Word Wednesday – “Semper Reformanda”

Last year for our “Word Wednesday” feature during Reformation week we focused on one Reformation motto in Latin: post tenebras lux.

semper reformandaThis year let’s consider another familiar one: semper reformanda. The meaning simply is: “always reforming”. We may know it more fully by the statement, “Reformed and always reforming.”

This important motto refers to the fact that every truly Reformed church will always be a reforming church, that is, a body of believers who are constantly striving to ensure that she remains faithful to the Word of God on which her faith, life, and worship are based. After all, that’s what the Re-formation was about – the re-forming of the church according to the Scriptures, as the church’s only authority (sola Scriptura!). And, after all, that’s what it means to be – and stay! – Reformed: always to be conforming to the Bible’s teachings with regard to doctrine, walk of life, and worship practices.

If you wish to explore this motto and subject further, I can point you to a couple of places:

  • This 2009 Tabletalk article by Michael Horton under the title “Semper Reformanda”.
  • This 1981 Standard Bearer article (actually, there are three of them) by Herman Hanko, which is the text of a Reformation Day lecture he gave in Hudsonville PRC on Oct.30, 1980. Here is part of what Prof.Hanko said that night at the beginning of his lecture:

When we give to our churches the name Reformed, we mean that we want our spiritual lineage to be traced back to that mighty event: We want to claim Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers as our spiritual fathers. Once a year on Reformation Day we look back to that event which happened over 450 years ago and point to it with thankfulness to God and say to others and to ourselves, “That event belongs to our history as Reformed churches.”

But there is surely more. When we call ourselves Reformed, we insist that we are re-formed. And we are not only re-formed because 450 years ago the church was re-formed by the hand of God, but we are re-formed and, therefore, Reformed because reformation is always, in every moment of the church’s life, the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. That is why a motto of the Reformed Churches for the last 450 years has been: “Reformed, yet always reforming.” By this motto our fathers meant to emphasize that it is the essential mark of being Reformed that the church is always reforming. The two go together and are inseparably connected. You cannot, says this motto, claim to be Reformed unless you are a church always reforming. The one mark, which clearly marks churches that belong to the Reformation is the mark of continuous reformation within her own ecclesiastical life.

That is the question, therefore, that faces us tonight. Are we as a church always reforming? This is a question which faces all of us.

And, I might add, still a question worth considering. This week of marking the great Reformation. And in all the days ahead. How “Reformed” are we, really?

Augustine: Preacher, Exegete, Biblical Apologist

SB-Oct15-2014-AugustineSuch is the title of the article penned by Missionary-pastor M.McGeown in the recent special issue of the Standard Bearer (Oct.15, 2014), marking the life, work, and writings of the great church father Agustine (AD 354-430). Last week we called attention to a sermon by Augustine; today we highlight his relation to the Scriptures.

This is part of what Rev.McGeown has to say about Augustine as a biblical preacher and expositor (emphases are mine):

From the beginning of his Christian pilgrimage, when, as a young man, he heard the call, Tolle lege, tolle lege (“Take up and read”), and his eyes lighted on Romans 13:12-14, until the end of his life, when, on his deathbed, he asked that the penitential psalms be written out for him, so that he might read and mediate on them, Augustine loved the Scriptures. As bishop of Hippo, Augustine aimed to preach biblical sermons, and, as a writer, Augustine saturated his treatises and letters with quotations from the Bible.

Augustine was also a churchman, one who loved the church, one who pursued his theological studies in the church and for the sake of the church, and one who revered the tradition of the church, developing that tradition and defending it against heretics, both inside and outside the church.

…There can be no doubt that Augustine the preacher—with the other church fathers—revered Scripture. For Augustine, Scripture was the very Word of God. Quotations could be multiplied, but, in the interests of space, we offer only one. In a letter to Jerome, Augustine writes, “I have learned to do only those books that are called the Holy Scriptures the honor of believing firmly that none of their writers have ever erred. All others I so read as not to hold what they say to be truth unless they prove it to me by Holy Scripture or clear reason.”[1]

 Augustine was not content merely to admire the Bible. He labored to expound the Bible. Marveling at the detail of Augustine’s exegesis in his commentaries and sermons, one scholar writes, “Augustine finds a great deal in his chosen texts—partly because, being thoroughly convinced of their divine authority, he expects to find a great deal in them.”[2]

[1] Cited in A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word: Martin Luther, Doctor of Sacred Scripture (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1969), 125.

[2] Thomas Williams, “Biblical Interpretation” in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (eds. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (Cambridge: [Cambridge Companions Online] Cambridge University Press, 2006), 60.

