Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Paedocommunion a Reformed or Presbyterian Practice? James Jordan Says "NO"

In case you are not familiar with paedocommunion, it is the practice of allowing a child to partake of the Lord's Supper upon the sole condition of baptism.  This means that not only is a profession of faith not necessary to receive the sacrament worthily and as a blessing, the sacrament can be received worthily apart from faith and still communicate a blessing of grace.  This practice has been gaining popularity in Reformed and Presbyterian circles as of late.  But, is this a practice that is consistent with Reformed or Presbyterian theology?

In a recent moment of clear speech, one of the leading proponents of paedocommunion, James Jordan, says no.  Here are several clear statements from Jordan:
I’ve said for years that paedocommunion and non-pc cannot live together any more than infant and adult baptism. And by returning to pc, we drive back 1000 years, and definitely back before the Reformation.

Oh, it’s true enough: We depart from the whole Reformation tradition at certain pretty basic points. It’s no good pretending otherwise. I think the PCA is perfectly within its rights to say no to all [Biblical Horizons]    types. We are NOT traditional presbyterians. The PCA suffers us within itself, but we are poison to traditional presbyterianism. We are new wine, and the PCA is an old skin. So, for the sake of the people we are called to minister to, we do our best. But we don’t really “belong” there.

 I can’t really put feet on this, but I “feel” sure that the Reformation tradition is rationalistic precisely because it is anti-pc. Or maybe better, these are part of one complex. Being anti-pc was the greatest mistake of all the Reformers (except Musculus, and who cares about him?). This mistake is part of the heart of the Reformation; they knew about pc and rejected it.

But there’s no reason why the presbys should receive us, since sacramentally speaking we are NOT Reformed and NOT presbyterian.

I’m a little bit sympathetic with Duncan & Co. when they suspect some of you guys are not being honest when you try to show that you’re just good traditional Reformed guys. I guess it’s a good thing I did not make it to the Knox Seminary discussion, because I would have openly said, “I’m not on the same page as Calvin and the Reformation in these regards.” Showing that the Reformed tradition is wider and muddier than Duncan wants it to be is fine, but the fact is that if you believe in pc, you’re not in the Reformed tradition at all in a very significant and profound sense. No more than you’re Baptists.

I don't think it gets more clear than that.

Today in Church History: The First Reformed Liturgy of the Lord's Supper

On December 7, 1524, the Lord's Supper was observed from a Reformed perspective.  According to Hughes Oliphant Old, it took place at St. Martin's Church in Memmingen (South Germany) under the oversight of Christoph Schappeler.  Under the leadership of this preacher, the imperial free city of Memmingen committed itself to the Reformation early.  Schappeler arrived in 1513, and as early as 1522, he was preaching against the Roman Mass. 

Little is known about that first service other than that it was in the evening.  But what started that night would eventually lead to the development of the Memmingen Service Book of 1529, which was an attempt to arrive at a synthesis of the various existing Reformed liturgies.  The liturgy has been preserved:
Metrical Psalm
Prayer for the Grace of Praise
Epistle, 1 Corinthians 11
Gloria in excelsis
Prayer for Illumination
Gospel, John 6:47-63
Metrical Psalm or Hymn
Sermon or Communion Admonition
Prayer of Intercession
     for the necessities of the Church
     for the magistrate and all men
     Lord's Prayer
Prayer for Faith
Confession of Sin and Absolution
Words of Institution
     Metrical Psalms are sung during communion
Post-communion Admonition
Psalm 113
Ten Commandments
The major influences on this liturgy come from the liturgies from Basel, Zurich, Strasbourg and Constance.  One of the features present in the Memmingen Service Book was the "Dismissals."  This part of the liturgy was one of the few elements that was present in all the different liturgies that were used for developing the MSB.

The dismissal is what we today call "fencing the table."  During the dismissal, there would be an invitation and encouragement of the faithful to approach the Lord's Table, while the unbaptized and unrepentant would be warned to abstain from the holy meal, and often times, leave the service so that only the "faithful" would remain to partake of the Lord's Supper together.  The Reformers did this because they did not want the Lord's Supper degraded by having it offered to those who were not prepared--including covenant children.

The dismissal was an integral element in the Reformation of worship because it was an application of Church discipline within the worship service.  This was one way for the elders to exercise care in reforming more than the liturgy, but also the lives of those worshiping.  So important was this element, that Calvin was ready to leave Geneva rather than not practice it.  The dismissal was not the result of being mean-spirited or controlling, but was pastoral.  It provided an opportunity to call sinners to repentance and to protect those who were not ready from eating and drinking judgment to themselves.

The Reformation was more than just a recovery of theological concepts, but a reformation of worship practice that was based on that theology. It is exciting to remember what happened 486 years ago today. But we need more today than the excitement of a memory, we need the resolve to guard what has been passed along to us. Can we maintain the theology of the Reformation if we don't maintain the worship practices that flesh it out?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Handel's Messiah

As Christmas season is upon us, there is much music in the air that is typically only heard during this time of year.  One of my favorites is Handel's Messiah.  A few years ago, NPR aired a live performance of Messiah from the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and since then, they have provided that performance for free online.  You can listen to it here.  (When you follow the link to the performance, there is an introduction to the performance, the actual music begins around 9:30).

In addition to the audio, I have also found a couple of helpful resources on Messiah. First, there is a free guide online that provides you a "worship map" of the performance.  The worship map provides you the major parts, lyrics and scripture references to help you move through the entire score.  Also, another helpful guide has just been published in book form, Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People.  The publisher states:
Here you will find fascinating historical background to Messiah, including its unlikely inception, and learn about its reception and impact from Handel's day to our own. Calvin Stapert devotes most of his book to scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the entire score, demonstrating how the music of Messiah beautifully intertwines with and illuminates its biblical text. Through these pages Handel's popular and much-loved masterpiece will be greatly enhanced for listeners old and new alike. 
You can find a free Google preview of the book here.

If you don't have the time or desire to read the book, then you can simply download it and listen to it.  For this month, ChristianAudio.com is graciously providing it as a free download [HT: Jame Grant].  To download the book, you simply have to go here and click on "Download Now."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artists, Worship, and the Church

For the past decade, or so, there has been much said about art and worship.  You can see this reflected in different ways, for example, artists are now often employed to lead worship, some churches now refer to worship as the "Ministry of the Worship Arts," and one of the major trends is for congregations to take over old abandoned theaters in order to use them for worship.  You can read about this in an article that was recently published, "Artists Build the Church," which is centered on Jon Guerra, the "artist-in-residence," not worship pastor, who leads worship at a church called The Line, and Aaron Youngren, the lead pastor, who together
have formed a "determination to tear down the walls between church art and city art so that music can freely flow between the venues."

They both had what they call the frustrating experience of the lack of art in their church backgrounds, and desire to see that changed.  Youngren says that his frustration has been summed up well by an essay written by another artist, Makoto Fujimura, "A Letter to North American Churches."  And what is this frustration, exactly? 
An artist’s relationship with you has not been easy; we are often in the margins of your communities, being the misfits that we are. . . . Instead of having quality artists at the core of your worship, we were forced to operate as extras; as in ‘if-we-can-afford-it-good-but-otherwise-please-volunteer,’ Extras.
What do you think about this?  Have artists been unlovingly marginalized in the Church?

