an agreement that Covenant would conduct Sunday worship at the chapel and use the building for other purposes, while assuming the responsibility of care and upkeep of it.
With a stable location, the congregation grew from approximately 30 to 50. Rev. Simone labored until early 1985. The Rev. Peter Vaughn was called to be an interim pastor at Covenant. In September of 1985, under the leadership of Pastor Vaughn, Covenant was officially organized as a particular church of the PCA with the name Covenant Presbyterian Church of Millburn & Short Hills. The following year the remaining members of the White Oak Ridge Chapel decided to turn over the ownership of the property to Covenant so that a faithful Gospel ministry would continue in Millburn-Short Hills.
In March of 1986 the Rev. Michael Conord was called to be the third pastor of Covenant. In 1987 the small chapel was bursting at the seams. A remodeling project was begun to open up the back wall of the chapel to allow for more seating. In 1987-88 the elders of CPC continued to discuss the need for more space for Sunday School, worship, and office space. Moving to a new location was discussed but the door never opened. Plans were made to renovate and expand the current property. A $450,000 project was begun to expand the sanctuary, add a second floor, and finish the basement for a nursery. The project was finished in time for the 10 year anniversary celebration of Covenant Presbyterian Church on June 11, 1989.
In 1992, Dr. David Miner was called to be the fourth pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. Dr. Miner had served as a Ruling Elder at CPC for seven years. In 2011 after 20 years of faithful service,  Dr. Miner announced his retirement as pastor. In March of 2012 the Rev. Donny Friederichsen was installed as the fifth pastor of CPC.
God has faithfully provided for the preaching and teaching of His Gospel at the White Oak Ridge Chapel for the past 180 years. Covenant Presbyterian Church gladly steps into that tradition and if the Lord should tarry, we will continue to faithful proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ for at least another 180 years. “The grass withers and flower fades, but the Word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 13

The history of the town of Millburn is tied to the histories of New Jersey’s oldest cities; Newark and Elizabeth. Newark was founded by residents of Milford, CT who were looking for greater religious freedom. In 1666 Robert Treat and a select group of people journeyed to New Jersey and settled on a piece of land on the Passaic River. They called their town New Ark. Their charter stated that they believed “Newark settlement was to be the final attempt to found a Kingdom of God on earth.” The Newark community prospered, though it appears their goals have fallen a little short.

Elizabethtown (later Elizabeth) was founded by English Calvinists from Long Island looking for more land after the official Dutch withdrawal from the colonies. A group of men gathered to petition the Governor for the Duke of York for land in New Jersey. The location provided was a plantation on the “Arthur Kill” (an aglicized spelling of the Dutch name for Newark Bay, Achter Koll). The tidal strait between Staten Island and Elizabeth is still known as the Arthur Kill. Elizabethtown was established there and like its neighbor, Newark, it prospered.

The population in New Jersey in the early 1700’s was around 32,000. Records from the time indicate that many of the residents of Newark and Elizabethtown were concerned about the overcrowding. Little did they know that complaining about overcrowding would become a New Jersey tradition. Almost immediately, settlers of these towns began to move west into the hills. The first settlers of Millburn arrived around 1702.

Stephen Parkhurst was reportedly the first settler of Millburn. Likely, he built a home on Brookside Drive near the present location of the Papermill Playhouse. Tom and Nicholas Parsil built homes up the ridge on what is now known as White Oak Ridge Road. The date “1709” was carved into the chimney of the old Parsil home which stood near the corner of White Oak Ridge Rd. and Parsonage Hill Rd (adjacent to the cemetery). The Parsils also ran an inn for travelers and the road was alternatively known as Feather Bed Lane.

For the first 40 years there were no churches in Millburn. Those who went to church would walk to Elizabeth. In 1745 it was decided to build a Presbyterian church in town near the intersection of Main Street and Meeker Place. The Rev. Timothy Symmes was called to preached both in Millburn and at the Presbyterian Church in Turkey (New Providence). The pastor was dismissed in 1750 and the town was without a regular pastor until 1761 when a new church was built in Springfield. When the original Presbyterian church was begun in Millburn a parsonage of 100 acres was given to the pastor. The location of the parsonage ran up Old Short Hills Road to White Oak Ridge Road and became known as Parsonage Hill Road.

