The Centrality of the Church – Sean Michael Lucas – September “Tabletalk”

The Centrality of the Church by Sean Michael Lucas | Reformed Theology Articles at

TT - Sept2014The third feature article on this month’s Tabletalk theme (“The Church and the Parachurch”) is the above-linked one by Dr.Sean M.Lucas, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hattiesburg, MS.

While also defending the proper place of parachurch organizations, Lucas emphasizes “the centrality of the church” in the purpose and work of the Lord in saving and building up His people. He uses the analogy of the church as our spiritual mother to bring out his main points:

  • “Love Mother First”
  • “Mother’s Means” (as in means of grace)
  • “Mother’s Helpers” (here is where he defends the place of organizations alongside the church institute)

I again appreciated and benefited from this article on the theme. I leave you with a quote from the first part of it, encouraging you to read the rest for your own spiritual profit.

For those to whom [God] is Father the church may also be Mother,” John Calvin observed in hisInstitutes (4.1.1). A few paragraphs later, he teases out what this metaphor means. God uses the church to bring us into spiritual life in the same way a mother conceives children in her womb; He continues to use the church to sustain us in the Christian life just as a mother cares for children all her days. “Our weakness,” Calvin writes, “does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives.” The church serves a maternal purpose.

But Calvin goes even further with this metaphor: “Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.” Those who will not find their place in the church are those who are rejected by God Himself, no matter what they may claim. The church is God’s appointed place and means for sustaining believers in the Christian life; outside her ministry, there is ordinarily no possibility of salvation.

These claims strike postmodern evangelicals as odd. After all, all someone needs to do to hear the gospel taught or preached is go online or open a phone app. Some of the contemporary church’s most effective preachers can be heard at any point 24/7, sponsored by their own parachurch organizations. The community that the church offers can also be found in a variety of venues, whether on Facebook or discussion boards or in various parachurch ministries. The idea that the church is the place for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, spiritual growth, and the means of grace seems naive at best and controlling at worst.

J.Calvin on Psalm 149: “…Praise is their continued exercise.”

JCalvinPic1To benefit further from the Word of God in Psalm 149, we also post here the comments of the great Reformer John Calvin on vss.1 and 2. It may be noted that Calvin places this Psalm in the post-exile period of Israel’s history, that is, after the return from captivity. Keep that in mind as you also profit from his thoughts.

 1. Sing to Jehovah a new song.

The object, I think, of the Psalmist, is to encourage them to expect the full and complete deliverance, some prelude of which had been suddenly and unexpectedly given in the permission to return. As the Church was not fully restored at once, but was with difficulty and only after a long period brought to a state of vigor, comfort such as this was much needed. The Spirit of God would also furnish a remedy for evils which were afterwards to break out; for the Church had scarcely begun to respire when it was again harassed with various evils, and oppressed by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus, which was followed up by a dreadful dispersion.

The Psalmist had good reason therefore for animating the godly to look forward for the full accomplishment of the mercy of God, that they might be persuaded of divine protection until such time as the Messiah should arise who would gather all Israel. He calls this a new song, as we have noticed elsewhere, to distinguish it from those with which the saints commonly and daily praised God, for praise is their continued exercise.

It follows that he speaks of some rare and unusual benefit, demanding signal and particular thanksgiving. And I am disposed to think that whoever may have been the author of the Psalm, he alludes to that passage in Isaiah, (Isaiah 42:10,) “Sing unto the Lord a new song,” when he speaks of the future restoration of the Church, and the eternal kingdom of Christ.


2. Let Israel rejoice in his Maker.

He insists upon the same point, that the Lord’s people should rest firmly persuaded that their family had not been chosen out in vain from the rest of the world, but that God would be mindful of his covenant, and not allow the mercies which he had extended to them to fail or become extinct. Although they had been temporarily deprived of the inheritance of the land of Canaan, which was the pledge of their adoption, the Psalmist calls God their Maker, and king of the sons of Zion, to remind them that when adopted to a pre-eminency above other nations, this was a species of new creation.

So in Psalm 45:6, the Israelites are called “the work of God’s hands,” not merely because they were like other men created by him, but because he had formed them anew, and distinguished them with a new honor, that, of being separated front the whole human race.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 149

Psalm 149As our glorious Savior and King calls us once again this day to worship Him in “the congregation of saints”, we may prepare ourselves by considering the fourth “Hallelujah” psalm, Psalm 149. As you read through this portion of God’s Word, you will find it to be a joyful summons to praise the Lord, and as such, fitting for our public worship today in God’s house with His people.

