Happy 240th Birthday, America!

As we U.S. citizens celebrate our country’s 240th birthday today, this little historical note on why July 4 became our “Independence Day” from “Today I Found Out” is instructive.

We should never forget the history behind our independence, nor how God has used this liberty to bless and preserve His church and people in this land. And may we as God’s people count it a blessing to belong to this great land, while also remembering that our true liberty is in Christ and His glorious kingdom of grace.

Have a wonderful 4th!

Why the 4th of July was Chosen as Independence Day in the United States

While it is often said that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, this isn’t actually correct. In fact, nobody signed it on the 4th. This is contradictory to Thomas Jefferson’s, John Adams’, and Benjamin Franklin’s account of events. On top of their accounts, the public congressional record of events back their story. So how do we know it didn’t happen this way?

To begin with, the Secret Journals of Congress that were eventually made public in 1821 paint a different story. They contain an entry stating, on August 2nd: “The declaration of independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.”

Now if this was the only evidence, one might lean towards a typo in the journal and believing the aforementioned three individuals and public congressional record. However, one of the other signers of the declaration, Thomas McKean, denied the July 4th signing date and backed it up by illustrating a glaring flaw in Jefferson’s, Adams’, and Franklin’s argument- namely, that most of the signers were not members of congress on July 4th and thus wouldn’t have been there to sign it. As McKean said in 1796: “No person signed it on that day nor for many days after.”

Further evidence comes from the interesting fact that the parchment version of the Declaration of Independence that is on display and kept in the United States National Archives wasn’t actually written until July 19th; this being a copy of the approved text that was announced to the world on July 4th, with about 150-200 copies being made on paper and distributed on that date (26 of which are still around today, thus pre-dating what is now generally thought of by most as the “original”).

This little tidbit also came from the Secret Journals of Congress which has an entry on July 19th stating: “Resolved that the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of ‘The unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America’ & that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.”

So, in the end, this signed document probably would have been copied by Timothy Matlack, Jefferson’s clerk, rather than penned by Jefferson himself, and certainly couldn’t have been signed on July 4th.

It’s also interesting to note that John Adams thought that July 2nd, not July 4th, would be celebrated in the future in the United States.  On July 3, 1776, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams noted:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

So why did he think July 2nd would be Independence Day and how did July 4th end up getting the nod instead?  Because July 2nd is when the Second Continental Congress voted to approved a resolution of independence. Although nobody voted on or signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th,  that was the date the Declaration was announced to the world, and why it was ultimately chosen as Independence Day.

Book Alert! Christianizing the World – David J. Engelsma

christianizing-world-DJE-2016Time for another book alert, this time relating to a new publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association. The book is titled Christianizing the World: Reformed Calling or Ecclesiastical Suicide?, and is the substance of a speech given by emeritus professor David J. Engelsma (PRC Seminary) in 2014 in the Grand Rapids, MI area.

The book is occasioned by the recent translation and publication of Abraham Kuyper’s major Dutch work on common grace and  addresses the contemporary theological and ecclesiastical fascination with this doctrine, especially as it relates to Christianity’s calling in regards to culture – summarized by the author as “Christianizing the World.”

This is how he describes it in his preface:

For many years, it has been widely accepted in Reformed circles worldwide that the theory of common grace developed by the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper and the project of Christianizing the world by this common grace, which Kuyper exhorted, are Reformed orthodoxy. Of late, this thinking spreads among evangelicals both in North America and across the world.

…Few, if any, question this quixotic (ad)venture with regard to its biblical and Reformed bases. Conservative and liberal Reformed theologians, scholars, churches, and seminaries alike enthusiastically endorse and promote the project and its theological foundation and source in a common grace of God.

This book examines the theory of common grace and its cultural ambitions in light of the Reformed creeds and holy scripture, particularly the passages of scripture to which Kuyper and his disciples mainly appeal. The book also calls attention to the deleterious effects of the theory of common grace upon the churches and schools that have adopted it and put it into practice (p.9).

Below is the publisher’s description of the new book:

This book is a critique of Abraham Kuyper’s cultural theory of a common grace of God and of the grandiose mission of this grace, and of those who confess the theory and evidently intend to promote it so that it accomplishes the end Kuyper claimed. The book exposes Kuyper’s biblical basis for his theory and its practical mission.

The first and main part of the book is a much-expanded version of the public lecture given in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014 under the auspices of the evangelism society of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan. The second part of the book consists of questions raised by the audience at the conclusion of the lecture and of the answers by the speaker at the lecture.

