Columns

 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America has concluded and there is good news to report.

 

In my last post I lamented the decision of the Overtures Committee of the General Assembly to answer in the negative the overtures presented to make constitutionally binding the solemnization of marriage (Book of Church Order, 59).

 

 

Bad news from PCA General Assembly.

 

The overtures seeking to make Book of Church Order 59 (the solemnization of marriage) constitutional were all defeated by the Overtures Committee.
 

It is a sad, sad day for the PCA.
 

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).

The season leading to Christmas is a wonderful time to draw attention some of the all-too-familiar lyrics of some Christmas carols. 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. Jesus did not come to be a sweet child but as the Word made flesh, the bruised and broken sacrifice, the conqueror of death by death, and the ascended Lord at the right hand of the Father.

In this age, the Church is perennially confronted with the challenge of maintaining a kingdom identity in the midst of a fallen world. How do we live as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) while remaining in our culture so that we can bear witness to the gospel? How do we “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Php. 2:15) without being corrupted by a pagan society? The fundamental answer of Scripture, seen in these passages and elsewhere, is a firm call to Christian ethics. We must live by the Holy Ghost, not the zeitgeist.

The three amigos compiled a sizeable list of answers to that conditional statement—perhaps you have a few of your own! But why is this even a topic to be addressed? It seems that, even though the movement has been condemned by the NAPACC denominations over a decade ago, Federal Vision is still alive and well in Reformed circles. Some observers believe the “sympathizer’s club” may be growing! 

Following a discussion of various conspiracy theories, bad driving, and why the Spinners will never record episodes while in a car with Aimee at the wheel…the conversation turns to the topic of anxiety. To broach the subject, the crew welcomes Pierce Taylor Hibbs. He’s the associate director of the Center for Theological Writing at Westminster Theological Seminary, and author of Struck Down But Not Destroyed - Living Faithfully With Anxiety. 

"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).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

Evangelicalism is a house divided politically in 2020.  The last few weeks have seen major evangelical volleys back and forth over the political divide.

Recently, I preached on the devastating consequences of Jacob’s polygamous and incestuous marriage to Leah and Rachel. This was not the first time the Old Testament confronts us with the sticky problem of polygamy. It first appears in the genealogical record of Cain’s reprobate descendants, where we read of Lamech’s polygamous marriage and subsequent boastful defense of his murderous aggression (Gen. 4:19-24). We also read about Abraham’s relationship with Sarah and Hagar.

Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

There is a lot to like about the story of John Newton. And Simonetta Carr and Amal tell and illustrate it beautifully (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018). Newton first told the story himself in an 18th century best-seller. A young man with a dead mother and hard-to-please father pursues riches and adventure at sea. After several brushes with death Newton--who married the love of his life--left the sea to pursue poetry and preaching.

I stumbled upon something Gregory the Great wrote warning how vices often masquerade as virtues.* It made me pause and reflect. Here are some of his words:
 
Often, for instance, a niggard passes himself off as frugal, while one who is prodigal conceals his character when he calls himself openhanded. Often, inordinate laxity is believed to be kindness, and unbridled anger passes as the virtue of spiritual zeal. Precipitancy is frequently taken as efficient promptitude, and dilatoriness as grave deliberation.  
I kind of stumbled into becoming an author. I began as a reader and a thinker in the church, connecting a lot of dots in my reading that led to more convictions and questions. And I couldn’t find the next book I wanted to read. So, I wrote it.
 
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.

Mary Honywood and Her Flickering, Unquenchable Faith

B. B. Warfield – Not a Solitary Theologian

            Due to a need for brevity, many articles on Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) focus on his theology and his devotion to his wife, whose illness kept the couple close to home. Because of this, he is often seen as a solitary man leading an uneventful life. This view is compounded by the fact that we have a very limited access to his letters (the scholar who holds his correspondence is currently working on a long-due biography).

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.

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.

There is a certain view of church that regards it (especially as expressed in the local congregation) as a ‘voluntary association’. The idea has been notably prevalent among Christians in the United States, but has been embraced more widely in other parts of the world. Interestingly this perception of church only began to increase in popularity in post-colonial America with the growth of Non-Conformist churches.

There are many occasions when what seem like throwaway remarks from Jesus say far more than we may realise. One in particular is heard in our Lord’s exchange with the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15.21-28), where he tells her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

"What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God's words, his submission to Christ's Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else." — Derek Thomas

 

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Some Bible passages are perplexing.  That may be an understatement. We wonder about some of them.  Like unruly children who cannot be harnessed and corralled these passages too are hard to handle.  When we have finished our daily chores and obligations we ponder them. Better than the illustration of unruly children we might think of them like a diamond we turn this way and that.  We study them to understand them.  But sometimes these passages leave us with more questions than answers…a lot more. John 14:12 is like that.

There is an interesting view that circulates around the church about the Holy Spirit.  It goes something like this. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit did not indwell anyone but only remained with people.  However, in the New Testament the Spirit literally dove into His work.  In other words, He indwelt the people of God. He made His home in them.

Doctrine of God and Church Discipline - Q&A

 Jonathan and James answer a few listener’s questions as a follow-up to a prior episode. Our hosts address the question of how one can know if Scripture is speaking of God metaphorically or literally. How should one understand Scripture when it talks about God having body parts and emotions, such as passions and feelings? James uses the term “God’s absolute sourcehood” to establish the standard of judgment on such matters.

The Newton Guy

 Keith Plummer is professor at Cairn University teaching a variety of classes related to pastoral ministry, apologetics, and biblical courses. He also happens to work next door to Jonathan and James, lending a comfortable familiarity to their conversation.

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.