In fact, v.2 specifically enjoins us to praise the Lord in public with our fellow saints, a point the Nelson Study Bible points out nicely: “One of the primary emphases in the Book of Psalms is that the praise of God is to take place in the center of the worshiping community. Praise unites the people of God (33:1-3)”.

Yes, and what a blessing it is that we are still able to do this openly and unhindered in our land! Let us not take this for granted, but thank our God for it. And let us gladly take advantage of every opportunity to gather with God’s people in praise our God! This Lord’s Day again affords us such opportunities.

The call to praise and worship the Lord, also as we have it here in Psalm 149, includes the fact that we must do so in joy. Notice that element too as you read this psalm (especially vss.2,5). God will not have us stand before Him with grumpy spirits, offering up grudging praise. He will not have us sing a new song with an old man soul, nor dance before Him with dragging feet and drooping hands.

No, He is the God of joy, the happy and blessed God, and in our worship He will have us match what He is, in spirit and in behavior. So let us rejoice and be joyful in our singing and dancing and playing (of instruments) this day (vss.2-3). Let us skip and sing, from renewed and thankful hearts. Why? Because God takes pleasure in us (Can you imagine that?!)! Because He will beautify the meek with salvation (v.4)! Yes, be clothed with Christ and you will have joy, boundless and endless joy!

You will also notice a “twist” in Psalm 149. The worshiping people of God go from joyful praise to swinging a two-edged sword and executing vengeance and judgment on the heathen (vss.6-9). What is going on? Why this? Because the church of Christ is at all times in this present world also the army of God. Always she is surrounded by her and His enemies, who hate and oppose her and Him. And against these foes she must do battle, fighting in the Lord’s name. As she marches into her holy warfare singing God’s praises, she is also to swing His sword of judgment.

While in the OT that warfare took on a physical form, with real swords and literal vengeance (as in the church’s conquest of Canaan), now the NT church swings the sword of the Lord’s Word, chiefly the preaching of the gospel among the nations. Yet, also when we sing God’s Word (as in these psalms!), we are wielding the “sword of the Lord” and executing His judgments against unbelieving enemies.

Let us be mindful of that too as we worship today. Worship is serious and dangerous business. Not only because we stand in the presence of the sovereign, all-glorious King of heaven and earth. But also because we are the instruments of His judgments on the wicked. May that humble us, so that we sing God’s praises and swing His sword only under the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 149

Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

2Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

4For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.

5Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;

7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;

8To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron;

9To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.


Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “The Promise of Victory” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):


1. O praise ye the Lord
And sing a new song,
Amid all His saints
His praises prolong;
The praise of their Maker
His people shall sing,
And children of Zion
Rejoice in their King.

2. With timbrel and harp
And joyful acclaim,
With gladness and mirth,
Sing praise to His Name;
For God in His people
His pleasure doth seek,
With robes of salvation
He clotheth the meek.

3. In glory exult,
Ye saints of the Lord;
With songs in the night
High praises accord;
Go forth in His service
And strong in His might
To conquer all evil
And stand for the right.

4. For this is His word:
His saints shall not fail,
But over the earth
Their power shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations
Shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory
And praise Him for aye.

How ISIS Views and Treats Libraries and Archives

4,000 year old ziggurat in Ur

4,000 year old ziggurat in Ur

In the last week on one of the Association of Christian Librarians member forums a post was made calling attention to the travesty taking place in Iraq and other Middle eastern countries as ISIS (the miliant Islamic group) marches through attempting to take control and establish its own state.

The travesty involves its determined goal to wipe out the culture and heritage of that country, including its ancient Christian heritage, by stealing and selling or destroying its libraries, archives, artifacts, and archaeological sites. Many of these are from ancient Biblical times, such as the Mesopotamia region and ancient cities such as Nineveh and Ashur.

You will find this detailed report from the Iraq Heritage Senior Fellow and archaeologist himself, dated September 8, 2014, and titled “Iraq’s Heritage Is Facing a New Wave of Destruction”. And this report from the American Historical Association is also informative.

On the ACL forum these bullets were given summarizing some basic facts (with brief commentary).

The ISIS activities that are related to libraries and other information services can be summarised as follows [with my explanatory commentary in brackets]:
– According to ISIS law, libraries should not exist and must be demolished.
– ISIS wants to diversify and expand its financial resources to include the lucrative trade of antiquities. [This could be assumed to include the sale of rare books and manuscripts.]
– Mosul museum, the second large museum in Iraq, has been occupied by ISIS and its staff cannot enter to check its valuable collections. [The Museum Library was established about 50 years ago, and has a substantial collection.]
– Churches and monasteries were either burned or, when occupied, ISIS stole the contents. [Many of the monasteries in northern Iraq are known to have retained collections of ancient manuscripts]
– Mosques and shrines were destroyed by explosions and bulldozers. [These may also have had collections of ancient manuscripts]
– Government buildings have been destroyed by ISIS. [It is not clear whether these include the provincial records and archives centre, but it could be assumed that some recent government records have been lost.]
– ISIS has taken over public libraries in Ninawa and Diyala provinces. [These must be assumed to be under threat of destruction.]