  • 192 pages
  • hardcover
  • ISBN 978-1-944555-02-3

As you can judge, the book is a significant work in light of the contemporary Reformed-Christian scene. This is a work you will want to read carefully and reference repeatedly if you are interested in the Reformed doctrine of grace and in the calling of the Christian in this world.

Visit the RFPA website for information on ordering this new title.

What It Means to Be Reformed: Christian Life – Prof.B. Gritters

StandardBearerIn the May 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer Prof.B. Gritters concluded his series of editorials on “What It Means to Be Reformed.” The last segments of the series treated the Reformed Christian life.

One of the sub-points in this part of the series was the truth that the Reformed Christian lives a “dual citizenship” in this life – in the church and in the world. This is how he explains the first citizenship:

When the Reformed Christian’s spiritual GPS asks him to assign an address for “Home,” he enters “Church.” Membership in and life in a true church is the starting point and ending point of his existence. The center of his life is the church— the church as institute. Although he has many interests in the world and a multitude of responsibilities, these interests and responsibilities all trace their significance back to his membership in the church.

What demands that he make the church central is his union with Christ. Christ Himself makes the church central. He ascended into heaven “that He might appear as head of His church,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says. God “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,” as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1. “The church He loveth well,” the Psalms teach us to sing. For the Reformed Christian, no minimizing of church is permissible. Hold that thought.

But, then, he also goes on to show that the Reformed Christian lives a full life in this world – though he is not “of it.”

Reformed Christians also live in, and have a citizenship in, the world. They are citizens in a particular country and reside in an earthly community where not all are Christians. They have responsibilities there. They do not flee the world, Anabaptist-fashion, but live as productive citizens in it, engaging freely but cautiously in all its dimensions. They seek an occupation that fits their gifts, study to advance understanding in science and the liberal arts, and delight in good music and arts. In other words, they live broadly as productive citizens with a view to the welfare of the community. Part of that life is submitting to the magistrate. Reformed Christians usually cast votes for their leaders and, if necessary, write letters of concern to the powers that be. Some will sign petitions to keep a business closed on Sunday, or to
bar from the neighborhood a so-called Gentlemen’s Club, an abortion clinic, or a casino. Others will join with fellow citizens—of course, in a manner that does not compromise their Christian principles—to oppose evils like abortion, or do good for the community or nation in which they live. They are citizens of an earthly country.

In that connection, he also points out the real danger of neglecting this part of the Christian life:

There is a real danger that we Reformed Christians belittle or even shun these components of the Christian’s existence, huddle in a little corner, and avoid contact with the world. There is a history of Christians making this mistake, and we must not repeat it by an unbiblical understanding of antithetical living. Living antithetically does not mean physical separation from the world. Healthy Reformed Christians grasp the teaching of the Belgic Confession’s Article 36, and appreciate its reference to I Timothy 2’s call to pray for rulers. And even if they do reject the new, but common and foolish, interpretation of Jeremiah 29:7—that Babylon must somehow be transformed by our efforts and even become the friend of the church—they also properly understand Jeremiah’s call to seek the peace of today’s “Babylon.”

How then shall we live? In this way, by God’s sovereign grace.

The Theology of Donald Trump – M.Horton | Christianity Today

This is an insightful commentary by Dr. Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary, CA) on the “theology” of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and of the throngs of Evangelicals who have jumped on his political bandwagon.

We give you just a snippet of the article, encouraging you to read the rest at the CT link below.

I am not a politician, but a minister who teaches theology. As a citizen of this great republic, I have convictions about domestic and foreign policy, but none of that qualifies me to join the fray of political experts and pundits. I am qualified, however, to engage the topic of significant support among self-identified “evangelical voters” for Donald Trump and what this means, not for the country but what it suggests about significant segments of the US church.

While a theological analysis of other candidates would suggest many equally troubling assumptions of their evangelical followers, no candidate is more identified with the word evangelical as is Trump. The loyalty of his self-identified evangelical followers is especially startling to many.

Let me suggest that the slender thread connecting Trump to the church is his occasional holiday appearances at Marble Collegiate Church, made famous by its pastor for 52 years, Norman Vincent Peale. Blending pop-psychology and spirituality, Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for 186 weeks. Nicknamed “God’s Salesman,” Peale was criticized for trivializing Christianity. Reinhold Niebuhr said that he “corrupts the gospel,” and that he helps people “feel good, while they are evading the real issues of life.”

Source: The Theology of Donald Trump | Christianity Today

Worldview at Home – John Tweeddale

TT-Feb-2016One the final articles I read yesterday in the February Tabletalk addresses the importance of the home in teaching and living a biblical worldview, especially in these evil times in which we find ourselves. Author Dr. John W. Tweeddale points to two extremes we can make in talking about a “theology of the home”: one is idealizing or idolizing the home, while the other is marginalizing the home.

