The Ordinary Means of Growth

The Ordinary Means of Growth.

means of graceThis article appeared in the featured list from “The Aquila Report” this week (dated July 15, 2014). It is actually a reprint of an article Dr.Ligon Duncan wrote for Tabletalk magazine back in 2007. But it is worth republishing and repeating because what Duncan wrote seven years ago remains relevant. In fact, even more so now!

As we end our week and anticipate the Lord’s Day tomorrow, may we continue to be committed to the “ordinary” means of grace. Which, are in reality, extraordinary, because they are the means by which God saves us through Christ and keeps us in Christ.

Below is a quotation from the heart of Duncan’s article. To read all of it – and it is all good reading! – visit the link found above.

Ordinary means of grace-based ministry is ministry that focuses on doing the things God, in the Bible, says are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, and which aims to see the qualities and priorities of the church reflect biblical norms. Ordinary means ministry is thus radically committed to biblical direction of the priorities of ministry. Ordinary means ministry believes that God has told us the most important things, not only about the truth we are to tell, but about the way we are to live and minister — in any and every context. Hence, God has given us both the message of salvation and the means of gathering and building the church, in His Word. However, important understanding our context is, however important understanding the times may be (and these things are, in fact, very important), however important appreciating the cultural differences in the places and times we serve, the ordinary means approach to ministry is first and foremost concerned with biblical fidelity. Because faithfulness is relevance. The Gospel is the message and the local church is the plan. God has given to his church spiritual weapons for the bringing down of strongholds. These ordinary means of grace are the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

They may seem weak in the eyes of the worldly strong. They may seem foolish in the eyes of the worldly wise. But the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation, and the Gospel means are effectual to salvation. These are the Spiritual instruments given by God with which Christian congregational Spiritual life is nurtured, the Spirit’s tools of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible.

 

Heidelberg Catechism Teaching In Prison

A few months ago I did a post informing you of a sort of “prison ministry” in which the Seminary has become involved. Today I would like to follow up on this since we have been getting a steady stream of letters from the men in a prison in Texas (Darrington Unit).

HeidCat-1And what is striking again about these letters is that the men involved in a special study are fired up about the Reformed faith as it is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism! We had sent them twenty copies of it (as contained in our “Three Forms of Unity” booklet), and now they are requesting further study materials.

Since I have a box of old copies of Rev.H.Hoeksema’s work on the “HC” (the original series of Triple Knowledge published by Eerdmans in the 1940s), I plan to send these to them, along with some other “extra” free books I have collected from various sources, including RFPA titles. If you should have any old editions of classic Reformed and PR-authored books you would like to donate to this cause, let me know.

Below are a couple of quotes from recent letters from prisoners in that Texas facility.

At present we have a group of guys who have come together to teach the Heidelberg Catechism in the day-rooms on the cell blocks. This study began on one cell block and has now spread to four. As we realize the way in which the Lord is blessing these efforts we are also realizing the necessity to be able to teach the Catechism effectively on each cell block. We have little resources outside of the catechism itself to guide us in this area. Those of us who do the teaching are all students of the seminary (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which recently started holding classes in this unit. According to several contacts there, Calvin Seminary has also been there to investigate the possibility of offering courses. -cjt) and we have the opportunity to meet each week in preparation for how the following Lord’s Day from the Catechism will be taught. We are hoping to gather a couple of resources to be shared among us in order to aid our efforts (Then follows a list of three titles the men seek. -cjt).

…From your emphasis on the importance of teaching and preaching the Catechism (The men have been reading our PRT Journal! -cjt) we are hoping that it owuld be possible to somehow provide these things in support of our efforts here. Any other direction would be a great help as well (I am thinking that some of our catechism materials on the “HC” might be useful – workbook, etc. -cjt).