Professor Ian Johnson,
Chief Editor, IFLA/De Gruyter series: ‘Global Studies in Libraries and Information’
Aberdeen,Great Britain

This is certainly something to be aware of and of which to stay informed. Of course, with this has been joined the open persecution of Iraq’s Christian population, many of whom have fled. Watch the news for reports of this evil and destructive activity.

September Friday Fun at Seminary

Yes, we do get to have fun at the PRC Seminary. Friday fun too.

Not frivilous or worldly fun, but good, wholesome, Christian fun. The kind that goes with the friendship and fellowship of the covenant. When joined together in the Lord, we can freely mingle and enjoy God’s gifts of good company, good conversation, good laughter, good food, and yes, good games.

That’s the kind of fun we have on Fridays. So for today, as part of our “Friday Fun” feature, I give you a snapshot of the kind of wholesome fun we have. On Fridays. At Sem. I hope in this way you too can enter somewhat into our fun.

It begins with our Friday bratfest, with each of us taking turns providing brats, chips, and whatever goodies we wish to add.

Today's master griller and assistants.

Today’s master griller and assistants.

Then the students move on to rigorous ping-pong games.

The ping-pongers going at it.

The ping-pongers going at it.

Intense but friendly battles ensue!

Intense but friendly battles ensue!

The competition is always fierce yet cordial. And new players are continually being trained.

The competition is always fierce yet cordial. And new players are continually being trained.

And then there are those whose interests lie elsewhere. Bow season must be getting close. :)

The bow-hunter among us honing his skills on a beautiful end-of-summer day.

The bow-hunter among us honing his skills on a beautiful end-of-summer day.

Hope you are having a good Friday too! Have a safe and blessed weekend. And have an even better week beginning, in the Lord’s house, with the Lord’s people, under the Lord’s Word, on the Lord’s day.

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

Encyclopedias in the hands of Mary Ann Santin | Book Patrol

Encyclopedias in the hands of Mary Ann Santin | Book Patrol.

mary-ann-santin-untitled-6-640x640We have posted items like this before, in which notices are given of the amazing art people create from old books. Well, here is another amazing artist, one who works with old encyclopedias. “Book Patrol” carried this item on Sept.11, 2014.

Here is the intro to the story along with one image of her work. Visit the link above to see the rest.

“I am interested in our archival desire to create a memory of those now gone in order to promote a collective identity” says artist Mary Ann Santin. And what better to work with to realize that interest than a printed encyclopedia; an obsolete form packed with information of “those now gone”and published with the intent to “promote a collective identity.”

Whether she is sanding, miniaturizing or covering it in wax the encyclopedia presents the perfect medium for Santin.


Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 6:27 AM  Leave a Comment  
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T.Letis Treasures – Two Hymns

Scottish Psalms and Church HymnaryWhile finishing the cataloging of a few more books from the T.Letis collection this afternoon, I came across a few of his church songbooks, including The Psalms and Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland. The first part of this Scottish songbook is comprised of the “Psalms of David in Metre”, while the second part is “the Church Hymnary” (revised ed. of 1927).

What is interesting about this songbook is that there is no music either for the Psalms or for the hymns, just the lyrics. The hymns are matched with certain meters at the top, so that they can be sung with music. But I love this songbook because the focus is purely on the words.

And so these “hymns” read as poems. And they are not ‘fluff’, but solid in doctrine, breathing the beauty and power of the Bible (at least the ones I have perused). These come from a wide range of the church’s history, including many from the ancient church and from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.

I noticed that Dr.Letis has placed highlighted asterisks by a few of these hymns, and so I thought today I would reference those. I hope you too catch the beauty and power of these poems of the church. These are both found in the section “Worship-Evening”, and you will see why. Appropriate as the day closes.


Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory pour’d
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Divine.

Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world Thy glories, Lord, they own.

-4th century; tr. by John Keble, 1792-1866.


The duteous day now closeth,
Each flower and tree reposeth
Shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
Let us, as night is falling,
On God our Maker calling,
Give thanks to Him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendour
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And man, the marvel seeing,
Forgets his selfish being,
For joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
Lost in the abyss of wonder;
To heaven his soul doth steal:
This life he disesteemeth,
The day it is that dreameth,
That doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
May miss God’s loving-kindness,
And grope in faithless strife:
But, when life’s day is over
Shall death’s fair night discover
The fields of everlasting life.

