My Dear Friends,
While not possessing the literary style or wit of Alastair Cooke, I thought you would nonetheless appreciate a “Letter From America”. We are now four weeks into our American sabbatical; six weeks and 10,000 miles to go until we return to Cambridge. The following are a few, somewhat random, observations on our experience thus far.
The USA is a country of huge diversity (it is almost a community of nations). The South is decidedly not the North; the East coast is very different from the West coast; and Texas is Texas! Our trip to Disneyworld (instead of wondering how a good Reformed minister could sink to such depths, just think of me as a good father!) saw us surrounded by a sea of mainly (so it seemed to me) black and Hispanic faces, with the occasional Scottish football jersey registering a note of familiarity. I make this observation because I heard yesterday that within fifty years, the USA will be more Black, Hispanic and Asian than white and Anglo-Saxon. What this will mean for America is anyone’s guess. However, it is surely a wake-up call to the Christian church to rise to its calling to be a faithful, vibrant, orthodox, worshipping, evangelising people. Only such a church will have the internal conviction and the external integrity to impact this rapidly changing culture with the culture-transcending gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You might wonder at the inclusion of “orthodox” in the list above - wonder not. Only as the church is shaped in all that it is by the Word of God, and resists the constant clamour to “modernise or die,” will it be equipped to minister a biblical Christ to a perishing world. Orthodoxy, however, is not an excuse for keeping the status quo; the gospel is to be preached “meaningfully” and in culturally-sensitive ways. Paul became all things to all men that he might by all means save some. But he never diluted the gospel, or made it “seeker-friendly” (the gospel comes to humble sinners, not pat them on the back).
Another first impression has been the wonderful kindness and hospitality we have received from strangers, admittedly Christian strangers. I suppose my being the guest preacher helped somewhat, but we have been left with the impression of churches that place a high premium on the Christian grace of kindness and hospitality. We surely underestimate what a precious grace kindness is. Frederick William Faber wrote, “Kindness has convicted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence or learning.” Perhaps he overstated the truth, but then again, perhaps he didn’t! Kindness is one of the fruit of the Spirit and one of the glories of God.
We have worshipped thus far in two OPC churches, one PCA church and an EPC (a prize if you can work out the acronyms). The worship has been marked in all these churches by dignity, reverence, and a high commitment to preaching. ALL recited the Apostles' Creed and the 10 Commandments. All had responsive Bible readings. ALL recited the Gloria Patri. One used the Heidelberg Catechism Question 1 to great effect - consider these magnificent words:
"Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him" - Now, this would be worthy of inclusion in our worship services, would it not!
One last observation. Some erroneous teachings have been surfacing within the Reformed churches in the USA that could, in time, affect the church in the UK. I will say more on this when we return home, but it is deeply tragic to see truths such as justification by faith alone being “reformulated” in order to smuggle in some measure of human merit. Some are saying that the believer’s justification does not rest alone on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, that our justification is through believing faithfulness, “obedient faith.” My dear friends, if our standing before God does not rest alone and exclusively on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (his active and passive obedience), we are sunk. Our “good deeds”, no less than our “bad deeds”, need the perfect covering of the Saviour’s righteousness. Nothing less will do. Nothing more is needed.
Enough rambling. Joan and the girls join me in sending our love to y’all. We greatly miss CPC. I had dinner with Dr Pipa last night and he spoke so warmly of his time with you. We are indeed, by God’s grace alone, a blessed people. May we live up to our calling and privileges, trusting however not in our privileges but in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yours as ever in the fellowship of our Blessed Saviour