1.31.2010

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

But perhaps our chief burden lies in the recollection, that, like our master, we are set for “the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” For if it be joyous to convert, how afflicting to harden, by our ministry!—specially in the fear, that the more lively its energy for conversion, in the same proportion is its influence for judicial condemnation. And though even “in them that perish;” we are a sweet savor of Christ, yet under the sinking pressure we can but sympathize with the cry of the apostle—‘Who is sufficient for these things?” Charles Bridges

1.29.2010

New URC Church Plant in ITALY

Read about the new plant here from my good friend Michael Brown, pastor of Christ Reformed in Santee, CA. Here is the link: http://michaelbrown.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2010/1/29/reformation-italy.html Very exciting!

URC Church Plant in Gig Harbor WA

If you live near Tacoma or Gig Harbor, Washington and if you’re interested in learning more about Reformed theology, the wonderful truth of the Gospel, and understanding how Christ is proclaimed from all of Scriptures then you will want to know about a Bible Study in the area beginning on February 16, 2010. The goal of the study is to plant a new URC church in that area. For more information please head to our website.

Caspar Olevianus on the Apostles' Creed


Caspar Olevianus (1536-87) was a significant figure in the Reformation of Heidelberg in the 1560s and 1570s and one of the pioneers of Reformed covenant or federal theology. As a teacher he influenced several other significant pastors and teachers in the period and inspired others such as Johannes Cocceius. Olevianus published a number of biblical commentaries, including a massive 700 page commentary on Romans. He also published three explanations of covenant theology via an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed. Now, for the first time since the 16th century, Olevianus’ Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed is available in English in a new translation, by Lyle Bierma, as volume 2 in the series Classic Reformed Theology R.S. Clark
This hardbound volume is $25.00 + 5.00 shipping from The Bookstore at WSC.

1.18.2010

Christ, Kingdom, & Culture Lecture VIDEO

Confused about the relationship of church and state? Want to understand more clearly the role of the Christian and the Church in culture? If so, LISTEN TO THIS LECTURE by Dr. David VanDrunen delivered this morning at Westminster Seminary California's annual conference. It is one of the clearest and most cogent descriptions of the subject which I have ever heard. Follow the link and click on the play button on the screen.
From the Rev Michael Brown

1.16.2010

Abounding Grace Radio

Abounding Grace Daily Broadcasts January 18-22
Monday Jan 18, 2010
Romans 3: Every Mouth Stopped
Tuesday Jan. 19, 2010
Romans 3: Every Mouth Stopped
Wednesday Jan. 20, 2010
Romans 3: Every Mouth Stopped
Thursday Jan. 22, 2010
Romans 3: Every Mouth Stopped
Friday Jan. 22, 2010
Gospel Talk: Pastors Wes Bredenhof & C. Gordon

1.15.2010

Pat, STOP IT!


After every major disaster, some evangelical leader rises up and attempts to interpret God's providence as a judgement against some specific sin. Who can forget Jerry Falwell's statements after 9/11 making this same application? If you listen to Pat Robertson, the Haiti disaster is blamed on their "pact with the devil". This is appalling, not only because God gives no man the right to read his providence this way, but, also, because it completely misses the application that Christ gave when things like this happen.

Pilate had murderously slaughtered a group of Galilean worshipers, mingling their blood with their sacrifices. Further, there had also been a 9/11 sort of event in the region, a tower had fallen on bunch of people killing a great number. In light of these events a multitude approached Christ wondering if the tragedy had occurred because they were worse sinners than others. Jesus' answer is one to consider: "And Jesus answered and said to them, Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3)."

Pat has it terribly backwards. Jesus is saying that events like this in the world should have one great effect on those who live, it should produce a humbling of ones life before the LORD in repentance for his own sins. In other words, we can hear Christ's response to Pat in light of his comments, "Pat, do you think the Hatians are worse sinners than you because this happened--I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you are going to perish".

As we are recipients of the LORD's forebearance and longsufferring, so it should make us long for his same mercies upon this fallen world as we pour out our compassion upon the people of Haiti who are in need. We can't figure out the mysterious workings of God's providence--leave it alone.

1.14.2010

PERKINS on the SINAI COVENANT & the COVENANT OF WORKS

William Perkins has some good insights on the issue of the Sinai Covenant and how it is distinguished from the Covenant of Grace. His comments are taken from his commentary on Galatians 4:21-23:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants...

Perkins writes,

The one, the one testament, which is the covenant of works, which testament is figured by Hagar came from Mount Sinai, where the law was delivered to the Israelites. And genders to bondage, that is, it makes all men bondmen that look to be justified and saved by the works of the law...

The two testaments are the Covenant of works, and the Covenant of grace, one promising life eternal to him that does all things contained in the law; the other to him that turns and believes in Christ. And it must be observed, that Paul says, they are two, that is, two in substance or kind. And they are two sundry ways.

