“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 had studied Plato - no friend to Christianity - and is amused how accurately he depicted (in the Republic) the antics of medieval priests in celebrating the Mass - preying on the innocent and uneducated by fooling them into believing nonsense through magical "hocus pocus" conjuring tricks with bread and wine.
Private Communion (or Masses): Calvin is against them. True, he is against the Mass "period"; but mutatis mutandis he is against private celebrations of the Lord's Supper for the same reason: the Supper is meant to define the communion of the body, not its separation and individuality. As for the Mass itself: Calvin is subject to the antics of historic revisionists as much as we are in our time.
I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:
This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.
Note: The Alliance is once again offering a year-long reading challenge for Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Click here for more information.
The Wesleys had an enduring friendship and connection with George Whitefield (1714–1770), beginning with their Oxford Holy Club, followed by separate missionary journeys to America, and a call to open-air field preaching in England. During the earlier years of that association, the Wesleys published some of their most enduring poetry, especially in the first edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). In this collection, Charles Wesley had penned a Christmas hymn with a curious opening line:
Carl publicly concedes that he’s no match for our special guest’s husband after losing their “mustard-colored trouser” Facebook contest a few years ago. That guest is Catherine Stewart, and she’s the editor of Surviving the Fishbowl: Letters to Pastor’s Kids. Catherine reveals what motivated her to lead the project, assembling an exceptional host of contributors.
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).
On Sunday, May 30th, cries of terror filled the scattered homes that make up the rural community of Nwori Nduobashi, Nigeria. It was around 3 in the morning, and people were still asleep when an armed band broke into their homes, flashing light in their eyes to confuse them while they swung their machetes. In the meantime, some attackers stood by the door and windows, killing those who tried to escape. Some had guns.
Last year I changed pastorates from a church in the southeastern United States to a church in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there are cultural changes that come along with geographic shifts, but one of the biggest differences I noticed was the attitude toward church membership. I am painting with a broad brush here, but in general it seems that southerners highly value church membership. Whether or not someone attends church, it seems almost more significant from a social perspective that they at least be members somewhere.
Gerald Bray, The Attributes of God: An Introduction (Crossway, 2021), 160 pp., Paperback, $15.99.
Orientation to the Book
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:
Rebecca Protten and the First Black Protestant Church in the Americas
When seven-year-old Rebecca Protten was kidnapped from her family home in Antigua, she couldn’t possibly imagine that her new life in the island of St. Thomas, a Danish sugar colony in the West Indies, would become a catalyst for the conversion of many slaves and the foundation of what has been considered the first Black Protestant Church in the Americas.
Pastors, elders, and godly parents rightly take interest in the education and nurture of their children, and as a result action-minded Christians start schools. Christian schools represent a natural or spontaneous result of faith, and the Lord is pleased with such loving motives and acts. Nevertheless, when a church attempts to govern the school it has created the results are often mixed. Theology can explain why.
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.
Church was never intended to be the spiritual equivalent of a spectator sport. Yet, somehow, this is how it has come to be treated, not only by many Christians; but by their pastors as well. Those who serve as ministers of Christ can easily approach their calling as though it is their job to please their people. While those who are under their care can hear them in such a way as to think it is indeed their job to do just that. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that congregations expand and shrink on the basis of perceived performance ratings.
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.
Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
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“In the Last Days of Narnia, far up to the west.” This is how C.S. Lewis begins the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. I reread this book last year, right in the middle of the pandemic lock-downs, and since doing so I’ve found myself more and more referring to the book to help find the language which describes so much of the cultural confusion we see around us.
Evangelism Around the World
Jonathan and James have the privilege of speaking with Anthony Curto, professor of Missions and Apologetics at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Anthony also has extensive experience serving as a pastor, church planter, and missionary worldwide, all of which qualifies him as the ideal guest for today’s conversation.
Confessional Subscription and the Minister’s Integrity
Today’s topic couldn’t be timelier. Jonathan and James are joined by David Strain, senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MI, to talk about David’s recent address at the Gospel Reformation Network conference on the topic of confessional subscription and why it matters.
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.