And a brief note of thanks from one of the “leaders” in this group:

God has blessed the last sending of the Three Forms of Unity you sent to us at Darrington Unit…. Thank you for your help. Please know that your reformed brothers are doing their work in spite of the Arminian, Baptist agenda here. We have named our Reformed study with the Three Forms as ‘Reforming the Mind.’ The men are growing in the Lord. It is a blessing to watch the men grow. Thank you and God bless.

New and Noteworthy in the Seminary Library

It has been some time since I highlighted a few new books that have come into the PRC Seminary library, so today I selected four that I have setting on the “new and noteworthy” shelf in the library. All of them are recent publications (2013 and 2014). I will simply note them with some basic information from the publisher and also include links for them.

These are all processed and ready for checkout should you decide you want to make use of these for some good summer reading! :)

To find these books and more, visit our online library catalog.

1. Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton (Crossway, 2014; 271 pgs., paper). This is the fifth volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series edited by Stephen J.Nichols and Justin Taylor and published by Crossway. The publisher adds this note concerning this title:

John Calvin, a man adored by some and maligned by others, stands as a legendary figure in Christian history. In Calvin on the Christian Life, professor Michael Horton offers us fresh insights into the Reformer’s personal piety and practical theology by allowing Calvin to speak in his own words.

Drawing not only from his Institutes and biblical commentaries, but also from lesser-known tracts, treatises, and letters, this book will deepen your understanding of Calvin’s theology and ministry by exploring the heart of his spiritual life: confident trust and unwavering joy in the sovereign grace of God.

Taking God at His Word - DeYoung-20142. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway, 2014; 138 pgs., hardback. Our copy includes a study guide as well.). This what Crossway says about this little volume:

Can we trust the Bible completely?
Is it sufficient for our complicated lives?
Can we really know what it teaches?

With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians andnon-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.

Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.

Reading Bible with Luther-Wengert-20133. Reading the Bible with Martin Luther: An Introductory Guide by Timothy J. Wengert (Baker Academic, 2013; 134 pgs., paper). Baker introduces this title with these words:

Prominent Reformation historian Timothy Wengert introduces the basic components of Martin Luther’s theology of the Bible and examines Luther’s contributions to present-day biblical interpretation. Wengert addresses key points of debate regarding Luther’s approach to the Bible that have often been misunderstood, including biblical authority, the distinction between law and gospel, the theology of the cross, and biblical ethics. He argues that Luther, when rightly understood, offers much wisdom to Christians searching for fresh approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. This brief but comprehensive overview is filled with insights on Luther’s theology and its significance for contemporary debates on the Bible, particularly the New Perspective on Paul.

Holy Communion - HOld-20134. Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church by Hughes Oliphant Old; edited and introduced by Jon D. Payne (Tolle Lege, 2014; 919 pgs., hardback). Just as Old has written an extensive history of preaching, now he has done so with the history of the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed church world. This is a significant work, as these words of the publisher indicate:

All across the United States, Protestant churches have forgotten their sacramental roots.  The Lord’s Supper has often been reduced to an empty memorial if it is even celebrated at all, and the contemporary Protestant church suffers greatly from this lapse.

In Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, Hughes Oliphant Old uncovers the central importance of Holy Communion in the Reformed tradition.  Beginning with Calvin and moving into modern times, Old pinpoints and explains the most pivotal developments in Reformed eucharistic theology—from the true nature of the communion elements to preparatory services and seasons.  Along the way, he shows that our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has profound influence on the church’s life and operations—on her piety.

This volume is both a scholarly exploration of Reformed tradition and a pastoral call to the contemporary church to rediscover the most potent truths and edifying practices of our Christian forefathers.  In our day of debilitating liturgical innovations, Holy Communion proves yet again that God’s truth on any subject is timeless and evergreen.  Before we can display Christ fully in our day, we must recover a full commitment to biblical worship—in the Word preached as well as the Word made visible in the Lord’s Supper.

Recommended Reformed/Christian Book Shopping Sites

Monergism Books :: Reformed Books – Discount Prices.

