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New Horizons

October, 2010: The Westminster Assembly

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Why Study the Westminster Assembly?

Last year my wife announced that I had been studying the Westminster Assembly longer than the gathering had met. She was amused. I had been working on the Assembly for eleven years; the Assembly had met for ten. In defense of myself, I should say that I discovered recently that the Assembly actually met for eleven years. But since it took me another year to figure this out, Emily's point still stands: this has taken a while.

When a person spends a decade of life working on a single project, it requires some justification. Really, what is so special about the Westminster Assembly anyway? Since this is a question that I am often asked, and since by now I ought to have an answer, I want to provide the readers of New Horizons with that answer. Elsewhere and on another occasion it might be appropriate to mention some of the failures of the Assembly. Here and now I wish to catalogue six reasons why various people, myself included, continue to find the Westminster Assembly an event worthy of their attention. Read more

A Forgotten Founding Father

Have you ever heard of Alexander Henderson? During the years 1637-1646, a time of political and religious upheaval in Britain, during which the Westminster Assembly met, many people considered him to be the most important Scottish clerical leader. After his death in 1646, his fellow minister, Robert Baillie, said, "Mr. Henderson was incomparably the ablest man of us all, for all things."[1] Another said that "of all the great men of our church, with the single exception of Knox, the deepest debt of gratitude is due to Henderson."[2] Today if you travel to Edinburgh, Scotland, you will find Henderson's name on a plaque at the base of a column in the southwest section of St. Giles' Cathedral, which reads, "Statesmen, Scholar, Divine, Minister of St. Giles 1639-1646." His gravestone is set on the west side of Greyfriars kirkyard and his name is third on the entry sign at Greyfriars in a list of famous Scots. You can enter the National Museum of Scotland and discover that Henderson's clerical robe stands alongside his famous sermon, "The Bishops' Doom," from the notable 1638 Glasgow General Assembly, at which he directly challenged the authority of King Charles I. Yet, despite these and other indications of Henderson's apparent fame, there is no modern biography of him, and few Presbyterians today know his place in history.

Renewing our interest in men like Alexander Henderson can greatly benefit the church today. For instance, Henderson was the pastor of a small kirk (church) in Leuchars for most of his career. Nonetheless, he was able to play a major role in Scottish national affairs. His work as a public leader can help us today as we try to sort out the relationship between church and state. He also contributed to issues related to submission to authority. He was a leader of the resistance to Charles I, and he even argued that armed resistance was sometimes necessary in his pamphlet Instruction in Defensive Arms. In this pamphlet and many others, he argued for what might be summed up ironically as the duty of "submissive resistance." Submission to God sometimes means determined resistance to others in authority. This may sound like theological quibbling that has little to do with our lives today, but if you have ever faced the question whether a wife should remain submissive to an abusive husband, then Henderson's work is quite relevant. Henderson is best known for his writing on this subject, and much of it was done as he grappled with how to respond faithfully to authority that is overbearing. Read more

Chronicles of a Reforming Church: Part 3: Choosing the OPC

There are thousands of Christian denominations, and many of them are Reformed. With so many options, why did Branch of Hope Church select the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to affiliate with?

Once the elders and the vast majority of our church members were on board with Reformed theology, the value of connecting to a denomination became clear to us. There was biblical precedent in Acts at the Jerusalem Council, and connection to a denomination gives church members security in knowing that there is a body to which the session is accountable. Read more

French Creek Blessings

Betty and I are one of the many couples that met at French Creek Bible Conference (FCBC), held at French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. Like most of them, we probably would not have met if we had not been at French Creek. Actually, our meeting, dating, marrying, and establishing a Christian home was part of the purpose of the conferences. Pastors Bob Atwell, Glenn Coie, and Lou Grotenhuis began the conferences in order that the young people in their small churches would have a better opportunity to meet Christian peers. I remember that for several years, Pastor John Clelland taught a class on love, courtship, and marriage. It is no accident that a significant number of those on the current Board of Trustees of FCBC met their spouse during a conference.

My pastor had to approve my attendance for my first year at French Creek because I was a year too young. To this day, I remember the kindness shown to us younger delegates by those who were older. Betty also began at an early age, as she went with her mother, who was serving as a counselor. Since her home was in Queens, New York, she was thrilled with the trees and open spaces that were part of French Creek State Park, where the conferences were held. Read more

How's Your Church's Website?

When did you last look up the phone number of a plumber in the phone book? When did you last check the hours of operation of a restaurant in the Yellow Pages? If you are like most people these days, you used one of the many search engines on the Internet to find such information.

The Internet—we can't live with it; we can't live without it. But with over 50 percent of the world's population now under the age of thirty, there is a clear shift to the use of electronic means of obtaining and communicating information. As the "Millennial" generation, which reached maturity after the turn of the twenty-first century, begins to assert its influence in society, we have to keep pace with how these folks find information in order to minister effectively as Christ's church. Read more

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