At the end of his article he makes the following comments, which are worth our consideration and contemplation:

The home is not a neutral zone for acting upon baseless desires, nor is it simply a bastion for maintaining traditional values. One of the primary purposes of the home is to cultivate Christlike virtues that animate who we are in private and facilitate what we do in public. When the Apostle Paul addressed the households in the church of Colossae, he instructed wives, husbands, children, masters, and servants alike to put to death the exploits of the flesh, put on the qualities of Christ, and do everything in word and deed for the glory of God (Col. 3:1–4:1). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul sandwiches his instructions to households between teaching on devotion and worship (Eph. 5:1–21) and spiritual warfare (6:1–20). And the Apostle Peter prefaces his comments to families with an extended discussion on the church (1 Peter 2:1–11; 2:12–3:8), an important reminder that home life can never be isolated from church life.

This side of heaven, home should be a place where faith, hope, and love flourish. Faith in the sure work of Christ crucified and resurrected. Hope in the power of the gospel to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. And love for a triune God whose glory and beauty knows no end. The Christian home in a fallen world is a place of rooted optimism. Rooted in the place where God has called us and optimistic about a far greater place He is preparing for us. The home front is the forlorn battlefield of the cultural wars. In our strivings to defend the gospel against doctrinal decline in the church and increasing secularism in the culture, we must not forget the importance of cultivating virtue in the home. For the church to remain a city on the hill, the light of the gospel must shine brightly in the home.

Source: Worldview at Home by John Tweeddale | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Wise Counsel to Pastors and Seminary Students – Michael Kruger

TT-Feb-2016This past week I began using the February issue of Tabletalk (the daily devotions are covering the gospel of Mark). Sunday I dove into the featured articles, which this time surround the theme of “Awakening” (read the introduction, “True Reformation”, by editor Burk Parson).

As I browsed the other rubrics, I was drawn to the interview article with Dr. Michael J. Kruger, president and professor of NT and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. The first two sections of this interview gather Kruger’s thoughts on the spiritual challenges facing pastors today and his advice to Seminary students.

I think you will profit from what he says on these subjects, so I include excerpts here. And that made me think, Am I and are you praying enough for our pastors and our pastors-to-be in these difficult days?

Tabletalk: As president of a Reformed seminary, what do you consider to be the greatest spiritual challenges that future pastors face in the United States and in the world? How can they prepare for those challenges?

Michael Kruger:

…So, the greatest challenge for pastors will be whether they will stand firm on the teachings of the Bible despite the fact that they are ridiculed by our culture. In order to prepare for those challenges, pastors need to (a) recommit themselves to the truth of Scripture, (b) become serious students of Scripture themselves, and (c) boldly preach the Scriptures to their congregations.

I would also add that pastors will not just be ridiculed by the world, but they will be increasingly ridiculed by their own congregations. Pastors will find themselves in a situation where many members of their congregation openly disagree with them about the Bible’s teaching on key cultural issues. Thus, there will be an ever-growing gap between the position of the pastor/session and the position of some portion of the congregation—and that is the kind of situation that can lead to infighting and schism. To address this challenge, pastors have to make sure that their own people are properly instructed, trained, and persuaded about these key cultural issues. We cannot just assume they agree with us. As we reach out to the culture with the truth of Scripture, we cannot overlook our own congregations.

TT: What wisdom would you give to a theological student who is struggling to connect his theological knowledge with his heart?

MK: The first thing to realize is that theological knowledge and the heart are not opposed to each other. We must avoid the idea that we have to choose between the two. Solid, biblical truth encourages and uplilts the heart. Second, the student needs to realize that the study of theology is always personal—it applies to them, too. As soon as we begin to see theological study as an abstract hobby, and not something that we apply to our own lives, we will find ourselves becoming cold and distant to the things of God. And third, students must maintain a vibrant and consistent devotional life. The intimacy of daily communion with God is an inoculation against growing cold and hard-hearted during one’s time in seminary.

To read the rest of this interview, which also gets into the issues of the Bible’s canon, inspiration, and authority, visit the link below.

Source: The Development of the Bible: An Interview with Michael Kruger by Michael Kruger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Comments on SCOTUS Homosexual Marriage Decision – B. Van Engen

One of the regular columns in the Standard Bearer is called “Church and State,” and in the most recent issue (Feb.1, 2016) attorney Brian Van Engen (member of the Hull, IA PRC) offers another set of comments on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage (June 2015).

