April “Tabletalk”: The Great Commission

The Great Ordinary Commission by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

April-TT-2014April has arrived, and so has the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine. Last week I continued using the daily devotionals (on Romans – now chap.5), and yesterday I dove into the main articles.

This month’s feature is missions, under the large heading “The Great Commission”. Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with the above-linked article. And, as he points out, this so-called “great commission” is actually the ordinary calling of the church – to go into the world and make disciples, beginning at home.

Here is part of his introduction; you will find the full article at the link above.

The Great Commission is a call to the church to be the church and to do the work of the church by making disciples of all nations. And we must remember that Jesus never called it “the Great Commission.” It is indeed a great commission, but it is a beautifully ordinary commission that we have the great privilege of fulfilling in part as we gather together with every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship with our families every Lord’s Day. Then we partake of and bear witness to the ordinary means of grace in the building up of the church in the preaching of the Word, growing as disciples and learning from the Scriptures to observe all that Jesus commanded. Then we enjoy the communion of the saints in communion with God in prayer, observe baptism in the name of our triune God, and partake regularly of the Supper that our Lord provides at His table. This is the extraordinarily great and greatly ordinary work of the church as we go, send, and make disciple-making disciples of all nations, just as we see the early church being faithful to the fullness of the Great Commission (Acts 2:42–47).

The first main feature article on this theme is “The Great Commission in the Old Testament”, an intriguing article by Dr.L.Michael Morales. He ties God’s call to Israel to be a blessing to the nations to the so-called “cultural mandate”, to the covenant with Abraham, and to king David, showing that from the beginning God’s purpose was to redeem the world, i.e., to save His people and restore the whole creation under its glorious Priest-King, Jesus Christ. I think you will find his thoughts interesting and thought-provoking.

Here is a portion of what he writes:

It is important to understand that only as the anointed king did David receive the promise to rule and subdue the nations. David’s commission was to spread the will and reign of God over the earth—his “enemies” were not merely political or personal, but the enemies of God, kings who had set themselves against the Lord and His anointed. In reality, however, the goal of subduing Israel would prove quite enough. Worse still, it was Israel’s kings themselves who led God’s sheep astray into perverse rebellion and heinous idolatry. The exile was inevitable.

Yet, remarkably, within the context of Israel’s apostasy, God promised to raise up a Davidic Servant who would not only lead the tribes of Jacob through a new exodus but who would also be given “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). This same Servant, we go on to read, would suffer God’s judgment in bearing the sins of many, that as an exalted priest he might “sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:13–53:12; see 1 Peter 1:1–2). Having atoned for the sins of his people, this coming Messiah—the last Adam, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, the greater David, the Suffering Servant, the Son of God—would ascend on high to reign from the heavenly Mount Zion, from the right hand of God the Father.

 

Matthew 28, then, is but the embrace of the inheritance promised in Psalm 2. Yet this kingship is in the service of a priestly office, to usher us into God’s presence through the veil of torn flesh and shed blood. Through His outpoured Spirit, Jesus reigns to subdue and summon all creation to the adoration of His Father (1 Cor. 15:24–28), subduing us day by day ever more deeply that we might learn how to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Luasanne III and the Church’s Mission: A Dissenting Voice – C.Trueman

Third, I wonder about the way in which the gathering was constructed. Clearly, the Lausanne movement is not a church but rather an eclectic collection of leaders from various churches. It transcends individual denominations, but does so in a way that is simply not very ecclesiastical. Now, I know that we want to find ways and means of expressing our unity in Christ; but to do this via a non-ecclesiastical root is not consonant with Scripture and leaves the gathering vulnerable to the accusation that it is self-appointed and unrepresentative. This latter criticism is especially ironic, given the laudable desire of the organizers to be inclusive and, to quote the web page, to be ‘perhaps the widest and most diverse gathering of Christians ever held in the history of the Church.’ To play the postmodern card: one wonders who decided which people were ‘representative’ and thus received an invitation, and which were not and were left by the wayside.

