Columns

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Calvin's great concern is that Christians should "rightly use the Lord's Supper."  He is, from beginning to end, a pastoral theologian (surely any other kind is guilty of a category mistake?).

In seeking to serve the church he wants to be sensitive to two things: (i) the mystery of the Lord's Supper, and (ii) the nature of communion with Christ..

Calvin now turns to the theme of the Lord's Supper. His concern is twofold: (i) to provide a simple explanation of the Supper and (ii) to resolve difficulties related to it. What he does in IV. 17. i is worthy of imitation, namely the provision of a simple but rich exposition of the meaning of Communion. This at least we should share with Calvin: a concern that the Lord's people understand what they are doing at, and how they are to think about, the Supper: What is the Lord showing us at the Table?

Recently, a local pastor in the area told me that the median age of his church was somewhere in the mid-20’s and that he had no one over the age of 50. Many would have been impressed by such a fact. However, I was somewhat saddened to hear it--mainly because my friend is missing out on one of the most wonderful group of believers in the church – the elderly saints.

Whenever I get the opportunity to speak about worship in either a Sunday School series or an Inquirers class, I try to work in the following thought from Hart and Muether's With Reverence and Awe:

Fear. It’s an emotion we all know well, and in recent weeks, it’s one that has asserted itself in our minds and hearts. We fear both ourselves and loved ones catching the virus. We fear what will happen to our finances because of lost wages. We fear how long our life will be put on hold. We fear all the unknowns that lie ahead. And all these fears are exacerbated every time we turn on the news or scroll through social media. Fear, it seems, has spread as far and wide as the virus itself.

Dear Timothy,

As we've seen, when God’s Word is preached experientially, the Holy Spirit uses it to transform people and nations. And in this experiential preaching, the Puritans focused on Christ.

The latest Barna Research Institute survey was recently released, and the Magnificent Three break down the results. Although the Barna definition of a “Bible-believing Christian” is a bit broader than ours, the poll results are still quite compelling. It appears the number of believers in fundamental Christian truths has significantly decreased in the past few decades, so the team considers the implications of that change and what factors may have contributed to it. 
 

As many states' governments are talking about a “phased” reopening from the COVID-19 lockdown, our quarantined trio –bound in three different states—is asking some important questions concerning going back to church. When might Christians be able to congregate in person? How will we “do church” as social distancing concerns remain? And, what might we discover when we finally gather? 

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1) Jesus' encounter with the devil was an appointment he had to keep. It was established within the terms of the covenant of redemption in the counsels of eternity. In order for the kingdom of God to be established, the kingdom of darkness has to be plundered. Jesus must disarm "the rulers and authorities" and put them to shame, triumphing over them in the cross (Col. 2:14).

There are voices in the larger evangelical world that are finding the silver lining, and even celebrating, the shift of American Christianity en masse to online worship services. Attractional church growth guru, Carey Nieuhwhof, has claimed, with much enthusiasm, that “church growth” spiked 300% last month as people began sitting on couches and around kitchen tables on Sunday mornings.

I’m highly skeptical.

Social media has been ablaze (once again) with people weighing in on the latest scandal to hit the church: Allegations of abuse within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the inaction of some of its pastors. The report makes for sorry reading; the responses to it make for sorrier reading.

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.

Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent, Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). 201pp. Hardcover.

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:

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

“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.

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.

Arguably one of the greatest errors we can fall into when it comes to understanding grace is that ‘It’s all about me and all about now’. This attitude has reached epidemic proportions in Western churches and may well explain our relative lack of resilience and usefulness compared to other parts of the world. Such a view of grace is, however, not only far-removed from what has been true in the church through most of its history, but from the Bible itself.

The more we have explored the theme of grace as it unfolds in different ways throughout Scripture, the more we have discovered its variegated beauty and its far-reaching implications for our lives as Christians. It is more pervasive than we often imagine and, as we have noted in an earlier post, this is because grace is not a commodity, but is embodied in the incarnate Christ and is ours through our union and communion with him. There is therefore nothing static about grace, it is as living and vibrant and dynamic as is Christ himself.

"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)

The familiar words of Isaiah 40:1-2 call to mind the sonorous strains of Handel’s Messiah: “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,’ saith your God. ‘Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her … that her iniquity is pardoned.’” They are also suggestive of the preaching task. In fact, the famous hymn writer, John Newton, preached a series of sermons on the texts of the Messiah to his London parish while Handel’s oratorio was being performed across town. Newton was taking up the charge of Isaiah’s God. As Dr. J. I.

You may be familiar with the famous American pastor who loved chocolate and flying spiders, but did you know that Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation? Edwards was not only a theologian but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. His interest led him to undertake a new method of inoculation for smallpox. This technique was also called variolation and was a precursor to the development of the first vaccine. His risk proved fatal. On March 22, 1758, Edwards died from complications related to the inoculation.

Walking with God

Jonathan and James have the pleasure of speaking with Rhett Dodson today. He’s the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Hudson, OH. Pastor Dodson was scheduled to speak at the Banner of Truth East Coast Ministers’ Conference this month, had the event not been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fear Podcast

 Jonathan and James lead a timely conversation about fear. As we all grapple with a viral pandemic—and the social isolation, anxiety, and economic uncertainty it can bring--fear can creep in, bringing with it hopelessness and even despair. 

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.