2.03.2010

Recovering The Reformed Communion

John Anderson (c.1748 - 1830) was born just south of Scotland's border near Tweed (perhaps the River Tweed, or Berwick-upon-Tweed).  He grew up in the "Associate" (1733 Secession) Church of Scotland (cf. Erskines).

Licensed and commissioned by the church in Scotland, Anderson arrived in Pennsylvania to assist the development of the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania (which was to form the Associate Synod of North America in 1801). He was ordained in 1788, serving as pastor for various congregations in the Beaver County area.

In 1794 Anderson was appointed to be the founding professor of the first Presbyterian seminary in the United States [the third theological seminary overall; the first being a Dutch Reformed seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1784, and the second being a Roman Catholic seminary in Baltimore, Maryland in 1791].  This Presbyterian seminary eventually became what is today known as Pittsburgh Theological.

Anderson was said to be only 5 feet tall with a poor voice for public speaking, but he was a godly, powerful intellect and influential church leader.  He served as pastor and professor until 1819, retiring for poor health. Anderson's tremendous work, Alexander and Rufus: Dialogues on Church Communion, was first published in 1820.

Part One (initial 200 pages or so) of this book ably articulates the old school, confessionally reformed & presbyterian doctrine of "close communion."  This biblical doctrine is contrasted with the contemporary, latitudinarian teaching which holds
"that there may be several articles in the public profession of a particular church, which, however clearly founded on the Holy Scriptures, are not essential or necessary to salvation, and therefore ought not to be terms of church communion. 'The obviously vital doctrines of the gospel,' say they, 'which whoever renounces cannot be a Christian, are a sufficient basis of sacramental communion.' This scheme... has too long prevailed in the protestant churches, and deprived them, in so great a measure, of their purity and true glory."
(from the author's Preface)
Alexander and Rufus is available online at googlebooks and internet archive in its two editions. It is also copy-reprinted in its original 1820 version by Kessinger Publishing [here, amazon]; and copy-reprinted in its 1862 version by Still Water Revival Books [here and here].

What Anderson writes in this book can help the reformed churches realize that "while corruption is the native consequence of latitudinarian schemes, scriptural order in sacramental communion tends to make the visible church a heaven upon earth to the faithful, terrible as an army with banners to her enemies, and to her King and Head for a name, for a praise and for glory."  This is the way forward for churches wanting to reform and to be reformed according to the Word of God; the way to recover the Reformed confession and communion.

An essay by Anderson addressing the same topic, Of the Church's Toleration of Any Thing Sinful (1780) is also now available online. Short URL: http://tiny.cc/ctoats

also see PART 2