Welcome to Ulster Worldly, a blog about the history of Presbyterianism. Many of these stories come from my own family, many others come from my own denomination.

Tim Hopper
Raleigh, NC

Life and Ministry with Irfon Hughes

Yesterday, I sat down with my dear friend and former pastor Irfon Hughes to discuss his life and minstry. Pastor Hughes was born in 1942 in Wales and served as a minister for 50 years in 6 congregations in Wales, England, and the United States. Most recently, he was pastor of my church Shiloh Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Raleigh, NC.

The interview is split up into two parts, roughly consisting of his ministry in the United Kingdom in the first part and in the United States in the second part. I hope you enjoy hearing about how the Lord used this man for so many years. Press ️the ▶ buttons below to listen.

You can also download mp3 files for part 1 and part 2.

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Ten Years of ‘Christ the Center’

I discovered the Reformed Forum’s flagship podcast Christ the Center during Thanksgiving Break of 2008 from Reformation21’s mention of Carl Trueman’s interview on A Brief History of Trinitarian Thought. I listened to the interview on my iPod while raking my parents’ leaves. I enjoyed and benefited from the episode and immediately went back to my computer to subscribe.

Earlier that year, I’d graduated from college and moved away from the church where I’d been introduced to confessional presbyterianism; I had joined another PCA congregation but was still working out where my theological commitments lay. Ten years later, I have listened to nearly every Christ the Center episode produced. From it, I have learned more about Scripture, God, theology, church history, and many other topics; it has helped shape me as a person, Christian, church member, deacon, husband, and father.

Many of my favorite episodes have been historical:

The list of historical episodes could go on and on. Moreover, Christ the Center has helped me understand apologetics, union with Christ, Vos’s Biblical Theology, ecclesiology, and more.

I look forward to the next ten years of growth through the resources provided by the Reformed Forum. Thank you to Camden Bucey, Jeff Waddington, Jim Cassidy, Glen Clary, Jared Oliphint, Darryl Hart, Lane Tipton, and the many guests who have played an important role in my life from afar; I’m grateful for your selfless service to Christ’s church. I pray the Lord continues to bless your efforts.

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Olinger on Vos and Machen

At the recent Reformed Forum conference, Rev. Danny Olinger (OPC General Secretary for the Committee on Christian Education) gave an excellent lecture “on the connection Geerhardus Vos and J. Gresham Machen”. The talk is worth your time.

Rev. Olinger has written a book on Vos that the Reformed Forum is publishing. You can order your copy today.

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William Jennings Bryan and the Mission of the Church

Bradley Longfield on William Jennings Bryan’s view of the mission of the church:

Bryan did not limit his efforts for moral reform to the Chautauqua circuit alone. In marked contrast to his fellow Presbyterian, J. Gresham Machen, Bryan campaigned tirelessly within the church for social, political, and economic reform. “What is a church for,” he asked in 1909, “if it is not to stand for morality in all things and everywhere?” A prophet of personal and national piety, Bryan manifested unswerving loyalty to the nineteenth-century evangelical heritage that married revivalistic fervor and dedication to social reform. The church could not neglect its calling to christianize America.

Bryan was, in fact, a theologically conservative Social Gospeler. The social agenda that Bryan set before the church included “taxation, trust regulation, labor, the monetary system, peace and disarmament, temperance, anti-imperialism, woman’s suffrage.” “These questions are before us,” Bryan insisted. “They cannot be avoided; they must be settled, and church members must take their part in the settlement; ministers also must have a voice in this work.” Bryan served on the temperance committee of the Federal Council of Churches and the general committee of the Interchurch World Movement. In 1919 he praised the Federal Council of Churches–no group of conservatives–as “the greatest religious organization in our nation,” noting, “It gives expression to the conscience of more than seventeen million members of the various Protestant churches; its possibilities for good are limitless; its responsibilities are commensurate with its opportunities.” Though committed to traditional Christianity, Bryan willingly cooperated with those who differed from him theologically in order to further his crusade to build a Christian nation.

Bryan’s Christian faith and trust in the people buoyed his reforming zeal with an inexhaustible optimism. He believed he was born into “the greatest of all the races” in the “greatest of all lands” during the “greatest of all ages.” In 1911 he itemized the progress that marked his era’s superlative character: “Intelligence and intellectual capacity were increasing; educational standards were rising; moral standards were improving; people were studying ethics as never before; the spirit of brotherhood was abroad in the land; there was more altruism than ever before; the tide was running in favor of democracy; the peace movement was spreading; reason was asserting itself; and moral forces were taking control.” To Bryan only one conclusion was possible: ‘The morning light is breaking. Day is at hand.”

