It is not easy to plant a confessional Reformed congregation on the American Plains (the area of the USA from the between the Rockies and the Mississippi River, from Canada to Mexico). In some places it is sparsely populated. The confessional Presbyterian and Reformed witness was dealt a serious blow when the Mainline churches became theologically liberal and latitudinarian in doctrine and practice. By the time I came into meaningful contact with mainline Presbyterianism in Nebraska, c. 1981, I found them surprisingly hostile to Reformed orthodoxy. All the investment and institutions associated with the Presbyterian and Reformed churches who had gone west to the Plains was mostly lost by middle of the twentieth century. The remnant that was left was rag-tag and could be difficult to find. To this day, even with Google Maps one one’s phone, it can be challenging to find one of the old locations of one of the old OPC country church, on the West end of Lincoln. The RCA was becoming broadly evangelical already century before World War II. CRC congregations tended to be centered around Grand Rapids and Chicago. The German Reformed Church was more than decimated by liberalism. By the time of the split between the continuing RCUS and the evangelicals and liberals who went into the Evangelical and Reformed (who eventually merged with the Congregationalists, c. 1959, to form the UCC) the RCUS had six ministers and about 1,900 members scattered across the Plains.
Most folks on the Northern Plains have roots in Lutheranism, Romanism, and Methodism. Orange represent Lutheran adherents. Light blue represent Roman Catholic adherents. The green represent Methodists. Those red squares in Texas are Baptists. The few aqua colored patches in Iowa (Dutch and German Reformed) and South Dakota represent the few Reformed outposts on the Plains—there are some Reformed Presbyterians (RPCNA) scattered across Kansas and a few German Reformed in Omaha, Lincoln, and Sutton, Neb. As you can see the Reformed presence (as of 2000) barely registers. Thus, the traditional approach of forming a core group of those who already identify as Reformed and building a congregation with them will be difficult since the core groups must sometimes be formed from scratch.
Good news. First, God is sovereign and the same God who spoke into nothing and out of nothing (ex nihilo) is more than capable of raising up new confessional Reformed congregations on the American Plains. Second, one of my ministerial colleagues recently alerted some of us to a church planting enterprise by Classis Central US in the United Reformed Churches. They have published a website designed to gather contact information from those interested in planting a United Reformed congregation in their area.
The harvest is great but the resources are few (Matt 9:35). So we have some praying to do.
Here is an image to contemplate.
Every summer, across this same section of North America pictured above, come crews of workers to harvest wheat. They are known as “custom cutters.” They begin in Texas and they work their way north across the Great Plains. When I was a boy, we used to see them on my grandparents’ farm, in Kansas. Waves of combines (large harvesting machines) filled the small highways and gravel county roads as the men began early in the morning and continued into the dark. They had to get finish the harvest while the wheat was ready and before the weather changed and slowed their progress. I can still see combines, which have only become larger over the decades, with headlights in the dark, in the fields. Genetic modifications have changed the wheat and the schedule but it must still be harvested. The farmer still depends on the Lord to provide sun and rain.
So it is with church planting. Christ’s ministers are his custom cutters and his visible, institutional church is his combine. We need churches to plant the seed by the pure preaching of the gospel and churches to nurture the crop and finally to harvest. Paul says:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building (1 Cor 3:6–9; ESV).
As Machen said, the Reformed faith is grand and it is so because it is clear about truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures, the law and the gospel, the sovereignty of God, the basis of our standing with God, and his grace in salvation and in the Christian life. It has a high view of the visible, institutional church and sacraments along with a biblical, historic view of the Christian life as a pilgrimage of justified and saved sinners (sola gratia, sola fide), serving in God’s world but headed to God’s city.
There are lots of folk on the Plains who do not know Christ and who have never heard the gospel. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to help plant a church on the Plains?
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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