See what Carl Trueman has to say here.  In his typical British whit, he is spot on.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology: Our Glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is excited to offer live webcasting of the Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology. Don't miss out on this opportunity to hear excellent, biblical teaching from well-known pastor-theologians.
November 12-13, 2010
Joel Beeke
D.A. Carson
Iain Duguid
Steven Nichols 
The webcast will start Friday, November 12, 2010, at 7:00 p.m. and will run through Saturday afternoon, November 13, 2010. Visit AllianceLive.org to register and watch the free webcast. 

“…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father….” John 1:14 

Who is Jesus? The pages of Scripture shout out the answer. Son of Man and Son of God. The Way, the Truth and the Life. Prophet, Priest and King. The Bread of Life. The Good Shepherd. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Redeemer. Savior.

And yet we live in a world that prefers to see Jesus as a gifted teacher, or as a revolutionary, and nothing more. Jesus has been marginalized, stereotyped, and often ignored, to the eternal peril of millions upon millions.

Again, who is Jesus? What has He done for His people? Is He just, as H.G. Wells once said, "the most dominant figure in all history"? Or is he, as the Reformers taught, the Jesus of solus Christus, the one-and-only means by which sinners are saved, the One who claimed, "no one comes unto the Father except through me"?

The 2010 Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology is devoted to the subject of Our Glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our desire is to present Christ as the Scriptures present Him. This year’s conference will focus on the glory of Christ, His wondrous incarnation, His life and ministry, His cross and His resurrection.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Eucharistic Prayer

Recently I had the joy of attending the first annual Reformation Worship Conference where I got to hear Hughes Oliphint Old, T. David Gordon, Terry Johnson, Jon Payne, Mark Ross, Paul Jones, and David Hall speak on a whole host of different topics concerning worship.  My favorite lectures were those by Dr. Old on the reformation of worship in the 16th century.

One of the themes that was developed through all the lectures was the importance of prayer in the reformers' worship.  He noted that as the reformers recovered the truth of scripture, they used the scripture to reshape how they worshiped.  The reform of liturgy was centered on ministering the word of God to the church and this included using prayer as a means of the ministry of the word.  In their prayers, then, the reformers sought to fill their prayers with scripture.  In their recovery of biblical worship and prayer, they noted that the Bible contained different kinds of prayer and sought to institute these different types of prayer throughout the liturgy in appropriate places.

In his lecture on John Knox, he emphasized Knox's contribution to the reform of liturgy and the use of prayer in Knox's directory for public worship, the Book of Common Order (1560).  Old noted that with this directory, Knox developed "several master strokes," one of which was his attempt to develop a good and true Eucharistic prayer.  During medieval Roman Catholic worship, magic and superstition had worked its way into the mass, which led the church to believe that by the performance of certain rites or repeating certain formulas one could avail himself to the power of supernatural forces.  In the mass, then, blessing the elements was a magical and superstitious act where the priest would act in changing the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus.  The blessing in the mass was done by the priest to the elements.

The Reformers, however, sought to rid the celebration of the Lord's Table of this influence by beginning communion with a prayer that made it clear that one was not commanding God's grace or controlling God's grace with the rite, but was dependent on God's grace.  They saw that it was God who needed to act, not the priest.  And they understood that God needed to act in the lives of the believers, not in changing the metaphysical make up of the elements.  This emphasis did not diminish the elements, but rather put them in the proper place as means that God used in working in his people.  This prayer became known as the Eucharistic prayer--a prayer that included an invocation, thanksgiving, and vow of the covenant.

At the heart of the Eucharistic prayer is thanksgiving, hence, its name.  Knox saw that in the last supper celebrated by Christ with his disciples, that Christ blessed the elemtnts and gave thanks.  The words eulogeo and eucharisto, translated "bless" and "give thanks" are synonyms that at their heart convey gratitude and thanks.  Knox saw that the Lord's Table was a place to celebrate communion with Christ and the church as an act of gratitude.  Hence, thanksgiving became the focus, rather than a time of mourning and confession.  The Table was a time to celebrate and give thanks to God for his acts of creation and redemption.  John Calvin also emphasized the importance of seeing the Table as a place for giving thanks as Christ himself did at the last supper:
Whatever gift we receive from the hand of God is sanctified throught the word and prayer, . . . For nowhere do we read that our Lord ate with his disciples unless it is also mentioned that he gave thanks.  By this example we are certainly taught to do the same.  This thanksgiving however has to do with somethig highter: for Christ gives thanks to his Father for his works of mercy to man and his gracious gift of redemption: and we are invited by his example, that as often as we come to this sacred table we be stirred up and aroused to recognize God's great works of love to us and that we enter into true gratitude, (cited by Old in The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, 300).
By remembering God's gracious works of creation and redemption in prayer, we express thanksgiving for his grace in the past, while at the same time, call upon his grace for the present and the future.

As the Lord's Supper is a time of thanksgiving (a eucharist), we are to follow Christ's example by beginning with a prayer of thanksgiving, where we explicitly ground our thanks in the acts of God in Christ for his church, appealing to him to continue to work in us by his grace that we might walk in the obedience of the newness of life in Christ.  Old, shows the importance of this understanding of the Table and the ministry of prayer before it is received in his book Leading in Prayer, "The Lord's Supper should be a feast of praise and thanksgiving.  It is here above all that the minister should give attention to leading the congregation in prayer," (225).

To this end, then, I have written the following Eucharistic prayer for this coming Lord's Day:

Blessed are you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are the triune God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, of all things, both visible and invisible.  And to our King, Jesus Christ, as you are the host of this table, you are the coeternal and cobeginningless Son of the beginningless Father, who in the abundance of your goodness was in the last days clothed in flesh, humbled under the law, crucified on the cross and buried for us, your church, who at the time of your great sacrifice hated and loathed you and your rule.  But by your completed work of salvation, you have refashioned our nature that had been corrupted by sin.  And now, by your resurrection, you are our source of resurrection life and eternal fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit; you always live now before the Father as a visible representation of our righteousness, and to intercede on our behalf. 
Blessed Savior, incline your ear, then, to us, hear our words and help us to lift up our hearts to you and render unto you all praise, thanks and glory.  We are thankful for the gift of your incarnation, ministry, sacrifice, and for its revelation and demonstration of your love for us.  We are thankful that you are risen and have been highly exalted and that you have trampled underfoot the powers of death.  We are thankful that you have burst the gates of hell and lead us forth to eternal life and light.  We are thankful that you are the firstborn of many from the dead and the first fruits of them that sleep.  We are thankful that now you have filled us with your Holy Spirit that we might be joined together with you, our triune God, and with one another in a true mystical body as those united to you both in your death and your resurrection.  And we thank you for the promise of your coming again, to finally establish your Kingdom in its consummation.  We are thankful that you will raise us up in glory, and that you will openly acknowledge us and vindicate us.  We are thankful that you will wipe away our tears and make us perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of our God and one another unto all eternity.
As we rejoice in your completed work on our behalf, glorify yourself in writing these truths upon our hearts through this communion meal.  As you are the true bread that came down from heaven, strengthen our faith to see your body and blood in these elements of the bread and cup; and through our eating your flesh, which is true food, and drinking your blood, which is true drink, draw us unto yourself, that we should not hunger or thirst.  And as you are the living bread that gives life, help our faith to be confident that you share your life with us who receive you by faith, believing that death has lost its victory, that we will be raised up on the last day, and that we will live forever with you.  And let this precious gift of Holy Communion be unto our healing, enlightenment, protection, purification, sanctification and salvation; and that of our whole spirit, and soul, and body.  May you use it to divert us away from evil thoughts, words and deeds, unto a righteous life with increased virtue, stability of faith, living in obedience to your commandments, in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  For from you and through you and to you are all things.  To you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be glory both now and forever. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reformation Liturgy for Evening Service October 31, 2010

On Sunday evening, we remembered the 493rd anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of All Saints' Church in Whittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, which created the spark that would become the blaze known as the Protestant Reformation. To try and help the church see our Reformation roots in worship, we utilized one of the first Reformed liturgies that was developed for providing distinctively Reformed worship. I put together a liturgy that was based on the initial reforms instituted by Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, which have been recorded in his work Grund und Ursach from 1524, together with later insights from his reforms in his 1537 and 1539 liturgies.