The advent of the World War beclouded Bryan’s sunny forecast. The horror of Christians slaughtering one another with the blessing of their Christian nations damaged but did not destroy the Commoner’s faith. Christian civilization hid gone mad; Bryan set out to determine cause of its disease.

In “The Prince of Peace” Bryan had warned against the consequences of Darwinism but moderately allowed, “While I do not except the Darwinian theory I shall not quarrel with you about it; I only referred to it to remind you that it does not solve the mystery of life or explain human progress.” The war impelled Brian to reevaluate Darwiniansim as a possible cause of the hostilities.

The Presbyterian Controversy, pages 66 and 67.

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The Church’s Cultural Bridge

The issue of a cultural bridge remains a critical feature for the OPC's identity. The absence of just such a bridge has proved to be the unexamined dimension to the ecumenical breakdown experienced by the OPC in its quest for union with other American Presbyterian bodies.

The 1975 attempt at union with the former Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod collapsed because the RPCES, a child of fundamentalism and the dissenting Reformed Presbyterian tradition, maintained a cultural vision that could not accept OP disenfranchisement. From the RPCES's point of view, OP disenfranchisement translated into the familiar criticisms that OPs were doctrinal nit-pickers and evangelistically dormant.

Along similar lines, the OP attempts at union with the Presbyterian Church in America collapsed in the 1980s. Behind the scenes, lay the PCA's cultural aspirations. These aspirations are very much at the center of the PCA's identity and rise out of an evangelical social vision of which a large, influential if not dominant national church is an indispensable part. Historically, the OPC has not shared this vision.

Photograph Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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Dishonesty of Modernism

Dr. Mark Matthews of Seattle often expressed the wish that the modernist conspiracy could be identified as a single body so that it might be destroyed by a single blow. He was quick to point out that the tactics of the liberals were not even honest. Instead of accepting the fundamental doctrines of the church, the liberals sought to destroy those doctrines, and to replace them with liberal concepts. But the manner in which they sought to bring about change was dishonest, perhaps even diabolical. The liberals did not openly declare to the church, "Your confession is very bad, it is hopelessly outdated and unscientific. If you do not change that confession, then we cannot conscientiously be a part of such a church." Rather, the liberals assumed positions as ministers and leaders in the church and then sought to undermine the church from within. The liberals were so successful in this fifth-column activity that in a short time those who believed wholeheartedly in the Scriptures and the church's subordinate standards were either silenced or removed from the church.

How did the liberals accomplish their purpose? By appealing to the need for "tolerance" and by accusing those who opposed them of being "narrow-minded." By this strategy many of the conservatives were put on the defensive. They suddenly became timid when they were accused of intolerance or narrow-mindedness. All their resistance and discernment and even moral standards suddenly melted away. Their response to such accusations was often something like this: "Well, we don't agree with the liberals, but after all we are all Christians and we must be tolerant. Intolerance is a terrible sin. Let us never be guilty of it." In this manner those evils that would destroy the soul, the church and the nation were welcomed into the seminaries, pulpits and courts of the church. Never did the forces of error have an easier or more sweeping victory.

Photograph by Another Believer/Seattle, distributed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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Introduction to the Trinity Psalter Hymnal

My church just replaced our copies of the Book of Psalms for Singing with the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal published by the OPC and URCNA. I was asked to present an introduction to this new song book in our Sunday school class. It turned into a brief history of hymnody and psalmody in American Presbyterians along with looking at some distinctives of this wonder new hymnal.

You can listen on SermonAudio.

Some resources I used in preparation:

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The Big Tent of the PCA

Excerpt from the report from the outgoing moderator at the 7th General Assembly of the PCA.   Read More

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Carl Henry’s Fear of Anti-Ecumenicism

In 1957 Christianity Today editor Dr. J. Marcellus Kik sent R. J. Rushdoony, then known primarily as a promising young critic of modernism and secular education, a letter announcing the launch of a new venture. At the time, Rushdoony had not yet abandoned the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for J. Gresham Machen’s separatist Orthodox Presbyterian Church. If Rushdoony had done so, Kik would likely have never reached out to him because, as [Carl] Henry later recalled of his editorial strategy, "We solicited articles from evangelicals in mainline denominations, not because we were precommihted to ecumenism but because writers in the independent church might give the magazine an anti-ecumenical cast that would hinder our outreach."

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Ditty to Dot

A song for Dot Hopper upon on retirement from 38 years on the mission field.

