Go and Disciple – June 2018 Tabletalk

The June issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional, centers around the theme of “Discipleship.”

This is another issue that features a larger number of articles, but considerably shorter. Eighteen writers draw our attention to various aspects of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, from the “mandate of discipleship” to the “rewards of discipleship.” I am again finding the articles instructive and inspirational.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the course of the issue with his introduction “Christians are Disciples.” In he makes this important point:

…Although many people don’t want to hear it, and while many pastors fail to preach it, there is no distinction between a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christians are disciples. A disciple is someone who trusts Christ and who lives his life according to that trust, following Christ and growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). His call is clear: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). If we are genuinely trusting Christ, we will follow Him, but if we’re not following Him, it means that we don’t trust Him. Similarly, if we know the gospel, we will strive to walk in a way that is worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27); if the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we will walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25); if we are united to Christ, we will bear fruit in Christ (John 15:1–11); if we love Christ, we will obey Christ (John 14:15); if we are justified by faith, and faith alone, our faith will not remain alone but will result in a life of faith, repentance, and good works, which Christ prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26).

One of the other articles I reference tonight is by Rev. Anthony Carter, who penned a short piece titled “What is a Disciple?” We quote a portion of his article too:

In short, a disciple is a student. A disciple is one who disciplines himself in the teachings and practices of another. The word disciple, like discipline, comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning “pupil” or “learner.” Consequently, to learn is to discipline oneself. For example, if one is to advance in the arts or the sciences or athletics, one has to discipline himself and to learn and follow the principles and fundamentals of the best teachers in that area of study. So it was and is with the disciples of Christ. A disciple follows Jesus.

When Jesus called His first disciples, He spoke the simple words, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17; 2:14; John 1:43). A disciple is a follower, one who trusts and believes in a teacher and follows that teacher’s words and example. Therefore, to be a disciple is to be in a relationship. It is having an intimate, instructive, and imitative relationship with the teacher. Consequently, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is being in relationship with Jesus—it is seeking to be like Jesus. In other words, we follow Christ to be like Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) because as His disciples, we belong to Christ. The disciple of Jesus has certain traits that are commensurate with a relationship with Jesus. What are the qualities of a disciple of Christ? What are the traits of those who follow and are called disciples of Christ?

To find out the answers to those questions, follow the link below and finish reading. For the other articles, visit the Tabletalk link above.

Source: What Is a Disciple?

How does God’s garden grow? “By ordinary, daily, habitual practices.” – M. Horton

Even the ordinary disciplines of family devotions seem to be vanishing. For centuries, believers were raised with prayer, singing, instruction, and Bible reading with the family each morning and evening. The Reformers and their spiritual heirs not only wrote catechisms for this purpose, but books with each day’s readings, prayers, and songs. They knew that, as central as it was, the public ministry was weekly, and it needed to be supplemented and supported by daily habits.

As church and family disciplines were subordinated to private disciplines, the burden of growing in the faith was placed almost exclusively on the individual. If do-it-yourself discipleship was the order of the day not that long ago, what is striking today is the extent to which even personal disciplines seem to be receding. It seems to me that there is increasingly less interest in personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word than in any time since the Middle Ages. It suggests that when public disciplines (especially the weekly service) lose their hold on us, family and private disciplines are sure to follow.

We need to rethink our priorities here, and recovering an appreciation for the ordinary is at least one step in that direction. We grow by ordinary, daily, habitual practices. The weekly service of the Word and sacrament, along with its public confession of sin and faith, the prayers, and praise, are the fountain that flows into our homes and private rooms throughout the week. It is all of these disciplines – public, family, and private – that we need to recover. They seem so ordinary. In fact, they are! But that is precisely how God’s garden grows each day.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” (p.181) of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great profit and deep appreciation.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In the section from which I quote above, Horton is treating “Personal Disciplines.” But, as you will see, he ties together the vital public means of grace (in our public services) with the vital private means of grace (what we practice in our homes).

And we should be able to see how they feed off one another. Stop worshiping at home and in private, and soon your desire for the house of God on the Lord’s Day will dry up. If we don’t have time for God and His Word at home, we won’t take time for them on Sunday either. But conversely, if we stop attending the public worship of God with His people on the Lord’s Day, we will soon stop our times of family and private worship too. If we don’t value time with God on His special day, we won’t value time with Him each day either.

I trust we are committed to God’s ordinary public means of grace in His church each week. But how committed are we to those ordinary private and personal disciplines each day? Are you and am I seeking to grow by God’s “ordinary, daily, habitual practices” of reading His Word, singing His praises, and praying?

