Ordinary Christian Work – Tim Challies

Ordinary Christian Work by Tim Challies | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August 2014As we noted last week when we introduced the August issue of Tabletalk, the featured articles all cover the theme of “the ordinary Christian life”.

Pastor Tim Challies wrote the second main article on the ordinary Christian and his work, and it is a fine summary of how believers ought to view and carry out their daily labors in Christ’s kingdom.

If you are feeling down and discouraged because you judge your work doesn’t matter or is too insignificant, read this to refresh your soul and strengthen your hands for extra-ordinary service! This is a must read as we start the work-week!

I give you a snapshot of Challies’ article here. Read the rest at this Ligonier link (or the one above):

Of the many legacies of the Protestant Reformation, few have had greater and wider-reaching impact than the rediscovery of the biblical understanding of vocation. Before the Reformation, the only people with a vocation or calling were those who were engaged in full-time church work—monks, nuns, or priests. As Gene Veith writes in God at Work:

The ordinary occupations of life—being a peasant farmer or kitchen maid, making tools or clothing, being a soldier or even king—were acknowledged as necessary but worldly. Such people could be saved, but they were mired in the world. To serve God fully, to live a life that is truly spiritual, required a full-time commitment.

As the Reformers looked past uninspired traditions in their return to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word, they found that full-time ministry was a vocation, but it was by no means the only vocation. They saw that each of us has a vocation and that each vocation has dignity and value in the eyes of the Lord. We can all honor God in the work we do.

Yet that old tradition is never far off, and if we do not constantly return to God’s Word and allow it to correct us, we will soon drift back.

J.Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation – Stephen Nichols

The Morning Star of the Reformation by Stephen Nichols | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July 2014The July issue of Tabletalk focuses on the history of the church during the 14th century, as we noted a week ago. When we introduced this issue, we also pointed you to the opening article on this theme, in which Dr.N.Needham gives a wide view of this period.

In the second main feature article, Dr. Stephen J.Nichols provides a more focused presentation of a significant figure from this period of church history, namely, John Wycliffe, under the above-linked title.

His article is a great survey of Wycliffe’s person and work, and shows why he is called the “morning star of the Reformation”. If you have forgotten who this man was and why his work is so important to the church of Jesus Christ, this is a great way to refresh yourself in getting better acquainted with Wycliffe.

I give you the beginning of Nichols’ piece here. Find all of it at this link (or the one above).

He had been dead and buried for a few decades, but the church wanted to make a point. His remains were exhumed and burned, a fitting end for the “heretic” John Wycliffe. Wycliffe once explained what the letters in the title CARDINAL really mean: “Captain of the Apostates of the Realm of the Devil, Impudent and Nefarious Ally of Lucifer.” And with that, Wycliffe was only getting started.

Wycliffe rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that the elements of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper become the actual body and blood of Christ. He was against priestly absolution, he spoke out against indulgences, and he denied the doctrine of purgatory. He rejected papal authority. Instead, he asserted that Christ is the head of the church. And he had a profound belief in the inerrancy and absolute authority of Scripture. He fully believed that the church of his day had lost its way. Scripture alone provided the only way back. Now we see why the medieval Roman Church wanted to make a statement against Wycliffe.

John Wycliffe has often been called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” Jan Hus, another pre-Reformation reformer, felt obliged to express his supreme debt to Wycliffe. And though he lived long after Wycliffe’s death, Martin Luther, too, felt an obligation to recognize the pioneering reforms of John Wycliffe. Luther stood on the shoulders of Hus, who stood on the shoulders of Wycliffe. Hus, Luther, and the other Reformers were indebted to him. So are we. Wycliffe was indeed “the Morning Star of the Reformation.”

Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier teaching fellow. He is author of several books and teaches on the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.

July “Tabletalk”: Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation

Forerunner of the Reformation by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July 2014With the start of a new month it is time to introduce the July 2014 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine. This month’s issue returns to and continues the church history theme, with the focus on the 14th century and the “Dawn of the Reformation” (Note: “TT” has been gradually covering the major centuries of church history for several years now.).

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with the above-linked article. We pull a few lines from it and encourage you to read the rest. And while you are at it, you should read the excellent overview of major events/trends in the church of the 14th century by Dr.Nicholas R. Needham. His article is titled “The Fourteenth Century” and is found at the link provided here.