To learn more about this special Reformation issue of the “SB”, visit this page. To receive this issue or to subscribe to the “SB”, visit its homepage.

More on Sunday Observance from John J. Timmerman

The fundamental outline of Sunday, its mood, church services, and dominant activities were not enormously changed by the thirties and forties. What is certain is that none of us has escaped the indelible impressions of that Sunday. To me the Sunday of my boyhood in Iowa and my youth in New Jersey meant two things supremely. Sunday was to be markedly different from Thursday in church attendance and in other activities which should be spiritually centered, positively contributory to the distinctiveness of the day. The second, in that honorific and stilted phrase, was the preaching of the word. The latter is still, however brilliant or bumbling it may be, the heart of Sunday services. I am thankful for the spiritual insight and inspiration I have received over the years from many sermons. To have attended half of them would have impoverished me; to have fragmented the spirit of the day with antithetical secular diversions would have made it almost indistinguishable from Thursday (p.63).

Markings on loong journey-TimmermanTaken from the essay “Whatever Happened to Sunday?” in Markings on a Long Journey: Writings of John J. Timmerman. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982.

For my previous post from this article, go here (Oct.15, 2014).

Over 150 Free eBooks | Monergism

Over 150 Free eBooks Listed Alphabetically by Author | Monergism.

MonergismLogoSince Monergism has updated its list of free, high quality, classic Christian ebooks, I will make you aware once again of these fine resources.

Visit the link above to browse the list alphabetically by author and add some good digital reading material to your elibrary.

And, by the way, there are also plenty of other good reading and listening materials on the Monergism site. Browse around while you are there for more good food for the soul.

J.Calvin on Psalm 150: “We may worship God, until… we sing with elect angels an eternal hallelujah.”

JCalvin1Today, for our further reflection on Psalm 150, we also turn to the thoughts of the Reformer John Calvin on vss.1 and 6. These are wonderful concluding words on the OT Psalter. May they too serve to feed our souls, inspiring us to magnify our God with great and majestic praises in all our worship.

1. Praise God in his sanctuary.

…The Psalmist, in order to awaken men who grow languid in God’s praises, bids them lift their eyes towards the heavenly sanctuary. That the majesty of God may be duly reverenced, the Psalmist represents him as presiding on his throne in the heavens; and he enlarges upon the same truth in the second verse, celebrating his power and his greatness, which he had brought under our notice in the heavens, which are a mirror in which they may be seen.

If we would have our minds kindled, then, to engage in this religious service, let us meditate upon his power and greatness, which will speedily dispel all such insensibility. Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises as we offer according to our capacity.

6. Whatever breathes, etc.

…As yet the Psalmist has addressed himself in his exhortations to the people who were conversant with the ceremonies under the law, now he turns to men in general, tacitly intimating that a time was coming when the same songs, which were then only heard in Judea, would resound in every quarter of the globe.

And in this prediction we have been joined in the same symphony with the Jews, that we may worship God with constant sacrifices of praise, until being gathered into the kingdom of heaven, we sing with elect angels an eternal hallelujah.

 

RFPA Annual Meeting TONIGHT – The Importance of Reading Church History

Reformed Free Publishing Association — THIS WEEK! – RFPA Annual Meeting: The Importance of Reading Church His.

Just a reminder that the RFPA’s annual meeting is TONIGHT in Grandville PRC. Those in the Grand Rapids area – and beyond – are encouraged to attend, whether you are an association member or not. You may always join tonight!

RFPA 2014 Meeting

Certainly part of the interest in the meeting is the inspirational speech. Following up on last year’s great speech on the importance of reading, Rev.C.Spronk (Peace PRC, Lansing, IL) will give a talk on “The Importance of Reading Church History”.

Below is part of the notice of the meeting found on the RFPA website. Visit the link above for more information. But know too, that the meeting will be live-streamed from Grandville PRC via their website.

In the Nicene Creed the church confesses that there is only “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This means that the Christian faith and life of the true church of Jesus Christ as she is manifested today in various denominations and congregations is rooted in the church of the past. Times may have changed but the church today shares with the church of the past the same Lord, the same faith, the same battle, the same hope, and the same purpose—to bring glory to name of our great God. The church must be conscious of her past history in order to be sure that she is continuing on the right path. In other words the study of church history is important.

The study of church history is all the more important because of the constant attack of enemies who seek to knock her off of the “old paths.” Satan desires that the members of the church be ignorant of their history. Lack of interest in church history plays into the evil one’s hands. Church history can then be distorted and used to spread false doctrine and support wicked behavior, as is often attempted today. The study of church history is an important part of the battle of faith she must wage to remain faithful to God.

Hope to see you there!