A Sunday School was started in 1818 on Brookside Drive in Millburn. It became popular and was taken over by the Springfield Presbyterian Church. This was one of the first Sunday Schools established in the United States. In October of 1831, William Parsil, descendant of one of the first settlers of Millburn, called together the residents of White Oak Ridge Road to form another Sunday School and a meeting place for Lord’s Day worship. There was no ordained minister at the earliest meetings. Mr. Parsil led the singing and was assisted by others in the teaching and catechizing of the children. The Sunday School association struggled after the death of Mr. Parsil in 1850 but continued to meet for worship at least once a month. In 1857, Mr. A. M. French reorganized the Sunday School. Mr. French served as Superintendent of the school for 22 years with William Parsil Jr., the son of the founder, serving as Secretary and Librarian. By 1865 there were 65 pupils and the one-room school house was no longer big enough to accommodate the group. The cost of a church building seemed too expensive but in 1871 William Parsil gave to the Sunday School Association land for the erection of a church. Following Parsil’s lead 62 others gave financially to see the building constructed. On October 22, 1871 the dedication of the White Oak Ridge Chapel took place and after all debts were settled $15.26 remained in the treasury. This is the building in which we now worship. As we have stepped into the history of the White Oak Ridge Chapel we have assumed the mantle of 180 years of teaching the Scriptures and preaching the Gospel in Millburn and nearly 150 years of that in this building. God has been gracious to provide such a heritage for us to follow and upon which to continue to build. May he make us faithful to continue the work.


For more information please see:

Meisner, Marian, A History of Millburn Township (Millburn, NJ: Millburn/Short Hills Historical

Society and the Millburn Public Library, 2002), http://www.millburn.lib.nj.us/ebook/eBook.pdf.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 12

The church history in the New Jersey area is rich. The founders of Newark, NJ were divided over whether to name the town Milford after the Connecticut town from which they came or New Ark. Obviously the name New Ark eventually won out. Historians are not quite sure exactly what “New Ark” meant. Some argue it meant “New Work” as in the town was a new work of God’s grace in the New World. Others have argued that it was a reference to Genesis 6-9 and Noah’s ark. Either way it is certain the founders of Newark were Puritans who sought to establish a community that lived out their biblical faith in everyday life.

The Puritans came to the New World looking for religious freedom. Others came to the New World looking for financial rewards. New Jersey offered great opportunities for the English and Dutch immigrants in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The Garden State was a land full of fertile farmland and hardwood forests. In the 18th century the First Great Awakening took hold of the American colonies. Through the faithful preaching of the Gospel by men like Gilbert Tennent (New Brunswick), Theodorus Frelinghuysen (Raritan), George Whitefield, John Cross (Basking Ridge), and Jonathan Edwards (Northampton, MA) the churches of the Mid-Atlantic colonies began to swell. The need for educated and trained men to pastor new churches became critical.

The process for being trained for the ministry was a difficult issue in the New World. If a man wanted to be a minister he needed to be educated. The only suitable schools in the New World at the time were Harvard and Yale. The other option was to be trained back in Britain at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, or the like. This was a slow process and the need for ministers far outstripped the supply.

One solution to this problem was to establish new schools to train pastors in the New World. This approach was adopted by many of the same ministers who were involved in the Great Awakening. The Tennents and the Frelinghuysens were responsible for two New Jersey schools that continue to have a huge impact on this area. They are also symbols of what happens when God’s Word is assumed, ignored, and eventually abandoned.

William Tennent (1673-1746) was an Anglican minister until he moved to America and joined the Presbyterian Church. In 1727 he moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and established what was known as the Log College. It was name for the simple 20′ x 20′ log building in which students met and received their training. The training was very biblical and practical but was not as academically rigorous as more established universities. His son Gilbert was called to pastor a Presbyterian church in New Brunswick. Eventually, the pressure for more formal and academic training led to a new charter being written for the Log College which led to the formation of Princeton University. Gilbert Tennent, his brother William, along with several other Log College alumni were elected as Princeton trustees.

