Many of you know, and some of you have thus interceded for me accordingly, that I have been preaching regularly for some months at First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois. This very old church dates back to the pre-Civil War era and the Dutch settlement of a town that became associated with the Dutch culture and tradition in the greater Chicago area.
This church, at the center of the town, has had a marvelous ministry over the years, producing some excellent leaders, missionaries and ministers. The present building, built in 1950 only one year after I was born, is both majestic and functional at the same time. But since the 1970s the church has been in slow decline. The community began to change in the 1970s and 80s and is now nearly 50% African-American in its ethnic makeup. First Reformed decided, some years ago, not to relocate but to stay and minister in historic downtown South Holland. I am not sure if the church knew what this meant at the time but I am increasingly sure that those who are still there know it better and better each week. The church called a new minister who will be installed on June 15. I look forward to leading that service with great joy!
Last Sunday I preached from Matthew 28:16-20 and sought to show how this word of Jesus is to become the very DNA of First Reformed Church. This week I was asked to write the Friday letter to the congregation. That letter is printed below. I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts more widely in order to allow my readers to see how I feel about the work of Christ in the Church. I love the Church. I also love churches. I always have loved churches and feel that love more now than at any time in my life. I fear one of the great problems in our day is that we love concepts and visions more than the real human church right in front of us. First Reformed is a long way from perfect. It has many real weaknesses. But it is God’s church. And I love it because Christ loves it.
Here was my letter to the congregation this past Friday:
Dear First Reformed Family,
The journey for our beloved
church has been a long one but the Lord has been at work at every step
in this process. The Psalmist made it clear that “the Lord has been
our ever present help.” As a congregation of God’s dear people,
gathered in South Holland, we know this to be true as perhaps never
before in our long and storied history. More than 2,500 years ago our
covenant God said to his people: “I know the plans I have for you,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and
a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Yes, this promise was given to Israel
but the Scriptures makes it quite plain that these promises are for
us, the spiritual children of Abraham. But the text further says that
we must respond: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek
me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
While it is a truly wonderful
thing that we all see Pastor Matt Waterstone’s arrival as God’s
answer to our long prayer we must remember that he is not being sent
here to be “the answer” to all that we will become in the years
ahead. He will lead us, but we must follow. He will serve us, but we
must serve with him. With you all, I am thrilled at how God has
led us but I also know all too well the syndrome that faces us. I call
it the “Now the pastor will do it syndrome.” Will Matt feed and
lead us? Yes, for sure. But will we sit back and say, “The pastor
can now take care of this or that.” If we are to prosper, as our text
says, we must truly and powerfully call on the Lord, who is our
ever present help. We need Matt as our pastor but he needs us if we
are to be a family together for Christ.
I have enjoyed deeply my ministry
with you over these recent months. I have to tell you that I have fallen
in love with you as God’s people. I pray and dream about our future
under God. I hope that I have sown seeds of blessing and hope as I’ve
ministered to you. I hope as well that you have been fed. More than
anything else I hope that you have seen Jesus lifted up in your hearts!
My message this Lord’s Day
is titled: “Where Is Your Treasure?” Read Matthew 6:24-34 and meditate
on it before our worship begins on Sunday morning. And then join
me in worshiping the one who truly is worthy of our whole lives, the
living and reigning Christ.
Dr. John H. Armstrong
“And this is the
testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in his
Son.” – I John 5:11
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I very much respect the fact that South Holland is committed to remaining in an area that is changing demographically, in an area that is now 50% African-American.
These group of African-Americans have ministered to me at their conferences in the past and present:
Council of Reforming Churches