Monday, January 7, 2013

Presbyterian Church History Course and Tour Upcoming This Month

By Dr. C.N. Willborn

I don’t mind going out on a limb and saying that our churches (and our nation) suffer from a lack of knowledge when it comes to men like James Henley Thornwell, John Girardeau, and Thomas Smyth. Smyth’s monumental pastoral leadership in Charleston, S.C., included initiating the first major work among the poor and needy in Charleston. The result was that one of his young parishioners, John Girardeau, would lead an unparalleled work among the free and slave blacks of Charleston and set a standard for urban ministry that is still imitable.

James Henley Thornwell and John Girardeau, with their incisive philosophical and theological acumen, would break ground for reform in ecclesiology with their writings on the offices, giving elders and deacons their rightful standing in the church. Ecclesiology was not the only contribution they made; how about the doctrine of adoption? While the debates were raging in Scotland over the Fatherhood of God, Girardeau sifted through the biblical data and set forth a beautiful directive for understanding adoption, “the apex of the gospel” (as Professor John Murray called it). Biblical-covenantal theology was alive and well in the Palmetto State and Thornwell and Girardeau provided the pulpits of the South men able to rightly preach the redemptive message.

Anson Street Mission
On January 14-18 we explore all of this and more in Greenville Seminary’s Winter Term course on Presbyterian Church History, which includes a two-day tour of related historic sites in South Carolina. The course is a smattering of Scottish and American Presbyterianism. By week’s end we’ve rehearsed major figures, events, and theological development in our rich heritage.

Lectures are richly enhanced by two days of travel to historic Columbia and Charleston. We visit some of the best Presbyterian treasures in the United States. We begin at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, where John Richard de Witt provides us a first-class introduction to the building and the church yard. We then visit the site of old Columbia Seminary where John Bailey Adger, Thornwell, William Plumer, and Girardeau shaped generations of young preachers and thinkers.

Johns Island
After a brief visit to the beautiful Elmwood Cemetery where Thornwell, Girardeau, R.C. Reed and William Childs Robinson await the resurrection, we move on to the historic low country of South Carolina. Stops include Johns Island (the oldest Presbyterian building in the United States), First Scots, Second Presbyterian, the famous Anson Street Mission building where both free and slave worshiped together. From the old church buildings where our fathers in the faith preached God’s unsearchable riches, to the quiet church yards and cemeteries where their dust awaits the resurrection, we step back in time to get our footing for the future. This really is my favorite week of the year. Memories both come alive and are made in South Carolina during this week in January.