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.