Calvin has already established his understanding of "a twofold government" to which human beings are subject: an inward government in which God rules over the individual human soul for eternal life and an outward government in which God through human government establishes civil justice and outward morality (4.20.1).
Marriage has been instituted by God, but it is not a sacrament. Many are the good things which God has instituted, but that does not make them sacraments, which are, by definition, signs and ceremonies to confirm God's promise to us. The fact that marriage illustrates Christ's relationship to the church does not make it a sacrament either - many are the things that illustrate it, but they are not sacraments.
Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.
"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.
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.
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?
This week, we reach “across the pond” for insight on the much-anticipated critical biography of Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck. James Eglinton, the Meldrum Senior Lecturer in Reformed Theology at New College, the University of Edinburgh, wrote the bio. Eglinton is acknowledged for his pivotal role in extending Bavinck’s popularity outside the Dutch-speaking world.
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?
“Now greet the swiftly changing year with joy and penitence sincere; rejoice, rejoice, with thanks embrace another year of grace.” 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?
Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in August of 2005.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004)
In case you've not already noticed the massive problem of internet pornography, consider one small statistic: In 2019, the internet’s largest porn site (Pornhub) received 42 billion visits. That’s billion with a “b,” and all the trends suggest that this number will only grow.
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:
October 11 marks the 486th anniversary of the death of Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531) at the Battle of Kappel, where he acted as chaplain and flag-bearer for the troops. In spite of being one of the key protagonists of the Protestant Reformation, he is mostly known today for his disagreements with Luther, for his military career, and for his stance on eating sausages for Lent. J. I. Packer called him “A Great Reformer Overshadowed by Two Greater” (meaning Luther and Calvin).
In 1563, the Protestant scholar John Foxe published a book with the typically long title Actes and Monuments of these latter and perilous days, touching matters of the Church, wherein are comprehended and described the great persecutions and horrible troubles that have been wrought and practiced by the Romish prelates, specially in this realm of England and Scotland, from the year of our Lord 1000 unto the time now present; gathered and collected according to the true copies and writings certificatory, as well of the parties themselves that suffered, as also out of the bishops
Guns in Church
When I was a pastor, ten years ago, I learned that a married couple, both FBI agents, joined my church. We already had two police officers in attendance, but I welcomed the news in a day when church shootings, like school shootings, were in the news. "It makes me feel safer," one person noted, even if she didn't know how rare church shootings really are (See: StatisticsImadeupbutmustbetrue.com):
Chance of being wounded by a bullet, in a church: 1 in 100 million
I'm not sure why I have such a hard time resting and heeding the fourth commandment. Maybe I'm still trying to silence my grade school teachers, who constantly berated me for laziness (Actually, I was lazy). Or maybe I just follow the American way.
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.
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?
John Calvin, the great French Reformer who devoted most of his ministry to the church in Geneva, ranks amongst the most influential theologians of all time. His legacy to the church – and, indeed to the world – goes far beyond what many realise. But out of the many aspects of his legacy there is one that stands out more than others that has probably been given less attention than it deserves and that is his emphasis on piety.
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.