From the Pastor’s Desk: Our Political Duty

Our congregation is a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), a branch of the church which is known for many things. Among other things, we are known by the name “Covenanters”, because of our identification with the Scottish Covenanters of the seventeenth century. Our spiritual forebears steadfastly proclaimed their allegiance to King Jesus in both church and state—a stance which resulted in thousands of martyrs in Scotland, as men, women, and children were tortured, many unto death, for their refusal to submit to government tyranny.

Many observers today would say that the Reformed Presbyterian position on Christ’s kingship is actually its distinguishing characteristic. Forged in the fires of persecution, this doctrine proclaims that as the mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ rules over all things. This mediatorial kingship means that there is not one aspect of reality that is outside of the reign of the One who died on the cross, rose again from the dead, and is ascended into heaven.

This truth obviously has political implications. One of them has to do with whether a Christian can participate in the American political process, since to do so entails supporting a constitution which declares that its source of authority is “We the people” rather than the King of kings and Lord of lords.

For much of its history, the RPCNA, because of the failure of the U.S. Constitution to recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ, refused to allow its members to vote in elections or hold office. However, in the twentieth century, an accommodation was reached whereby someone taking an oath of allegiance to the Constitution could also append an Explanatory Declaration, as follows:

In taking this oath I make no mental reservation. I am a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and I declare that I owe a supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in making that declaration I take the same God as my witness, invoking His assistance to help me to render due obedience to my country in all temporal matters. And I do further declare that I do not now know any matter in which I intend actual disobedience to any command of my country now known to me.

In allowing members to vote, however, the RPCNA specifies that “the Christian should support and vote only for such men as are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government. Should the Christian seek civil office by political election, he must openly inform those whose support he seeks of his adherence to Christian principles of civil government” (Reformed Presbyterian Testimony, Chapter 23, #29).

This statement is the practical outworking of a position that maintains that the Lord Jesus is the sovereign ruler in church and state, and that we dare not be ashamed of Him. In this election year where the leading candidates do not fit the qualifications of office as defined by the RP Testimony, Reformed Presbyterians are urged not to compromise, but to follow the principles mentioned above and to leave the results to God.

Penny’s Pen: 2011 in the Bluff (Part 1)

December 31, 2011

It is now twenty months since we started ministering to the folk in the English Avenue district of downtown Atlanta, known as the Bluff.  We currently have an average of 13 in attendance each week, which includes those of us who come down from the suburbs.  Every Lord’s Day afternoon the arrival of Frank and me along with our faithful assistant, Amy Work, is anticipated by the residents.  On one occasion recently, a car was parked in “our” space and there was a small group of men on “our” steps.  As soon as they saw us approach they literally jumped up, declaring “The preacher is here, the preacher is here!”, the owner of the car called out that he would move it right away, and the steps were suddenly vacated to make room for us.  These men did not join the study, but we were touched at the respect they held for “the preacher”.  Amy enjoys her role as the teacher of the little children who attend, holding her class on the second set of steps of the burned-out church building on the corner of Kennedy and Brawley.AME Building

We were encouraged this year by the interest shown in our downtown ministry by a number of visitors from around the country.  As reported in a previous issue, in January three young men came for a weekend from Erskine College in South Carolina specifically to experience this kind of ministry.  In July Amy’s parents, Steven and Jeannie Work, came for the baptism of their new grandson in Chattanooga, and then came down to spend the evening in the Bluff with Amy.  Steven, who is pastor of the RPCNA church in Quinter, Kansas, led the Bible study that evening and then unexpectedly appeared the following Lord’s Day evening as well because they had suffered car problems and had not yet returned home.  Their support gave us a real emotional and spiritual boost.  Later in the same month, Paul Huffmaster, a member of an independent psalm-singing church in San Diego, visited his father south of Atlanta, and attended Northminster one of the three weeks he was in the area.  On the other Lord’s Days he attended his father’s church, but he joined us in the Bluff on all the Sundays he was here.  He was also a great encouragement to us as well as an enormous help with regard to ferrying children to and from the Bible study.  Then in November, Mark Sampson, from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, who was visiting the area in order to make fundraising contacts, both worshipped with us in the morning and came into the Bluff with us in the evening.  Again, he was not only of great encouragement but also of great practical help ferrying children.

And who could forget the RP missions team comprising Stephen McCollum from Northern Ireland, Carla Quigley from Scotland, and Brenda Gladfeldter from Pennsylvania, along with Colleen Hartlaub from Wisconsin, who were here in the summer.  They, along with Amy and ourselves, held a “block party” on a vacant lot one Saturday morning.  Amy, who is a teacher in a Christian School in Marietta, had written the story of Moses and Pharaoh as a play in which the children could participate.  Stephen was brilliantly menacing in his portrayal of Pharaoh, wrapped in a purple table cloth with a gold napkin wrapped round his head pharaoh-style, waving a scepter that looked suspiciously like a curtain rod.  Carla played Aaron complete with fake beard, Brenda and Colleen dressed up as court magicians, and the children took it in turns to play Moses and, later, Aaron as well.  Besides narrating the script, Amy had even come up with games to represent the plagues. For example, a relay game involving cups of red juice illustrated the Nile turning to blood, the game of leapfrog depicted the plague of frogs, and, to portray the animal deaths, the children imitated an animal of their choice before falling down “dead”.  Unfortunately, we had only four children in attendance, but it turned out to be a great success for those who were there, with a lot of laughter and fun in addition to the learning.  Frank ended the morning on a serious note, explaining the meaning of the story, and using it to introduce Christ and explain the gospel to the children.  All four children came back the next day to the Bible study, and two who were brothers also brought their older brother.  They attended one more week, but after that we couldn’t locate them, and it turned out that they had moved.  Months later, however, we found them and they, along with a sister, started attending again.