Perhaps, we too need to “rethink our priorities here.” Good food for thought once again. It’s only Monday. Not too late to reset those priorities. You do remember how vibrant you felt yesterday in God’s house, right? Let that feed our souls at home the rest of this week.

The Founding of Frankenmuth (Michigan) | Christian History Institute

Today’s “It Happened Today” feature from the Christian History Institute noted that on this date, May 3, 1891 the founder of the famous little Michigan town of Frankenmuth died.

For those of us who have made the trip to that beautiful little place and enjoyed its Christmas store and decorations (Bronner’s), its Bavarian themes, as well as its delicious chicken dinners (Zehnder’s), we marveled at the industrious German settlers and what they made of this once desolate area.

But maybe you didn’t realize the Lutheran Christian founding of this town. That’s what was featured in today’s church history note. Here’s an important part of the history of that little berg on the east side of Michigan:

Death of Friedrich August Crämer, Founder of Frankenmuth

 

The hardworking minister was a founder of Frankenmuth, MI and Lutheran educator.

WHEN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH in Germany appealed for Lutheran missionaries and ministers to go to the American frontier, Friedrich August Crämer answered the call. Born in Klein-Langheim, Bavaria in 1812, Cramer was arrested while a university student at Erlangen for his involvement in a plot to start a revolution. He went to prison a radical social activist but emerged a Christian, reasoning, “If Christ has redeemed lost and condemned sinners, then He has redeemed me also; because everything in me and in my life is lost…”

Pastor Wilhelm Loehe Loehe recruited German families to form a mission settlement in Michigan and become a “living book,” showing Native Americans what it was like to live with Christ as savior. He selected Crämer, a theology student, as their pastor.

In 1845, the Lutheran immigrants settled in Saginaw Valley, where they battled mosquitoes and broke ground for a town they named “Frankenmuth” (Courage of Franconia). They erected a few log cabins before winter, helped their pastor and his wife construct a place to live, and cleared land for next spring’s planting.

As soon as he could do so, Crämer began teaching Indian children, assisted by Jim Grant, his interpreter, who was half Chippewa. In time, he baptized thirty-one Indians. Although Crämer taught from his own home, he also visited the Chippewa Indians in their villages and ate their food with them. When the local Indians succumbed to western diseases, Crämer extended his work by building three mission stations, one at a distance of seventy miles. He visited each of these every month regardless of weather or his own state of health.

During 1846, close to one hundred additional German immigrants swelled Frankenmuth’s population. Up to this time, the community had been worshipping in the Crämer living room. Now it was apparent a church was needed. The settlers erected St. Lorenz Lutheran Church and dedicated it on Christmas Day. The date of dedication was appropriate, for Christmas would become a major day for Frankenmuth—which much later would call itself the Christmas capital of the world, with Christmas stores, restaurants, and retreats that stayed open year-round.

The Indian mission folded as the Indians migrated westward. Theological difficulties also arose when Lutherans teaching other, less-confessional doctrines arrived. To counter this, Crämer helped found the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and taught in its seminaries. His hearers considered him an excellent teacher. While teaching in St. Louis, he organized a congregation of Irish and German immigrants whom he served without pay as their church grew to over three hundred members. In 1881, he lost three of his grown children and two grandchildren. His wife’s health declined from the shock and in 1884 she died as well.

Unable to support its own growth, the seminary in St. Louis eventually split.  Part of the seminary moved to Illinois, and Crämer led the move despite his age. He continued to work himself relentlessly, and as a result, his health gave way. The Lutheran Witness of May 7, 1891 reported: “It is our sad duty to chronicle the bereavement of our synod and the Springfield Seminary by the demise of Rev. Prof. A. Crämer, late senior professor of our synod and president of our Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Ill. … he had been suffering from a severe attack of the grippe [influenza], and fell asleep in Jesus on the 3rd of May at 3.50 A.M.” Altogether, he had prepared six hundred and thirty five candidates for ministry.

Dan Graves

Source: It Happened Today | Christian History Institute

God’s “greenbelt”, the Sabbath

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The practice of worshiping on the day Jesus rose from the dead – the first day of the week – goes back to the time of the apostles (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; Acts 20:7; i Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10). However, practicing the Lord’s Day is extremely difficult in our society today. Few neighbors treat it as a ‘greenbelt’ in time. Many, including Christians, look bewildered when you decline an invitation to a soccer game during morning or evening worship. In fact, many church activities on Sunday have less to do with inculcating the faith than with providing ‘safe’ things for kids to do.

