Posts Tagged 'Missions'

Featured Recording: “Classical” Music

Featured Recording

Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never served as a delegate, but there are few church-related events I enjoy more than classis meetings.  There is something of a foretaste of heaven fellowshipping with godly men from across the eastern seaboard, watching them work through difficult issues with grace and wisdom, and witnessing their unified decisions to work for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.  Veteran readers of this blog may remember that I wrote about last year’s spring classis meeting way back here.

Carbondale URCThe classis to which my church belongs, Classis Eastern US of the United Reformed Churches in North America, most recently met at Covenant URC in Carbondale, PA, last Friday.  It included the most grueling trip of the five classis meetings I’ve attended thus far (we departed Long Island at 3:45 am and didn’t arrive back home until 10:15 pm), but it was also one of the most uplifting.  And, since four years of college will most likely prevent visits to future meetings for a while, I made sure to enjoy this one to the utmost.

For those unfamiliar with Reformed church government, the classis consists of two delegates (usually a pastor and an elder) from each of the eleven congregations along the East Coast.  These men gather to make decisions for the collective benefit of the churches—not to contradict or supersede the authority of the individual consistories, but to put our ecclesiastical unity into practice by seeking common goals.

Carbondale Stained Glass IIWCarbondale Stained Glass Ihile I could write an entire blog series outlining and evaluating the discussions and decisions that occurred in Carbondale last Friday, I’ll attempt to be brief.  It seems hardly an exaggeration to say that Classis Eastern US is exploding—in a wondrous way.  Our one currently active church plant, Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC, is in the process of organizing into a fully functioning church.  Under the leadership of Mr. Sam Perez, who will be ordained DV at the end of this month, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in NYC will soon begin a church plant just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Seminarian Zac Wyse is making similar efforts to start a URCNA plant on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Three churches or core groups in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Georgia are currently looking to join our classis.  And just this week I received word that another URCNA-focused core group is forming in Danbury, Connecticut!

Along with church planting, pursuing ecumenical unity with other Reformed denominations is a vital aspect of the health of our classis.  This particular meeting included fraternal visitors from the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, and the Canadian Reformed Churches.  Psalm-singing was featured prominently, and I think profitably, in discussions with the representatives from the RPCNA and the CanRC.  In addition, Mr. Joel Pearce, the Eastern representative of the URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee, presented an informative update on their project.

Carbondale SanctuaryFor all the prospective church plants in our area, Classis Eastern US needs ministers—and the Lord seems to be providing those as well.  One current student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary was in attendance at the meeting; the delegates also approved the disbursement of classical funds to help pay for the tuition costs of two other prospective seminarians.  The growth of our little federation on the east coast is so great that, as one pastor has expressed it, “The ripe fruit is so abundant that it is falling out of the tree for want of enough hands to gather it up.”  All glory be to God!

One of the elements of classis that I find most encouraging is the heartfelt prayers of the delegates—at the beginning and end of the meeting, and after just about any major decision.  At this particular meeting, however, some of the most moving prayers came by way of song.  That, in fact, brings us to today’s Featured Recording.

Carbondale OrganCovenant URC in Carbondale worships in the quaintly cozy building of an old Lutheran church on Church Street in the downtown.  I’ve interspersed pictures of the sanctuary throughout this article.  The pride and joy of the building is its ancient pipe organ, which I had the privilege of playing that day.  Thankfully I had thought to bring my video camera and was able to record all of the day’s music.  Below the delegates sing the rich missionary hymn “Far and Near the Fields are Teeming,” number 405 from the blue Psalter Hymnal.  Chairman Rev. Aaron Verhoef selected this hymn to accompany his opening devotions; how perfectly it complements the desire and outlook of our churches!

URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel now includes five other recordings from that day.  During a hasty practice session during the lunch hour, I recorded organ improvisations on Psalter Hymnal numbers 55 (“How Blest is He Whose Trespass”), 165 (“Our Gracious God Has Laid His Firm Foundations”), and 172 (“My Mouth Shall Sing for Aye Thy Tender Mercies, Lord”).  After hearing Rev. William den Hollander’s address on behalf of the Canadian Reformed Churches, the delegates sang #287 (“With All My Heart Will I Record”), a setting of Psalm 138 in the Genevan style.  And this group of weary but joyful men closed their day with the singing of #490 (“Praise Ye the Lord, Ye Hosts Above”).

Organ Stops

As I reflect on this assembly, I find myself filled with gratitude to God for his faithfulness through all ages, and I am reminded of the confident words of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 21, Question & Answer 54:

I believe that the Son of God,
through his Spirit and Word,
out of the entire human race,
from the beginning of the world to its end,
gathers, protects, and preserves for himself
a community chosen for eternal life
and united in true faith.
And of this community I am and always will be
a living member.


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Organ Pedals

Introducing “The Chinese Psalter”

Earlier this year I posted about the landmark significance of the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter. Here is a fascinating article which describes the creation of a Chinese version of this songbook! Praise God for making such an endeavor possible!