The other two young people who came to the block party were Jenario (now 14 years old) and Miyani (now 10 years old), who have been very faithful in their attendance for over a year now, hardly ever missing a week.  We have been proud of Jenario’s efforts to memorise Bible verses and the answers to the first few Shorter Catechism questions.

In addition to the block party, the missions team also set up a prayer table on two other occasions and a number of needy people come by to ask for prayer.  Their names and prayer requests were logged, and we undertook to pray for each one for 14 days.  We still have folk from that endeavour join us occasionally at our regular Bible study.


Penny’s Pen: The Following Lord’s Day

December 11, 2011

On the Lord’s Day following the events recorded in my previous article, we were, understandably, in a different frame of mind than usual as we headed back down Georgia 400 to the Bluff.  In the early days of our ministry, which had begun twenty months ago, we had gone into the area with an older black lady whose husband had been a previous drug kingpin.  She was well-known and beloved, and therefore we were immediately accepted because of our association with her.  She was, as it were, our “ticket” in.  Since then we had felt comfortable being in the area, even though this lady had stopped attending.  Now we were uncertain again, vexed by the thought that by encouraging people to come, especially the children, we might be causing them to be put in danger.  During the week, as we reflected on the events of December 4th, we wondered what lessons the Lord was teaching us.  Does he want us to make changes to the ministry?  Is he telling us that we need to change our location by moving a block or two away from the “hotspot” intersection?  Have we taken our safety for granted and not relied sufficiently on the Lord for his protection or thanked him sufficiently for his watch-care over us?  As we prayed during the week, we begged, Show us, O Lord God of Armies, Show us what your will is.

Before leaving for Atlanta, Frank always calls several of our “regulars” to remind them of the study, and this week, one such person, who had not been there last week, turned out to be very encouraging.  Fairly early in the conversation, this man mentioned that he’d heard about the shooting.  Apparently, around 11 o’clock last Sunday night, he was on the platform at the MARTA train station and he overheard folks talking about the incident, including the fact that the preacher had to be yelled at to take cover!  It would appear that news of our ministry is beginning to spread.

He said that even though there is occasional gunfire, it is not often that someone is killed.  As an example, he told Frank about what happened five weeks ago, around 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, when a man had been shot to death around Brawley and North.  This was a fellow who, the previous Friday, had robbed six people.  He was chased by some folks, went to his car, got a gun and frightened them away.  For some reason, he came back two days later, and five bullets were pumped into his chest.  He did admit, however, that there have been incidents where people were accidentally shot, and he specifically mentioned a girl having been injured in her foot.

When Frank asked him if he knew of any animosity toward us, he said that he’s never heard anything negative said about us, only positive things.  Frank mentioned that it was his understanding that the drug kingpin likes and appreciates us, and he confirmed that.  He said that no one thinks that we’re taking pictures for the police; he said, “We trust you.”  He also said that we are accepted as part of the neighbourhood – that we don’t disturb whatever deals are going down, and that we’re there just like the rest of them: it’s just that we happen to be preaching.  He also told Frank that by being so faithful in our ministry we are giving people hope.

With this encouragement we headed south on a bleak, cold and windy afternoon.  As we entered the Bluff we drove through an area that normally has a lot of children playing, but, probably because of the chilly weather and the fact that it was beginning to get dark, there was no-one outside.  As we drove into the heart of the Bluff we passed a couple of intersections where more men than usual had congregated on the street corners and I found this a little unnerving.  Everything looked a little more menacing than it normally does, and I needed to recall memorized Bible verses to restore my strength.  After Frank parked by the steps of the burned-out church building I went round to the back of the car to take the easel and cooler out of the trunk, and I heard a gunshot coming from behind me.  My heart sank, and I thought, “O Lord, not again!”  I stopped what I was doing and went up to Amy and Linda, who had arrived ahead of us.  They had big smiles on their faces, and eagerly told Frank and me that when they arrived there had been a couple of men on the church steps and a large group gathered outside the convenience store.  But the nephew of the kingpin was one of those on the steps, and he and the other man left and shoo’d the group away from the store.  The steps were now empty and the sidewalk across the street only had a few people left.  In answer to my concern about the gunshot, Linda said that was OK – nothing to worry about!

The Bible study went well.  No unusual incidents.  Frank started the study by saying that we’d carry on where we’d left off so abruptly last week!  This brought a round of laughter.  We had eleven people in attendance, and everyone seemed to appreciate the opportunity to express reasons for thankfulness.  One young man who attends regularly gave eloquent expressions of gratitude to the Lord for protection last week.  

It was dark by the time we left the Bluff and drove home.  We knew that there were folk down there who had wondered if we would return, and we have been able to put their minds at rest.  We affirmed that, by God’s grace, we will continue to bring the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ into an area that truly needs that light.