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?

Iain Murray describes biblical revival as consisting of “…a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory… a sense of God… not only in conviction of sin but equally in the bewildered amazement of Christians at the consciousness of the Lord who is in their midst."1 Revival is not a constant reality in church history or in the life of any specific congregation, rather it is descriptive of those extraordinary times when the Lord is pleased to pour out a greater abundance of saving grace, there is a greater

In the adult Sunday School class at our church, we're studying Jesus's parables. This week's parable was “The ungrateful servant” from Matthew 18. The topic is, of course, forgiveness. The passage begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone. In response, Jesus tells the parable of a servant who was forgiven an unimaginable debt and who immediately refused forgive the much smaller debt he was owed.

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).

Last month, the Atlantic published a provocative and fascinating article which, given its title, could not have come at a more poignantly ironic moment: “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake”. The article classifies the American obsession with nuclear families as a chronological aberration of the 1940s–60s, and one that was probably erroneous.

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.

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:

i. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.(1)
iii. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

        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.

The book of Job is one of the most enigmatic, yet most significant books of the Bible for a whole range of reasons. Among them is the attention it has been given by the likes of John Calvin (who preached 159 sermons on it in the space of 6 months 1558-59) and Joseph Caryl who preached a staggering 424 sermons on it over a 12-year period in 17th Century London. But readers often miss its point.

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.

"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)

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.[i]

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.

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.