The Three R's Blog

Patron: “I see you have books in German and Dutch, and I know you carry books on Hebrew and Greek here at the Seminary library. But do you have any books in Chinese?”

Librarian: “As a matter of fact, we do. It came in late this summer, and it is a unique and wonderful treasure. It is “The Chinese Psalter” and it truly is entirely in Chinese. And God is using it to fill a void in the worship of Chinese Christians. It is an exciting book!”

The above conversation did not actually take place, but it does help me introduce to you this unique volume that was entered into our Seminary library this past summer. Let me tell you the story of it briefly along with some pictures I took of it (click on to enlarge). Earlier this year I was informed through our PRC website by a Dutch…

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Psalm 60: Doing Valiantly

O God, Thou hast rejected us,
And hast afflicted sore;
Thou hast been angry, but in grace
O once again restore.

Psalm 60 opens with a cry for a renewed outpouring of God’s blessing, as the psalmist brings his complaints before the Lord.  “You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair its breaches, for it totters” (v. 2).  But like many other psalms of lament, this song is penetrated by  unshakable confidence:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.

–Psalm 60:4 (ESV)

The psalm goes on to repeat God’s declaration that all lands belong to him.  Verses 6-8 (repeated in Psalm 108:6-13) establish God’s ownership of both the territory of Israel (v. 7) and the kingdoms of the Gentiles (vv. 6, 8).  Then the psalmist David asks a piercing question:

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?

–v. 9

Since God has deserted the cause of his people, says David (“You do not go forth, O God, with our armies,” v. 10), their military endeavors are futile.  In response to this truth, the psalmist ends his lament with an echo of his opening plea:

Oh, grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

–vv. 11, 12

The ascription of Psalm 60 refers to striking down “twelve thousand of Edom in the Valley of Salt,” probably connecting this song to the events recorded in II Samuel 8:1-14.  The ESV Study Bible notes that the campaign referenced here “brought several Gentile kingdoms under David’s rule” and suggests that “this psalm, with its air of lament, would thus represent the prayers of the people before the campaign had been completed.”

Had I not read this psalm’s ascription, however, I would have assumed Psalm 60 was composed sometime after Israel’s exile.  And it’s interesting to note how it fits that model equally well.  Mourning over the desolation of their land, the captive Israelites could still pray this psalm and look with expectation to the renewal of God’s blessings.

Through the work of Jesus Christ, Psalm 60 comes to take on an even deeper meaning.  It’s not hard to see messianic fulfillment in phrases such as “You have rejected us” (v. 1), “You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger” (v. 3).  Christ also fulfills the psalmist’s cry for God to “give salvation by your right hand and answer us” (v. 5).  And the rest of Psalm 60 only makes sense when understood in light of the Great Commission: “With God we shall do valiantly” (v. 12).  Thus, Psalm 60 is completely suited to the life and mission of the Christian church.

108, “O God, Thou Hast Rejected Us”

Number 108 in the Psalter Hymnal is a mixed bag.  In fact, its quality varies from stanza to stanza, and sometimes even from line to line.  The first verse is excellent.  The second is fairly accurate, but the reference to “judgments dread” carries a connotation not present in Psalm 60.  The third stanza sacrifices the psalm’s messianic references to condense the text.  The fourth is an accurate versification, but uses the “old” translation of Psalm 60:4 found in the KJV (see the ESV footnote).  Stanza five is solid.  Stanza six, in a glaring oversight, obliterates the distinction between the regions of Israel (v. 7) and the “heathen lands” mentioned in vv. 6 and 8.  The seventh stanza takes some similar liberties with vv. 9 and 10.  And the final stanza, like the first, is fine.

The tune of “O God, Thou Hast Rejected Us” is notable as the Psalter Hymnal’s only contribution (or possibly one of the only contributions) from the Scottish Psalter of 1615. With a beautifully simple structure, DUNFERMLINE exhibits classic Scottish four-part harmony.  The melody line carries the psalm’s impressions of mourning and petition with an unwavering air of confidence.  It’s a perfect match; the alternate tune CLINTON is probably viable, but certainly unnecessary.

Give Thou Thy help against the foe,
For help of man is vain;
Through God we shall do valiantly,
The victory He shall gain.


The Church’s Renewal

Classis Report

Today I’m going to deviate a little bit from the topic of music, and share with you my reaction to the most recent meeting of one of the classes of the URC.  It’s a long story, but I hope you find some encouragement in it.

It was dark and damp on Long Island as five of us piled into a minivan on a Friday morning at five o’clock and set out on a journey for Middletown, New York.  Four other men and I were heading to the spring 2012 meeting of Classis Eastern US at the Hudson Valley URC.  On the agenda for the meeting was a variety of topics, but the main focus of the session was on one theme: church planting.

The ride was quick and uneventful.  Leaving the Island on a weekday morning is risky; the only routes of exit are through New York City, and arriving in the city any later than 7 am would inevitably land us in heavy traffic.  We had worked out our plans to a pretty exact science, however, and by leaving at five o’clock instead of seven, we managed to complete the 120-mile trip in almost exactly two hours—and, as a bonus, we had time for conversation over a leisurely breakfast at a Middletown diner once we arrived.