Here then, are a few of Parsons’ introductory notes to the July “TT”:

John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation. He was a protestant and a reformer more than a century before Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Through Wycliffe, God planted the seeds of the Reformation, He watered the seeds through John Hus, and He brought the flower of the Reformation to bloom through Martin Luther. The seed of the flower of the German Augustinian monk Luther’s 95 theses was planted by the English scholar and churchman John Wycliffe.

…Wycliffe was committed to the authority and inspiration of Holy Scripture, declaring, “Holy Scripture is the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform in religious, political and social life … in itself it is perfectly sufficient for salvation, without the addition of customs or traditions.” As such, Wycliffe oversaw the translation of the Bible from Latin into the English vernacular. This was a radical undertaking, and it was against the express mandate of the papacy. His understanding of Scripture naturally led to his understanding of justification by faith alone, as he declared, “Trust wholly in Christ. Rely altogether on his sufferings. Beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation.”

In the fourteenth century, at the dawn of the Reformation, Wycliffe shone as a burning and shining light of gospel truth, and his doctrine mirrored his life as one who lived by God’s grace and before God’s face, coram Deo, and for God’s glory. Soli Deo gloria.

Also, as noted before, the daily devotions in this month’s issue continue in the book of Romans, with the starting point in that significant chapter of Romans 9.

The History of Psalm-Singing (5) – Rev.B.Huizinga

SB-Psalm Issue-April 1-2014_Page_1As noted here previously, the April 1 issue of The Standard Bearer is a special issue devoted to the subject of psalm-singing. Included in this issue is an article on the history of psalm-singing in the church at large by Rev.Brian Huizinga, titled “Through Endless Ages Sound His Praise: The History of Psalm-Singing in the Church”.

We began referencing this article back on April 7 and then did so again on April 28, May 6, and May 12.

Now today we go on to the next section, covering the period of the Reformation. “Through Endless Ages Sound His Praise” is not only informative but also inspiring. And I hope by quoting from it, it will also be the same for you.

The Age of the Great Reformation

Powerfully moved by the Word of God and by singing, Martin Luther worked tirelessly to restore congregational singing so that all could sound Jehovah’s praise.  However, it was especially John Calvin who labored to restore to psalmody its unrivaled place in worship.

Banished from Geneva in 1538 over certain liturgical practices to which he would not submit, Calvin later conceded on many issues in which he had mistakenly been too rigid.  Instituting psalm-singing in Geneva was not one of them.  It was a sine qua non of his return to Geneva.[1]   Thus, while pastoring a French-speaking congregation in Strasbourg with no French Psalter available, Calvin began working to produce a Psalter.  He recruited the skilled Clement Marot, and later Louise Bourgeois and Theodore Beza, to produce what became the Genevan Psalter.  It was first printed in 1542 after Calvin had returned to Geneva, and the final edition appeared in 1562.  No Psalter was so widely popular and oft-translated.

The Genevan Psalter was well-used, especially on Sunday, and in church.  For example, in Geneva:

The Lord’s Day was a special time for psalm-singing.  Before each service, the churches would post on their doors what psalms would be sung.  Devoted families would send a family member to check the numbers posted and the entire family would practice singing those psalms before each service.  Also, between the Lord’s Day services, people were encouraged to sing psalms.[2]

 

In his “Preface to the Psalter,” Calvin expressed his conviction regarding congregational psalmody,

Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from Him.  Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting of the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him.  And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt His glory. [3]

 

[1]               Bushell, Songs of Zion, p. 265.

[2]               Joel R. Beeke, “Psalm Singing in Calvin and the Puritans,” in Beeke, Selvaggio eds., Sing a New Song, p. 23.

[3]               Cited in Johnson, “History,” p. 49.

“Sing Psalms Unto Him” – Special Issue on Psalm-Singing – April 1, 2014 Standard Bearer

The latest issue of The Standard Bearer is out, and it is another excellent special one! The April 1, 2014 issue is devoted to the Reformed practice and tradition of Psalmody or Psalm-singing. Prof.B.Gritters, one of the editors, includes this descriptive note before his own fine article “In Praise of Psalm-Singing”:

You have in your hands a special issue on the church’s long-treasured practice of singing psalms in public worship. Although our Psalter’s anniversary was not in view when we planned the issue, 2014 does mark 100 years since our fathers adopted the 1912 Psalter for use in the churches. God’s faithfulness explains our continuing in psalm-singing.