SB-Feb1-2016.jpg

He brings clarification to the issues and begins to look at the implications for religious institutions such as churches and schools. I give you a part of his latest article here (his previous one appeared in the Dec.1, 2015 issue), encouraging you to read it all of it. If you are not an “SB” subscriber, you can become one by visiting the link above.

As mentioned previously, the Court in Obergefell did not create a right to homosexual marriage, but instead found that this right already existed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and that laws contrary to this right were illegal. While that distinction may seem to be merely a matter of semantics, it does have practical implications. People from both sides of the religious and political spectrum have stated that the rulers have spoken, and we must obey by submitting to this ruling or resigning positions that would cause us to violate our conscience. For instance, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, media attention was focused on Kim Davis, a district court clerk in Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses and was ultimately sent to prison for several days for her refusal. Even many Christians suggested that she must resign her position in light of the Court’s ruling.

The idea that the Court’s ruling is a mandate which we must obey is contrary to our system of government, under which the Court cannot legally create rights or freedoms or legislate, but only protects those rights which already exist under the Constitution or other laws. This is the reason the Supreme Court “found” the right to homosexual marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under our system of laws, now that the right to homosexual marriage has been found to exist, that right is simply one right which must be weighed against competing rights. In the case of homosexual marriage, even the liberal majority on the Supreme Court recognized that people may still oppose homosexual marriage for religious reasons, stating:

  • Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.[1]

 

[1] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)

For a list of the other articles in this issue, see the cover image here.

Christian Apologetics: Defending the Resurrection – Guy Waters

TT-Jan-2016To wrap up the featured articles on apologetics in the January 2016 issue of Tabletalk, Dr.Guy P. Waters addresses the vital subject of the resurrection (cf. link to full article below).

To show the Christian defense of this doctrine, he takes us to Paul’s defense of it in Athens on Mar’s Hill as recorded in the Scripture in Acts 17.

This is how Waters ends his treatment of Paul’s defense of the resurrection of the dead, with the calling for the church to continue to do so:

Thus far, Paul has reasoned with the Athenians based upon what they know of God and of themselves from the creation. He then turns to a particular fact of history—God raised a man from the dead (v. 31). That God has lifted the sentence of death from Jesus and publicly vindicated Him means that Jesus was a righteous man. That is to say, He is unlike any other person who walked the face of the earth. This righteous Jesus had claimed on earth that He would judge all people (see John 5:19–29). The resurrection vindicated this claim. In raising Jesus from the dead, God publicly affirmed Jesus’ claim to judge the world at the end of the age. Because this judgment is certain and imminent, Paul pleads with his hearers to “repent” (Acts 17:30), to turn from the service of idols to the worship of the triune God. The resurrection and the worldwide preaching of the gospel has brought to an end the “times of ignorance,” during which God was pleased to withhold final judgment (v. 30). The days of comparative but culpable Gentile blindness have come to an end. Only the gospel can dispel the ongoing ignorance and blindness in which unrenewed humanity finds itself.

Paul’s mention of the resurrection yields two very different results. Some mock and sneer—the very idea that one’s body would have immortal existence was laughable to the Greek mind (v. 32a). Others, however, want to hear more and, trusting in Christ, follow Paul (vv. 32b–34).

Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus did not, on this occasion, win Paul the accolades of the Athenian intelligentsia. Neither did it yield a visibly impressive host of converts in Athens. But Paul did not preach the resurrection because it was popular. He preached it because it was true. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the coming judgment but also secured blessing for the undeserving. However God is pleased to use this truth in the lives of unbelievers, the church’s task remains the same—to tell others that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Source: The Resurrection by Guy Waters | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Defending the Truth Concerning God by K. Scott Oliphint & Training Pastors by I.Martin

TT-Jan-2016As we have mentioned here before this month, the January issue of Tabletalk has the theme of “Apologetics: Giving an Answer for Our Hope.”

As Christians, we are called by our Lord to defend our faith and practice. And because that faith and practice centers on our Triune God, the central truth we are called to defend is that concerning our God Himself.

The second featured article on the theme in this month’s issue treats that very doctrine. Dr. K.Scott Oliphint in “God” tells us why and what we are to defend our faith as far as the true God is concerned. He does so by directing us to Exodus 3 and God’s special revelation to Moses at the burning bush.

This is how he ends his article:

In Exodus 3, therefore, God identifies Himself in two ways. He tells Moses that He is the covenant God, who is with His people, and that He is the self-existing God, who needs nothing in order to be who He is and to do what He purposes to do.