To maintain some semblance with our normal service we included an explicit call to worship and response at the beginning of the service. So in the liturgy below, Bucer's liturgy begins at "Confession of Sin, Pardon, and Thanksgiving." Bucer began with the Confession of Sin because he believed that Reformed worship was premised on the recovery of the ministry of the Word of God. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ's ministry was built on the ministry of John the Baptist, which was a ministry calling sinners to repent. If Christ's ministry was built on calling for repentance, and Reformed worship was a continuation of Christ's ministry of the Word, then the worship service should be built on repentance and confession of sin.

Throughout the liturgy, we used prayers written by Bucer. We used his confession of sin, his assurance of pardon (with minor variation), his prayer of thanksgiving, his prayer of illumination and his prayer of intercession. Since we were worshipping in the evening, we also followed his pattern for Lord's Day evening services in doing a scripture reading from a Gospel passage and preaching from the epistles. Also, one of the particular features of the early Reformers was there emphasis on the law—not for pointing out sin from which one should repent (first use of the law), but they used it to set forth positive instruction for teaching the church to express thanksgiving to God by leading a holy life (third use of the law). We did this by singing the Decalogue. The arrangement we used was used in Strasbourg by Bucer and can be found in the Genevan Psalter. Another Reformed distinctive we did was praying the intercessory prayer after the sermon. By praying it at this point, it allowed the minister to apply the sermon passage in a specific way to the congregation. A final distinct feature of early Reformed worship was using a creed for corporate confession after the sermon in response to the Word. We did this by singing the Apostles' Creed, which Bucer typically would do.

Although it was different than the worship we typically offer on the Lord's Day, it was quite a blessing and very helpful for showing us our roots. It can be very easy to take worship for granted, but these men were recovering worship without having a direct example to follow. They had the scripture and the early church to help them, but none of them had ever worshipped in any other way than Medieval Roman Catholicism. In fact, at the beginning of the Reformation, typically what they did was translate the Catholic Mass into the common tongue, only discarding the most obvious features of the mass. What Bucer put together, with the help of Capito and Zell, was later picked up by Calvin and would eventually form the archetype of Reformed worship which has followed even to this day. We owe much to those early Reformers who risked their lives to do what we often complain about. May we recapture their Reformed ethos as we continue to stand on their shoulders seeking to reform the church's worship according to the Word of God.

The Silent Prayer Upon Entering the Church
O God, who has taught us that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us; Increase and multiply upon us Your mercy; that, with You as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Revised Liturgy of 1689)
*The Call to Worship                                                Psalm 100
    "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" (Psalm 100)         Hymn 1

*The Invocation and Lord's Prayer
Grant unto us, O heavenly Father, that the remembrance of our redemption may never leave our hearts, but that we may walk in Christ, the Light of the world, far removed from our foolish reason and blind wills, which are vain and injurious darkness. Almighty God, heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks that you have been so gracious unto us poor sinners, having drawn us to your Son our Lord Jesus, whom thou hast delivered to death for us and given to be our nourishment and our dwelling unto eternal life. Grant that we may never relinquish these things from our hearts, but ever grow and increase in faith to you, which, through love is effective of all good works. And so may our whole life, and especially our worship tonight, be devoted to your praise and the edification of our neighbor; through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Confession of Sin, Pardon, and Thanksgiving
Make confession to God the Lord, and let everyone acknowledge with me his sin and iniquity.

    Prayer of Confession
Almighty, eternal God and Father, we confess and acknowledge that we, alas, were conceived and born in sin, and are therefore inclined to all evil and slow to all good; that we transgress thy holy commandments without ceasing, and ever more corrupt ourselves. But we are sorry for the same, and beseech thy grace and help. Wherefore have mercy upon us, most gracious and merciful God and Father, through thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant to us and increase in us thy Holy Spirit, that we may recognize our sin and unrighteousness from the bottom of our hearts, attain true repentance and sorrow for them, die to them wholly, and please thee entirely by a new and godly life. Amen.
    Assurance of Pardon                                 Acts 10:42-43
And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Let everyone, with St. Peter, truly acknowledge this in his heart and believe in Christ, and rest assured that you have received the forgiveness of all your sins. They have been loosed on earth that they may also be loosed in heaven, and for all eternity. God have mercy upon us and bless us. Amen.
    Psalms of Thanksgiving                               Psalm 103A
                                                                           *Psalm 46A
*Prayer of Thanksgiving
Almighty, gracious, heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks that, through your holy Gospel, you have again offered and presented to us your most precious treasure: our Lord Jesus Christ. And we heartily beseech you to grant that we may receive Him and partake of Him in true faith now and forever, and be so nourished that we may be set free from all evil and increase daily in all goodness, to thy glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
*Reading from the New Testament Gospel                     Matthew 5
    "Decalogue (Strasbourg)" from the Genevan Psalter See Insert

The Prayer of Illumination & Collection                  Psalm 19B
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. . . Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:14,16

The Lord be with you, let us pray.
Our gracious God, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Help us to be ever thankful for your beneficent providence and make us faithful stewards of your great bounty—for the building up of your Kingdom, for the provision of our necessities and for the relief of those who are in need. And as our needs are not merely physical but also spiritual, we give you thanks for your eternal Word. Almighty, gracious Father, forasmuch as our whole salvation depends upon our true understanding of thy holy Word, grant to all of us that our hearts, being freed from worldly affairs, may hear and apprehend thy holy Word with all diligence and faith, that we may rightly understand thy gracious will, cherish it, and live by it with all earnestness, to thy praise and honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Scripture Reading                                                           2 Timothy 3:1-4:5

The Sermon "Desperate Times Call for Divine Measures"
      *"The Apostles' Creed"                                                                  Hymn 742    
                                                   (Tune for: Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken)

*Benediction and Response                                                   Numbers 6:24-26
    *Congregation: Amen
    "Give Thanks unto the Lord, Jehovah" (Psalm 118)             Hymn 613 (Verse 1)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reformation Rally in Sunnyside, WA

Shane Lems from The Reformed Reader has announced the following:

Reformation Rally - October 29, 2010

We've got the date down for our 3rd annual Reformation Rally: October 29, 2010 (Friday night).

