Word Wednesday: “Polity” (as in Church)

Over the last month or so we have been examing a few words that are regularly found and heard in our Seminary environment. We have looked at “isagogics”, “exegesis”, and “homiletics”. Today we want to consider the word “polity”, as in “church polity”, another of the courses taught in the area of Practical Theology by Prof.B.Gritters.

ChurchPolity-CHodgeIf the word “polity” sounds a lot like “politics”, you are correct in your association, because they both have the same root – the Greek word for city (polis) and citizen (polites). And there are other English words that derive from this: police, polite, and of course, politician and political. If you look up this word in the dictionary, this is what you find for definition and origin:

World English Dictionary
polity  (ˈpɒlɪtɪ)
n  , pl -ties
1. a form of government or organization of a state, church, society, etc; constitution
2. a politically organized society, state, city, etc
3. the management of public or civil affairs
4. political organization
[C16: from Latin polītīa,  from Greek politeia  citizenship, civil administration, from politēs  citizen, from polis  city]

Now, of course, we despise church politics, by which we would mean using worldly craft and power to attain one’s goals in the spiritual city of God. We don’t want our pastors, professors, elders or deacons – or any citizen of God’s city for that matter – resorting to this kind of “polity”.

But we do want them to follow Christ’s polity for God’s holy city, which is nothing else but the rules He has ordained and revealed to us in His Word for how His church ought to be managed. The Head of the church (or the King of God’s city) has given us the principles and regulations by which His body (or city) ought to be organized and governed. And the study of these principles and regulations is called “church polity”.

And so, in our Seminary catalog you will find this description of the course known as “church polity” (course # 413 & 414):

A study of the biblical principles of Reformed church government relating to the institutional life of the church upon earth, and of the Church Order adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht and used in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.

Yes, church polity is about how we all – officebearers (sub-rulers in God’s city) and citizens – behave in the house of God (cf. I Tim.3:15). Do you know how to? If you want to learn more, study the Word of God - and our Church Order! You might also be interested in these “Notes on the Church Order” by Prof.(emeritus) H.Hanko. And perhaps someday, Prof.Gritters will invite you to his Seminary course :)

“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.

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.

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.

Why I Don’t (and You Shouldn’t) Observe Lent

Why I Don’t Observe Lent.

LentIf you have ever wondered why we Protestants (Reformed and other branches) do not (and ought not) observe the season of Lent as mandated by the Roman Catholic Church and currently practiced by many Protestant churches and inividuals, this article by PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) elder Roland S.Barnes is a good place to start (posted March 3, 2014). He does a fine job of summaring the history of the development of this forty-day season and why the Reformation opposed the observance of this period of self-denial and fasting.

And as he explains well, this does not mean that we are against self-denial or fasting, or the commemoration of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I quote from a few relevant paragraphs here and encourage you to read all of it. Though a bit long, it will strengthen you as a Protestant – and as Reformed. And, if you are in the mood, here’s another fine one that appeared on The Aquila Report‘s Top 10 list this week: “Playing With Lenten Fire” by OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) elder D.G.Hart.

…What started out with a full-blown deprecation of things which are lawful, food, sex, marriage, etc., has degenerated into rather trivial acts of denial, such as giving up chocolate or coffee. Of course, fasting is good as an expression of self-denial, but for the Church to decree such seasons for fasting as Lent, and thereby bind the consciences of believers, is contrary to the instructions given by the Apostle Paul. In addition it can be asked why would one voluntarily place himself under such rigorous regulations concerning food when Christ has set His people free from such regulations. Lent became a season of penance; forty days of sorrowful penance while waiting for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. Nowhere in scripture is there any prescription for such an observance. The forty years that Moses worked for Jethro were preparatory for his mission to rescue the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. His forty days of fasting on Mount Sinai were preparatory for the reception of the convenantal law of God. The forty days of fasting by Jesus were preparatory for spiritual battle in the wilderness. There is no pattern set forth in scripture for forty days of mourning over sin, especially when Christ has offered immediate forgiveness to everyone who repents.

…The Reformers viewed the Christian Sabbath as both a weekly celebration of the victory of the resurrection and a weekly practice of self-denial; that is, fasting from the pursuit of labor and entertainment. This weekly observance puts a curb on self-seeking pleasure and works against the self-indulgence of “Fat Tuesday.” Self-denial then becomes a way of life, the normal practice of piety, and not a seasonal event. The observance of fasting, praying, self-denial, and sober-minded reflection in the life of a believer is to be commended. I suppose someone may wish to do so as a matter of habit and regular observance by keeping some form of “Lent.”

However, the mandated observance of Lent along with its extra-biblical requirements of abstinence from things that are not withheld from us by God in His word is another matter altogether. What merit or benefit is there in abstaining from something which God Himself has given us to enjoy and to bless our lives? If something is sinful, we ought to abstain from it, fast from it, every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year. If something is not sinful and not forbidden to us by God in His Word, then we are free to partake of it or not partake of it as our conscience is our guide.