Maybe Lausanne III will be significant. I wish I could believe that. …It certainly will not have any impact at the local level: it does not have the mechanisms attached to it to do so. Thus, for most of us, life will go on as normal, in all its boring, mundane routine: we will ensure that the gospel is faithfully preached week by week from our pulpits, we will attempt to apply God’s Word to the routine pastoral problems of our congregations, we will seek to reach out to the community where God has placed us, and we will, in these straitened times, strive to meet our modest budgets. In this context, a context very familiar to most Christians, some of us will wonder whether the money and time spent in Cape Town (where Lausanne II was held -cjt) might not have given a better return invested elsewhere, pp.195-96.

trueman-fools.inddCarl R. Trueman in November of 2010 writing on the world evangelism conference, Lausanne III, held in Cape Town, S.Africa in October of 2010. Taken from his book Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, P&R, 2012 (chapter 23). What Trueman says about this large parachurch organization may be applied to a host of others, which is why it is profitable to hear his criticism.

“Self-Discipline” by Steven Lawson & the Gospel in Japan by Michael Oh

Self-Discipline by Steven Lawson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

As we pointed out here last Monday, the August Tabletalk is on the theme of discipline, under the title “The Blessing of Discipline”. With various aspects of discipline treated, Dr.Steve Lawson tackles the subject of “self-discipline” (the article linked above). I always appreciate Lawson’s writing and this one too does not disappoint.

I give you his opening paragraphs today and encourage you to visit the link above to read the rest. Self-discipline is a subject not treated much in our day – and it needs to be – for many reasons. Lawson will help you to see why.

Growth in personal holiness is largely determined by our progress in self-discipline. Without this foundational discipline, there can be no advancement in grace. Before other disciplines can be administered, whether in the home, business, or church, there first must be self-discipline.

Admittedly, personal discipline is not a popular subject today. In our society, any insistence upon self-discipline is largely resisted, even among many Christians. Legalism, they cry, defending their rights of Christian liberty. These free-spirited believers maintain that discipline restricts their freedom in Christ, binding them in a spiritual straightjacket.

But many of these believers have so abused their freedom in Christ that they have virtually no spiritual discipline. They have swung the pendulum so drastically toward Christian liberty that their spiritual lives are out of balance. Such neglect of self-discipline prolongs their spiritual immaturity, leaving them with little self-control to resist temptation and sin.

Let us be clear, if there is no discipline, there is no discipleship. If we do not discipline ourselves, God Himself will discipline us (Heb. 12:5–11). One way or another, there will be discipline in our lives. Given our tendency toward sin, we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, lest we be disciplined by God.

Michael Oh is chairman and founder of CBI Japan (cbijapan.org), which includes a graduate level theological seminary (Christ Bible Seminary), church planting efforts (All Nations Fellowship), and various outreach ministries, including Heart & Soul Café. Dr. Oh is the executive director of the Lausanne Movement (lausanne. org).

Another profitable article in this month’s Tabletalk is the interview feature. The August interview is with Michael Oh, a Japanese Christian who describes the unique opportunities and challenges of mission work in Japan. If you were like me and didn’t know much about this subject, then you will want to read this article.

Here’s a segment of that interview which will stir up some interest:

TT: What is the greatest lesson God has taught you as a missionary in Japan?

MO: That God alone saves. There are many questions about why the gospel has taken so long to take root in Japan—and why Korea has thrived spiritually and Japan hasn’t. There are many answers that can be offered to those questions. But the clearest answer is that God will save Japan when God saves Japan. God will bring revival to the Japanese church when God brings revival to the Japanese church.

We pray and work toward those ends. We strategize and seek to be faithful. But God alone saves. Many missionaries labor for twenty-to-thirty years without seeing much visible fruit. They faithfully serve their congregation of fifteen people, with just a few responding to the gospel. I thank God for such faithfulness and perseverance. They inspire me. They humble me. But I do hope and pray to see with my own eyes in my lifetime a season of unusual gospel impact and growth. I believe that we may be entering into such a season. Last Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing seven wonderful Japanese people. We’re already planning for our next round as well. God alone saves.