MonergismLogoIt has been some time since we referenced the Reformed book ministry of Monergism, an online store which operates through Amazon.

Yesterday, after they published their latest email newsletter with two “Top 10″ lists (theology books and Christian living/sanctification books), I was prompted to do a post today to point you in their direction for good resources in all categories of Christian reading.

In fact, the Monergism link above will take you to their “reader’s guide” page, where you will find suggested readings in various categories, including books for children.

Be sure to sign up for their email newsletter, so that you may receive their specials, including many free ebooks.

Here are the first five of the top 10 theology books Monergism recommended:

Top 10 Books on Theology

 

Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
The book was written as an introductory textbook on the Protestant faith for those with some learning already and covered a broad range of theological topics from the doctrines of church and sacraments to justification by faith alone. It vigorously attacked the teachings of those Calvin considered unorthodox, particularly Roman Catholicism, to which Calvin says he had been “strongly devoted” before his conversion to Protestantism. The over-arching theme of the book–and Calvin’s greatest theological legacy–is the idea of God’s total sovereignty, particularly in salvation and election.

The Economy of the Covenants, by Herman Witsius
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day. Reformed theology has always understood the biblical doctrine of the covenant to be the theological framework which best unifies Scripture, making it a consistent hermeneutic. In this two volume work, Witsius, presents the reader with a fully biblical and experiential doctrine of the divine covenants; opening up their nature, stipulations, curses, and blessings. Anyone interested in Reformed theology should read this book, for it is Reformed theology at its best.

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, by Francis Turretin
The best systematizer of the reformed doctrine in the world! This is a wonderful set, with a good translation, well arranged, theologically sound and deep but devotional/experimental as well. A great addition to the library of the serious students of the God’s Word!

The Westminster Standards
The Westminster Standards is a collective name for the documents drawn up by the Westminster Assembly (1643–49). These include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Directory of Public Worship, and the Form of Church Government,[1] and represent the doctrine and church polity of the English and Scottish Reformation. The Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechism have been adopted as doctrinal standards by a number of Reformed and Presbyterian Christian denominations.

Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther
The Bondage of the Will is fundamental to an understanding of the primary doctrines of the Reformation. In these pages, Luther gives extensive treatment to what he saw as the heart of the gospel. Free will was no academic question to Luther; the whole gospel of the grace of God, he believed, was bound up with it and stood or fell according to the way one understood it. Luther affirms our total inability to save ourselves and the sovereignty of divine grace in our salvation. He upholds the doctrine of justification by faith and defends predestination as determined by the foreknowledge of God.

And here are the first five of the top 10 books on Christian living they recommended:

Top Ten Books on Piety, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth

 

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:
Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ
by Walter Marshall – Perhaps the best human-authored book on sanctification ever produced.

The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
Critical work! Sanctification occurs because the human soul has been united to Christ and participates in the divine nature. A person is a Christian because of what Christ has done for us, not what we do for ourselves. The Christian life is the same as He and continues to live and intercede for us. He is our sanctification.

The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly
Written originally in 1611, The Practice of Piety is a powerful work on Christian piety and practical living. Deeply influential on the Puritan movement, The Practice of Piety systematically investigates piety, beginning with a detailed account of God and Christ. In it, Bayly contrasts the “misery” of someone not reconciled to Christ with the happiness of the “godly man” who is reconciled to God. Bayly diagnoses the various problems that keep people from experiencing true piety, offering solutions to each so that one may remain pious in one’s everyday life. However, the majority of The Practice of Piety is various meditations and prayers for believers, which Bayly intended to advance piety. Extremely practical and personally enriching, The Practice of Piety is bound to change the way one lives.

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
If you lack assurance, are hurting, weak and suffering under the burden of sin, read this book, and by reading you will be amazed how helpful this is to yourself and your ministry to others.

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Truly an amazing book. John Owen never dissapoints. Our favorite Puritan author. In a related work, Owen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit is the finest we have ever read.