Hudson Valley URC Exterior

The exterior of the Hudson Valley URC

The Hudson Valley United Reformed Church is only a few minutes out of town, surrounded by orchards and old farm buildings on quiet County Route 12.  The church building is only about five years old—so new that its lower level, which will contain spacious classrooms and a fellowship hall, is still under construction.  The architecture of the church is beautiful.  Upon arrival, despite the gloomy, misty weather, our group spent the remaining half-hour before classis taking pictures of the building and its scenic location.

At 9 am, the meeting began.  Rev. Steve Arrick, pastor of the Zeltenreich URC in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, led opening devotions on Matthew 9:37, 38, where Jesus instructs his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (ESV)  Relating this passage to the pertinent topic of church planting, Rev. Arrick urged all the elders and pastors not only to be constant in prayer for the growth of God’s Church, but to be actively working to further that growth.  Following the opening prayer, the delegates sang a Psalter Hymnal selection.  There couldn’t have been a more applicable hymn than number 405.

Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.

Send them forth with morn’s first beaming,
Send them in the noon-tide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

Thou whom Christ the Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves of gold;
Heavenward then at evening wending,
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,

Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.

Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary

The sanctuary of the Hudson Valley URC

The opening devotions having been concluded, the official meeting began.  During the classis session, we heard a great deal of encouraging news.  Throughout the federation, the United Reformed Churches are making concrete steps to further church planting in a steady and orderly fashion.  Seminarians like Mr. Sam Perez from Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URC) in New York City are eager to become involved in planting more churches in the heavily populated parts of the East Coast.  Some funds are already in place for these projects.  Churches such as an independent Reformed congregation in Pennsylvania are looking to join our federation.  Visiting the classis meeting were three fraternal delegates from the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), who heard the URC’s reports with joy and shared their desire to see greater fellowship between the two denominations.  By God’s grace, the United Reformed Churches are continuing to grow—slowly but steadily.

God’s faithfulness in the past was another focal point at the meeting.  Last year, the URC in Lancaster had the unique opportunity to merge with an old German Reformed church in the same area of Pennsylvania, doubling the size of their congregation and obtaining a permanent worship location in the process.  Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in New York City recently joined the URC as an official, independent congregation, and not only are they making plans to establish a church plant of their own, but God has also provided the means for them to worship in a real church building for the first time in their existence.  The elders of the Newton URC in New Jersey reported the recent growth of their own church with thankfulness: although their services were poorly attended just a few years ago, their sanctuary is now filled to overflowing on Sunday mornings.  Office-bearers led the classis in prayers of thanksgiving after each of these reports.  The delegates’ joy was tangible at witnessing God’s lasting faithfulness to his Church, in old and young congregations alike.

Hudson Valley Landscape

The view from the church

During the fellowship breaks that split up the meeting, I met a few new faces and caught up with some of the office-bearers I already knew.  We talked about many different things, but a single thread ran through all the conversations: a fresh, revitalized perspective and a hopeful eye on the future of our churches.  One of the elders encouraged me to keep coming to classis meetings, adding that he loved the fellowship himself and hoped his own children would also come in the future.  I spoke to multiple people about the immense benefit of these sessions, especially for me as a young URC member, and our display of the heavenly unity we enjoy as God’s family—regardless of geographical separation.  And even among the older elders I met, not one had a discouraged outlook on our federation; all were optimistic and forward-looking, rejoicing in the gracious providence of God.

The only part of the day that approached sadness was the moments right before everyone’s departure.  The old hymn describes it well: “When we asunder part,/It gives us inward pain,/But we shall still be joined in heart/And hope to meet again” (number 447).  As we piled into our car again and headed back to Long Island, the sun had just broken through the clouds and was illuminating the foothills in awe-inspiring light.

Two words come to mind as I reflect on this classis session: innovation and renovation.  Innovation is the creation of new things; renovation is the restoration of old things—making them as good as new.  Both ideas were abundantly evident at this meeting.  Maybe the drastic change in the day’s weather, from dark gloom to radiant light, is an appropriate picture of the lesson I learned.  It’s so easy to let ourselves be deceived into hopelessness regarding Christ’s Church.  Evil is everywhere, sin is rampant, and our world is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.  Within the orthodox Reformed community, our congregations appear wracked with low attendance and decreasing funds, with outward pressures and inward strife.  What does God have to say about this?  Should we jump ship while we can?  No—Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  We need not doubt.  Yes, in our sin-cursed world, God’s people will endure trouble and affliction.  But we can have faith that right up to the end, though the earth be removed and the mountains cast into the sea, our steadfast God will preserve and increase his glorious Church.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.


Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary Detail

The commission above the rear doors of the Hudson Valley URC sanctuary

(Thanks to Elder Steve Wetmore of the URC in Cape Coral, Fla., for the photos.)

URC Psalmody on YouTube

Geneva College Benefit Concert

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