Time: 7-8 PM

Location: 1750 Sheller Road (in Sunnyside, WA - at the United Reformed Church)

Topic: Worship According to the Word: The Reformation Recovery of Biblical Worship

Speakers: Rev. Matt Barker (Emmanuel OPC in Kent, WA) and Rev. Shane Lems (The URC of Sunnyside)

Other notes: We will also sing several hymns and enjoy snacks and fellowship after the two lectures.

Stay tune for more details - and be sure to pass this info along!

Looks like it will be good.  I hope they post the audio.  If you're in the area, you may want to check it out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tennessee Valley Presbytery Votes Against BCO 14 Ammendments

This is just to provide a quick update with more detail to follow. At Presbytery today, the TVP voted down BCO 14-1: the vote tally was 20 yes, 29 no, and 2 abstentions. The TVP Also voted down BCO 14-2: the vote tally was 1 yes, 37 no, and 15 abstentions.

I believe this now makes it 9 Presbyterys against and 4 Presbyterys for.

As I said, there will be more details to follow.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dennison Sermons on History of Salvation

In an earlier post, I highlighted an interview with Danny Olinger on the life and ministry of Geerhardus Vos, especially with his contribution to Reformed Biblical Theology. What Vos does so well is help with how the Bible fits together by looking at it through the lens of the history of salvation. I commented, "If you have ever struggled with how to understand how the Bible fits together, or have desired to learn how to read the Bible with more understanding, then you have to read Vos." The Bible is the self-revelation of the Triune God, in which he unfolds himself and his plan of salvation progressively through time. Vos uses the analogy of a rose. In the OT you find the seed that over the course of time begins to sprout and grow until you have the rose in full bloom.

In the interview, Danny suggests that one of the best ways to see the Biblical Theology of Vos in action is in the preaching of Charlie Dennison. Mr. Dennison was formerly the Historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and pastor of Grace OPC (where I was previously the intern). In light of that recommendation, I have decided to post here, 27 Sermons that Mr. Dennison preached on "The History of Salvation." These sermons are not for the faint of heart as they are rich in substance and the application of Christ, as they show forth the glory of God in Christ from the beginning to the end of biblical history.

There are no titles, only scripture references. If you like these and would like to listen to more, then check out the Audio Resources at Northwest Theological Seminary.  This series is provided here with the gracious permission of Charlie's widow, Mrs. Ginger Dennison.

1. Hebrews 3.12-4.13
2. Genesis 1:26-31, 3:1-7, 5:21-24, 6:5-8, 11:1-9
3. Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 25:21-26, 32:24-31, 50:15-21
4. Exodus 1:1-14, 12:29-36, 14:10-14, 21-31
5. Joshua 1:1-9, 24:1-15 / Ephesians 3:14-21
6. Judges 2:11-23, 17:1-6 / Ruth 4:13-22
7. I Samuel 1:19-2:10, 16:1-13
8. I Kings 12:21-33 / II Kings 17:7-18
9. II Chronicles 24:1-22 / Micah 3:5-12
10. Exodus 24:1-18
11. Deuteronomy 4:1-24
12. Genesis 32:22-30 / Psalm 45:1-9 / Isaiah 9:6-7
13. I Corinthians 1:18-31
14. John 1:1-14 / Matthew 1:18-2:1 / Luke 2:41-52
15. Luke 4:14-37, 5:1-3
16. John 6:51-71
17. Matthew 16:1-20
18. Matthew 17:1-8, 18:1-6
19. Matthew 21:12-22 / Mark 12:28-34 / Luke 21:20-38
20. Luke 24:1-12, 36-52
21. Acts 5:1-16
22. Acts 7:46-8:3, 26-40
23. Acts 9:1-22
24. Acts 9:31-43, 11:19-30
25. Galatians 2:11-21 / Acts 18:1-11 / I Thessalonians 1:8-10
26. Acts 20:17-38
27. Philippians 3:1-21 / II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

The Given Life

There are several big issues that members of my church are facing right now.  As a pastor, it is a reminder that life is not easy and simple or nice and neat.  Although it is wise to plan, there is no way to control things so that our plans come to pass.  There is no way to keep the unexpected from coming to pass--especially when the unexpected is difficult, challenging and seemingly earth shattering.

It during times like this that I like to reflect on the last line of Wendell Berry's poem "I think of Gloucester, blind, led through the world," which is about new birth,
We live the given life, and not the planned.
It is good to be reminded that the life of new birth, is a life that springs forth from the death of the son who is raised and exalted to the right hand of his father.  The new life found in the son is born out of the context of death and suffering, but leads to exaltation.

What makes it possible for us to live the given life rather than the planned life is a faith that grasps hold of grace--grace that is rooted in the fact that the given life we live is simultaneously the planned life decreed by God for us to live.

The reality of life is that more often than not our plans will not work out the way we hope--when that is the case, how will you respond?  Focus on the fact that the planned life is not coming to pass?  Or rely on the grace to live the life given in the power of the new birth?

(Ye must be born again.)

I think of Gloucester, blind, led through the world
To the world’s edge by the hand of a stranger
Who is his faithful son. At the cliff’s verge
He flings away his life, as of no worth,
The true way lost, his eyes two bleeding wounds—
And finds his life again, and is led on
By the forsaken son who has become
His father, that the good may recognize
Each other, and at last go ripe to death.
We live the given life, and not the planned.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

JC Ryle's The Duties of Parents

The good folks over at Monergism Books have made a classic on parenting available for free download.  Ryle's classic The Duties of Parents is "a primer on raising children and the duties all Christian parents have toward those God has entrusted to them."

You can access the book in pdf here, which is provided through a service at feedbooks.com.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burn the Qur'an or Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?

Over at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton has provided a well thought out response to the recent fuss about burning the Qur'an.  In it, he seeks to help frame the debate from a Reformed perspective that is based on the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, or Two-Kingdoms doctrine.  Although the issue has been set forth as political and Christians are to engage in the political arena, there is much more at stake than politics and military success.  Horton writes,
As citizens of democratic nations, Christians may be concerned about the implications of Qur’an-burning for international peace and justice. However, as citizens of the kingdom of Christ, they have even more reason to denounce such actions. Recall James and John—the “sons of thunder”—asking Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village that rejected their message. We read that Jesus rebuked them. 
As responsible citizens, we cannot help but be concerned about the political ramifications of Islam—especially since Islam is a geo-political as well as religious movement. Yet as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we must resist the temptation to confuse U. S. interests with the goals of the City of God.
Horton ends with a great real life illustration that puts the entire nonsense of burning the Qur'an in perspective,
Muslims are our neighbors and regardless of what their religion encourages, our scriptures call us to imitate our Father who sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust alike. It is an era of common grace, a space in history for calling all people everywhere to repentance and faith in Christ. Our children play regularly with Muslim neighbors and sometimes the topic of religion comes up in conversation. It is interesting to overhear the interaction. On occasion, the oldest boy will ask me questions about Jesus and why we believe that he rose from the dead. I cannot imagine that the burning of the Qur’an this coming Saturday will help move that discussion along.
In the post, Horton draws the distinction between the City of God and the City of man in order to help remind Christians not to confuse the interests of the U.S. with the interests of the Church.