1. The law, or covenant of works, propounds the bare justice of God, without mercy; the covenant of grace, or the gospel, reveals both the justice and mercy of God, or the justice of God giving place to his mercy.

2. Secondly, the law requires of us inward and perfect righteousness, both for nature and action; the Gospel propounds unto to us an imputed justice resident in the person of the Mediator.

3. Thirdly, the law promises life upon the condition of works; the gospel promises remission of sins and life everlasting, upon the condition that we rest ourselves on Christ by faith.

4. Fourthly, the law was written on tables of stone, the gospel in the fleshly tables of our heart, Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3.

5. Fifthly, the law was in nature by creation; the Gospel is above nature, and was revealed after the fall.

6. Sixthly, the law has Moses for the mediator, Deut. 5:27; but Christ is the mediator of the New Testament, Heb. 8:6.

7. Lastly, the law was dedicated by the blood of beasts, Ex. 24:5, and the New Testament by the blood of Christ, Heb. 9:12.

Here then falls to the ground a main pillar in Popish religion, which is, that the law of Moses, and the Gospel are all one law for substance...

Here again Paul sets down two properties of the Testament [Covenant] of works, or of the law. The first is, that it came from Mount Sinai. And here lies the difference between the law and the gospel; the Law is from Sinai, the Gospel from Zion or Jerusalem...the second property of the law is that it genders bondage because it makes them bondmen that look to be saved and justified thereby. And this is done by revealing sin and the punishment thereof, which is everlasting death, and by convincing all men of their sins and of their deserved condemnation. In this respect, it is called the ministry of death, 2 Cor. 6; and Paul says that after he knew his sin by the law, he died, and the law was a means of death to him, Rom. 7:10.

William Perkins (1558-1602)

1.09.2010

Our Faddy American Church Mess & The REFORMED Dilemma













I am so tired of arguing against the next fad that comes at me from American evangelicalism. Just when I think I have heard it all, some new idea, some new thing comes across my desk challenging what is perceived as the dead orthodoxy of the past. And, once again, I am off to the races just trying to keep up with next fad that has already traveled through to the four corners of our hedonistic worldly-minded American church market. From the pulpit to the plexiglass to the stage, from “Shine, Jesus Shine” to Christian rap, from the mega-church to the emergent, and from the squaring off of the affluent church boomers with the grungy Gen-Xers and the Millennials; is there ever an end to this abyss, this sea of fads that are allegedly claiming to provide us the way to real spiritual enlightenment?

At least years ago lines were better demarcated. You had the mainstream denominations and then some independent Bible churches, but you knew where they stood. A Baptist was a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Presbyterian and so on; churches, for the most part, were consistent with their convictions and were at least somewhat uniform in practice and belief. Today, it is tragic that I can’t be confident about where any church stands on doctrine or practice. There are so many new coffee-shop churches popping up in reaction to something else, there just is no way to keep up with it all.

Never would I have dreamed, however, that this problem would become so acute in the Reformed world. I had an old well-known Reformed minister once say to me, “You will see a lot of fads come and go here in America, most churches lack confessional integrity, they are tied to shifting sands of new ideas; but not Reformed churches, history has shown that when all is said and done, Reformed churches have remained unaffected by these faddy trends.” I loved hearing that. It made me feel safe. I wouldn’t have to deal with these worldly worship trends in Reformed churches. I wouldn’t have to deal with people challenging the integrity of our confessions that over the last four-hundred years have allowed us to walk together in the spirit of unity and the bond of peace. Reformed churches were safe, so I thought; we have our confessional fence to keep out the wolves.

Well, it is no shock as to what might happen even to the Reformed in this stoplight saga of the American church. “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” used to be Oldsmobile’s catch line for the next generation of auto buyers. “We have something new and hip; something that isn’t like what your fathers bought”. Ironically, Oldsmobile couldn’t adapt to the next generation and the division died within a few years. In the American church, the phenomenon has been similar. The boomers thought their kids would like the praise bands, the new hip storytelling approach from the stage, the big buildings, the nice parking lots, the youth church barn and all; but, it just didn’t work, they couldn’t buy the souls of their children. Slowly they watched them leave.

I was struck by this phenomenon locally. Last Saturday night around 9:00 PM I went through the drive-up of a local coffee shop and it was packed inside with grey heads. I asked the barista, “What is going on tonight”? She belted back, “Church just got out”. I couldn’t believe what I saw, a room full of baby-boomers who, I generally suppose, once attended a mainstream denominational church in town. Ironically, I didn’t see any young people in the coffee shop. So where are they going? Why weren’t they with their parents? It doesn’t take much to figure this out. Others have critiqued the problem in much detail—just read David Wells' book The Courage to Be Protestant. The next generation is tired of the empty religion of their parent’s mega-churches. They want substance. They want meaning, spirituality. Where have they found it? Reformed theology is a theology of substance; everyone knows that. Here you can have what has been so lacking in the evangelical world, a God! And this is where the new generation has parked for a while.

