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.

 

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | First Things

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | Articles | First Things.

FirstThings-Sept-Oct2014In the most recent issue of First Things (August-Sept., 2014; published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life and dominated by Roman Catholic thinkers and writers – a rather striking periodical for this article) Dr.Carl Trueman (professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia) has a powerful piece on “why Reformed Christianity provides the best basis for faith today”.

The article is titled “A Church for Exiles”, and as Trueman explains, the Reformed faith has all the history, doctrines, liturgy, fortitude and stamina to endure the present circumstances faced now by the church in America, namely, exile from the public square.

You may not agree with all that Trueman states here, but I find his thinking highly significant and relevant to our situation and much in line with our own “world and life view”. There is no idle talk of “cultural transformation” here, based on a “common” grace and common ground with the world. Rather, it is a call for the Reformed church to be solidly and plainly Reformed, as God has called her to be according to His Word.

I give you but a small part of Trueman’s article here; and I strongly urge you to read all of it at the “FT” link above.

 

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

…But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

…We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

Westminster Bookstore P&R eBook Sale! $1.99!

Westminster Bookstore.

In its weekly emailing today, Westminster Bookstore is promoting a special three-day ebook sale on over 100 P&R titles (formerly known as Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing). Price? 1.99 each! Recently WSB opened its own ebook store, with its own system for downloading digital titles, and with this sale it is catering to those who want to add good books to their library in digital form.

Though I have not yet tried WBS’s ebook program, it looks fairly simple and I plan to try it on a few of these deals. This looks to be a good time to stock up on profitable ebooks if you are an avid ereader, or plan to be. But you’d better hurry – you only have 72 hours!

P&R has published much sound Reformed literature for many years, and our Seminary library has many of their titles on it shelves. I am confident you can find something good for your soul (and life) in this collection. A quick browse through the items on sale shows something for just about everyone in the family!

Here’s part of the promo as it was found in the email.

To read this eNewsletter, click Load Images in your email client. Or visit this link to view a copy the way we intended it to look: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/p&r-ebooks.html

The Ordinary – Yet Radically Different – Christian Life – August “Tabletalk”

Radically Ordinary by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August 2014The August issue of Tabletalk is out, and with it we switch to a new theme – that of the Christian life. Only the exact title for this theme is hardly startling and attention-grabbing. Instead, it is rather ordinary. Intentionally so, since this is what the editors want to communicate in this issue: “The Ordinary Christian Life.” 

The main articles all have this theme as well: the ordinary Christian life,  ordinary Christian work, the ordinary Christian family, and the ordinary Christian church.

Lest we think that this Christian life is unexciting and unemotional, editor Burk Parsons introduces it with the above-linked article. This is what he has to say about this important subject:

The ordinary Christian life is not the opposite of the radical Christian life. The ordinary Christian life is a radical life. The ordinary Christian life is a life of daily trusting Christ; daily repenting of our sins; daily abiding in Christ; daily loving Christ; daily dying to self; daily taking up our crosses and following Christ; daily loving God and neighbor; and daily proclaiming the gospel to ourselves, our families, our friends, and our communities. Every Christian is an ordinary Christian, and every ordinary Christian is a radical Christian. The ordinary Christian is not a complacent, passionless, nominal, or casual Christian. On the contrary, every ordinary Christian person—child, teenager, college student, father, mother, husband, wife, single man, single woman, retired man, and retired woman—every Christian is radical because every Christian is united to Christ by faith and will bear radical, life-giving fruit.

Yesterday I also read the opening article on this theme by Dr.Michael Horton of Westminster Theological Seminary (west). His article, titled “The Ordinary Christian Life”, contains many good thoughts on what this life is not as well as what it truly is. I submit to you a short excerpt from this too, encouraging you as always to follow up and read the rest at the link provided.

If gradual growth in Christ is exchanged for a radical experience, it is not surprising that many begin looking for the Next Big Thing as the latest crisis experience wears off. Even in my own lifetime, I’ve witnessed—and participated in—a parade of radical movements. And now, according to Timemagazine, the “new Calvinism” is one of the top trends changing the world. This movement has also been identified as “Young, Restless, Reformed.” But as long as it is defined by youthful restlessness, it may tend to warp what it means to be Reformed.