Apparently, there were many who disagreed with Horton's position.  There was so much negative response that it required him to write a second post, which can be read here. In the second post, he further explains his position on the negative consequences of confusing Church and state, using some of the past inconsistencies of Christendom to bolster his point. Horton warns that Christians do not want to resort to similar perspectives to Muslim extremists by assuming and perpetuating the past mistakes of Christendom.

In addition to looking at past mistakes in Christendom, Horton provides an excellent redemptive-historical summary for his position:
Unlike Islam, the biblical faith is an unfolding drama of redemption in which different covenants determine distinct policies and relationships between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this age. Under the old covenant pledged at Mount Sinai, Israel was a geo-political theocracy, commanded by God to drive out the idolatrous nations. It was a type of the Last Judgment at the end of the age. Yet Israel broke this covenant and was sent into exile; even when a remnant was allowed to return, the nation was under the oppressive reigns of successive empires. Then the Messiah arrived and in his Sermon on the Mount sharply re-defined the nature of his kingdom. Christ did not come to revive the old covenant (Sinai), but to fulfill it and to inaugurate the new covenant (Zion) with his own blood. No longer identified with a nation, his kingdom is the worldwide family that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a “new covenant,” which is “not like the covenant” that Israel swore at Sinai (Jer 31:31-34). It is a kingdom of grace and forgiveness, an era in which the outcasts are gathered for the feast instead of driven out of the land. Even in the face of persecution, it is the hour for loving and praying for enemies, not for hating them or retaliating (Mat 5:43-48). Whereas God promised Israel temporal blessing for obedience and disaster for disobedience, today is the era of common grace. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v 45). One day, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and the holy wars that God commanded in the Old Testament will pale in comparison with the worldwide arraignment before the Son of God. 
Given the present era of the Church, the Kingdom of God grows through the means of grace of preaching the word, administering the sacraments and in prayer.  And there are many Christians seeking to do just this around the world, who live in Muslim countries under constant threat. Many of the Christians are former Muslims who still live in their homelands, while others are foreign Christians serving as missionaries.  If General Petraeus is concerned about potential violence to soldiers, what about the threat against fellow Christians?

For this reason, Horton ends with three reasons why burning the Qur'an tomorrow is wrong:
Burning the Qur’an is wrong for the following reasons: (1) It confuses the proclamation of Christ with violent conflict, justifying the suspicions of our secular and Muslim neighbors that Christianity is also a quasi-political movement; (2) It puts our neighbors around the world at risk, Christian and non-Christian, military and civilian; (3) It puts our brothers and sisters at greater risk, not for the gospel, but for an easy act of desperation that avoids the difficult sacrifice that fellow Christians around the world are making daily in their witness to God’s saving love in Christ.
As helpful as Horton's words are, there is one who makes Horton's case more authoritatively--the prophet Micah.  We should hear the words of the prophet Micah in chapter four, in which he says that in the latter days, the presence of the Lord will be resurrected, that the people of God, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, will stream to God to learn from him and then go out from him with his word.  These latter days have dawned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and first found their fulfillment when his disciples met him atop a mountain and received a commission to take his word to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28.16-20).  It should be no surprise, then, that in these latter days, the days inaugurated with the resurrection of Christ, the days in which we now live, that Micah tells us that the Church's past instruments of warfare are turned into instruments of harvest:

 . . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; (Micah 4.3b).
As the Church who lives in these latter days, continuing to strive to faithfully fulfill the commission given by Christ, let us strive to utilize the right instruments--instruments of harvest and peace, not violence and conflict. We want to bring in the harvest, not burn the harvest fields. Make no mistake, burning the Qur'an does not serve Christ or further the cause of the gospel. In our desire to love God, let us also love our Muslim neighbor as ourselves.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reformation Heritage Conference with Dr. Joel Beeke

For the past six years, Grace PCA in Douglasville, GA has hosted a Reformation Heritage Conference.  The past conference messages have been archived in mp3 files and can be found at the following links:
2004 RHC:  Calvin, Geneva, & Reformed Worship with Dr. Derek Thomas
2005 RHC:  American Reformation Heritage with Dr. Darryl G. Hart
2006 RHC:  The Scottish Reformation with Rev. Iain Murray
2007 RHC:  The German Reformation with Dr. Carl Trueman
2008 RHC: The Reformation & the Means of Grace with Dr. Michael Horton
2009 RHC: Music, Singing, & the Reformation with Dr. Paul Jone
Grace is once again hosting the conference and have announced on their website:
Please join us on September 17-19, 2010 for our Seventh Annual Reformation Heritage Conference.  Our speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Church, and author of more than 60 books.  His topic will be the 16th-17th century Dutch Reformations.  In addition, Dr. Beeke's wife, Mary, will be speaking at a special women's breakfast on Saturday, September 18th.  To register or for more information please call our church office at 770-489-6758.
The schedule looks very good:
Friday evening:
     Session 1: The Dutch Reformation (1545-1619)

     Session 2: Calvin and Dutch Calvinism
     Session 3: The Dutch Further Reformation (1600-1784) w/emphasis on Gisbertus Voetius            and     Wilhelmus a Brakel

The Lord's Day: Dr. Beeke will preach in bother services and teach Sunday school on the                               subject of family worship
You can download and view the brochure for this year's conference in pdf formart: RHC Brochure 2010.pdf (File Size - 798K)

The cost of the conference is a donation of $10.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Out with the Old, In with the New: Narrowness Cloaked in Openness

There is much talk in the church today, as there was in the 70's and 80's, about updating the methods used by churches in accomplishing the Great Commission (Matt 28.18-20), as if God only gave a command and didn't also provide the necessary instructions for carrying out the command.  The worship wars have expanded their theatre of conflict now to include the nature of the church and how to do evangelism and missions.  The mantra of the day is "we must be relevant!".  But apparently relevance is a code word for looking like the world--your local coffee shop to be more specific.

Underlying the call for new methods is a new fourth mark of the church.  Historically the church has been understood by the three marks of the right preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and faithful church discipline.  Yet, today, to these three, a fourth mark is emerging (pun intended) and that is the mark of marketing how one does those things.  Some preach the gospel dressed formally and some preach it in flip flops and shorts--never mind that both are apparently meeting with and representing the same God.

Adding marketing to the list of marks provides the justification to flood the religious market with all manner of different styles of churches, so that if one "type" of church is not bringing in the throngs, then we need to offer a different product.  This market driven model apparently provides the justification for churches planting new churches on top of one another without any forethought as to what this says to a community about God and his gospel.

Never mind the obvious Arminian foundation of this thinking and strategic plan, does it not cause anyone to step back and think about the wisdom of using models and strategies for church mission that have been around no longer than some of our youngest covenant children?  G.K. Chesterton, in his book What's Wrong with the World?, comments on this very tactic saying, "It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people."  He complained that the child is oftentimes older than the theory he is taught, "the flopping infant of four actually has more experience . . . than the dogma to which he is made to submit."

Chesterton's complaint centered on the new fad of man's intoxication with the new and distaste for the old.  "In the modern world we are primarily confronted with the the extraordinary spectacle of people turning to new ideas because they have not tried the old."  C. S. Lewis also sought to refute this error, which he referred to as "chronological snobbery."  Rather than fall prey to this arrogance, Lewis suggested we should allow the "breezes of the centuries" to blow through our minds,
It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones....Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books....The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds and this can only be done by reading old books.
We have lost sight of this wisdom today.  Rather than see ourselves rooted in the tried and true faith and practice of our Reformed heritage through a covenantal and organic connection, we would rather utilize a cut flower approach to our mission.  Yes, cut flowers are aesthetically beautiful and in that beauty give the appearance of health and vitality.  Yet, the nature of cut flowers is that their root system is cut off and they will inevitably die from lack of sustenance and nourishment. 