Those in Reformed churches who have held the post for the last four-hundred years, while thankful for a recovery of Reformed soteriology to some degree, still remain concerned for a few legitimate reasons. What is being accepted as Reformed today, in practice, looks nothing like the heritage and convictions that arose out of the Reformation. It’s a strange phenomenon, and, some would argue, dangerous. This new generation of “Reformed” haven’t broken as far from the values of their boomer parents as some might expect; in other words, they really haven’t rejected the menu-style approach to religion that they have been so accustomed to in the their parent's suburbia narcissistic lifestyle. They are used to picking and choosing what they like, rejecting whatever might remind them of the “heartless” religion they experienced in their past. So in this pursuit for Biblical relevance, what has been left-behind in the process?

What we are seeing play out before us is a strange combination of Biblicism with an attraction to the soteriology of the Reformed churches. But in the process, the very confessions that define Reformed faith and practice are de facto rejected upon the same premise shared with the previous generation; namely, that the problem has always been the cold authority structures of the church expressed in the demand to hold to “heartless” creeds and confessions. Well, it doesn’t take much to figure out what is going to happen in this sea of chaos. Both groups (the evangelical boomers and their children) have the same starting premise, both travel different paths in search for relevance, and both will meet at the same dead end of religious biblicistic subjectivism, disillusioned as they grope for relevance.

What these “reformed” newcomers don’t realize is that this experiment was already tried in Europe years ago with the Enlightenment & German Romanticism. What I hear today echoes paradigmatically the ideas of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)--I suppose there is a reason he is called the "father of modern liberal theology". Schleiermacher writes, “Religious forms should not in themselves hinder any man from developing a religion suitable to his own nature and his own religious sense.” Creeds and confessions, dogmas, propositional statements, belong to the religious experience of the community at the time of their origination, but they should not deprave anyone of the immediate sense of the God-consciousness upon the heart. Hmm...as the saying goes, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.

The dilemma for those in classic Reformed churches is that now they are confronted with a whole new wave of so-called Reformed people who are picking and choosing what they like about the tradition. It really has created a challenge for those who want to remain confessionally Reformed and actually hold to the tradition of their fathers. The challenges are immense. Take a confused young person who has had some bad experience with catechism instruction and lecture style preaching; hey, the new “Reformed” group down the street gives you the best of both worlds, cool music and the five-points of Calvinism, and you can even wear shorts. It’s only a matter of time until the departure.

Let me be fair in my critique and not pass the buck too quickly. Much of what claims to be Reformed today even from the established tradition itself leaves little to be desired in terms of the historic convictions of classic Protestantism. It’s painful to admit, but I do. On one hand there is the problem of a certain kind of traditionalism that seems to do a lot of law pounding and little gospel preaching. On the other hand, many Reformed churches from the tradition itself have completely assimilated into so-called American evangelicalism. In other words, we too have walked the line so close to evangelicalism that it’s a bit unfair to criticize everyone else for picking and choosing what they want to throw out from the Reformed tradition, while we have done the same thing. There are just too many half-way houses in the tradition itself, why not let a few more come in from the back-door? I say this only to be fair in assessing that the same problem lies within our own house, and, sadly, very few see anything of real difference in some Reformed bodies than what they experienced in evangelicalism.

But all said, how should confessional churches move forward when the lines have become so blurred? Part of the answer is to recognize how dangerous these religious fads are. If we are any bit perceptive to the course of religious movements in history, when thinking of our current Reformed dilemma, I suspect that the new generation of “Reformed” before us will not ultimately be satisfied, because, again, it is too tied to the shifting fads they have always been exposed to. Why do I say this? The core issue here still seems to be over worship. And if you have come to disregard what the Protestant Reformation recovered in dialogical simple worship based on the LORD’s expressed commandments (RPW), then it is painfully evident that these new “Reformed” people are still on their Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). That is a time-bomb.

Reformed churches holding fast to their confession have always found great satisfaction and fulfillment in worshiping as God commands because such obedience defines Biblical freedom. For Calvin and the Reformers, true Reformation always started with worship. Much of what is being accepted today as Reformed worship is a serious defection from the Word of God and our Reformed confessions. There are, of course, other questions that need to be asked. If I were involved in one of these new networks of Reformed churches, I would stop and ask, why are we all of the same age? Why do we all look the same? Why do we dress the same? Why, as David Wells has observed, do we keep kicking the same denominational dog if we really believe it’s dead? Why don’t we represent the church of Jesus Christ as we should, not only of every tribe and tongue, but also of every different age-group? Why doesn’t our model look much like 1 Cor 12? Why does nothing about us look or sound "other-worldly" or separate from the world as the BIble calls us to be? And, why are we so tied to personalities? Answering honestly these questions may painfully expose that people are caught up in just another American fad while fulfilling the need for a substantive soteriology that the Reformed faith provides.