Honoring the Sabbath? Calvin College weighs opening library on Sundays | MLive.com

Honoring the Sabbath? Calvin College weighs opening library on Sundays | MLive.com.

CalvinHekmanLibraryAlso making the news in the past week was Calvin College, which is debating the opening of their library on the Lord’s Day, at least in the afternoon.

At first I was surprised that this was even an issue, assuming that Calvin had long ago opened up its library for student use on Sundays. So, on the one hand, it was encouraging to know they had not yet taken this step. On the other hand, we well know where this “careful study” of issues usually ends up in the CRC – on the side of the progressives who want to change nearly all the “old paths”.

Yet, I can appreciate the complicated issues involved with making a decision like this too. I copied this article and put it out in our own library last week, so that we could discuss it here too. Not that we would open the Seminary library on Sunday. But that we would carefully think through the reasons why Calvin – and we – would not take this step. So, what would you give as reasons not to open a Christian college library on Sunday? Or a Seminary library? I would also be interested in your thoughts.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Calvin College is weighing whether to open Hekman Library on Sundays, a decision that President Michael Le Roy said is symbolic of the Christian liberal arts school’s “current understanding of Sabbath,”according to the student newspaper, Chimes.

A college committee has recommended opening “the library from 1 to 5 p.m.” on Sundays, but Le Roy wants more time to study and review the proposal, according to Chimes.

“The decision ends up being really symbolic for the college and our current understanding of Sabbath,” Le Roy told the newspaper. “It’s complex and I want to have more conversation about it.”

John Knox – Sinclair Ferguson & For the Glory of God – R.C.Sproul

John Knox by Sinclair Ferguson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014As was pointed out last Monday, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to “John Knox and the Scottish Reformation”. Dr.Sinclair B.Ferguson writes the second main feature article in this issue, with the focus simply on Knox himself. You may find his full article “John Knox” online here, and I certainly encourage you to read his fine description of Knox the Reformer.

But there are two other articles I would like to reference on my blog today. The first is Dr.R.C.Sproul, Sr.’s lead article “For the Glory of God”. In this article Sproul points out that of the five solas of the Reformation the last one is the most important – Sola Deo Gloria: To God alone belongs the glory. The other four serve to preserve this one, he writes. From here he goes on to show why the glory of God is so important.

At the end of this article Sproul makes some points that I thought were excellent for our Sunday worship, as well as for our daily witness in this world. I post them here in the hope that they also serve to drive home to us a basic but an all-important truth.

Every day in America, we hear one of the great pernicious lies about God, namely, that we all worship the same god. We are told that whatever we call him or it—Allah or Yahweh or Tao or Buddha—it doesn’t matter. We all worship the same thing. To that I reply, “No, we don’t.” The scary part about religion in general is that it underscores man’s guilt before God, but then goes on to create ineffective solutions to this guilt. The impetus for creating alternatives to the religion that God reveals in nature and in Scripture is idolatry. But even if we boldly confess this truth, we must be on guard against idolatry even within the Christian community. Because we are fallen creatures, we can be religious and be idolaters at the same time. All of us can remake God in our own image, downplaying or ignoring those aspects of His character we do not like. If we do that, we are withholding the glory that belongs to God alone.

The whole goal of our salvation is to bring us to a place where we worship God and we honor Him as God. The great danger is that we make ourselves the center of concern, and we steal the glory of God. In all that we do, the driving passion of the Christian must always be Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. And the only way for this passion to be realized is to honor God as God, to understand Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word and not according to the mere opinions of fallen creatures.

Encouraging the Next Generation to Read (8)

HuizingaBrianToday we complete our posts based on the series of articles on reading found in The Standard Bearer (Dec.2013-Jan. 2014) and penned by Rev.Brian Huizinga, pastor of Hope PRC in Redlands, CA (For the previous installment, go here.). These articles are the text of an inspiring speech Rev.Huizinga gave at the annual RFPA meeting in September of 2013.

In the Jan.1, 2014 issue of the “SB” Rev.Huizinga gets into the practical points he presented in his speech. He lists ten “P’s”to encourage the younger generation to read. In today’s post we will finish going through these, giving you the last two points (“P’s”). I hope that these points will help all of us – but especially the “next generation” – to read!


9. Encourage Pen and Pencil

Writing in the book or on something else helps one digest and remember what he read.  In many places the tablet is replacing the book, and I do not know if you can highlight things in a tablet.  But if you have a book, as long as it is your own, get a pen and pencil and write in it.  Underline, put exclamation marks, see page 47, stars, asterisks, notes.  Interact with your book, your magazine, young man, young woman.  If it is yours—pen and pencil.


10.   Emphasize the Parental Mandate

The parental mandate is not:  “You ought to read.”  Or : “I strongly encourage you to do some reading.”  The parental mandate is:  “You shall read.  I am your father.  I have been given authority by God.  This is my house.  You, son, you, daughter, shall read.”

