In contesting Rome's claim to universal authority over the entire Christian Church, Calvin pits the sober record of history against the fraudulent records of the papacy. It had long been the besetting sin of Rome, Calvin asserts, to desire hegemony over all bishops, and while this is reflected in genuine writings of many Roman pontiffs, as well as in many forged documents, this was vigorously contested by all in the ancient church.
As Calvin continues his refutation of papal claims to supremacy, he shows the great value of detailed learning. Reading 4.7.5-10, one may soak in the volume of facts marshaled by Calvin, but we should appreciate his vast reading in the early church fathers and councils and the value of this learning to his ministry. Our unlearned generation is greatly rebuked by Calvin's casual recitation of facts, and we are exhorted to put in the hard reading and the mental effort needed to attain to the mastery of fields in which we are called to serve.
The season leading to Christmas is a wonderful time to draw attention some of the all-too-familiar lyrics of some Christmas carols. Some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross. Jesus did not come to be a sweet child but as the Word made flesh, the bruised and broken sacrifice, the conqueror of death by death, and the ascended Lord at the right hand of the Father.
In this age, the Church is perennially confronted with the challenge of maintaining a kingdom identity in the midst of a fallen world. How do we live as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) while remaining in our culture so that we can bear witness to the gospel? How do we “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Php. 2:15) without being corrupted by a pagan society? The fundamental answer of Scripture, seen in these passages and elsewhere, is a firm call to Christian ethics. We must live by the Holy Ghost, not the zeitgeist.
God is slandered daily. Satan, who is a liar and the father of lies, makes sure of it. One of his favorite lies to spread about God is that he doesn’t love us, that he wants nothing more than for us to suffer and die. Satan wants us to think that God is more like the elder brother than the father of the parable of the prodigal son. As Thomas Manton said,
“It is the grand design of Satan to lessen our opinion of God’s goodness… He seeks to hide God’s goodness, and to represent him as a God that delights in our destruction and damnation, rather than in our salvation.”
The Puritans show us the importance of catechizing your own church people and your neighbors. Like the Reformers, the Puritans were catechists. They believed that pulpit messages should be reinforced by personalized ministry through catechesis—the instruction in the doctrines of Scripture using catechisms.
Puritan catechizing was important in many ways. Here are five:
1. The Basics
This week’s conversation brings in a New Englander, and--mind you--a Grove City College alum! Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She’s a pastor’s daughter, a mom, an editor, and the author of A Place to Belong - Learning to Love the Local Church.
Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!
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?
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jam. 1:27).
The question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter. This is true about consumption. How often should we eat and drink? Most of us partake three times per day. Some prefer smaller quantities more often, while others gorge themselves at every meal. Still others diet to their peril, malnourished in their self-denial. Our bodies need food and drink to survive, the right amount to thrive.
A few years ago, after writing the nth article on the benefits of learning church history, I decided never to touch this subject again. Editors kept asking me to write more, but I thought I had said all there was to say about it. Until now, when recent events have brought the study (or ignorance) of history in the limelight, providing inescapable object lessons on the dangers of dismissing, over-simplifying, or distorting historical facts.
Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, I treated myself to read Volume II of Amy Mantravadi’s Chronicles of Maud series, The Forsaken Monarch. At first, I couldn’t decide whether to read it on Kindle or in print, as I didn’t know if I could comfortably hold a 657-page book the way you’d want to curl up and read a novel.
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:
Johannes Bugenhagen – Sharing the Gospel and Caring for the Poor
Known mostly as pastor and church planter during the Protestant Reformation (he has been called “the Apostle to the North”), Johannes Bugenhagen was also an important model in the tradition of Christian love and compassion.
A Wittenberg Man
The Familiar Case of Benjamin Dutton
Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.
Over the last year, I have interviewed a number of believers who are trying to love their neighbors and change the way work is done in their field. Listening to them, I have come to a clearer understanding of the way social reform works. Generally speaking, people who bring positive reform normally have high skill, passion for a cause, a position that guarantees that they will be heard, and an ability to win allies. Beyond that, I see men and women whose faith spontaneously shapes their work. That makes sense.
My father's family escaped the Soviet Union in 1934, a few months after the United States established diplomatic relations there, in 1933. They had Russian roots and naively returned to visit an ailing relative in 1922. The Russians said "Welcome back, comrades," seized their passports, and kept them for twelve years. In God's providence, my grandfather was a well-known musician and artist, with friends in Germany and France, so his family became three of 1,800 people that the Soviets released in 1934.
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.
We are familiar with treatments, such as that by B.B. Warfield, on the emotional life of Christ and we very quickly realise why it is vital to our understanding of his Person and work. God, in Holy Scripture has seen fit to include this insight into the incarnate life of his Son, not just to underscore the genuineness of his humanity, but also to encourage us in the realisation that he is able to sympathise with his people in their life struggles. But do we also realise that God has seen fit to include an insight into the emotional life of his prophets and apostles in the Bible?
In almost every doctrine in Scripture there is a simplicity that belies its profundity. They can be summarised and defined in a single sentence of a catechism answer and yet be the theme of substantial books. They can be explained by children and yet preoccupy the minds of the greatest theologians. So, whatever the particular truth in view, we ought to approach it with a deep sense of there being more to it than may at first meet the eye.
Our English term sanctification derives from two Latin terms sanctus and facio. When brought together they mean “to make holy.” If we are to understand how the term sanctification is used in Scripture, we must understand the Scriptural use of the term holy.
When Freud arrived in America to give five lectures at Clark University he is said to have quipped, “We are bringing them the plague.” He knew of what he was speaking. He wrote to a colleague referring to his invitation to Clark University saying, “By the way, we could soon be ‘up [expletive] creek’ the minute they come upon the sexual underpinnings of our psychology.” Writing to another of his colleagues he said that when the sexual implications of our psychology are understood “they will drop us.” Today
Pastors and Polemics
Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?
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.