An Able and Faithful Ministry (5) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1Over the course of the last month since the PRC Seminary opened its doors for another year of instruction, we have been examining the thoughts of Presbyterian pastor and Seminary professor (Princeton) Samuel Miller as contained in his address, “The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry”. This sermon was delivered on August 12, 1812 on the occasion of the installation of Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the new Princeton Seminary.

In the last few weeks we noted that in his last point on what the church can and ought to do to ensure “an able and faithful ministry” – namely, start its own Seminary school specifically for training pastors – Miller included some additional ideas which relate to why the church ought to have its own minister school. We continue to quote from this section today, posting a portion that speaks to the importance of united church Seminary education for the unity and peace of the church – another (perhaps obvious but) great point!

Further, when the church herself provides the means of instruction for her own ministry (at a public seminary), she will, of course, be furnished with ministers who have enjoyed, in some measure, a uniform course of education; who have derived their knowledge from the same masters, and the same approved fountains, and who may, therefore, be expected to agree in their views of evangelical truth and order. There will thus be the most effectual provision made, speaking after the manner of men, for promoting the unity and peace of the church.

Whereas, if every candidate for the holy ministry is instructed by a different master, each of whom may be supposed to have his peculiarities of expression and opinion (especially about minor points of doctrine and discipline), the harmony of our ecclesiastical judicatories will gradually be impaired; and strife, and perhaps eventually schism, may be expected to arise in our growing and happy church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Congregational Prayer: Our Responsibility

StandardBearerFrom the September 15, 2014 issue of The Standard Bearer:

The congregation has great responsibility as well with regard to congregational prayer (After treating the duty of the pastor who leads the congregation in prayer. ~cjt). First of all, our responsibility is to pay attention and not let the mind wander in the prayer. Truly to be led in prayer is hard sometimes. The congregation is called to take the words that are being said and make them their own in the prayer – to enter into the prayer. The congregational prayer is not a time to sleep, or to daydream. It’s not break time where we check out. This service is meeting God face to face after all. Prayer must be offered from an attentive and pious heart as we make the prayer our own. Strange it must be to God that people are here to meet Him and then in prayer this one is thinking about football, and that one about what she has to get done tomorrow. It is a struggle, and all of us know is. It will help if we focus on what we are doing, communing with God Himself.

Besides this, the congregation must help the minister to know her struggles and difficulties and joys and praises. Especially the elders should speak to the minister of things he should pray for on behalf of the congregation. But there is a place, too, for the whole congregation to express needs and joys that the minister should bring before God in congregational prayer.

Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC), “The People of God Humbled and Healed: The Element of Prayer (8b)” in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”

An Able and Faithful Ministry (3) – S.Miller

Able&Faithful Ministry-SMiller_Page_1For the last two weeks we have been taking a special look at the church’s calling to prepare men for the gospel ministry. We have been doing so in connecti0n with a sermon Presbyterian  pastor and theologian Samuel Miller delivered on the occasion of the the founding of Princeton Seminary, when its first professor was installed – Archibald Alexander, on August 12, 1812.

In the second half of that sermon Miller addressed the church specifically, asking “What are the means which the church is bound to employ, for providing such a ministry (i.e., an able and faithful ministry, the description of which makes up of the first part of this sermon)? We have given the first two parts to Miller’s answer to this question, and now today we provide the third.

There will be more to come, because, as I kept reading in this third part to his answer, I noted that Miller had some great things to communicate to the church – things which are just as relevant now as they were 202 years ago.

So, bear with me – and benefit from these wise words from a godly church father in the Reformed camp:

3. A further means which the Church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry is furnishing a seminary in which the candidates for this office may receive the most appropriate and complete instruction which she has it in her power to give. In vain are young men of fervent piety, and the best talents, sought after and discovered; and in vain are funds provided for their support, while preparing for the ministry, unless pure and ample fountains of knowledge are opened to them, and unless competent guides are assigned to direct them in drinking at those fountains. This, however, is so plain, so self-evident, that I need not enlarge upon its proof.

But then Miller brings up the criticism that perhaps the church doesn’t need her own school for training pastors (theological school or Seminary) but can make use of private instructors. Miller’s answer is varied and to the point. We will begin quoting his answer to this objection today and continue it, D.V., in the weeks ahead.

First, when the Church herself provides a seminary for the instruction of her own candidates for the ministry, she can at all times inspect and regulate the course of their education; can see that it is sound, thorough, and faithful; can direct and control the instructors; can correct such errors, and make such improvements in her plans of instruction, as the counsels of the whole body may discover. Whereas, if all is left to individual discretion, the preparation for the service of the Church may be in the highest degree defective, or ill judged, not to say unsound, without the Church being able effectually to interpose her correcting hand.

 

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