As a result, some, in order to get away from what many refer to as the white middle class Presbyterianism of western modernity, they have turned to white middle class postmodernity that relativizes truth and practice.  They deny that God has revealed the means by which the church is to fulfill her mission, and as a result, believe that good intentions, good sociological studies and good market research should be used to best be able to reflect the culture they are seeking to reach.  They have merely traded one cultural influence for another.  The truth of Christ and his promise to build the church become contingent on the latest market research.  The danger here is that as the media shapes the message, the gospel of Christ is being confused with postmodern, relativistic pop-psychology and political activism. 

Presbyterian church growth techniques have become a cut flower enterprise that is here today and gone tomorrow, where the younger generation assumes it knows all and those who have gone before are forgotten and dismissed.  This situation is the case in some Presbyterian circles as the older, proven ways are being jettisoned for the new emerging (pun intended again) techniques.  In Presbyterian missions, this has led to the young men who have not proven themselves in ministry any further than momentarily creating a larger crowd serving as experts in presbyteries, rather than sitting at the feet and learning from those who have gone before them.  This includes not only the living elders, but even the dead.

The theory of new equals good, or the new is superior to the old is often touted in terms of being open and not closed-minded.  Yet, to borrow from Chesterton once again, "Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about . . . Tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father."  Intoxication with the new, although clothed with words of openness, is really narrowness in openness clothing. 

Ever thought about how the Bible does not fit the criteria of new equals superior?  It is to no surprise, then, that rarely is the Bible mentioned in substantiating the new.  God has not only given us a mission, he has revealed how the mission is to be pursued.  And just in case you are wondering, the Lord gives us his perspective on this theory in Jeremiah 6.16,
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
Ironically, this generation of Presbyterians is not the first to utilize this theory.  The New Side and New School Presbyterians in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries already have introduced this theory.  The new methods that are emerging today (you guessed it) are actually reacting against these earlier innovations.  The New Schooler's in Presbyterianism today find that they are no longer new enough.  What seemed to be effective then, is now no longer deemed effective.  Maybe the fact that it is no longer deemed successful should direct us to see that it wasn't actually effective back then either.  Or, maybe we should just embrace the idea that since it is Christ who has promised to build his church, Christ apparently arbitrarily changes the methods he uses.

In my opinion, the new equals better theory has already been tried and found wanting--the new New Schoolers state this themselves.  Let us, then, not fall prey to this subtle pride and arrogance, which has been committed by the people of God throughout her history (just start reading in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve tried to improve upon God's means for accomplishing the church's mission).  Rather than approaching the mission of the church from the perspective of out with the old and in with the new, let us pursue a more humble and wise approach of stick with the old, and test the new until it has proven itself to be true, wise and trustworthy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Restoring Honesty: A Couple of Good Responses to Glenn Beck's Rally

If you want to know where the Evangelical church is in America, then just check out the recent Restoring Honor rally led by Glenn Beck this past weekend.  Regardless of one's personal perspective on Glenn Beck's politics, his combination of politics and religion is not to be recommended or embraced.  You would think that one of the key ingredients in "restoring honor" would be honesty.  But apparently honesty concerning God and religion is not important as long as one's political agenda is furthered by the promotion of false gods and false religion.

But regardless of Beck's fusion of the sacred and the secular, what is more disconcerting is the Evangelicals who believe that it is something to drink in to the very last drop.  The danger is not just in fusing religion and politics (that's bad enough), but embracing and endorsing a non-Evangelical religion, yay even a non-Christian religion, yay a "generically theistic civil religion" with politics that consists of Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Mormons, Jews and even Muslims. This is not to say that these different groups shouldn't participate and help one another in political engagement, but that said political engagement should remain political and not be religious. 

Darryl Hart has already addressed this issue quite well (see here and here).  But for a shorter, Baptist version, Russ Moore has provided an excellent reflection on Beck's god and country rally (the lower case "g" is not a grammatical error just in case you were wondering).  I highly recommend you read his analysis and seriously think about his rebuttal:
The answer isn’t a narrowing sectarianism, retreating further and further into our enclaves. The answer includes local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and disciple their congregations to know the difference between the kingdom of God and the latest political whim. It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moore is correct in saying that we don't need to retreat into our enclaves; however, we do need to engage politically in light of our particular religious enclaves and not fall into the trap of thinking any movement based upon a confession of "god" is something worthy of our participation.  We must ask what "god" we are confessing; which "god" we are serving; and whose will are we are doing--is it the will of the God of heaven who came to earth to die and be raised for sinners who prayed for his Father's heavenly kingdom and will to come to this world, or the god of this world who knows he cannot rule heaven and so seeks to bring many with him to his doom through a counterfeit religion.

In another response, John Sampson over at Reformation Theology provides a biblical response looking at the participation of Evangelicals at Beck's rally from an Old Testament perspective:
Have you ever seen something like this in the Bible - God saying, "Go meet with the Baal worshippers' and arrange a huge rally, an ecumenical inter-faith service - talk about honor and integrity and family values.. and you can pray to Me, of course, and they can pray to Baal - in fact, hold the priest of Baal's hand as he prays.. that will be such a nice touch.. and its quite ok with me.. I, the Lord your God, the holy One, really don't mind.. that's because it will show so much love to people and it will open hearts to My religion and everyone will so appreciate you not being closed minded elitist bigots. It will do wonders for people's view both of you and of Me. Go do this in My Name."?

Ever seen that? Even a hint of it? No? Me neither.
We need more than honor, we need honesty in our political and religious commitments.  This can't be done by promoting a false god and false religion, or in confessing someone else's false god or by participating in that god's sham.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Free Giveaway from Monergism Books

The God Who Is There Seminar (14-Part MP3 CD)
by D.A. Carson

With the generous permission of The Gospel Coalition, Monergism Books is giving away for free this incredible seminar by Don Carson.  You receive the 14 mp3 lectures on one CD.  The disc is free, all they ask you to do is cover shipping. 

From The Gospel Coalition blog: On February 20-21 and 27-28, 2009, Don Carson presented a 14-part seminar entitled “The God Who Is There.”  This series is designed to serve the church by edifying professing Christians while simultaneously evangelizing non-Christians by explaining the Bible’s storyline in a non-reductionistic way.

The series is geared toward “seekers” and articulates Christianity in a way that causes hearers either to reject or embrace the gospel. It’s one thing to know the Bible’s storyline, but it’s another to know one’s role in God’s ongoing story of redemption. “The God Who Is There” engages people at the worldview-level.


   1. The God Who Made Everything
   2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels
   3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements
   4. The God Who Legislates
   5. The God Who Reigns
   6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise
   7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being
   8. The God Who Grants New Birth
   9. The God Who Loves
  10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again
  11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just
  12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People
  13. The God Who Is Very Angry
  14. The God Who Triumphs

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prayer and the New Creation: An Eschatological Event

For those who were not able to attend the prayer service last night, I am including the homily I gave on prayer and the breakdown of the service itself. The homily is based on Psalm 104 and Colossians 3.1-4; 4.2.