The logic of the articles should not be missed. First, Rev.James Slopsema, one of our long-time writers of meditations, helps us reflect on God’s Word in the psalms. The editorial encourages us in the use of this songbook called ‘the Psalms’ and the great blessing of them. Three articles look at the rich history of psalm-singing. Rev.Brian Huizinga’s moving article traces the history of psalm-singing from the earliest times of the New Testament church. Rev.Kenneth Koole writes a fascinating history of the use of the 1912 Psalter in the PRC. Rev.Martyn McGeown, whose churches use the Scottish Metrical Version of the Psalter, writes about the present use of the psalms in various Reformed and Presbyterian churches. That all the psalms should (and can be!) sung by New Testament Christians is the purpose of Rev.Ronald Hanko’s article on the imprecatory psalms. Then there is careful reflection, by Prof.Russell Dykstra, on how the PRC’s Psalter might be improved.

SB-Psalm Issue-April 1-2014_Page_1

Fittingly, the cover of this special issue contains this wonderful quote from the Reformer John Calvin:

There are in brief three things that our Lord has commanded us to observe in our spiritual assemblies, namely, the Preaching of his Word, the public and solemn prayers, and the administration of his sacraments. As to the public prayers, these are of two kinds: some are offered by means of words alone, the others with song…. We know by experience that song has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. It must always be looked to that the song be not light and frivolous, but have weight and majesty as Saint Augustine says, and that there is likewise a great difference between the music one makes to entertain men at the table and in their homes, and the psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels…. Wherefore, although we look far and wide and search on every hand, we shall not find better songs nor songs better suited to that end than the Psalms of David which the Holy Spirit made and uttered through him. And for this reason, when we sing them we may be certain that God puts the words in our mouths as if he himself sang in us to exalt his glory.

You are urged to obtain and read this significant and edifying issue of the “SB”. To receive your copy if you are not a subscriber, visit the “SB” website at the link given above. If you are a subscriber, and the issue has reached your home, I pray you devour it completely!

“Semper Reformanda” – The Reformation Isn’t Over – James White

The Reformation Isn’t Over by James White | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014On the last Sunday of March I finished reading the final articles of this month’s Tabletalk, including this fine one by Dr.James R.White. Since the March issue carried a Reformation theme (“John Knox & the Scottish Reformation” – see my previous Monday posts this month), it was fitting to have such a piece pointing us to the ongoing need of reformation in the church today, especially in the battle against Rome.

I pull a few paragraphs from the end of White’s article here, encouraging you as always to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

Should the Reformation continue to hold a place of importance in the church that faces such immense opposition as that coming from radical, gospel-hating secularism? Wouldn’t a united front, free from partisan bickering, help the cause of Christ? The answer has to be, “Of course the Reformation remains important, and, in fact, its work must continue in our day, and into the future as well.”

The reason is not hard to see, even if it seems hidden to many in our day. Wonderfully nebulous catchphrases like “the cause of Christ” often hide the truth: the cause of Christ is the glorification of the triune God through the redemption of a particular people through the cross-work of Jesus Christ, which is a rather Puritan way of saying, “The cause of Christ is the gospel.” Each of the emphases of the Reformation, summed up in the solas, is focused upon protecting the integrity and identity of the gospel itself. Without the inspiration, authority, harmony, and sufficiency of Scripture, we do not know the gospel (sola Scriptura). Without the freedom of grace and the fullness of the provision of the work of Christ, we have no saving message (sola fide). And so on.

The Reformation fought a battle that each and every generation is called to fight simply because each and every generation is made up of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, and hence there will always be those who seek to detract from the singular glory of God in the gospel through the addition of man’s authority, man’s merit, man’s sovereignty. Is this not the meaning of semper reformanda, the church always reforming, always seeking to hear more clearly, walk more closely, to her Lord?

With the ebb and flow of human history, the forces arrayed against the church and her Lord and the particular front upon which the battle rages hottest will change. Rome’s theology has evolved and her arguments have been modified, but the issues remain very much what they were when Luther and Eck battled at Leipzig, only modified and complicated. God’s kingship, man’s depravity and enslavement to sin, and the insatiable desire of sinners to control the grace of God will always be present. And today, the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture are at the forefront, just as they were then. The need for the Reformation will end when the church no longer faces foes inside and out who seek to distort her purpose, her mission, her message, and her authority. Till then,semper reformanda.

Human Words May Hurt, but God’s Word Counts

trueman-fools.inddBack on March 4 I gave you another Carl Trueman quote, this time about how we all need to get tougher when it comes to being hurt by what people say and write about us. In the past week I read the next chapter in his book Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012), titled “Am I Bovvered?” (Now, there’s a great “Wednesday word”!), and here Trueman admits that, yes, sometimes people’s words do hurt us. And what should we do about that? Is what they say reality? How do I handle ridicule and scorn?