New PRCA Website Has Launched!

PRCAWebLogo2013_Page_1After months of planning, preparation, and hard work by many, I am pleased to announce here that the new PRCA website has launched! Last Wednesday we decided to do a quiet launch, since I felt ready (working with a whole new web program) and was weary of trying to update two websites (the old and the new). Even though it is far from perfect (complete) and there are lots of updates and tweaks to make yet, it was time to move forward with our newly re-designed and totally reorganized site.

Our thanks to Manuel Kuhs of our Limerick, Ireland PR Fellowship, whose company, Social Village, did the majority of the work. He has been great to work with and continues to assist me in learning the new web program. I will say this, not only is he a great web-designer, but he is also a very patient man!

It will take some time getting used to (be patient – I too am still learning where things are!), but we will all get there. In the meantime if you have ideas and suggestions, feel free to make them. Please be helpful and constructively critical, as we want the site to be the best it can be. And if you are having trouble finding an old favorite, let me know and I will assist you as best I can.

Take the time to browse casually and get used to seeing where things are. Use the drop-down menus and examine the various pages. Also, use the search box at the top to find things. Thanks, and enjoy the great new site!

Because the PRC website is owned and operated by the Domestic Mission Committee of the PRC, its main purpose is to be a witness to the pure gospel of the Reformed faith as held, defended, and proclaimed by the PRC. May God be pleased to use it for the spread of the Reformed faith far and wide – and deep!

Sunday “Tabletalk” Readings: “Faith and Assurance” and Interview with A.Saleeb

TT-June2013Among the readings in my June issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier’s monthly devotional) yesterday before Sunday worship services I read the next feature article on the theme this month, “Faith and Repentance”, and the monthly interview feature, which is with a Muslim convert. The former article was written by Dr.Joel R. Beeke and titled “Faith and Assurance”. In it Beeke treats the relationship between true faith and assurance of salvation, pointing out that assurance is both of the essence of faith as well as a fruit of faith. And, following the experience of the believer, he also pointed out that assurance can be found in varying degrees, both among believers in general, and in the same believer throughout his life. Finally, he also addressed ways in which the believer can grow in his assurance of salvation, using the Westminster Confession’s reference to three means. Below is a portion of the article; you may find the rest at this link.

Assurance of salvation is both profoundly personal and deeply doctrinal. It was at the heart of the Reformation debate. The Roman Catholic Church said a Christian cannot have assurance without first having an extraordinary direct revelation from God. Reformers such as John Calvin said that assurance is the birthright of every believer, though it can be experienced in varying degrees.

We must first understand the relationship between faith and assurance. Assurance arises from the essence of faith, just as apples naturally grow on apple trees. Assurance is the cream of faith. The essence of faith is trust. Faith grasps the covenant God and finds Him sufficient. As Psalm 18:2a says, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” (KJV here and throughout).

Therefore, believers may rightfully have assurance of their salvation. David confesses, “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Paul declares, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

 

A second article I read yesterday was a fascinating interview with Abdul Saleeb, a Muslim convert who pastors a Muslim-convert fellowship in the U.S. and is closely connected to churches in the Middle East. He is also the author of the book, The Dark Side of Islam and the teaching series The Cross and the Crescent (with Dr. R.C.Sproul). The interview is titled “Reaching Muslims with the Gospel of God” and is a unique, inside look at the Muslim faith and how Christians can evangelize those in this false religion. Below are a few sections of the interview; read all of it at the link provided at the beginning of this paragraph.

Tabletalk: Tell us how the Lord led you out of Islam to Christianity.

Abdul Saleeb: My first encounter with the gospel and the Christian faith was through the ministry of a group of American missionaries in Europe. When I discovered that Christians did not believe that Jesus was simply a prophet but God incarnate who had died on the cross for our sins, my first reactions were: 1. Christians are insane. 2. How can anyone believe such blasphemies? Through many months of attending church, reading the Bible and comparing it with the Qur’an, and debating with my Christian friends, the Spirit of God finally opened my eyes to see the truth and beauty of Christ. The two truths that touched me the most to convince me of the truth of the gospel were the Old Testament prophecies about Christ and especially His deity (for example, Isa 9:6), and the emphasis on grace and love in the New Testament. (See: www.answering-islam.org/Testimonies/abdul.html for a fuller version of my testimony.)

