Columns

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

Satan persuades us to cultivate close friendships with ungodly peers. 

It has long been popular to characterize Anglicanism as a distinctive middle way or via media between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Many today understand Anglicanism as a unique combination of the best features of the two traditions, which avoids the perceived errors of both Protestants and Catholics. Indeed, some view this via media as the definitive way to understand Anglicanism’s unique vocation as a religious tradition.

Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt discuss the value of leisure reading and suggest a few outstanding titles. Todd’s dramatic reading at the conclusion of the podcast is worth the price of admission! Perhaps we should put it another way…

You’ll enjoy reading A Christian Guide to the Classics, by Leland Ryken. Enter to win a copy!

When couples struggle with the pain of infertility, surrogacy may be one of the available options. Is surrogacy as simple as finding a “carrier” for your baby, or are there more considerations to bear in mind? 

Some years ago, I took a Nazirite vow never to write on race in America.  Yet, persuaded by the editorial team at First Things, I broke that vow.  Now it is time to offer a brief reflection on some of the responses.

Three events this week have given me pause both for thought, nostalgia, and hope. The first was the arrival of an email on Thursday containing the memoir manuscript of a well-known Welsh Baptist pastor who served only one congregation in his ministry, and that for over fifty years. He asked me to read it with a view to offering a commendation, though he couched the request with comments about how busy I must be, and how many more important books I no doubt have to read. Read it with a view to commendation?

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the glory of the ministry which has been entrusted to him in a passage which draws a stark contrast between the old covenant and the new.
 
The old covenant was indeed glorious. While Paul describes it as a ministry of death, this is not to be read as derogating in any way from its glorious nature. The law was, after all, the very handwriting of God upon the tablets of stone.
In this chapter we have one of those sudden gear changes which are so characteristic of the Apostle Paul and which, indeed, remind us that, although all scripture is God-breathed and authored in an ultimate sense by God, this does not override the personalities of the various human authors of the Bible.

It's six o'clock Wednesday evening. Your church's mid-week Bible study starts in one hour, but you don't feel like going. The trouble is, you can't think of a fresh excuse and you don't dare to say what you, (and several others) would like to say: "Is this really what a Bible Study is supposed to be like?"

This scenario probably plays-out week after week, year after year, in the minds of countless believers. They trust that group Bible studies are important but stumble over how unedifying they often are. Can anything be done to help?

Paul Jones has performed an indispensable service for the church in the writing of his book Sing and Making Music. The chapters range from the highly practical to the more technical, but without losing the reader in the process.

Now at ReformedResources.org: a companion packet to The Shepherd Leader!
 
In this packet, you will find three sample tools to consider as you implement your shepherding plan. Click here to download your free resources.

When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.

These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.

I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

William Shedd and the Genocide of Assyrian Christians

Samuel Crowther – The First African Anglican Bishop

When a visiting missionary reunited with his mother in 1848, she must have hardly believed her eyes. It had been about 26 years since she had seen him. She had left him a young teenager named Ajayi. Now he was an ordained minister in the Church of England who went by the name Samuel Crowther.

Slavery and Freedom

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

Christians are frequently reminded to “remember the reason for Christmas,” meaning, of course, that we should turn our attention away from the cultural trappings and to the fact that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem.  But this Christmas, perhaps we should fix our attention a little more closely, not just on the details of Jesus’ birth, but on the miracle of the incarnation.  In so doing, we join a great cloud of Christian witnesses, who have reflected deeply on this glorious mystery.

This week on Theology on the Go, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Dr. Liam Goligher, pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia, PA. As pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, Dr. Goligher has done much thinking and teaching on the topic of missions, and how Christians are to reach the lost. This installment of Theology on the Go gives a glimpse of some of that teaching as Dr. Goligher chats with Jonathan about the doctrine of missions.

We may not always realise it, but the Bible has a theology of conflict. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, we are literally no further than 57 verses into Genesis before we find ourselves in the conflict zone that changed the course of history. And the conflict that emerges there in the opening section of Genesis 3, culminating in the fall, very quickly proves itself to be the fountainhead of every other form of conflict this world has ever witnessed.

Constancy is something every human being craves. Knowing that, in the midst of all the upheaval and change that marks the course of life, there are anchor-points that provide stability along the way. But where can we find such certainty?    

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

We all know combinations that just don’t go well together, don’t we? We even have a saying for them—they go together like oil and water. Some people think this about God’s Law and love. Others perhaps agree that God’s Law and love are compatible, but wouldn’t do well in explaining how they harmonize. Yet, they do. It is not possible for there to be discord or incompatibility, at least in an ultimate sense, between God’s Law and love, because they are God’s. But affirming that they harmonize is not the same as expressing how or why they do.

What Metaphor?

The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five brings to mind images of an orchard. It’s a serene and beautiful scene.  However, the more I look at the text of Galatians I start to think that the orchard metaphor may be a more pleasing one but not entirely consistent with what we find in the letter. But if not that then what image is appropriate?  What about a prison metaphor?

We probably all have bank accounts with savings, and maybe investments and 401(k)s. Wisdom would suggest that while we trust God we also should be good stewards and save. You want to have in inheritance—at the end of the road of your work life, you want to have a nest egg. This doesn’t make you greedy, in most cases it means you were prudent. But all of this should make us ask, where is my real inheritance? What is the real price? Where, or better, in whom is my true retirement.

What season did we recently enter?  Spring. What comes next? Summer. Then what? Fall. Then what? Winter. And then?  Spring.  And so on until Christ’s Second Coming.  The year’s seasons are cyclical—and somewhat predictable.  So the seasons of our years should not surprise us but rather inspire our adaptability, acceptance, and appreciation.