Interestingly, to find answers he turns to the theology of Martin Luther and the gospel of the Reformation, joining together justification by grace alone through faith alone with the preaching of the Word of God. And I thought that on this “Word Wednesday”, as we think about not only the meaning of words but also the power of words, these would be some good thoughts for  us.And perhaps, thinking on these things, we may also find our true consolation when we are truly hurt by what people say.

Here is Trueman:

This is yet again where I find that giant of Protestant theology, Martin Luther, to be a singularly useful source of personal help and pastoral insight.

…Central to Luther’s Reformation theology was his understanding of how words constitute reality. …In other words, reality – real reality – was exactly what God declared it to be.

And then, after pointing to two examples of this “real reality” of what God says (creation and the cross), Trueman takes us to the Reformation doctrine of justification:

Finally, this power of divine speaking culminates in justification. Luther understands that God does not find men and women righteous and then declare them to be so as some act of description of, or response to, an established state of affairs. Luther knows that God declares that which is drenched in sin, foul, obnoxious, and deserving of nothing but divine wrath – Luther, I say, knows that God declares this person to be righteous; and by the sheer power of the divine word, they then are righteous. This is no cosmic gas or mere legal fiction, as some have claimed; rather the divine word makes it so.

And now comes the application:

Others might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God speaks louder, and his Word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s Word is real reality.

Isn’t that precisely what we need to remember when others hurt us by their words? How simple, yet how profound!

And from that comes this further word of application from Trueman:

That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the Word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his Word to me, and as I hear that Word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever (pp.209-213).

Book Alert! RFPA Releases “1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church” by M.Kamps

1834-HdeCock-MKampsLast week the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) released its latest publication, and it is a unique and significant volume. 1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church by Marvin Kamps is the story of a godly Dutch Reformed churchman who seceded from the apostate state church in the Netherlands in the early 19th century to form the church anew according to the Word of God and the Reformed confessions.

It is a story that needs to be told, not only because it is not well-known (much of it being hidden behind the Dutch language and limited English resources), but also because it set the stage for subsequent reformation in the church in the Netherlands and beyond (America, e.g.). Much of the present Reformed church world with its roots in the Netherlands can trace its heritage back to Hendrik De Cock and the secession he led out of the Dutch state church. And of course, because many Reformed churches have long-departed from this heritage, the story of De Cock and his restoration of a truly Reformed church needs to be uttered as a call to return to the “old paths” of the gospel of sovereign grace and true worship.

Here is part of the author’s conviction as expressed in the “Preface”:

The Reformed churches today that are faithful to their name are the continuation of the reformation of 1517 and 1834. These reformations of the church were a return to the Bible. Often it is said that the significance of 1834 is that it constituted a return to the Canons of Dordt. Although this is true, it is an incomplete statement. My thesis is that in 1834 De Cock and his congregation returned to the Bible and therefore to the Reformed creeds. Many will disagree with this understanding of 1834. Let the reader judge.

And then he issues this challenge to us:

Do we share in the Secession fathers’ confession, witness, struggle, and walk before God? Do we today treasure De Cock’s spiritual legacy as our spiritual father? Are the Reformed creeds still our heartfelt confession? Or have we consciously rejected that confession of the fathers and returned to the apostate teachings and way of life championed by the false church?

This is a beautifully-produced book (490 pages), complete with pictures from the age as well as seven appendices containing significant translations of original documents relating to the 1834 reformation in the Netherlands.We take the opportunity to thank Mr.Kamps for his diligent work resulting in such an important book.

We hope this book is widely received and welcomed, not only by those of Dutch Reformed heritage but by all who have come to know and love the Reformed faith and by all who love and want to learn from the history of Christ’s church in the world.

Scotland and the Birth of the United States – Donald Fortson – March “Tabletalk”

Scotland and the Birth of the United States by Donald Fortson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The fourth and final featured article on “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation” in this month’s Tabletalk focuses on the influence of the Scottish Reformation on the beginnings of the United States of America. It is written by Dr. Donald Fortson, associate professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, and has the above-linked title.

Being interested in early American history and knowing precious little about how the Scottish Presbyterians played a part in our country’s beginnings, I was highly interested in getting to Fortson’s article. I did yesterday, and I was not disappointed. It is an important and fascinating story – and not without controversy. But you will have to read that for yourself.