…TT: When witnessing to a Muslim, what are the major points that Christians should seek to engage?

AS: The deity of Christ and the cross of Christ are the two most fundamental truths of the Christian faith that the Qur’an denies. Although the Qur’an gives some lofty titles to Jesus (the “Spirit of God” and a “Word from God”) and acknowledges His virgin birth and miraculous life, Jesus was merely a prophet and not the Son of God or in any sense divine. The Qur’an also denies that Jesus was ever killed or crucified. According to Muslim belief, He was taken up to heaven and someone else was mistakenly put on the cross in His place. Obviously, there is no good news if Jesus never died for our sins and is not Himself God in the flesh, with the authority to forgive our sins.

 

Kleyns In The Philippines: * Visit to PRFA in Leyte

Kleyns In The Philippines: * Visit to PRFA in Leyte.

This past Wednesday, April 24, 2013, missionary-pastor Daniel Kleyn published a new blog post on a recent mission trip to another work in which our missionaries in the Philippines are involved (Rev.Richard Smit also). It was another great picture post which gives you an idea of the place, the people, and the work involved. The link above will take you to this post. And while, there, you might as well browse through the other posts.

If you are not a regular reader of the Kleyn’s blog or a email subscriber, you should be! Sign up and/or bookmark today, and stay informed of the labors of our missionaries in this part of the world! And thank you, pastor and Sharon, for keeping us informed so well through your blog! God bless! Our prayers are with you, the Smits, and the other pastors and people there!

Here is pastor Kleyn’s introduction to the post:

Recently I had the opportunity to accompany Rev. John Flores on a visit to the PRFA in Leyte. The PRFA is the Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Albuera, and is the mission work of the First Reformed Church of Bulacan. This was the second time I was able to join Rev. Flores on such a visit – the first was in September, 2010.

Here follow some pictures and brief descriptions of our visit (And here is a nice one of the whole group. Click on it to enlarge. – cjt).

PRF-Leyte-Philippines

“Why Follow Jesus?”: Our Motive for Discipleship – Jonathan Dodson

Why Follow Jesus? by Jonathan Dodson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Another good article I read in this month’s Tabletalk was the above-linked one by pastor J.Dodson, author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Unbelievable Gospel: Sharing a Gospel Worth Believing. Dodson explores what our motives should be for being a disciple of Christ and therefore our motives for wanting to make disciples of sinners in this world. Instead of pragmatism, which so often marks our age, Dodson argues that our motives should be rooted in the gospel itself, and especially in the Person and work of Christ Himself. You will profit from these words of his, and from the rest of the article as well.

The Jesus Disciple

When Jesus gave His mountaintop commission, He loaded it with kingdom motivation. The main directive to make disciples is preceded by the image of a risen, radiant king, rippling with power and authority, in heaven and on earth (Dan. 7:9–14Matt. 28:17). He is strong enough to depose nations and glorious enough to summon their worship. We are sent under this aegis. We are not sent in the authority of our own experience but in the authority of His lordship. Our story isn’t sufficient to “make a disciple,” but His story is. Why do we go? To baptize into His name, not ours. Making disciples of all nations is no personal cause; it is the redemptive agenda of God Himself. Our motivation, then, arises from being submerged in the grace of God, not from having others align with our way of doing things.

How do we continue to make disciples when wading neck deep in sin? We have to remember that the success of our mission requires not only the authority of the King but also the mercy of the Messiah. He is the Disciple who succeeds where we fail, in perfect obedience to God. We extend mercy from His mercies that are new every day.

But what if the mission field is too hard? Behold, He is with us always, even to the end of the age. We depend not only on the past obedience of the Faithful Disciple, but also on the present presence of the risen Lord. We make disciples in the authority of Jesus, submerged in the grace of Jesus, enduring in the mercy of Jesus, with the forever promise of the presence of King Jesus. Disciples need to recover a singular motivation to endure all the cost—the infinite sufficiency and splendor of our Lord.