…To be young is to be restless. We’re lost in impatient wonder and selfish impulses. But we are called repeatedly in the New Testament to grow up, to mature, to put away our childish ways. We are called to submit to our elders, to appreciate the wisdom that spans not only years but generations, and to realize that we do not have all the answers. We are not the stars in our own movie. If the whole apparatus of church life is designed by and for a youth culture, then we never grow up.

No Greater Gospel: An Interview with Dave Furman

No Greater Gospel: An Interview with Dave Furman by Dave Furman | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

DFurman sketchPart of my Sunday reading also included this fascinating “TT” interview with Pastor David Furman, who pastors Redeemer Church in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

While there are many interesting insights in this interview about planting and maintaining a Reformed church in the heart of the Middle East, I truly appreciated the way Furman answered two questions in particular. I post them here, encouraging you to follow the link above to learn more about this church in Dubai.

TT: What aspects of the reformed tradition have most equipped you for ministry in Dubai?

DF: The first and biggest thing that came to mind when I read this question was the crystal-clear call of Christ. Jesus says: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). It is hard to describe how encouraged I am by the Reformed doctrines of grace that describe how Christ assuredly calls His elect, that the elect respond, and that He keeps them forever. This strengthens my heart to endure hardship, to labor over expositional preaching, and to glorify Jesus when I see fruit or face rejection. Reformed doctrine has fueled our sharing of the gospel and emboldened us to be faithful to Christ in difficult times.

TT: What advice can you give Christians for sharing the gospel?

DF: Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God. There is no need to change it, distort it, add to it, or subtract from it. Indeed, we must not alter the gospel. If you add one drop of works to the gospel, you destroy it, change it, reverse it, and oppose it. Gospel revision always equals gospel reversal. I would tell all Christians to hold on to and herald the one true gospel. We’ve seen it change lives time and time again. I read in a biography of Charles Spurgeon a story about his grandfather preaching one night. The story goes that one night Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher, was running late getting to the church, and by the time he got there, his grandfather had already started preaching. Young Spurgeon was already widely known at that time, and when he walked in, his grandfather paused his sermon and said something to this effect: “My grandson is here now; he may be a greater preacher than I, but he can’t preach a greater gospel.” All Christians are equipped with the same message. We need to hold out the gospel. There is no better message and no greater news.

Into the Mystic – Peter Lillback

Into the Mystic by Peter Lillback | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July 2014Yesterday I finished the main articles on this month’s Tabletalk theme, dealing with the 14th century of the church. The fourth and final article is written by Dr.Peter Lillback, president and professor of historical theology at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.

His article carries the above title – “Into the Mystic” – and treats the significant movement of mysticism during this century of the church’s history. This too is “must” reading, for mysticism is always found in the church, – today too –  and always presents unique challenges to the church’s doctrine and life, as Lillback properly points out.

I give you a part of the end of his article and encourage you to read all of it at the Ligonier link above.

The Scriptures teach us to test the spirits because false teaching emerges from the fallen hearts of mankind, including our own. Salvation is not man-centered, whether in terms of feelings, choices, ideas, or visions. All truth and wisdom are gifts of divine grace and are found in Christ. Our pursuit of God must be Christ-centered and based upon the revealed Word of God.

Thus, biblical Christianity, especially with its restoration in the Reformation, rejects unfettered mystical experiences in favor of the scriptural revelation of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the fallen nature of man means that we must reject our inner impulses as our primary spiritual guides and instead practice humble reliance on the Word and Holy Spirit. When we meditate, we should meditate upon Scripture. When we seek extraordinary experiences, we should consider the extraordinary miracles that God has performed in history and recorded in His Word. When we seek to know God, we should know the Scriptures that speak of Him (John 5:46), pray to our loving Father, and participate in the church and sacraments.

We should thereby embrace the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27), remembering that neither our minds nor our feelings will lead us to God without the true “inner” experience of the Holy Spirit’s grace in Christ grounded in His inspired Word.

 

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.

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