-Yattendon Hymnal, No.83, 1899; based on Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76.

Word Wednesday – Convocation (as in Seminary)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIndeed it is late, but it is still Wednesday, and therefore still time to squeeze in our Wednesday Word feature. And because our Seminary Convocation was held tonight, “convocation” is going to be our word. I had someone ask me today, “What is a convocation? Why is tonight’s meeting called that?” We can give an answer by considering this good Latin-derived word.

As you can see, this word is made up of two words: the prefix “con-“, meaning “with” or “together with”, and “vocation”, from the Latin word for “to call” (vocare). To “convoke” is to “call together, i.e., for a meeting or an assembly. A “convocation” then, is simply the “act of convoking”; “a group that has been convoked; esp. an ecclesiastical or academic assembly.”

So tonight’s Seminary Convocation was a special ecclesiastical meeting called by the Theological School Committee, on behalf of the churches. And having been called together, a group of PRC people and other Seminary supporters gathered in Grandville PRC.

But for what reason and for what purpose? Why have another meeting in such a busy month?

Because another year of instructing young men for the ministry of the Word has begun – the PRC Seminary’s 90th year! There is no higher calling than this – the office of the ministry! And therefore, there is no higher teaching that can be given than this, to prepare men for the ministry.

And who is sufficient for these things? No man, be he student or professor – or church member.

So the TSC, which oversees the Seminary, calls God’s people together at the beginning of each school so that we may together confess and confirm our dependence on the Lord of the church and the Maker and Caller of pastors to feed and care for His flock. Meeting together, we sing of this dependence. Called together, we pray to the Lord of the harvest in humble dependence. And thus convoked, we hear a message from God’s Word calling and encouraging all of us to our respective tasks: to teach, to study and prepare, and to support this work, all in dependence on our God of grace.

It was a good night to be convoked. And it was a blessed convocation. Even if you did not come or listen in on the live-stream, you may still be  part of this wonderful assembly. Because, being the church, we are always banded together for this glorious cause of seeing to it that we have ministers of the Word. As Prof.Gritters said at the end of his speech tonight, “Pray for us.” Will you do that for the Seminary each day of this school year?

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 10:50 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ.

slow reading clubAn alert (slow?!) reader in Illinois sent me this link yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, and it is a fine piece promoting quiet, slow reading. I thank Ted for pointing this out. By all means take the time today to read through this article and benefit from its wisdom. I have provided a few paragraphs below to get you started.

And may you find such peace and quiet for some slow reading today. And if not, make some time this week to do so. The benefits are tremendous!

And to my own reading club I say, “What if we tried this? Would it defeat our purpose?” Think about it. Maybe we need this to allow ourselves time to finish the books we assign ourselves! :)

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

…Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years.

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th grade academic achievements.

An Able and Faithful Ministry (4) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1In the past few weeks since the PRC Seminary opened its doors for another year of instruction, we have been examining the thoughts of Presbyterian pastor and Seminary professor (Princeton) Samuel Miller as contained in his address, “The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry”. This sermon was delivered on August 12, 1812 on the occasion of the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the new Princeton Seminary.

Last time we noted that in his last point on what the church can and ought to do to ensure “an able and faithful ministry” (namely, start its own Seminary school specifically for training pastors) Miller included some additional ideas which relate to why the church ought to have its own minister school. We quoted from that first paragraph last week, and this week we quote from the next.

I find this part striking also because Miller points to the importance of a library accessible to all the Seminary students, as a significant element in their development and preparation for the ministry. Here’s what he has to say:

Again, when the church herself takes the instruction of her candidates into her own hands, she can furnish a more extensive, accurate, and complete course of instruction than can be supposed to be, ordinarily, within the reach of detached individuals. In erecting and endowing a seminary, she can select the best instructors out of her whole body. She can give her pupils the benefit of the whole time, and the undivided exertions, of these instructors. Instead of having all the branches of knowledge, to which the theological student applies himself, taught by a single master, she can divide the task of instruction among several competent teachers, in such a manner as to admit of each doing full justice both to his pupils and himself.

She can form one ample library, by which a given number of students may be much better accommodated, when collected together, and having access to it in common, than if the same amount of books were divided into a corresponding number of smaller libraries. And she can digest, and gradually improve a system of instruction, which shall be the result of combined wisdom, learning, and experience. Whereas those candidates for the sacred office who commit themselves to the care of individual ministers, selected according to the convenience of the caprice of each pupil, must, in many cases, at least, be under the guidance of instructors who have neither the talents, the learning, nor the leisure to do them justice – and who have not even a tolerable collection of books to supply the lack of their own furniture as teachers.


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