In his primer on prayer titled A Method for Prayer, Matthew Henry states that, "Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged to by some of its fundamental laws," (p. 11). By this, Henry means that by the very fact of our being created by God, there is a natural obligation for mankind to acknowledge the creator. For when we do not, we live as though God is not real. Since we have been created, we are the lesser creature, and therefore, we should acknowledge the one who is greater than we. Prayer, then, would seem to have its starting point grounded upon creation—God as the creator and man as the creature.

Although Henry refers to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras for this understanding of prayer, it is certainly true that the Bible teaches it as well. The Bible is replete with calls to pray unto God because he is the Creator and because of his grand work of creation. One psalm in particular, Psalm 104, is an entire psalm built on this theme to render blessing unto Yahweh because of his majesty, which is demonstrated in his work of creation. To "bless" Yahweh as the creator is to praise or salute him. This verb in the Hebrew is also associated with kneeling. In essence, the word in its action of verbal declaration, as well as, through the mental picture of kneeling, speaks in its most basic meaning of prayer. We are to pray unto God as an expression of our recognition of and dependence upon him as our majestic creator.

And yet, as you read through the psalm, one comes across a most interesting expression of the "creative" power of God, and that is his power to bring to an end what he has begun. In verse 29 we are told, after 28 verses describing God's constructive creative activity that God, that when God turns away his face his creation is dismayed, alarmed terrified. Why? Because when God turns away from his creation, life is lost and returns to the dust. The point: we stand or fall according to the will of God—creation only continues as long as God sustains it by his power. Part of God's creative power rests in his power to bring death.

And yet, this death that God can bring is not the final note of this melancholic turn in psalm, for as soon as death is said to reside in his power, so also is life! Only this time in verse 30 it is renewed life that is the result of God sending forth his Spirit! Creation that dies is a creation that can be renewed! Old creation can become New Creation through the sovereign, creative power of God working through his Spirit. Death leading to life through the Spirit!

The old creation, then points us ahead to a new creation. God's work of creation in the first points us ahead to a second work of creation. The covenant Lord will create again and anew in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of his church, the firstborn from the dead that in everything—in the old creation or the new creation—he might be preeminent. For through the one in whom all the fullness of God dwelled, he has been pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

In Christ, death becomes life! It is in Jesus Christ that God accomplishes this drama of redemption. For in him, you who were once alienated and hostile in your minds, doing evil deeds, have been saved in order that he might present you holy and blameless. In Christ, you go from death (old creation) to life (new creation).

In Jesus Christ, our lives are now defined by his life as we enter in to his life by faith. By his resurrection, He is the firstborn of the new creation. As he is the firstborn of the new creation, He is the exalted one who has ascended to the right hand of God to ever dwell in his presence and enjoy his eternal fellowship. And he is the head of his church—he is not the only one exalted to God's right hand and God's fellowship—he is the first one and the preeminent one—but he is not the only one. For those who rest upon and receive Jesus as he is offered to us in this grand story of redemption also share in his resurrection and ascension!

This is what we just heard moments ago when we read from Colossians 3. This participation in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension is the conclusion of all that Paul has been saying in Colossians up to this point. You who are of faith have been (already accomplished) raised with Christ! And raised where? To where Christ is seated, which is at the right hand of God in the heavenly places!

This participation with Christ in his resurrection from the dead and ascension to God's right hand in glory is what now defines you who have trusted in Christ, so much so, so utterly so, that Paul's says your life is now hidden with Christ in God. His life is your life—his story is your story.

And so, Paul calls us to understand our lives in light of sharing in Christ's life so that we might know how to live out our new creation lives. Notice that Paul commands us in light of our new identities to seek the things above—to understand ourselves and the world from the perspective of heaven. We are to have heavenly glasses through which we see God, Christ, ourselves and the world, rather than viewing these things through the lenses of earth.

And one of the specific applications by which we live our new creation lives looking at things through our new heavenly glasses is prayer. Chapter four verse two opens with this command: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." As the commands of scripture are always grounded first in what God has accomplished for us in Christ, it is important to note that this command in 4.2 is grounded in what was said back in 3.1-4. As our prayers are certainly to be offered unto God because he is our Creator Lord, we learn here that our prayers are also to be offered in light of the new creation in our Lord Jesus Christ. Praying, then, is an eschatological act that is an expression of our new eschatological lives. Praying is a function of the new creation, and therefore, it is to be perfumed with the aroma of heaven as we pray. And though we pray about the cares and concerns of our lives and our faith in this world—the prayers we are to offer are certainly not of this world. Rather, our prayers are to be shaped by the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth, for you have died and now are one who lives in the new creation with your life hidden with Christ in God. You have been raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places at the right hand of God. So pray with the joy and thanksgiving of one who has entered into heaven—who is there and not here. Do you realize that as Christ is there praying as one who possess all the blessings of the heavenly places, and as those in the heavenly places with him, when you pray according to God's will, you are praying for things that are already yours in Christ?!

Prayer, then, as it is now grounded upon the new creation, is not only an expression of our recognition of and dependence upon him as our majestic creator who has the power of life and death; it is a participation in his majestic resurrection life, a participation in his glorious power and might that he used in raising Jesus from the dead; prayer is a participation in his heavenly prayers. So, as those raised with Christ to the new creation, seek the things that are above as you continue steadfastly in prayer in the power of and from the perspective of the new creation.

For the prayer service:

Adoration                                          Psalm 104A
Confession                                         Psalm 102A
Thanksgiving                                      Psalm 116A
Supplication                                       Psalm 90C
Concluding Doxological Praise           Psalm 106.47-48 (tune: All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name)
Save us, O LORD, our gracious God,
From heathen lands reclaim,
That we may glory in Thy praise
And thank Thy holy name.
That we may glory in Thy praise
And thank Thy holy name.

The LORD be blessed, yes, Isr'el's God, through all eternity.
Let all the people say, "Amen."
Praise to the LORD give ye.
Let all the people say, "Amen."
Praise to the LORD give ye.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Presbyterian Guardian Now Available Online

The Presbyterian Guardian (1935-1979) was an important voice in the early years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in its vigorous opposition to modernism and its proclamation and defense of Reformed orthodoxy. Established on the eve of the founding of the denomination, it was closely associated with the OPC, although it remained an independent magazine.

This magazine is a treasure trove of solid, confessionally Reformed, biblical insights written by churchmen who loved Christ and his Bride.  And now, it can be easily accessed for your enjoyment.  The Presbyterian Guardian is now available on the OPC's website with all 611 issues available to be downloaded.  You can access any one of the issues individually, but the entire collection is also available as one PDF Archive (about 990 MB), which can be downloaded onto one's computer so one can access and search it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Cry of Lamentation

"My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me, (Jeremiah 8.18).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Call to Confesional Renewal Will Be Heard at PCA General Assembly

According to Wes White:
. . . the Admin committee voted 28-2-0 to recommend approval of the NW Georgia Presbytery's overture on confessional renewal. This overture will be presented on Thursday as a substitute motion for the permanent committee's motion to reject this overture. We adopted the NW Georgia Presbytery in such a way that it is a stand alone motion and not an alternative to the Strategic Plan.
This is good news to us at RP who adopted this overture as our position on the proposed Strategic Plan.  I am quite eager to see and hear the discussion on confessional renewal as I believe it will be very telling for the confessional stance of the PCA.

