“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas). That statement has often been attributed to St. Augustine who almost certainly did not say it. It seems to have its origins in the 17th century either from Roman Catholic or moderate Lutherans in Germany. Whatever the case, the saying stuck. It has found its way into the common vernacular of many churches and denominations. I once served in a non-denominational church where it was repeated copiously.
The 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was held in St. Louis last week (June 29-July 1) and so far, the dust has not yet settled. Having missed a year because of the COVID crisis many of us were eager to address issues which had been causing controversy in our denomination since the first Revoice conference in the summer of 2018 (hosted by Memorial PCA in St. Louis).
Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind. But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God. This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.
No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind, and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).
In the previous post, we began to consider the gospel content of some Christmas carols. Again, it is important to remember that 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.
When church staff are being properly shepherded and led, when they know the expectations that the leaders have of them, when they have a clear sense of their purpose and significance within the greater body of the church, when they are appreciated and given adequate feedback, and when they are being equipped to carry out their tasks with greater competency and faith, leading and managing staff can be one of the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry.
Thomas Manton (1620-1677) was born in Somerset England in 1620 and was baptized on March 31 of that same year. J.C. Ryle, writing a brief memoir of Manton (found in volume 2 of Manton’s Works) noted that Manton was “a man who could neither say, nor do, nor write anything without being observed.” Observation is a very good thing. Children learn by observation. Observation draws us closer into understanding our world, our vocations, and even ourselves. (Thus, Paul often calls upon the churches to follow and imitate him: Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Timothy 1:13.)
“There is a great deal of comfort in skepticism,” writes Gordon H. Clark. “If truth is impossible of attainment, then one need not suffer the pains of searching for it… Skepticism dispenses with all effort… Skepticism is the position that nothing can be demonstrated.”
By now you’ve heard that Mortification of Spin has moved to a bi-weekly format. For the next two months, we’ll use the “off” weeks to bring you an encore episode of another Alliance podcast: Theology on the Go, featuring Jonathan Master and James Dolezal. You’ll find more episodes at TheologyOnTheGo.org, or when you subscribe to the podcast.
Note: The following is adapted from a letter sent in response to a gracious correspondent who was concerned about Dr. Trueman’s representation of the words of Rev. Greg Johnson. It is published here rather than First Things due to the intramural nature of the matter involved.
"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).
Preachers love pulpits. We dream of Calvin’s crowned pulpit with the spiral staircase, Spurgeon’s rail pulpit in London, Palmer’s marble pulpit in Columbia, or the “high pulpit” of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah. But my favorite is the pulpit I have the privilege to fill each Lord’s Day. It’s made of hand-carved, quartersawn oak. Once the furniture makers’ lumber of choice, quartersawn boards are milled perpendicular to the tree’s growth rings, like hands on a clock.
When I told a friend in Italy that I was not familiar with the name Patrick Zaki, he was surprised. Zaki’s name has appeared frequently in the Italian news ever since his arrest in Cairo, Egypt, about nineteen months ago. And the news media continue to follow as his trial is repeatedly postponed.
Zaki has particularly caught the attention of Italians because he has studied there, at the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the western world. And his name has filled the news because his arrest appears to be as unjust as the discrimination he denounced.
Dane C. Ortlund. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages, hardback. $21.99.
Dane C. Ortlund is the author of the widely-acclaimed book Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners & Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), which has won awards, drawn the ire of certain readers, and was given away for free to every church who wanted it.
I recently returned from a speaking engagement in the desert, otherwise known as Tuscon, Arizona. While there I was captivated with the Lord’s handiwork of cacti and mountains, the sunrise and sunset. Even more so, as I taught God’s word, I was captivated with the Lord’s faithfulness to His people and the greatness of our God. As I left to return home my heart was singing!
It had been a long, hot summer. The heat wave outside seemed to match the heat wave in my own heart of anger, chaos, disappointment, fear, grief, insecurity, loneliness, and physical pain. One night things seemed particularly bad. I was overwhelmed with the different needs of each of my four children, then ranging from age ten to a baby. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, Psalm 60 steadied my soul. I had a banner to run to in my fear. The Word of God would anchor my soul. It would give me the right answers.
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 Bulmer – Lessons Learned in Bringing Christ to Australia
The name John Bulmer may not be familiar in the history of missions, especially outside of Australia, but he is a good representative of the sentiments and efforts of many Christians who witnessed, denounced, and tried to counteract the abuses, dispossession, marginalization and massacres of the Aborigines by white colonialists.
From Cabinet-Maker to Missionary
Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington
“And what if you save (under God) but one soul?”
This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.
Selina’s Early Life
Command these things
1 Timothy 4:11: “Command and teach these things.”
1 Timothy 5:7: “Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.”
1 Timothy 6:3: “Teach and urge these duties.”
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 book of Ezra is notoriously difficult to read, let alone preach; but it is there in the canon of Holy Scripture to edify and equip the saints (2Ti 3.16). Whereas, at one level, it provides a crucial link in the chain of God’s redemptive dealings with Israel, it is ultimately vital to our understanding of salvation history for the world. It does this in more ways than we might at first realise.
How easy it is for us to become frustrated over our carelessness in prayer and, indeed, the way it all too often ends up with prayerlessness and damages our walk with God. Like Jesus’ disciples, again and again we need to say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’ That is, not merely that we need to learn repeatedly what to pray and how to pray, but also the place of prayer as a sine qua non of the life of faith.
There are times within a disciplinary process that some in the church must be temporarily postponed from their normal opportunity to take part in the formal fellowship or service of the saints. The status of those so suspended is not revoked (as with excommunication from membership or deposition from office), but their regular activities are restricted.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Book of Church Order explains:
Reformed, confessional theologians often point out that discipline is one of three signs of a true church. Highlighting this distinguishing mark, my seminary professor once rhetorically asked our class, “How many true churches are out there?”
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.