Columns

The term “mental illness” causes most people to squirm. We think of people medicated into a stupor or committed to a hard-to-access floor of the hospital. But mental illness covers a broad variety of problems from anxiety to schizophrenia; from bi-polar disorder to various phobias.

When is a "church" not a church? How do we recognize the true church of Jesus Christ?  And how do we discern the false? Calvin's answer to what was in his day--and remains--an important question, is, essentially: the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are the hallmarks of the true church.  Where these are lacking, "surely the death of the church follows." 

The 16th century Reformers fought to win back the keys of the kingdom.

Calvin held that ordinarily there is no salvation outside of the church, but he did not hold that the church itself was the repository of forgiveness. No, forgiveness comes through the preaching of the gospel and its application to the conscience through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Rome, therefore, had usurped the role of the word of God and the Spirit of God. 

When I was a boy, my parents often took my sister and me on trips to various parts of the country. I well remember my mom having a roadmap opened on her lap, meticulously tracing the intersection of the nearby highways and neighborhood roads. Whether or not we would make it to our destination was dependent on how carefully my mom read the intricate details of the map. On one occasion, we were making our way through the winding roads of the Pocono Mountains. We had missed our turn somewhere along the way.

With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Satan encourages spiritual ignorance.

Unbiblical thinking frequently results in unbiblical living. "Gross errors make the heart foolish, and render the life loose," writes Thomas Brooks. “Error spreads and frets like a gangrene, and renders the soul a leper in the sight of God." We are more likely to indulge our desires when the enemy has obscured God's truths and filled and our minds with wrong ideas. The Holy Spirit transforms believers by renewing their minds (Romans 12:2); the devil employs his craftiness to lead minds astray (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

In any organisation, a worthy goal is not sufficient to ensure success; there must also be an agreed means to get there. The Puritans were no different, and they held up biblical love as the fundamental means in reaching their shared goal of God’s glory. In their view, such love had to flow out from the marriage that lay at the heart of the family. This is made abundantly clear in Ephesians 5:22-33:

Life is full of tragedy, sadness, and suffering. Scripture is replete with such stories from Genesis to Revelation. Why is there suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is there any hope to be found in the midst of suffering?

Worship is a sacred privilege for Christians, and how we approach worship is key to revealing what we believe about our relationship with the transcendent God. With that understanding in mind, Carl and Todd invite Jonathan Cruse to talk about his latest book, titled What Happens When We Worship. Jonathan is an ordained minister in the OPC, and pastors Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

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?

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

"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).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)

I feel like I woke up in a burning building late last week. If the United States is not on the brink of political revolution, it is certainly already in the thick of an ideological one. And one of the primary drivers behind this situation is what we now know as critical theory.

How has this affected our nation and churches?

Studying our little newborn has caused us not only to say, “Aww!” but “Wow!” It is amazing that our son arrived all ready to go. He had perfect little fingers that had begun to grasp his umbilical cord even before birth, practicing to take hold of our own fingers as we caress his cheeks; ears that had heard our voices even in utero; and deep blue eyes that first saw some semblance of light while still in the womb, now looking right back into our souls—and clearly thinking something

Greg Lanier, Is Jesus Truly God? How the Bible Teaches the Divinity of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020). Pp. 144. $16.99, paper.

Prolegomena: A Defense of the Scholastic Method, by Jordan Cooper, The Weidner Institute, 2020, 332 Pages, $21.60.

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:

Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo and the Early Missions to the Oromo

 

When we think of Ethiopia, we often think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its impressive buildings and its ancient, unique, and colorful traditions. The religious complex of Lalibela, for example, with its monolithic churches, has been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

Liang Fa – The First Chinese Ordained Pastor

            In 1804, fifteen-year-old Liang Fa moved to the big city of Guangzhou (then known as “Canton”) to find work, first as a brush-maker, then as an apprentice printer. His parents had provided a good classical Chinese education as long as their means had allowed, but poverty had forced them to stop.  

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.

Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’

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?

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

Studies on nonverbal communication have shown that the feet reveal our intentions often more than our faces or words do. If you are in a conversation with a friend and they are smiling at you but their feet are pointed towards the door, chances are that they are subconsciously planning their exit. A coworker may appear cool as a cucumber before giving a presentation, but their tapping foot might betray their nerves. Rarely are we surprised by where we find our feet planted, for the orientation of our feet demonstrates the position of our hearts.

I doubt that many readers will have any difficulty accepting the premise that we live in tumultuous times.  Consider the contradictory claims surrounding the recent election:

“There was no Fraud!” 

“Stop the Steal!”

How about claims related to COVID 19?

“Masks do not do any good.” 

“Mask demonstrably reduce the spread of the virus.”

“Wearing a mask is a sign that you are “living in fear”. 

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.