Another great resource for good books for the Christian family is Grace and Truth Books. Sign up to receive their email newsletter also.

RBO HeaderAnd, of course, do not forget the Reformed Book Outlet for local Reformed book shopping. Located right here in Hudsonville, MI, the RBO carries a wide variety of sound books and music for your spiritual growth and edification too.

Two “New” and Noteworthy Books: “Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel” and “Believing Bible Study”

In this post I wish to highlight a couple of “new” books that have come into our Seminary library and which are of interest to our audience. I put “new” in italics because both of these titles are reprints of previous editions, with one being updated and revised once again.

PrintThat title is David J. Engelsma’s Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel: An Examination of the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980, 1994, 2014; 224 pgs.). As you will note, this is the third edition, and this edition contains further additions and enhancements (such as pictures and descriptions of those whose positions are stated in the book). In his preface to this edition Engelsma sets forth the continued need for this book after thirty years:

Does it still address a significant, lively issue in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches and among theologians who regard and present themselves as Calvinists?

The truth defended in the book is sovereign, particular grace in the preaching of the gospel. The book contends that this truth is fundamental to the theology of the Reformed faith in its entirety, that is, to scripture’s gospel of salvation by grace alone and to the authoritative confession of the gospel by the Reformed creed, the Canons of Dordt.

The charge against the truth, by nominally Reformed theologians and churches, that the book refutes is hyper-Calvinism. This is the charge that the doctrine of particular grace in the preaching of the gospel is, or necessarily leads to, the error of preaching only to the elect, including calling only the elect to repent and believe.

The heresy that the book exposes and condemns is the teaching that the promiscuous preaching of the gospel with its unrestricted call to all hearers to repent and believe is, in fact, the saving grace of God to all who hear the preaching, reprobate ungodly as well as elect. It is the false doctrine of universal, impotent, saving grace with its concomitant error that the efficacy of the saving grace of God in the preaching, and therefore the salvation of sinners, depend not on the grace of God made effectual by the Holy Spirit, but on the acceptance of an offered salvation by the sinner himself.

The heresy that the book exposes  parades shamelessly in the Reformed community of churches, seminaries, and book stores, like a brazen whore in the seductive ‘come hither’ scanty garb of the well-meant offer of salvation.

It is my conviction, as evidently that also of the publisher, that the truth defended by the book continues to call for defense in 2013 (xv-xvi).

This edition also contains the Foreword of Dr.John H. Gernstner found in the previous edition. You are encouraged to obtain this new edition and to read and study carefully its apologetic. Not only if you are a PRC member who needs to be informed again of this essential element of our Reformed faith, but also if you are a Reformed Christian who needs better to understand the nature of the preaching of the gospel, especially because of the rampant error of the free offer and its counterpart, hyper-Calvinism.

BelievingBible Study-EFHills-2014-front_Page_1The second book of note in this post is one we received as a gift from Russell H. Spees, friend of the PRC Seminary and of the late Dr.Ted Letis, and President/Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies. The book is titled Believing Bible Study (3rd ed., Christian Research Press, 2014) by Dr. Edward F. Hills (1912-1981), who served as a mentor to Dr.Letis and from whom Letis grew in his passion for and defense of the Traditional text (textus receptus, or “received text”) in the church. Hill was also an ardent defender of the King James Version (Authorized version) of the Bible as the best English translation for the church today (See his The King James Version Defended: A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts, 1956).

In his cover letter with the book, Spees states:

IBTS was pleased to work with the Hills family (Christian Research Press) to provide a digital reprint of Dr. Hills’ sequel to his “King James Version Defended.”

We thank the Hills family for faithfulness in keeping Dr.Hills in print. We acknowledge Mr.Paul Watson for his design of the book cover. We thank our supporters for prayer support and certainty of God’s hand in the project. We thank our Sovereign God for preserving his Holy Word to and for us.

