2015 will mark the 200th birthday of Ashland. No doubt this will be a year of reflection on Ashland's heritage.
What's interesting to me though, is that our town's heritage is anchored in the doctrines of the Reformed faith.
This morning I glanced at the bicentennial website that has been put together for this special occasion. It was interesting to note that one of the primary figures noted as early settlers of the town was a Presbyterian Minister by the name of Rev. Thomas Beer. The Ashland County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society notes that Pastor Beer moved to the area as a church planter in 1830 and ministered until 1871. Diving further into Ashland's past revealed that Rev. Beer was associated with the Old School strand of Presbyterianism, which was differentiated from the New School strand that broke with basic Reformed doctrines of atonement, original sin, and form of worship.
But Ashland's Reformed Roots go back even further than this. The first church within the bounds of what is now the city of Ashland was Montgomery Church, a Presbyterian church. Montgomery Church was organized in 1817, just two years after Ashland came into being. It later changed its name to Hopewell Presbyterian Church, and a testimony of its earliest days may be also found in the History of the Pioneer and Modern times of Ashland County.
This document further testifies that the earliest settlers of the town were predominantly Presbyterian. The initial congregation of Montgomery consisted of 34 members.
Old School Presbyterian theology is marked by its intent to be thoroughly Reformed. It sought to uphold the doctrine of man's depravity in the face of those who wanted to say that man had by his own power an ability to turn to God. It thus concurrently upheld belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation. In order for a person to be saved, God must first act to renew the heart and bestow the gift of faith.
Old School theology is also marked by a the right view of atonement. Jesus, by his death, took upon himself the wrath and curse of God due to man for his sin. Christ's death was seen as penal and vicarious, meaning that Christ died in the place of sinners to satisfy divine justice. This, at that time, was opposed to the growing view that Jesus death was simply a demonstration of how seriously God took sin and that God had to punish it.
The town has certainly diverted from these roots. The Hopewell Church eventually lost its grip on the Reformed doctrines. In time became First Presbyterian Church, which is located downtown, and went the way of the mainline PCUSA churches. Other churches also entered the town that did not have the same affection for the confessions of the Reformed faith. Most churches in town today would be Pelagian or semi-Pelagian and do not view Adam's sin as having much bearing on us.
It did occur to me that I am something of a continuation of the Hopewell theology. I grew up in the First Presbyterian Church and made my first formal profession of faith there. I certainly did not receive reformed teaching while there. I left the church when I was about 15 years old because I realized Christ was not being preached there. It was later in college that I came to embrace the doctrines of the Old School Presbyterian.
Nevertheless, I originally came back to the area for the distinct purpose of propagating Reformed theology. To that end I sought to plant Covenant Reformed Fellowship. After it closed, I joined with Providence Church which is currently the only lamp of confessional truth and stronghold of Reformed doctrine within the borders of the county.
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