Why would we not do this?  The two-year-old is not so excited about sitting through another hour-and-a-half long worship service on Sunday.  But “you shall come to church.”  And over the course of time children begin to see the wisdom of their parents and they enjoy going to church.  And to the young people, we have said, “You shall be home at (whatever time—11 p.m.),” and though they may object, they grow up and they say, “That was the wisdom of my parents—that curfew.”  The young woman wants to go out and even go to church in that little skirt, and father says, “You may not go to church wearing that.”  It is an argument now.  But, over time, she realizes she was foolish.  She sees the wisdom of her father.

“You shall read.”

Now, do not come to the young person with both hands full, a book in one hand, and a whip in the other, like that of one of Pharaoh’s servants:  YOU SHALL READ!  Not that kind of “shall.”  You come with a book for your son in one hand, and a book for yourself in the other.  You read, son, and I also shall read.  Then discuss the books.  The parental mandate must be given in the right attitude and spirit, surrounded by the right conduct and life, and then God will transform the “I must read” in them, into “I want to read,” and even into “I am privileged to read.”

“But dad, you don’t know how busy I am.  I can’t even read all of the books I have to read for college.  I don’t have time to read.”  Well, we know that is not true because we were all there one day.  Nor is it true when the patient responds to the dentist’s, “It doesn’t appear that you have been flossing every day,” with, “I don’t have time to floss every day.”  The dentist does not even take the time to say, “You don’t have time to run a piece of string through your teeth for sixty seconds a day?  You can do that while staring at your television.”  You have time to read.  It is a matter of the will.  “I am your father, and I love you, and now let’s start prioritizing.  For starters, you’ve got to turn that thing off, put it away, unplug it, put it way over there.  Now, we’re going to read.”  Sunday afternoon, what are you going to do this afternoon?  Here is this literature.  You shall read.

We parents, in love, need to exercise and enforce the parental mandate, “You shall read.”

By the grace of God in Jesus Christ wherein is the “will” and the “to do” of His good pleasure, and for the glory of Jehovah and His covenant, let us press on now lest a generation arise among us not knowing the Lord nor the works that He has done for Israel.  Let us lay this upon the hearts of the young people.  Read!

Where do you sit at the table?  Where do the young people sit at the table?  Where will the next generation sit at the table?  This is not a parable.  Jesus will not chide you for pressing toward the highest seat at the wedding table as He did the Pharisees.  Take your seat in position number one.  Devour good books.  And let it be the joy and rejoicing of your heart.  May God bring the children to sit with you.

Encouraging the Next Generation to Read (5) – Rev.B.Huizinga

RFPA2013Annual-AdPicOnce more we reference here the series of articles on reading found in The Standard Bearer (Dec.2013-Jan. 2014) and penned by Rev.Brian Huizinga, pastor of Hope PRC in Redlands, CA (For the previous installment, go here.). These articles are the text of an inspiring speech Rev.Huizinga gave at the annual RFPA meeting in September of 2013.

HuizingaBrianIn the Jan.1, 2014 issue of the “SB” Rev.Huizinga gets into the practical points he presented in his speech. He lists ten “P’s” to encourage the younger generation to read. Today in this post we will continue going through these, giving you the next two points (“P’s”). I hope that these points will help all of us – but especially the “next generation” – to read!

3. Encourage Preparation for Future Service

I have never heard a man in the church say, “I regret my behavior of youth, for I wasted too much of my time reading solid Reformed works, when I could have been doing other things.”  But so often you hear men in the church (particularly elders) say, what I myself say, “I regret not reading more in my youth, it would have helped me so much in being a more serviceable workman in God’s kingdom.” Let us lay this upon the hearts of young women who have a role in God’s church, but especially young men who will have leadership roles and hold office.  “Young man, the day is coming when you might be a minister, an elder, a deacon, a school-board member, a member of this committee or that committee, and you need preparation for that.  Read.  Why don’t you read?  You might not understand this now, son, but listen to me, you would do yourself such a favor if you would only read.”

We will never have the knowledge we wish we had, but let us not unnecessarily hurt ourselves and our future by failing to read, and hurt the young people by failing to encourage them to prepare for future service.  When tomorrow comes, today is forever lost.  What will you do today?  Prepare.

4. Encourage Partnering

Many do not have the self-discipline to run for exercise three times a week.  They need a partner to hold them accountable, to encourage them, to spur them on, and to whom they can speak.  Finding a running partner, many run, run, run.  How do we get people (young people) to read, read, read?  Encourage partnering.  The partner could be a parent or a sibling, a spouse for the married, a friend, a group of friends, a group of couples, a coworker with whom you share a 45-minute lunch break that includes little meaningful conversation.  Find a good book, read it or a chapter on your own time, and discuss it together.  The dynamics can be set and changed.  The young people golf together, and shop together.  Could they not read and then discuss together a timely book for the nourishment of their souls?


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