I quote a portion of it here and encourage you as always to read the entire article at the Ligonier link above. Your eyes will be opened to a connection between Scottish Presbyterian history and U.S. history that you perhaps did not know much about before.

One of the reasons American Presbyterians had organized themselves was a belief that joint effort could strengthen religious toleration. Under the 1689 Toleration Act of William and Mary, Makemie and other ministers had secured Dissenter licenses. Makemie’s house had been designated as an authorized preaching point in Anglican-established Virginia, but he was arrested in New York by the governor, Lord Cornbury, for illegal preaching. He was jailed and eventually tried, but was acquitted in 1707. Makemie’s exoneration was a notable milestone in the advancement of religious liberty in the colonies and made Presbyterians popular with Dissenters.

Within a decade of Makemie’s trial, the massive immigration of Scots-Irish would commence. Beginning in 1717, a steady stream of Ulster Scots populated the Middle Colonies, particularly the frontier in western Pennsylvania. By the time of American independence, nearly five hundred thousand Scots-Irish had come to America. The Virginia and Carolina Piedmont areas were unoccupied before 1730, but Scots-Irish settlers coming down the “Great Philadelphia Wagon Road” began to populate the backcountry. By 1750, they had moved into the South Carolina Piedmont and north Georgia. Scottish Highlanders settled along the North Carolina seaboard and coastal areas of Georgia.

The most remarkable spiritual event to shape Scots-Irish colonists in the generation preceding the Revolutionary War was the revival known as the First Great Awakening. Many Presbyterians were keen supporters of revivalist preachers George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, who deepened American passion for freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

One fruit of the revival was renewed Christian piety, which many American clergy saw as central to God’s blessing on the colonies. There were also millennial overtones to the Spirit’s work as a sign of America’s providential destiny. These elements helped create fertile soil for the American Revolution, and Presbyterian ministers utilized these themes as advocates for independence from Britain.

How the Scots Changed the World (including the Sabbath) – Aaron Denlinger

How the Scots Changed the World by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The third main feature article in this month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine) is penned by Dr.Aaron C. Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You will recall that this month’s issue is devoted to “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation’, since this year is the 500th anniversary of Knox’s supposed birth. Denlinger’s subject is the above-linked article, “How the Scots Changed the World”, and it is another interesting and instructive piece.

Of particular interest to me was his last section where Denlinger treats the Scottish Reformers’ influence on the sabbath. I quote from that part of his article, encouraging you to read all of it. We Dutch Reformed folk can trace a similar influence on the sabbath to the Reformation in the Netherlands; but we are thankful for the Scottish Presbyterian impact on the Lord’s Day too.

The Sabbath

The early modern Kirk was notable for its emphasis upon keeping the Sabbath holy, coupled with a strong distaste for observing any other “holy days.” Insistence upon observing the Sabbath in fulfillment of the fourth commandment was, again, a characteristic of Reformed thought more broadly, though it may have had deeper roots in Scotland than elsewhere. For example, legislation passed under the eleventh-century Scottish Queen Margaret, intended to reform the church and nation, stressed the people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Unique to the Kirk at the time of the Reformation, however, was the insistence that no other days be credited with religious significance. In fact, when asked in 1566 to review the Second Helvetic Confession, a respected document penned by the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, the Scots felt compelled to offer qualified appreciation of the text, calling attention to their disapproval of the confession’s tolerance for the celebration of Christmas, Pentecost, and Easter, “feast days” with no warrant in Scripture.

The Kirk, to be sure, never entirely succeeded in discouraging Christmas festivities in Scotland, and rarely have churches or Christians elsewhere in the world embraced the Kirk’s argument for the complete eradication of a Christian calendar, and thus the refusal to attribute religious significance to any day beyond Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Kirk’s general privileging of a weekly rhythm for work and Sabbath rest over a liturgical calendar year orienting believers toward various seasons and days defined by Christ’s earthly ministry has affected attitudes toward both worship and work throughout the world. Fewer holy days translates, not only linguistically but also socially and historically, into fewer holidays. What sociologists have called “the Protestant work ethic”—an orientation in historically Protestant countries toward good, honest, hard work—is arguably the fruit of not only a general emphasis in Reformation thought on the godliness of every vocation but also a peculiar insistence in Scotland that believers should pause every Sunday for worship and respite, and more or less work the rest of the time.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 487 other followers