A song for Dot Hopper upon on retirement from 38 years on the mission field.   Read More

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Presbytery Would Convene on The Second Monday After Full Moon

As stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian church, Woodrow Wilson’s father Joseph Wilson was responsible for editing the minutes of the Assembly. He often called on young Woodrow for assistance. Woodrow said:

I remember that the Stated Clerks of those Presbyteries gave me gave a great deal of trouble. Some of them, particularly of the country Presbyteries would not consult the almanac. They would saw that they Presbytery would convene on the second Monday after full moon, early at candlelight. My father exacted of me that I should find out which Monday that was and calculate the probable hour of early candlelight.

(From Woodrow Wilson in Church by Dr. James H. Taylor. Image from wilsonboyhoodhome.org.)

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A Man Who Loves the Reformed Faith

A man who loves the Reformed Faith with all his heart and believes that no matter what other churches or other individuals may think is true, will, I think, defend it whether it is popular or not and will carry his defence [sic] of it out into the public concils [sic] of the Church.

J. Gresham Machen, letter to J. Ross Stevenson, 24 November 1923

Quoted in The Reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary Reconsidered by Ronald T. Clutter.

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A Baptism Homily

Joe B. Hopper's baptism homily for the baptism of his grandson in 1986.

Joe B. Hopper's baptism homily for the baptism of his grandson in 1986.   Read More

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Pyongyang Years

My grandfather's tale of his teenage years in Pyongyang.

My grandfather's tale of his teenage years in Pyongyang.   Read More

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Books I’m Looking For

In my research on Presbyterian history, I’ve come across these titles I’d like to read but cannot find available anywhere. If anyone knows of copies available, please leave a comment below.

Edward O. Guerrant: Apostle to the Southern Highlanders. McAllister, J G, and Grace O. G. Guerrant. Richmond: Richmond Press, 1950.

History of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church: Including a History of Ebenezer Academy and the Town of Ebenezer. Mendenhall, Samuel B. Rock Hill, S.C: Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, 1985.

The History of Presbyterianism in North Carolina. Rumple, Jethro. Richmond: Library of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1966.


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Eclipse in Congo

The recent solar eclipse reminded my dad that his grandfather had seen the 1919 eclipse in Congo. My great grandfather recounts the story in his memoir:

One day in mid-afternoon I was teaching a Bible class in the grass-roofed chapel. The roof was rather low at the edges, so most of our light was reflected from the ground. It grew darker and darker, until we could not see to read. I told the students we had better get home before the storm broke. We stepped outside, but to our great surprise there was no storm. But it continued to grow darker and darker. There was a total eclipse of the sun.

Mr. Stilz got a photograph showing a perfect corona. Some days later I started on my homeward journey, but I was to go out of my way to visit Bibanga station. I arrived there in four or five days. A few days out from Lusambo a village chief asked me in all seriousness whether it was true, as he had heard, that a white man reached up his hand, and covered the sun.

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The Higgins

My grandfather's brief history of his paternal grandmother's family.   Read More

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Hopper Antecedents

After his retirement (which was in 1986), my grandfather wrote this preface to the genealogical research he did on his own family.

While waiting for Sunday dinner in the home of the Hong family of Oo-nam Myun Imsil County, North Chulla Province, Republic of Korea, we saw a tall stack of books in the corner. The father of our host, an elderly gentleman, answered our question about them by showing us that they were the records of his family going back for over a thousand years. Mr. Hong said that every thirty years, those with his surname gathered and updated this registry. They planned at their next meeting to send a printed record with names and photographs of all the Hong clan members to the national libraries of every nation on earth, so that in future generations their descendants who migrated to those countries could trace their family ancestry.

Unfortunately no such system has been in existence for most Western families, including our own. I never knew my two grandfathers who died long before I was born, and my grandmothers died when I was very young so that I have only the dimmest memories of them. An attempt to trace our antecedents more than a couple of centuries would now be difficult, if not impossible. In our case, interest would center in the family tree of my father (the Hoppers of Kentucky) and my mother (the Barrons of South Carolina), and for Dot that of her father (the Longeneckers of Pennsylvania) and her mother (the Hauharts of Missouri). This would result in a blend for our own children of blood from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland… so far as we know.

One common factor in all of these is that they were strong Christians (at least in recent generations and perhaps before that) and represent Presbyterian, Methodist, and Mennonite backgrounds. Another common feature is that all our ancestors of two generations ago (that of our grandparents) were farmers, living in rural areas, who during their lifetime moved to urban areas. All of them were hard-working, decent, respected members of their communities. There is no record of any “black sheep” nor of any who failed in their family, community, and church relationships.

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