…Setting aside the ordinary callings and pastimes of the week, our calling on the Lord’s Day is to share, together with our coheirs, in the powers of the age to come. It is not by simply emptying the day with a list of rules, but by filling it with treasure hunting, that the Christian Sabbath orients us, our families, and our fellow saints to our heavenly citizenship. However, everyone around you sees it as the ideal day for a trip to the mall, sports, and other entertainments. Whatever fills our Sundays fills our hearts throughout the week. The Lord’s Day is not a prison but a palace. It is a wonderful gift to turn off the devices that interrupt our daily schedules and to push our roots down into the fertile soil that produces trees in God’s garden. It is a delight to set aside our normal associations with friends and coworkers – even non-Christian family members – in order to commiserate with fellow heirs of the kingdom concerning the news we’ve heard about the age to come.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with rich profit.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In this particular section he brings in “the Sabbath as God’s greenbelt.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.176-77.

Why Do We Attend Corporate Worship?

Another fine article in this month’s Tabletalk is found in the back. There, under the rubric “For the Church,” Jared Wilson has some fresh thoughts on “Attending Corporate Worship.”

Acknowledging at the outset that there are many good reasons for being in the Lord’s house for worship on Sunday (including the fact that God commands it!), Wilson gives four (4) reasons for gathering with our brothers and sisters each week for corporate worship:

  • As an encouragement to others
  • As an act of self-crucifixion
  • As a witness to your neighbors
  • As a foretaste of heaven

Let’s “break open” that second one and consider his thoughts on that point:

As an Act of Self-Crucifixion

Your church attendance is a rebellion against your sense of self-sovereignty. Oh, I know that sometimes the sermon is a little (or a lot) longer than you’d like, the songs aren’t quite to your taste, the people are too shy to welcome you properly or so exuberantly friendly that you feel overwhelmed. I know sometimes there are a million things you’d do differently if you were in charge. So just think how sanctifying going to church must be!

The gathering of the diverse and divinely empowered saints is a community organized in part to stifle the selfish human desire for autonomy. In a world where we encounter so much that caters to our sense of self-sovereignty, going to church can be a way of taking up our cross—not our will be done, but the Father’s, not our interests be first, but our brothers’—and in that regard, it is extremely helpful to our growth in Christlikeness.

Good thoughts as we prepare to meet the Lord and His redeemed tomorrow. May we begin already now to crucify our old man and put on our new man in Christ, so that our worship will be God-focused and not self-centered.

For the rest of his points, visit the link below.

Source: Attending Corporate Worship

Exciting Reformation (and Church History) Book News! “Here We Stand” is Here!

Today for our Thursday history feature we highlight some exciting new Reformation book news, along with a children’s/young people’s church history book.

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At the top of the list is a special book hot off the press that was delivered earlier this afternoon. RFPA managing editor Alex Kalsbeek stopped in at seminary and brought with him freshly printed (and fresh-smelling!) copies of the RFPA’s latest publication Here We Stand: Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (cf. cover photo above).

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The book is special because it is the fruit of the PRC Seminary’s October 2017 Reformation 500th Conference. The contents of the book are the expanded speeches given at that conference, the topics of which you will see on the flyer above. Three of our professors have contributions to the book (Profs. R. Cammenga, R. Dykstra, and B. Gritters), and the entire book is edited by Prof. Cammenga. The publisher gives this description on its website:

The great sixteenth-century church Reformation was so significant an event that virtually every church today is affected by that history, as well as its reforms in doctrine and life. This book demonstrates the impact of that historic event by focusing on a few aspects of the Reformation, including the crucial issues of justification by faith alone, the authority of scripture, and proper worship. This book also covers two lesser-known, yet significant aspects of the Reformation that began in 1517: the unique development of the Reformation in the Lowlands and the reformers’ response to the “radical reformation.”

The chapters included in this book are written by: Prof. Ronald L. Cammenga (editor), Rev. David Torlach, Prof. Barrett L. Gritters, Rev. Martyn McGeown, Prof. Russell Dykstra, and Rev. Steven Key.

While the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century may be over, your reading about it does not have to stop, and it ought not end with 2017. Be sure you  add this title to your Reformation reading list for 2018, and for years to come. You may obtain the title by visiting the RFPA website or visiting the Seminary bookstore. Or, become a RFPA book club member and receive all the new titles automatically – at a 35% discount!

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The second new Reformation book you ought to have on your radar for reading (and purchase – cf. the deal below!) is Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, edited by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (New Growth Press, 2018). The publisher provides this summary of the book:

Twenty-six liturgies, including historical introductions that provide fresh analysis into their origins, are invaluable tools for pastors and worship leaders as they seek to craft public worship services in the great tradition of the early Reformers.