To get a taste of Hills’ starting point in this work I quote his opening paragraphs in chapter 1, Believing Bible Study, Old Testament”:

The man who is well pleased with himself, with his prospects, and his whole manner of life will never read the Bible believingly. His entire outlook must be changed before believing Bible study becomes possible. For this reason God often uses the hard experiences of life to prepare His children for believing Bible study. Bereavement, childlessness, loneliness, longings that have never been satisfied, ambitions that have never been fulfilled, vain regrets over lost opportunities, the severe limitations of poverty, the pain and weakness of sickness, and the approach of death – these are the things that bring men low. These are the harrows which God uses to soften hardened hearts. These are the hammers with which He is wont to bend proud necks and make men willing to read His holy Book believingly.

Reader, if you are perishing in the furnace of affliction, or if you are walking in darkness with no light, or if your heart i s fretted with anxieties and corroding cares, or if your will is bound under wretched slavery to sinful lusts, or if your soul is chilled with the fear of death and the unknown, then the Bible is the Book, the only Book for you. For the Bible will show you how your sins may be overcome by the power of Christ and how you may enter into everlasting life through the door of hope and obtain your inheritance in the everlasting glory. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgives us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I include here the cover (front and back) because of the information about the book and its author which may be found there. A search revealed that the book is not yet available on the IBTS website or Amazon. But it may be ordered  through this address (Christian Research Press, P.O. Box13023, Des Moines, IA 50310-0023; phone: 515-249-4304) or by emailing: email@kjv-ibts.org or Christianresearchpress@yahoo.com.

BelievingBibleStudy-EFHills-2014-back_Page_1

 

When Is It Right to Separate from People in the Church? – Sinclair Ferguson

Guidelines for Separation by Sinclair Ferguson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT June2014As we continue to review the June Tabletalk, we come to the next main feature article on the theme of separating from other Christians and churches (“Guilt by Association”). Dr.Sinclair Ferguson penned the next article titled “Guidelines for Separation”, and it too is very helpful in drawing some important lines (principles) for going about such a painful process.

For our purposes today we will quote the part of Ferguson’s article where he treats separation within the church (He also addresses our spiritual separation from the world – the antithesis just prior to this.). I encourage you to follow the Ligonier link to read all of his worthwhile article.

Second, there is a separation out of the church of false teachers, denying them spheres of influence. Second John 7-11 counsels believers to beware of anyone who teaches a false view of Christ. We are to separate them from any assistance and support. John has in view itinerant teachers who by definition needed welcome and hospitality to further their “ministry.” Notice, again, that this is balanced intriguingly by John’s warning against the false separation exercised by Diotrephes, who “refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9-10). Separation here involves the preservation of the church, but not our separation from it or our domination over it.

Third, there is a separation from the church of those who pollute or threaten to destroy it. Evident sin in the believer must be met by ongoing efforts to effect repentance (Matt. 18:15-18). Personal admonition is first; if that fails, admonition in the presence of one or two others; if that fails, admonition by the church. And only when there is obstinate resistance throughout these three stages is a member to be regarded as “a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Only where there is flagrant, public sin that brings public shame on the congregation are these steps collapsed into one (as apparently in 1 Cor. 5:1-5). Even then, the goal of the actions is always restoration (1 Cor. 5:5Gal. 6:1). The purpose of surgical amputation is to save, not to destroy. Again, we find a complex statement: when major spiritual surgery is necessary, the patient must be protected from the infection of despair (2 Cor. 2:5-11). When tough action is required, it is to be done by men who are Jesus-like, characterized by meekness and gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1Gal. 6:1).

In addition, I also read “When God Goes Missing” – a fine article about what can often be absent when today’s church worships – and in our own worship! Read it and be challenged to make sure God is present in your heart and mind when you stand in His presence!

Here’s just a little snapshot:

When I discover that my approach to God in the assembling of His people is “casual,” I cannot blame it on an effort to be authentic or on my informal surroundings. If I am honest with myself, I must confess that I have forgotten the primary purpose of my attendance. I have forgotten His presence and His true identity. Sometimes, the blindness and deafness that once kept me from seeing and hearing Him partially returns and prevents me from perceiving His nearness and His character.