When all is said and done, and this new fad breaks apart with some new idea, some new practice, some new doctrine, we will have to pick up the pieces--especially if some of our young people have gotten caught up in the trend. I suggest we start now. As Reformed Christians, we should remain diligent and steadfast in recovering our Reformed confession. We are called to hold fast to what defines the Reformed faith, even when our children seem to be attracted to these half-way houses. Right now the lines aren’t so clear for our people, and, therefore, we have a great opportunity presented to us to speak with clarity as to what it means to be Reformed. Not sure what it will take to shake people out of the faddy form of Christianity they have been so exposed to, but I know that a good place to begin is to recognize that the Holy Spirit has worked in the lives of many of those who have gone before us; maybe it’s time to start listening to our fathers of the past. CJG


Book Suggestion: Recovering the Reformed Confession
The Courage to Be Protestant

Related Posts:
The Contextualization Mess
The Cult of Personality
The Great-Sex Controversy

1.05.2010

GILDED TIN or REAL GOLD? KUYPER ON PSALM SINGING

The other day I purchased the newly translated volume by Abraham Kuyper Our Worship (Eerdmans, 2009). As I was reading through this fine work, I was struck by Kupyer's words with regard to psalm-singing. In the Netherlands Kuyper claims that hymns were introduced in 1807 by "unlawful ecclesiastical might". I believe it wasn't until 1932 with the introduction of the Red Psalter-Hymnal that the Christian Reformed Church departed from it's position on exclusive psalmody. Today most CRCs have dropped psalm-singing altogether. URC churches,while still holding that psalm-singing should have the principle place in corporate worship, use the many approved hymns found in the 1976 CRC edition of the Psalter-Hymnal.


Kuyper's brief section here provokes a lot of thought. Those of our tradition might be surprised to know the history of our churches with regard to this practice (not just ours but really all Reformed Protestant churches) and would do well to know one of our forefather's struggles with regard to the singing of hymns. Though Kuyper did believe that the church has a right in principle to produce "sung-prayers", as he called it, you feel his deep struggle over hymn-singing. The following statements from Kuyper are worth considering:

We thus defend the use of hymns, but we should remember the following:

1. In Holy Scripture we do not find a separate collection of prayers, but we do find a separate collection of psalms.

2. The spiritual depth of the psalms exceeds by far anything that afterward was composed as a church hymn and was sometimes claimed to be even more spiritual.

3. Whenever hymns came into the churches, they always seemed, first, to push back the psalms, and then to supplant them.

4. The psalms have always echoed the enduring, eternal keynote of the pious heart, while hymns usually had a temporary quality and were marked by what was popular at the moment.

5. Hymns in most cases led to the singing of choirs, with the congregation become listeners.

6. In the struggle between hymn and psalm, all nominal members favored the hymns over the psalms while the truly pious members were much more inclined to use the psalms rather than the hymns.

Hmm...now doesn't this raise questions? If the psalms far exceed anything man can write, and hymns pander to fads, lead to choirs, and facilitate dullness in the nominal members, don't we need a little positive interaction to defend their use--since Kuyper did preface his concerns with this statement. Let me quote Kuyper further,

"When you compare the poetic and religious quality of the hymnal with our Psalter, the former looks like a child's play. Gilded tin and real gold have nothing in common.

And yet the inferior hymnal was quickly given such prominence by persons in leadership that for a long time most ministers chose one psalm to six or seven hymns. And the psalms used were usually a few that were generally well-known, sometimes no more than two dozen, and they were chosen over and over again. Hymns stole the scene and psalms were mainly forgotten. And if you ask now who preferred the hymns and who the psalms, history teaches that the majority of people in the church who held fast to the confession of the fathers preferred the psalms while those who had drifted away from the truth idolized the hymns.

If this is so, and those who prefer psalms held fast the confession of their fathers, and those who idolized hymns drifted from the truth, is hymn singing, according to Kuyper really a beneficial practice for the church? What do you think of Kuyper's arguments?

Let's do a good Kuyperian comparison:

Hymn: He Leadeth Me vs. 1-2

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
Refrain:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.
Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, o’er troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

Refrain:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Versus
Psalm 25: A Psalm on God Leading His People
Psalm 25:1-12

To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
3 Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.

4 Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.
5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

6 Remember, O LORD,
Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth,
nor my transgressions;
According to Your mercy remember me,
For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
9 The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
11 For Your name's sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

12 Who is the man that fears the LORD?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.

Again, using Kuyper's words directly, why sing with gilded tin when you can sing with real gold? Thoughts?