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.

Note: this post has been adapted with permission from A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin.


There are some things we do in church that go completely unquestioned—until they are.

I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.

John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.  

John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace

Carl and Todd welcome a returning guest: Ismael Hernandez. He’s the executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute and author of Not Tragically Colored. Ismael joins in to discuss the current state of racial tension and politics in America. His experience growing up with Marxist ideals, and--later in life—joining a religious Marxist group gives Hernandez special insight into the topic.
 

It’s been a banner year for great books, and the Spin Crew has chosen yet another winner! This time, Carl and Todd sit down with Eric Jacobsen, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WI, and author of Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens. What are the pieces of glass Eric refers to, and how have they changed our world? 

While other godlier bloggers are off at GAs, reflecting on Christology and other serious matters, I spend my time running in the sun (the 90 degree mark separates the men from the boys, I am convinced) and reading Private Eye, in which august journal I notice that the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band are getting together for a fortieth anniversary reunion, though sadly without their lead singer, the late, great Viv Stanshall.  Late?  Well, he was a close friend of Keith Moon, never a very good idea.
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.

“Now greet the swiftly changing year with joy and penitence sincere; rejoice, rejoice, with thanks embrace another year of grace.”[1] This is how 17th-century Polish hymn-writer Jiří Třanovský (1592-1637, also known as Tranoscius) encouraged Christians to greet the year.

Church history can be of great help to us as we try to understand our calling to faithful Christian living in the times in which we live. In particular, it is helpful to remind ourselves in the year 2020 that we are not the first generation of believers to experience an outbreak of infectious disease. What can we learn from Christians in the past about our duties to one another in the present?

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.

I remember when my fifth grade art teacher announced, much to my horror, that we were now too old to be drawing every picture with the sun (burst) in the upper left corner of the page.  What?  That was how I began every picture!  It was like the schoolgirl’s way of spreading happy onto whatever theme the rest of her p
Join me in learning more about God and examining whether our knowledge of Him is congruent with our thinking and everyday living.
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:

i. God hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.

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

Francis James Grimké – Through a Pandemic and Social Unrest

We are not the first generation who must deal with a pandemic and racial unrest at the same time. The Spanish flu of 1918 hit America at a time when racial segregation and lynching of blacks were commonplace and largely ignored by the majority of Americans. Francis James Grimké led his congregation through both challenges, while defending human rights in his speeches and writings.

From Slave to Pastor

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

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?

In the book of Judges the men of Ephraim provide the church a vivid lesson in the ugly sin of discord. Having loved themselves so much, they could not hate discord and so be like the Lord their God (Proverbs 6:19).

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.