Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
One of the other debated issues in the Lord's Supper, in addition to the question of presence, is that of fencing the table. Who may participate? What does it mean to eat and drink unworthily? Who is worthy? Who is unworthy? Calvin takes up these questions in 4.17.40 - 42. He also deals with the question of how it is to be administered in terms of the liturgy of the communion service (4.17.43). Finally, he tackles the question of frequency (4.17.44). All of these questions are worthy of book-length treatments in and of themselves.
Calvin continues his discussion of the errant Roman Catholic view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by prattling on about one of his favorite subjects to rail upon: superstition and idolatry. The two, for Calvin, go together like ham and eggs. These practices, in this particular instance the piled on traditions of the adoration of "consecrated host," are repugnant to Calvin because they are extra-biblical (actually, he makes the case that they are anti-biblical) and injurious to the Christian life. How quickly the church can lose its way; how quickly we can lose our way.
When I was fourteen, I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play. I functionally sacrificed my high school education on the altar of seeking to impress girls with my supposed singing/songwriting abilities. I took a guitar to just about every party or gathering to which I went. I could tune it by ear, so that I could perform on the spot. For Christmas in 1995, My dad bought me a beautiful new Martin.
One of my son’s favorite Bible stories is that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to visit the site where that event took place. As we stood on Mount Carmel and looked across the Jezreel Valley, it was surreal to think of the great altar where God’s people tried over and over to get their false god to respond to their cries.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. I'd like to add that they stressed the practice of piety (praxis pietatis), or practical godliness, flowing out of sound doctrine—just as much as Augustine and Calvin before them.
The Westminster Directory for Worship summarizes the Puritans’ commitment to sanctified application:
In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to shape our entire lives and preaching by the Holy Scriptures. But they also show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. They accomplished this by addressing the mind with clarity, confronting the conscience pointedly, and wooing the heart passionately. Let’s look at each of these.
Puritan preaching addressed the mind with clarity.
This is a special pandemic edition of The Spin, as Carl, Todd, and Aimee record—not just 6 feet away, but—100 miles distant from one another, just to be on the safe side. COVID-19 times can be challenging, and they’ve afforded Todd a new opportunity to complement his pastoral calling. The megachurch minister is now a gifted “Mental Toughness Expert,” and he’s making his services available when churches are unable to meet, due to mandatory isolation.
The Spin Team gathers once again to answer some of the great questions they’ve received from listeners. The first query concerns must-read classic books from authors long gone. Next, the intrepid trio considers just how many doctrinal differences a congregant should bear in a church before he or she knows that it’s time to move on.
It has been surprising to see the speed with which the churches have shut down public operations and shifted their ministries online. Having this online capacity is a wonderful provision during an epidemic, one unavailable to previous generations. Livestreaming allows the church to do something when the alternative might have been to do nothing, to provide some spiritual food when circumstances might have left members bereft of all spiritual nourishment.
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.
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:
John Donne – Poet of Grace and Comfort
Paul Gerhardt and His Songs of Confident Hope
In 1943, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his lonely prison cell, “I’ve lately learnt for the first time to appreciate the hymn, ‘Beside thy cradle here I stand.’ Up to now I hadn't made much of it; I suppose one has to be alone for a long time, and meditate on it, to be able to take it in properly.”
“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.
To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs. Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).
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.
The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries; but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for those who are already Christians to so gravitate towards the blessing of that day for ourselves, that we do not stop to consider and shudder at what it will mean for those who are outside of Christ.
Like nearly all the Christian Festivals (however many or few our particular churches may celebrate) the events marked by Easter can easily loom large on our horizons momentarily, only to be forgotten until the following year. If we allow ourselves to lapse into this pattern we can easily lose sight of the year-round, lifelong and eternal significance of what is marked by these seasons in the church calendar – all of which chart the redemptive work of our Lord. Indeed, with Easter especially, the institution of the Christian Sabbath and the Lord’s Supper forbid us from doing so.
"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)
Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints means if a person is truly saved he cannot lose his salvation. Roman Catholicism and some strands of Protestant theology, such as traditional Arminianism, Methodism, and Pentecostalism reject this final point of Calvinism. They instead hold that a truly saved person can fall away from the faith and actually lose his salvation. But it gets more complicated than that. Often the rejection of perseverance runs hand in hand with a legitimate concern over an antinomian gospel of salvation apart from any good works.
Every year a late night talk show host encourages parents to prank their kids with a faux profession that they devoured all their little pumpkins’ Halloween candy. The show features videos sent in of children throwing monstrous fits of rage and heartache until the parents reveal they are “just joking!” Pathetic, baffled little faces look back at their caretakers sometimes possessed with ghoulish expressions of hatred for the hoax.
Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ
Jonathan and James are joined by Alan Strange. Alan is professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The question is posed: How important is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ? The resulting conversation deals not only with the biblical text, but with the historical aspect of the doctrine as well.
Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals
What do evangelicals need to retrieve, and why? Gavin Ortlund is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai, California. He joins James and Jonathan to talk about his book--Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals--and to answer these questions, and others.
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.