Ever Thought About God's Eternality and How It Shapes His Love?

From "Jeremiah's Plaint and Its Answer,"

"The best proof that [God] will never cease to love us lies in that He never began. What we are for Him and what He is for us belongs to the realm of eternal values. Without this we are nothing, in it we have all."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Superb Summary of the Problems and Concerns Surrounding the PCA Strategic Plan

Wes White has provided a great distillation of the many and various problems and concerns with the PCA Strategic Plan in his blog post today "Why We Should Vote Down the Strategic Plan."  This is the best summary I have seen so far with very clear analysis.  Wes sums up his position at the beginning of the post when he says,
In my opinion, this is a very poor lan, with very poor analysis, and with a whole bunch of bad ideas that will take the PCA in the wrong direction.  It enshrines the agenda of the progressives in the PCA as the agenda of the PCA.
In his post, Wes provides six basic reasons for why the SP should be voted down, many of which agree with some of what I have posted on this blog(here, here, here, here, here, and here):
  1. The SP's analysis is flawed
  2. It further centralizes power in the PCA
  3. It is filled with bad ideas
  4. It is filled with useless ideas
  5. It is contrary to the constitution of the PCA
  6. The defenses of it are weak at best
In addition to this summary of his disagreement with the SP, he has also posted a helpful summary explanation of the SP and a fairly exhaustive list of internet commentary on the SP with all sides represented.

If you still have questions about the SP, you would do well to read Wes' posts and take advantage of the resources he has assembled.

Do You Want to Hear the Old Testament in Hebrew?

Many haven't thought about it or don't realize it, but did you know that the Hebrew text is the result of putting sounds on paper?  This makes it very important that the interpreter be able to hear the words in addition to seeing them when they are read.  In fact, the Hebrew text is literature that is designed to be read out loud.  This means that to fully grasp the writer's intention, his words need to be heard as well as seen.

As I have been working on my sermon for this Lord's Day morning on the latter half of Micah 1, I have noticed that there are a lot of word plays being used by Micah.   Micah uses poetry to communicate lament and in it uses the two poetic features of alliteration and assonance to bring out his point.  Both of these features have to do with sound.  Alliteration is the repetition of a consonantal sound at the beginning of a word, so for example, in Micah 1.10 where the ESV reads "tell it not in Gath," Micah's poetry is missed.  A better translation would be, "don't gab about it in Gath."  The meaning is tied to the two words that begin with the same guttural sound.

Micah also uses assonance.  Assonance is when a writer will use a similarity of sounds between syllables or words (for example, rhyming) to really draw your attention to what is being said.  "Sally sells sea shells by the seashore," grabs your attention and gets you to listen more intently than saying, "Sally peddles the empty husks of marine life down on the oceanfront."  So also in Micah 1.10, instead of the ESV's "weep not all," a better translation is "weeping, weep not," which is another way of saying by no means weep!

A lot of the power of the poetry can and is lost in the translation.  So, as I have been studying, I have been reading the section out loud in Hebrew; however, I am not able to hear and feel the poetry as much because, well, I don't read Hebrew out loud very proficiently.  So what's a guy to do?

You look online and find a site that has an audio Hebrew Bible.  Let me introduce you to the Academy of Ancient Languages website and their Hebrew Audio Bible.  In addition to Hebrew, they also have Aramaic, Akkadian, and Greek.  I have added this site to our "Study Tools" section in the right hand pane so that it will always be available.

Check it out and enjoy!

[HT: Reformed Reader]

Friday, June 25, 2010

Globalism, The Westminster Standards, and The PCA Strategic Plan

Do we need to jettison or at least add to the Westminster Standards in order to participate more effectively in the global mission of the Church?  In order for the gospel ministry to be more effective, does it need to be freed from North American and European biases that result from a more rigorous Reformed theology?  Have the self-consciously confessional Presbyterians mistakenly equated confessional Reformed piety and practice with 16th century Swiss, Scottish or British culture?

In his recent article "Catholicity Global and Historical: Constantinople, Westminster, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, in the Westminster Theological Journal, Robert Letham provides the historical and global make-up of the Westminster Standards and shows how the Divines purposely placed themselves in the stream of historic, orthodox biblical interpretation by allowing the ancient creeds to guide the Westminster Standards.  He notes how they saw themselves as continuing and perpetuating the insights of the Church fathers and the ancient creeds.

After laying out the ecumenical history and content of the Westminster Standards, he turns his attention to those who say that the Church needs to free herself from the influence of Western theology and practice in order to be more effective globally, and that the Church needs to allow the third world theologians to shape today's theology and practice.  He notes,
There are those who claim that we are entering an entirely new era requiring a massive paradigm shift in the church’s thought and action. In this case, historical theology is merely a curiosity. It may have a part in an ongoing conversation but the debate has moved on. The past is effectively sidelined since a conversation, as it progresses in subtle and dynamic ways, renders obsolete and irrelevant the comments made five minutes ago. Many voices praise the idea that the church will be freed from its captivity to Western Europe and North America. This misses the point that the foundations of the church were laid by Egyptians (Athanasius and Cyril), Turks (the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor), Tunisians (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine), and a Syrian ( John of Damascus), to say nothing of the apostles (Middle-Eastern Jews)—these hardly look like Western Europeans, let alone North Americans. This mantra is a coded message, indicating that its utterer wants to move away from the confining dogmas of the Reformation. . . . The ecumenical creeds cannot be reduced to conversation partners at a global round table. Insights there may and will be from various parts of the world. But the nature of the ecumenical councils was quite different—they simply confessed the truth and the church recognized what they confessed. They were acknowledging the apostolic faith, not bringing insights from their culture. The same principle applies to the teachings of the Reformation. (p. 55)
Letham's point is quite timely given the desire on the one hand to make church practice reflective of culture while on the other hand complaining about the cultural captivity of Reformed theology and practice.  Maybe what they mean to say is that we would be better served to be held captive to culture that is not North American or European.  Funny how the winds of politics seem to be shaping this conversation. But merely exchanging one cultural influence for another is not biblical, but is also not truly catholic or ecumenical.

If we are going to be more "global" it cannot be the result of leaving history behind, even Westminster history. Letham concludes, "Global Christianity in the twenty-first century, to be truly catholic, must be apostolic—grounded in Scripture and built upon the teaching of the church. It is worryingly evident that many who have leaped onto the bandwagon of globalism—mainly in this country—are ready to move beyond the foundations. (p.57)

As the Christian Church, who has been commissioned by Christ to take his gospel to all the globe, it is right for us to desire and spend ourselves in going global.  Yet, we need to pursue it wisely.  And the wise way includes retaining our history, especially our history of interpretation of the Bible.  This history is retained for us in the historic creeds of the Church including the Westminster Standards--both in doctrine and practice.  Let us not fall prey to bad practice as a result of a bad understanding of our Standards and of ourselves.  Yes we go forth as Americans subscribing to the Westminster Standards, which means but we go forth with a gospel founded upon, shaped by and explained in the creedal and confessional work of many nations.