The Dutch Reformed Church faced many of the same issues as the Presbyterians. The only accepted institutes for training ministers were in the Netherlands. The growth of the church among Dutch immigrants was far greater than the ability of the Classis of Amsterdam to get ministers to the New World. Two ministers in New Jersey lead the effort to establish a school were men could be trained for the ministry. Eventually, Rev. Frelinghuysen and Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenburgh were about to secure a charter from William Franklin, the last Royal Governor of New Jersey and the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. The charter established the school as the Queen’s College in New Jersey and included a college and grammar school. The original purpose of the Queen’s College was to “educate the youth in language, liberal, the divinity, and useful arts and sciences” and for the training of future ministers for the Dutch Reformed Church. Following financial difficulties the Queen’s College was reopened due to the generous gift of an American Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Henry Rutgers. The Board of Trustees decided to honor the Christian values of the Colonel Rutgers by renaming the school after him.

Both Rutgers University and Princeton University are the direct result of faithful men seeking to proclaim the Gospel and see whole communities transformed by God’s grace. Unfortunately, over time they have enjoyed the blessings of the Gospel but have forgotten the one who gave those blessings. On the whole, these institutions have assumed, then neglected, and then rejected the Gospel. I often wonder what the founders of these schools would think if they saw what was taught in them today. The history of our area is rich with the benefits of the Gospel but we must never forget that we are but one generation from rejecting Christ.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 11

As a church we strive to be a Biblical, Historical, and Connected Community. By this we mean that we seek to be built upon a firm foundation of God’s Word. Anchored down into this foundation we find the historical roots of the Church. We stand on the shoulders of the faithful who walked before us. And from this foundation; rooted in God’s Word and in the past, we reach forward to connect with one another. We seek to connect with believers in authentic fellowship. We seek to connect with the global Church. We seek to connect in transformative ways with our local community. We are a Biblical, Historical, and Connected Community.

The Mid-Atlantic Colonies of the United States (and New Jersey in particular) were very influential to the history of the Church in America. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, New Jersey was religiously diverse. Western New Jersey tended to be Quaker like Pennsylvania. Eastern New Jersey was more Puritan (like New England) but also strongly influenced by Dutch inhabitants who brought the Dutch Reformed Church to America.

The Dutch, as opposed to the Puritans, did not come to the New World seeking religious freedom. Typically, the Dutch came to New Jersey seeking fertile farmlands and wealth. The colony’s reputation is reflected in the state seal which depicts Liberty and Ceres (the goddess of agriculture) with a shield of three plows over a banner that states “Liberty and Prosperity.” These Dutch communities were known to be economically industrious but spiritually lax.

In the New Brunswick area, an itinerant Dutch pastor named Guiliam Bartholf (1656-1726) planted four small congregations (Raritan, Six-Mile Run, Three-Mile Run, and North Branch). In 1719 a young minister, Theodorus Frelinghuysen, in Holland found himself without a church and was asked by leaders in the Reformed Church to consider taking over these four young congregations in Rarethans (Raritan). Thinking Rarethans was in a neighboring Dutch province, he agreed. Upon finding out the churches were in America, Frelinghuysen wanted to renege on his commitment but felt convicted by Proverbs 15:4 to keep his word.

Frelinghuysen arrived in New York in January of 1720. He was greeted by two prominent Dutch Reformed pastors in the City and invited to conduct worship on the following Sunday. Frelinghuysen agreed and proceeded to preach a boisterous and emotional sermon on the need for repentance and faith. The congregation was accustomed to unemotional and impersonal sermons. They balked at this young minister’s stress on regeneration.

Undeterred Frelinghuysen took charge of his New Jersey churches and continued his passionate preaching. He was shocked by the laxity of their spiritual lives. His preaching, therefore, focused on an experiential conversion, on lives that exhibited a genuine repentance, and on the necessity of lives that bore faithful fruit. He was bold in calling our the unregenerate, self-righteous, and hypocritical in his churches. His years of ministry in the Raritan Valley saw over 300 conversions. His preaching caught the attention of a Presbyterian minister, Gilbert Tennent.