Why do we follow Jesus? Because of who He is. If we have Jesus, we have more than enough to make disciples.

“A Friend to Africa’s Orphans” – Rosemary Jensen

A Friend to Africa’s Orphans by Rosemary Jensen | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

PrayingAttributes-JensenThe interview in the March Tabletalk is a fascinating missions feature, as “TT” talks with Rosemary Jensen, a godly Presbyterian women who has been involved with foreign missions for seven (7!) decades. She is also the author of two wonderful devotional books (see below). I believe you will find her story not only interesting but motivational. And we don’t have to go far to find needs like she has found in Africa.

Here is a small portion of the interview. You will find the rest at the Ligonier link above.

TT: Why did you write your books Praying the Attributes of God and Living the Words of Jesus?

RJ: These books were written not for publication but for my own understanding of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. My goal in life was, and is, to know God. Therefore, at one point in my adult life, I spent my quiet time each morning going through the Bible and noting verses that spoke of the attributes of God. I organized the verses into thirty-one attributes so I could rehearse one each day of the month. This took me about four years, and it has influenced my life more than anything else I have ever done.

At another time, I promised God that I would obey everything Jesus told me to do. Going through the gospels again and again early each morning off and on for more than ten years resulted in helping me know how to live the Christian life.

The books were published because those in BSF asked me to make these exercises available to them.

TT: What is the mission and goal of the Rafiki Foundation?

RJ: Rafiki means “friend” in Swahili, and Rafiki’s mission is to help others in Africa to know God and to raise their standard of living. In 1987, to accomplish this mission, the Rafiki Foundation formed a board and became registered as a 501c3 missionsending agency. The goal is to enable committed Christians to volunteer in one of ten countries in Africa where Rafiki is legally established. These missionaries work in Rafiki Training Villages with nationals to help Africans know God, primarily through the Rafiki Bible Study. This study is designed to cover the entire Bible in six hundred weeklong lessons written by almost twenty Protestant theologians. It is taught every day to all Rafiki participants, including adults and children from preschool through high school. Regular Bible study is necessary to know God.

Rosemary Jensen is the president of Rafiki Foundation. She is the author of Praying the Attributes of God: A Guide to Personal Worship Through Prayer and Living the Words of Jesus: Meditations on 96 Crucial Topics of the Christian Life.

Seeking Shalom and “Building” the New Heavens and Earth

MissionofChurchBookThis morning our book club is meeting to discuss the recent book Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert co-authored: What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Crossway, 2011). On the whole this is an excellent book that addresses common errors and misconceptions in our day concerning what the church’s calling in this world is and that makes clear what her true mission is, namely, to preach the gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

In reading one of the final chapters last evening (“Seeking Shalom: Understanding the New Heavens and the New Earth”) I came on this paragraph, in which the authors are speaking to the error that is so common today, that we are called somehow to build the new heavens and earth and in this way make shalom (peace) in this world. I found it to be an excellent summary of what the Bible teaches and how the Reformed faith views our “calling” with regard to our glorious future:

It would seem, therefore, to be far beyond the biblical witness to talk as if we as Christians are somehow contributing to the building of the new heavens and the new earth. It’s the same idea we considered earlier, in fact, with reference to the kingdom. Just as it is God and not we who will establish his kingship over the world, so it is God and not we who will create the new earth in which that kingship is exercised. In fact, that’s really the glorious thing about the gospel of Jesus. Everything we have – and everything we will ever have – is given to us. We will not have earned it; we will not have built it. We have simply received it all. When eternity finally comes, we will live in a land that was made and created for us, under a kingdom that was won and established for us by a Savior who died and was resurrected for us. Put simply, the gospel is the good news of a salvation, in all its parts, that is for us, and not in the least by us (p.208).

That is the gospel worth remembering – and worth proclaiming in the church and in this world.