Rev. John P. Sartelle is assistant minister at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Oakland, Tennessee.

J.Calvin on Psalm 138: “…Nothing has a more sensible influence in stimulating us to thanksgiving than his free mercy.”

As we meditate on Psalm 138 this Sunday, we may also benefit from the thoughts of faithful Bible expositor, John Calvin. Here are his comments on v.2. May they also feed our souls this day and direct us to the true worship of our true and faithful God.

JCalvinPic2. I will worship towards the temple of thy holiness.

He intimates that he would show more than private gratitude, and, in order to set an example before others, come in compliance with the precept of the law into the sanctuary. He worshipped God spiritually, and yet would lift his eyes to those outward symbols which were the means then appointed for drawing the minds of God’s people upwards.

He singles out the divine mercy and truth as the subject of his praise, for while the power and greatness of God are equally worthy of commendation, nothing has a more sensible influence in stimulating us to thanksgiving than his free mercy; and in communicating to us of his goodness he opens our mouth to sing his praises.

As we cannot taste, or at least have any lively apprehensions in our souls of the divine mercy otherwise than through the word, mention is made of his faithfulness or truth. This coupling of mercy with truth is to be particularly taken notice of, as I have frequently observed, for however much the goodness of God may appear to us in its effects, such is our insensibility that it will never penetrate our minds, unless the word have come to us in the first place.

Goodness is first mentioned, because the only ground upon which God shows himself to us as true is his having bound himself by his free promise. And it is in this that his unspeakable mercy shows itself — that he prevents those with it who were at a distance from him, and invites them to draw near to him by condescending to address them in a familiar manner.

Book Alert! China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom – RH Books

China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom – Reformation Heritage Books.

ChinasReformingChurchesThe above link leads you to a significant new book on the exciting progress of Reformed and Presbyterian churches in China. Edited by Bruce B. Baugus, the book contains chapters by various pastors, missionaries and scholars on a wide range of subjects relating to Presbyterianism and the Reformed faith in China (the link above will give you the table of contents as well).

Below is the publisher’s description, and below that is a short video in which the editor provides a brief account of what is happening in China. You may obtain the book at 25% off now at the RHB website ($15).

China is now home to more evangelical believers than any other nation, and the church continues to grow and make inroads in every level of Chinese society. Such dramatic growth, against the backdrop of modern China, has produced profound and urgent church development needs. As faithful Chinese ministers strive to meet these needs, an increasing number are discovering the rich biblical and theological resources of the Reformed tradition and presbyterian polity.

This is a critical moment in the life of China’s reforming churches and the Presbyterian and Reformed mission to China. This book provides both a historical look at presbyterianism in China and an assessment of the current state of affairs, orienting readers to church development needs and the basic outlines of Reformed Christianity in China today. While laying out the challenges and opportunities facing the church, the authors argue that assisting this reformation in China should be a central objective of the presbyterian and Reformed mission to China in this generation.

P.S. Late last week (June 13) I received a review copy of this book. If any of you are interested in reviewing it for the Standard Bearer, let me know and the book is yours!

100 Bible Knowledge Questions – Pastor K.De Young

100 Bible Knowledge Questions | TGC.

Feeling full of sound doctrine and confident about your Bible knowledge this Monday morning after spending Sunday in the Word (read and preached)? Then you are challenged to take this Bible knowledge test pastor Kevin De Young’s church (University Reformed Church, Lansing, MI) gives to prospective officebearers.

Below is De Young’s explanation of the test and the first section from it. Visit the link above to see and take the other nine parts of the test. I plan to take it too. Perhaps we can compare “notes”.

Several years ago our church started offering a leadership training course once or twice a year. The class began as a training seminary for those who had been nominated for elders or deacons. Now the course must be completed before a man can be considered for the office of elder or deacon.