Tennent had been trained by his father at a modest new theological institution called the “Log College.” This little seminary would later be known as Princeton University. He was greatly influenced by Frelinghuysen’s style of preaching. The revival experienced in the Dutch community under Frelinghuysen began to spread to the English community in New Brunswick through Tennent.

Gilbert Tennent’s new style of preaching had a profound impact on the English preacher George Whitefield. Whitefield preached throughout the colonies fostering revival. Whitefield and a Congregationalist pastor from Massachusetts named Jonathan Edwards would kick off what would be known as the “Great Awakening.” Both of these men would recall in their journals the passionate and vibrant preaching of the Gospel they heard through the Dutch minister in New Jersey. In turn, their preaching became known by passionate appeals for the hearer to repent of their sin and call on God’s grace to produce fruits of holiness. People up and down the Atlantic coast were converted and gave their lives to Christ.

The colonies of the New World had always been distinct and separate entities. But for the first time they experienced a unity and commonality through this religious awakening. While certainly not the only reason for the colonies to begin to move toward a unified nation, the “Great Awakening” played an important role in it. And this “Great Awakening” can find it genesis in the preaching of a reluctant Dutch minister from our backyard. It is this rich tradition that we seek to follow.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 10

The Scriptures are the divine Word of God given to reveal God to us. They are the authority for all of life. But while the Scriptures are from God, their understanding is from man. Man must interpret the Scriptures to the best of his ability. The understanding of the doctrines contained in the Word of God is the “pattern of sound words” (2 Tim 2:13) that Paul instructed Timothy to follow. The human creeds and confessions represent this effort to understand and interpret God’s Word. Every person subscribes to some particular pattern. The question is whether this pattern is written down, vetted over the ages, and proved by the collective Church or is contained solely in one’s head and subject to change and accommodation based on opportunity. The subscription of the elders of the Church to written and historical creeds and confessions is a blessing to the Church.

It must be remembered that these creeds and confessions are not in an of themselves binding on the consciences of men. They do not have the authority of Scripture. Anything authority they claim is an authority derived from the correct interpretation of Scripture itself. But the binding of the conscience that does occur does so because one has voluntarily chosen to subscribe to the creed or confession. This voluntary subscription is because one believes the creed or confession contains the system of doctrine which is in Scripture.

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), membership in the church is based upon one’s credible profession of faith, baptism, and the Session’s admission of the individual to the Lord’s Table (BCO 6-2). To be an officer (i.e. elder or deacon), however, one must subscribe to the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

The majority of the historic Reformed creeds and confessions were authored by individuals or pairs of men. The Canons of the Synod of Dort (one of the Three Forms of Unity in the Dutch Reformed Church) and the Westminster Standards are different in that they were composed by large assemblies of participants.

The impetus for the Westminster Assembly began with the Reformation coming to Scotland. As the Reformation’s influence in the British Isles grew, an agreement was drawn up to ensure that the Reformed religion would be preserved in Scotland and promoted in England and Ireland. This agreement was the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. At this time the hierarchy of the Church of England was absent. The only recognized authority which could convene representatives was the National Legislature. So in June of 1643, Parliament passed an act calling for an assembly of divines (i.e. theologians) to consult with Parliament to to establish the government, liturgy, and doctrine of the church.

One hundred twenty-one divines, twenty members of the House of Commons, and ten members of the House of Lords were called to the Assembly. The majority of those assembled were Presbyterian though some divines were Episcopalian or Independent. A fair argument can be made that this Assembly was the greatest collection of theologians since the early Church Councils. The Assembly was called to order on July 1, 1643 in Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey (from which the final documents would take their names). The work was initially to be a revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles but quickly turned into a completely new document. The Westminster Confession of Faith was submitted in final form to Parliament on April 29, 1647. The Shorter Catechism was finished shortly after on November 5, 1647. And the Larger Catechism was submitted to Parliament on April 14, 1648.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, and Shorter Catechism were adopted by the original Synod in North America in 1729. Since then, they have been the standard of faith for all branches of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, England, Ireland, and America. In America the General Assembly of 1789 made some modifications to those chapters which dealt with the Civil Magistrate to accommodate them to an American audience. This is the form of the Westminster Standards to which officers in the PCA subscribe.