Christians learn to worship from the generations of God’s people who have worshipped before them. We sing psalms, because thousands of years ago, God’s people sang them. Five hundred years ago, the leaders of the Reformation transformed Christian worship by encouraging the active participation and understanding of the individual worshiper. Christian worship today is built on this foundation. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey have made worship resources from the Reformation era accessible by compiling the most comprehensive collection of liturgies from that era into newly translated modern English from the original German, Dutch, French, Latin, and early English.

The structure of the liturgies, language, and rhythm continue to communicate the gospel in word and sacrament today. They provide a deep sense of God’s call to worship and an appreciation for the Reformers as, first and foremost, men who wanted to help God’s people worship. This book will also be of great interest to theological scholars and students who wish to understand early Reformation leaders. A useful tool for individuals, Reformation Worship, can be used as a powerful devotional to guide daily prayer and reflection.

By providing a connection to Reformation worship, Gibson and Earngey hope that through their work readers will experience what John Calvin described to be the purpose of all church worship: “To what end is the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the holy congregations themselves, and indeed the whole external government of the church, except that we may be united to God?”

This fresh title is currently available at a 50% discount from the publisher as well as from Westminster Bookstore.

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Finally, a brand new title I ordered for myself (that is, for our home library and for our grandchildren in particular) but think I will also add to the seminary library is a wonderful summary of church history in graphic form. The book is God’s Timeline: The Big Book of Church History, produced by Linda Finlayson and published by CF4K (Christian Focus, children’s division, 2018).

While produced with children and young people in view, the colorful book of timelines and charts (16 timelines and 1 pull-out timeline poster) is sure to be of use to and appreciated by all age groups. I fell in love with it the minute I opened it up (visit the publisher’s page to see sample pages). Here is the description found on their site:

With colour illustrations, pictures, and pull–out timelines, this history book brings the church throughout the ages to life! Learn about the Early, Medieval and Missionary church, passing through key events such as the Council of Nicea and the Reformation – right through to the present day. Find out about the people God used and the impact they had on those around them – including us today!

With a retail price of $15.99 the hardcover book is a bargain. But you may also find it for sale on Christianbook.com for $11.99 (25% off). By all means add this book to your family and church library!

Does God Call You to Be a Teacher or a Minister? ~ Prof. R. Dykstra, April 15, 2018 Standard Bearer

sb-logo-rfpaThe latest issue of the Reformed magazine, the Standard Bearer, is now out (April 15, 2018), and once again it is packed with edifying content.

In this issue are articles by Rev. M. DeVries on Ps.61:2 (a meditation), by D. Doezema on the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 16, by Prof. R. Cammenga on the sufficiency of Scripture, by Rev. R. Kleyn on remembering the Lord’s Day (the 4th commandment as taught by the Heidelberg Catechism), by Rev. J. Laning on the believer’s heavenly life in Christ alone, and by Rev. J. Mahtani on our calling to relate to other Christians who belong to the universal (catholic) church of Christ.

There is also an editorial by Prof. R. Dykstra, part of a mini-series he is doing on the idea of Christian vocation. This particular article hones in on two very special callings God gives to some of His people – that of Christian school teacher and that of gospel minister. In addressing the need for young people to face the questions, “Does God call me to teach in a Christian school? Does God call me to preach the gospel?” Prof. Dykstra points them to four spiritual qualifications and to three natural abilities they ought to find in themselves as they face God’s call.

Tonight we post a portion of his editorial, focusing in on two of the four spiritual qualifications he mentions. It is our prayer that this editorial will stir up serious consideration of these gifts and of God’s call to these special labors in His church and kingdom.

Second, prospective teachers and preacher must find in themselves a genuine love for God’s people, particularly the youth. This brotherly love enjoined on all Christians truly desires the good of God’s people, and truly desires to help them as he is able. Do you have this yearning to give your time, abilities, and heart – to give yourself –  for the good of sinful saints? Then perhaps you have the call to be a teacher or a minister.

Closely related, since both teaching and ministry are positions of service, the desire to serve must also be part of your spiritual makeup. Self-promotion has no place in these vocations. The proud must stay far away. Despite what you might imagine, God does not need you, no matter how gifted you may be. Ultimately, under God’s judgment, the proud will fail, for God’s people cannot abide such pride, and God will not tolerate it. A desire to serve, coupled with humility and meekness, these are the spiritual virtues found in godly, effective, beloved teachers and ministers.

“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn many churches the Psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, in succession. These churches have preserved a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one appropriate this divine prayerbook.

