A Pastoral Letter on Family Worship, from the 1884 PCUS General Assembly

This summer I’m teaching a Sunday School class on three forgotten habits of family discipleship – catechism, family worship and the Lord’s Day. At the same time, I have been reading through minutes of the Southern Presbyterian Church’s General Assemblies from the late 19th century doing some ThM research. That research has demonstrated that Presbyterian families were struggling then in these areas, even as we do today. Indeed, these habits have been forgotten for a very long time. Consider these words from the 1897 PCUS General Assembly Minutes:

Some anxiety, and evidently with good ground, is expressed with regard to the attitude of our people toward Sabbath observance. It is an unquestioned fact that some of our members do not observe the Sabbath as they ought. This holy day is being more and more secularized, and the time has undoubtedly come for the regular pastorate to preach with renewed fidelity to the people, especially to the young of our congregations, set discourses on the divine origin of the day; its relation to man’s spiritual interests and to his material and physical well-being, as well as to the nation’s and church’s prosperity and peace.

Just in this connection one thing pains us to note, and a mere statement of it will carry its own lesson and afford food for the whole church’s prayerful consideration. It is the almost general decadence of family worship. One narrative, in speaking on family worship, says: ‘No increase’; another, ‘sadly neglected,’ and after a careful scanning of some fifteen narratives, representative in character, we are constrained to join in and quote the exact language of one of them: the neglect is simply ‘appalling.’

We see, too, a common, and, if we mistake not, a growing practice on the part of parents to delegate to the Sabbath-school teacher nearly all of the Bible and catechetical instruction of the children of their homes.

Family worship had been an issue for many years previous to 1897, as shown by this pastoral letter on the topic of family worship, written by the 1884 PCUS General Assembly. For those in my class, and for anyone else who desires a shot in the arm to spur them on as they seek to learn these habits, I commend to you this wise counsel and admonishment, and pray that the Lord would only grow us in our daily worship of Him in our families.

You cannot resist the sovereign grace of God.

Last Sunday I preached on the I of TULIP, and you can read that sermon here. Audio of the sermon can be found on the Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church website.

Five of Robert’s Rules that I wish were better known

I confess, I love Robert’s Rules of Order. I love the way they protect the minority while at the same time ensuring the will of the majority is accomplished. I love how they help keep meetings on task, streamlined, and efficient. Unfortunately, because the book is so thick and filled with laborious and minute details, it’s easy to remain in the dark about many of the rules. Who wants to read about parliamentary procedure, after all? And even if one does enjoy the minutia, it’s hard to remember all that one reads.

So, by way of reminder or perhaps for the first time, here are five rules (or parts of rules) that I wish were better known, in order that deliberative bodies like church courts can act wisely, save time, and not run roughshod over its members.

1. “Receiving” a report. Often, the motion is made to “receive” a written (or less frequently an oral) report that was just presented. Yet on page 508 of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (11th Edition), we read: “A common error is to move that a report ‘be received’ after it has been read – apparently on the supposition that such a motion is necessary in order for the report to be taken under consideration or to be recorded as having been made. In fact, this motion is meaningless, since the report has already been received. Even before a report has been read, a motion to receive it is unnecessary if the time for its reception is established by the order of business, or if no member objects…”

2. “Tabling” a motion. On page 210, Mr. Robert states: “This motion (to Lay on the Table) is commonly misused in ordinary assemblies – in place of the motion to Postpone Indefinitely, to Postpone to a Certain Time, or other motions. Particularly in such misuses, it also is known as a motion ‘to table.'” If you want to put something off till later, the proper motion to make is a motion to postpone to a certain time; it is debatable, whereas the motion to lay something on the table is not. That is because the purpose of the motion to lay on the table is merely to interrupt the pending business so as to permit doing something else (usually something that is urgent) immediately – in making the motion “to table” properly, there is no set time for taking the matter up again, but the majority can consider it again at any time during that session. The way the motion to table is usually used is semantically confusing and therefore substantively wrong.

3. “Friendly” amendments. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone try to make a “friendly” amendment, by addressing the maker of the motion to see if he would mind if one or two words or sentences might be changed or added, I’d be a rich man. Yet Robert’s Rules is clear: “The term ‘friendly amendment’ is often used to describe an amendment offered by someone who is in sympathy with the purposes of the main motion, in the belief that the amendment will either improve the statement or effect of the main motion, presumably to the satisfaction of its maker, or will increase the chances of the main motion’s adoption. Regardless of whether or not the maker of the main motion ‘accepts’ the amendment, it must be opened to debate and voted on formally (unless adopted by unanimous consent) and is handled under the same rules as amendments generally” (page 162). “Friendly” amendments are in fact hostile amendments, because they assault the body’s right to debate amendments to motions, and because they forget the fundamental rule that “[a]fter the question has been stated by the chair, the motion becomes the property of the assembly, and then its maker can do neither of these things [modify or withdraw it] without the assembly’s consent” (page 40). The time when “friendly” amendments are indeed friendly is before after the motion has been made and seconded but before the motion has been stated by the chair (see pages 295ff.). Certainly amendments that everyone is recognized to agree would make a motion better can be handled by unanimous consent (“without objection”), as long as the chair/moderator is the one who follows the process for this consent and does not shut down debate. Life in deliberative assemblies would be easier if members just stated their desired amendments to the chair and allowed the chair to follow the rules for amendments.