The Westminster Standards are not the Word of God. They do not have the authority of Scripture. But we teach that they do contain the system of doctrine which is in Scripture. Our church’s subscription to these documents is a good thing. One never needs to wonder what our church teaches about a particular doctrine. It is there in the Confession. If we teach something contrary to it, then we are in error. When we claim to be a Historical Community, we are confessing that we understand and interpret Scripture to teach what the Westminster Standards confess.

A Biblical, Historic and Connected Community, Part 9

In one of his final letters, the Apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy to encourage him in the faith. “Don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (2 Tim 1:8). Paul comments that before history even began God had provided for the Church’s salvation and purpose. Christ Jesus had abolished death and brought life and immortality through the gospel. It was to this gospel that Paul was appointed an apostle and teacher. And it was for this gospel that he was willing to suffer. “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12). What is it that was entrusted to Paul? It was his appointment as an apostle and teacher of the gospel. So how does he encourage Timothy to remain faithful? How does Paul in his last letter instruct his beloved disciple in shepherding the flock of God? How does Paul entrust Timothy to pass on what was entrusted to him? “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13).

What does Paul mean by the “pattern of sound words”?The word translated as “pattern” is an example, a sketch, or a model that is to be an outline that guides young Timothy as he takes the reins of leadership. Paul is instructing Timothy to use his teaching as the plumbline of orthodoxy. Whatever you do, measure it up against my plumbline and if it is out of line, correct it.

This pattern is communicated through the medium of sound words. When God created in Genesis 1 He used words, “God said, ‘Let there be…’” Creation came about through the Word of God. The Apostle John echoes this idea when speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity. “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1). It is through words that God has most clearly revealed Himself to us. If God would use words to communicate about himself to us, then words are adequate for us to communicate about God. But Paul notes that these must be “sound” words. The word translated as “sound” means healthy, correct, or right. We do not have free rein use whatever words we want. We must use sound words. And those sounds words must conform to a pattern.

Paul’s instruction to the Church to remain faithful in teaching and passing on the Gospel is to follow the pattern of sound words. There are words we should use to express the concepts and ideas expressed in Scripture about God. The word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, but the concept of a triune God is on nearly every page of the Bible. The word trinity expresses the concept of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equally and eternally one God but the Father is not the Son and the Father and the Son are not the Holy Spirit. When someone begins to talk about Jesus as the Son but not as God, then you know they have not followed the pattern of sound words. Your theological warning systems should begin screaming, “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!”

It is popular in some Protestant evangelical circles to claim, “We have no creed but the Bible.” Naively, I believe, this goes against the very command of the Bible. We are instructed to follow a pattern of sound words. What is a creed other than that? The Early Church Fathers and the Reformers were not creating creeds to be a substitute for Scripture. They were following the commands of Scripture in developing patterns of sound words. The creeds and confession are the manner in which the Church has communicated the system of doctrine which is contained in Word of God.

We are a Biblical Community. The Word of God is the means by which God has most clearly revealed himself to us. It is the foundation upon which we understand God and His creation. The Scriptures inform all that do. But we are also a Historical Community. By this we claim to stand on the shoulders of the faithful from generations past. We understand the concepts and ideas which are contained in the Word of God to be expressed in the pattern of sound words that were articulated and tested throughout the history of the Church. We can be a Historical Community which holds to creeds and confessions while also being a Biblical Community founded on and rooted in Scripture.

In fact, to reject creeds is not only unbiblical but it is dangerous. For example, a clear understanding of the Trinity cannot be communicated by one who claims no creed but the Bible. The sentiment is admirable but misguided. The reality is that whether a formal creed is adopted or not, everyone who communicates truths about God has a creed. The only question is whether that creed is open to examination by all or whether is contained solely in one’s own head. The unwritten creed is a dangerous one for the Church. We should take great comfort in our being a Historical Community. Do you want to know what our church believes the Scriptures teach on a certain doctrine, you can see it in our pattern of sound words; the Westminster Standards. And if we stray from this, then we are in error. Being a Historical Community with established and written creeds and confessions is not only biblical but it is wise.[1]


[1]    Carl R Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 51–80.