At the end of the 12-week class there is a test. The exam contains a couple longer essays, short answers, and a series of questions testing basic Bible knowledge. We are careful to say  that you don’t have to be a brilliant student to serve at University Reformed Church. There is much more to effective ministry than passing a written test. Much more.  And yet, we do not want our staff, teachers, and officers to be biblically illiterate. Granted, people aren’t usually too excited about taking a test, but they are almost always glad to have taken the class. And more often than not, the test proves to be an edifying experience.

For fun, and for your own evaluation and learning, I thought I’d post the questions that comprised the knowledge portion of the exam. We have changed the exam in recent years, so these are not the exact questions we currently use. (I’m not going to show everyone the test ahead of time!) But this will give you an idea of the sort of Bible knowledge we want our lay leaders to have. No one gets every question right, but most people get most of them right, and a few erudite members have nearly aced the thing. I have not provided below the answers to test, because, well, it’s a test.

A.    Who did the following?
1.    Wrote the book of Acts?
2.    Appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?
3.    Directed the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem?
4.    Killed a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone?
5.    Led the Israelites into the promised land?
6.    Was exiled to the island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation?
7.    Was going to curse Israel, but had to bless them?
8.    Became the first King of the 10 tribes that broke away?
9.    Rescued David from her foolish husband Nabal?
10.    Was rebuked by Paul for refusing to eat with Gentiles?

Pentecost 2014 – The Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Father and the Son

Pentecost-John14-16On this Pentecost Sunday we depart from our meditations on the Psalms and focus on our Lord’s promises concerning His gift of the Holy Spirit as recorded in John 14. Here is the pertinent section:

16And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 19Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 20At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 21He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.22Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.25These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. 27Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

With these sure words of our Lord, fulfilled on the great day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, we include these comments of John Calvin:

16.And I will pray to the Father.

This was given as a remedy for soothing the grief which they might feel on account of Christ’s absence; but at the same time, Christ promises that he will give them strength to keep his commandments; For otherwise the exhortation would have had little effect. He therefore loses no time in informing them that, though he be absent from them in body, yet he will never allow them to remain destitute of assistance; for he will be present with them by his Spirit.

Here he calls the Spirit the gift of the Father, but a gift which he will obtain by his prayers; in another passage he promises that he will give the Spirit. If I depart, says he, I will send, Him to you, (John 16:7.) Both statements are true and correct; for in so far as Christ is our Mediator and Intercessor, he obtains from the Father the grace of the Spirit, but in so far as he is God, he bestows that grace from himself. The meaning of this passage therefore is: “I was given to you by the Father to be a Comforter, but only for a time; now, having discharged my office, I will pray to him to give another Comforter, who will not be for a short time, but will remain always with you.”

And he will, give you another Comforter. The word Comforter is here applied both to Christ and to the Spirit, and justly; for it is an office which belongs equally to both of them, to comfort and exhort us, and to guard us by their protection. Christ was the Protector of his disciples, so long as he dwelt in the world: and afterwards he committed them to the protection and guardianship of the Spirit. It may be asked, are we not still under the protection of Christ? The answer is easy. Christ is a continual Protector, but not in a visible way. So long as he dwelt in the world, he openly manifested himself as their Protector; but now he guards us by his Spirit.

He calls the Spirit another Comforter, on account of the difference between the blessings which we obtain from both. The peculiar office of Christ was, to appease the wrath of God by atoning for the sins of the world, to redeem men from death, to procure righteousness and life; and the peculiar office of the Spirit is, to make us partakers not only of Christ himself, but of all his blessings. And yet there would be no impropriety in inferring from this passage a distinction of Persons; for there must be some peculiarity in which the Spirit differs from the Son so as to be another than the Son.

If you would like some additional reading on the gospel of Pentecost, you are encouraged to visit the featured resources on the PRCA website. There you will find both articles and pamphlets on the subject of the Holy Spirit.

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