Introducing “The Chinese Psalter”

Patron: “I see you have books in German and Dutch, and I know you carry books on Hebrew and Greek here at the Seminary library. But do you have any books in Chinese?”

Librarian: “As a matter of fact, we do. It came in late this summer, and it is a unique and wonderful treasure. It is “The Chinese Psalter” and it truly is entirely in Chinese. And God is using it to fill a void in the worship of Chinese Christians. It is an exciting book!”

The above conversation did not actually take place, but it does help me introduce to you this unique volume that was entered into our Seminary library this past summer. Let me tell you the story of it briefly along with some pictures I took of it (click on to enlarge). Earlier this year I was informed through our PRC website by a Dutch contact in the Netherlands that a Chinese version of our Psalter was being produced and would be available late in the summer. And in August I was told that I could pick up our copy at the Trinitarian Bible Society office in Grand Rapids, which I did (the TBS Chinese translator was involved in this project). I was excited to receive this book!

When I got the news, I asked our previous webmaster, Rev.G.Van Baren, and he was able to fill me in on a few details regarding this project. But I was curious to know more. So I started an email conversation with Maarten, the Dutch contact, and he gave me the details I sought.  I will quote the relevant parts of his email (Please excuse the somewhat broken English; the brother is Dutch.):

The project has been started about 12 years ago. Due to the fact that I was requested by several church members at different places in China during my many trips to China whether I was able to produce a Psalter for them. They all said we have only hymns and we want to sing the Psalter in our church services. That was the beginning. It was an urgent and sincere request. A request, but not an easy request. When there was a small sum of money available I could start and I wanted to start with. About 15 up to 20 people at a certain time, most Chinese persons, pastors, students, all Christians has given help in this project.  Translation, production of the music, music notation and numerical notation, checking all translations several times. How should this kind of software work together with another kind of software. There was a lot of invention in this project necessary how to solve everything. The co-operation of one part of the project with another part of the project. There were many, many bottlenecks to solve. Without the help of the Lord the project would never have been finished. It is hardly to tell how many bottlenecks there were to solve and to find a solution for. A few words I wrote you, so that you have an idea about. 4000 copies have been printed. Most of them are in the Far East. Just a very small part in the U.S.A. and the Netherlands for Chinese churches. There are already two Chinese churches in the U.S.A. as well, that like to use the Chinese Psalter in their church services. The project is not a project of a church, although one church in the Netherlands and my friends have given nice donations to make it possible to finish this huge project.
Here is some information. It is only very small part of the real story of this project.
There are already several Chinese churches in the Far East that are very happy and they use the Chinese Psalter already in their church services.
I asked him further about the material in the back of this Psalter, because it looked to be our Reformed creeds and liturgy material (I could make out enough from the layout – not from the Chinese!). And I inquired about the music CD that came with it, a recording of a choir singing from this Psalter, in Chinese (obviously). This is what he had to say about these things:
The choir is a small Chinese choir.
The Chinese Psalter contains: the apostolic confession, the Nicea confession, the Athanasian confession and the Chalcedon confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, the Belgian confession, the Compendium, the liturgy of Dort, the consolation of the sick, the christian prayers, the church order of Dort. Besides this on request: the Westminister confession, the larger catechism and the shorter catechism. That’s it more or less.
“The Chinese Translators” will be a new foundation. It intends to translate several worthwhile religious books from the past into Chinese.
Fascinating and amazing, is it not! Who would have guessed?! And yet, here it is, a Chinese Psalter meeting a real need for Chinese believers in the church here and there, and indeed, throughout the world! And yes, I did inform our sister church in Singapore about this Psalter, and they are already using it for the benefit of those who cannot use the English Psalter. What a wonderful blessing this little volume is! We pray it is used mightily by the Lord for the worship of His great name among those of the Chinese tongue!
You will notice that it is laid out like the Scottish Psalter, with the song numbers matching the number of the Psalm (a feature I truly like!). The paper is very thin which made it difficult to photograph too, but you can see enough to make out the structure and content of it.). Stop in sometime, and I will show it to you. It is worth your time, even if you don’t read the Chinese :)
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