…Therefore, wherever we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take up the Psalter [the book of Psalms] that much more in our daily morning and evening prayers, reading and praying together at least several Psalms every day so that we succeed in reading through this book a number of times each year, getting into it deeper and deeper. We ought also not to select Psalms at our own discretion, thinking that we know better what we ought to pray than does God himself. To do that is to dishonor the prayerbook of the Bible.

In the ancient church it was not unusual to memorize ‘the entire David.’ In one of the eastern churches this was a prerequisite for the pastoral office. The church father St. Jerome says that one heard the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens in his time. The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity. Yet more important than all of this is the fact that Jesus died on the cross with the words of the Psalter on his lips.

It is at this point that the author makes that powerful point I quoted when we began this series on his book: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifth section, “Congregational Worship and the Psalms” (pp.25-26).

No Heros, Just Ordinary People

ordinary-MHorton-2014…Ordinary lives have an ordinary impact that is beautiful in its own right. The choice has to be made, hardly earth-shattering at the moment, between ignoring a child’s complaint or taking her to the doctor. By choosing the latter, the busy mother saved her daughter’s life.

Less catastrophic but no less dangerous is the choice to do something big when something small is exactly what’s called for in the moment. The habit of reading stories to children at bedtime is often tedious. Family and private devotions can be tedious as well. So too can daily homework be a chore for students, along with grading for teachers. Making rounds is often tedious for doctors and nurses. yet daily faithfulness to these callings – more accurately, to God and the neighbors he has called us to serve – is precisely what enriches life.

We don’t need another hero. We need a Savior, who possessed ‘no form or majesty that we should look at him,’ and yet bore our sins (Isa 53:2-3). In fact, we need to be saved from our own hero worship, whether of ourselves or others. Jesus Christ never disappoints us because he is not simply someone to look up to because of his achievements, but is someone to trust because everything that he achieved was for us. And we need a communion of saints he has chosen and redeemed with us and for us. We need ordinary believers of every generation, race, and socioeconomic background to whom we’re united by baptism to one Lord and one faith by one Spirit. We simply need ordinary pastors to deliver the word of life and its sacraments faithfully, elders to guide us to maturity, and deacons to help keep the temporal gifts circulating in the body.

The actual churches we know are often the most difficult places in the world, especially if we are creative, ambitious, and drawn toward novelty. The patient discipline of belonging to a community (preferably, the same local community) over a long period of time is difficult for those of us born after 1964. Church growth analysts often tell us that ‘brand loyalty’ is a thing of the past and that churches will just have to catch up with that fact…. We have Corinth written all over us.

…Contentment comes from knowing that the body of Christ is far greater than any of its members by itself. Even Christ considers himself incomplete until his whole body shares in his risen glory.

With that realization, what seemed like boring routine with boring people may actually take on a different aspect. Like a vast field, we are growing together into a harvest whose glory will only appear fully at the end of the age.

Taken from chapter 8 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great benefit. The chapter is strikingly titled “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.165-67. Next time we will go into chapter 9, “God’s ecosystem.”

A Rare Book on the Synod of Dordt, 1621

Last month we began to highlight the 400th anniversary of the “great” Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which begins this year and will extend into next year. In our initial post we simply called attention to some general things.

In this post I want to begin to call attention to some of the special books we have in the PRC Seminary library on the Synod and its work, including, of course, books on the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith over against the Arminianism that the Synod was called to contend against (This latter type books we will feature at a later time.).

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One of those special books is found in our rare book case and is a 1621 edition of the Acts of the Synod of Dordt (cf. outside binding above and title page with familiar drawing of the delegates below).

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Yes, you read that correctly – a 1621 edition – printed only two years after the Synod had ended. As you may guess, this work is in Dutch and in old script, which can make it difficult to read.

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But, you can certainly make out some of the words, especially on those pages where the various delegates are mentioned from the states and provinces in the Netherlands (cf. pages above and below). Those of us in West Michigan will recognize these provinces because they also are towns found nearby – Drenthe, Overisel, Zeeland, Holland (north and south), Graafschap, Zutphen.

You may notice that the names and the descriptions of the men are Latinized (that is, stated in Latin), which was the language of the church at that time yet.

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The page below shows some familiar names at the end of a section of addressing the articles of the Remonstrants (Arminians).

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That’s it for now – although I might add that a “new” article on the Synod of Dordt has been added to the PRC website“Our Debt to Dordt” – by one of our current professors, Ronald L. Cammenga. Be sure to read that for more information and inspiration on how Dordt impacts us today.