4. “Reaffirming” a position. It is not unusual (especially at the PCA General Assembly!) to hear a motion made to “reaffirm” a position formerly taken by the body. Yet Mr. Robert is clear: “Motions to ‘reaffirm’ a position previously taken by adopting a motion or resolution are not in order. Such a motion serves no useful purpose because the original motion is still in effect; also, possible attempts to amend a motion to reaffirm would come into conflict with the rules for the motion to Amend Something Previously Adopted; and if such a motion to reaffirm failed, it would create an ambiguous situation.” I.e., if we don’t vote to reaffirm a position, do we still hold it or do we not? So that bodies never find themselves in this situation, moderators must immediately rule motions to reaffirm out of order.

5. “Calling the question.” This motion has several aspects to it that are frequently unknown or disregarded. First, it is not allowed in committees (page 198). Second, it is out of order when someone else has the floor (page 199). Often, you’ll hear folks shout out from the body while someone else is speaking or while they themselves have not yet been acknowledged to speak, “Call the question!” or “Question!” This is absolutely inappropriate. Third, it must be seconded, it is not debatable, and it requires a 2/3 vote. Sometimes moderators hear a motion to call the question, and they immediately move to a vote without having a second, or they allow members to debate whether calling the question is desirable or not. Both are wrong. The 2/3 rule is significant: “In ordinary bodies, the requirement of a two-thirds vote for ordering the Previous Question is important in protecting the democratic process. If this rule were not observed, a temporary majority of only one vote could deny the remaining members all opportunity to discuss any measure that such a majority wished to adopt or kill” (pages 200-201).

These particular rules are perhaps a bit pedantic and nit-picky, yet their observance not only ensures proper procedure, but also that the process of decision making is fair and free. Let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner, Paul said in I Corinthians 14:40. And though he didn’t have Robert’s Rules in mind, I believe he would have been thankful for their development if he lived today.

Everyone limits the atonement of Jesus – you either limit its extent and intent, or its nature and power.

Last Sunday I continued my sermon series on the five points of Calvinism, preaching on “Limited Atonement.” Many today prefer the language of Particular Redemption or Definite Atonement. These are helpful names, but I like keeping the L. Not only do TUPIP or TUDIP not work as acronyms, but the word “limited” forcefully reminds us that everyone limits the atonement – either in its extent/intent, or its nature/power. Read my sermon for more on this point.

Unconditionally Elected – Unpacking and Unleashing the U of TULIP

Last Sunday, I opened up the U of TULIP – “Unconditional Election.” It is a difficult doctrine, but I hope and pray that the Spirit uses my words to make it a bit easier to understand, and to accept. I also desire that the truth would transform those who hear/read. So make sure to read all the way through to the end, to see how the truth of election should change us!

Ralph Davis on the place of law in the believer’s life

“By extension of principle all God’s people are in Saul’s position; we are a people under God’s law, and we need to be. Israel came under Yahweh’s law at Sinai. And that was not a sad mistake. You will never view the law incorrectly so long as you remember that Exodus 20:2 comes before Exodus 20:3-17. Yahweh says, I have set you free from bondage; it was not your doing; only my power decimated Pharaoh, my lamb protected you from ruin, my hand split open the sea; now that you are free, here is how a free people is to live – my commandments. You don’t keep them in order to earn freedom – that has been my gift; you keep them in order to enjoy freedom, to preserve and maintain it, to avoid becoming slaves again to anyone else.” (from his I Samuel commentary, pages 89-90)

In the defeat of our plans by God He creates the victory which, in conquering, we ourselves would have failed to gain.

I’ve started reading Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom again this week, as I’m preaching on Absalom’s death this Sunday evening and remembered having read the book in 10th or 11th grade but didn’t remember why Faulkner titled it with David’s plaintive cry. Rereading the first chapter brought back so many memories – I remember that it was the most difficult book I had ever read to that point in my brief 16 years, and that finishing it felt like I had completed a marathon. Well, it’s still a very difficult book to read, although Spark Notes has a great book summary that makes sense of the plot so that I can make sense of Faulkner’s page-long sentences. 

Last evening in chapter two I came across one of the most striking sentences in the English language that I can recall reading in awhile; and it so easily translates into the spiritual principle that titles this post. Faulkner is telling of the French architect who built Sutpen’s mansion, describing what a wondrous figure he was to work for two years on a house he would never see again, and to work with and for Sutpen:

Only an artist could have borne Sutpen’s ruthlessness and hurry and still manage to curb the dream of grim and castlelike magnificence at which Sutpen’s obviously aimed, since the place as Sutpen planned it would have been almost as large as Jefferson itself at the time; the little grim harried foreigner has singledhanded given battle to and vanquished Sutpen’s fierce and overweening vanity or desire for magnificence or for vindication or whatever it was…and so created of Sutpen’s very defeat the victory which, in conquering, Sutpen himself would have failed to gain.

In reading those last words, I could not but help think of all the plans, all the desires, all the fierce and overweening vanity and desire for magnificence or vindication or whatever it was in my own life, that God, the grand architect and artist, has defeated – and yet in my defeat He has created the very victory which, if I would have gotten my way, I never would have attained. What a glorious reality! He works life out of death, triumph out of defeat, joy out of sorrow.

Lord, keep me from getting my own way; conquer me and my pride daily; give battle to, defeat, and vanquish my overweening vanity; crush my kingdoms and aspirations for self-glory – that in my defeat I might gain the victory that you would have for me in Jesus Christ.

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