This brings us to the burning bush. The purpose of that miracle was not simply that Moses might be amazed; it was to display God’s own twofold character that He had announced to Moses. The burning bush illustrates what theologians call God’s trascendence and immanence. The revelation of the burning bush was a revelation that the “I Am” is and always will be utterly independent and self-suffiicient. He is fully and completely God even as He promises and plans to “come down” (Ex. 3:8) to be with His people and to redeem them. The burning bush points us to that climactic revelation of the One who is fully and completely the self-existing God, who comes down to redeem a people, and who is Immanuel (God with us). It points us to Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 1:2328:20).

The revelation of God’s twofold character in Exodus 3 is essential to grasp for all who seek to engage in the biblical task of apologetics. No other religion on the face of the earth recognizes this kind of God. The faith we defend is wholly unique. It begins and ends with the revelation of this majestic mystery of God’s character given to us in Holy Scripture.

To read the rest of Oliphint’s article on this subject, visit this link: Source: God by K. Scott Oliphint | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Another fine article in this issue appears under the rubric “For the Church.” Rev. Iver Martin writes about “Training Pastors,” and has this to say about the church’s work through her seminaries:

A truly healthy church is one in which its members are theologians, coming to church each Sunday with a readiness to think and learn, with an insatiable appetite for more. A good pulpit ministry will richly edify God’s people. It is fatal to underestimate the perceptiveness of our congregations. As people discover what it means to follow Jesus, the intellect often comes to life and the gospel produces a hunger for knowledge that a pastor should be well equipped to satisfy.

To suggest that today’s pastors do not need rigorous seminary training because the disciples did not have it is a spurious argument. Their time with Jesus was a three-year intensive course, complete with internship and testing, and in which they discovered the Scriptures as never before. If the church in the twenty-first century is to thrive, it will depend on high-quality pulpit ministry and well-equipped pastoral skill. If training for the ministry comes at a high price, it is worth it. The church cannot afford otherwise.

To read the rest of Martin’s thoughts on this subject, follow the link given above.

Turning from Vanity – Rev.M. DeVries

Ps119-37The meditation for the January 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer was written by Rev. Michael DeVries, PRC pastor in Kalamazoo, MI. It is a reflection on the prayer found in Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity ; and quicken thou me in thy way.”

Penned with the new year in mind, this meditation contains timely and timeless thoughts for us believers living in the twenty-first century. Here are a few of these considerations as we seek to flee the vanities about us and within us in 2016:

A Fervent Prayer
Who can deny that this world is filled with vanities? Who can ignore the horrible manifestations of sin that we see? Shocking immorality! Gross perversion of God’s ordinance of marriage! Unbelievable filth – vanity! Terrible lawlessness and rebellion – vanity! Economic woes and political chaos – vanity. And in much of the church we see bold apostasy and world conformity – vanity! We behold fantastic wealth, luxuries, pleasures, and entertainments – vanity!

…The term “vanity” comes from a root word which means breath or vapor. Go outside in the frigid temperatures of winter and exhale into the cold air. That puff of vapor is vanity! Vanity is that which has no real substance. It is that which is useless and futile. It doesn’t last. Its existence is fleeting. Apart from the fear of the Lord, all the endeavors of man, in every sphere of life, are vanity. All of his learning and culture, his science and philosophy, his invention and industry, his finance and economics, his recreation and entertainment, his life at home, at work, at play – vanity, all vanity! It is all passing away. Man finds no real joy, no real satisfaction, no true peace.

For sin and the curse of God’s righteous wrath beset this world and all the endeavors of men. We see utter rebellion against all Biblical standards of morality and even common decency. And it all ends in the vanity of death and the grave. Almighty God will not be mocked and shall cast the ungodly down into destruction. This is the world of vanity in which we have walked in 2015 and in which we are required to continue walking in 2016.

By God’s grace we pray, yea, we pray fervently, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” By grace we are not one with this world of vanity. Yet we feel the tug, the pull in the direction of the vanities of this world. For we are still beset with our sinful natures that belong to this world of vanity. We realize the appeal, the attraction, the allurement of this world of vanities. Perhaps especially in our youth – physical appearance, popularity, possessions, money – who can deny the appeal?

And so, by grace we express our heartfelt need unto the Lord, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. “ We realize that as earthy creatures all of our senses are attracted to these vanities, but especially our sense of sight. That’s why our culture of “screens” is so dangerous – from smart phones and tablets to large screen televisions to theater screens – the whole world of vanities is there to see! And those images are impressed upon our minds, and we become increasingly hardened and enslaved to the vanities. “O Lord, turn away my eyes!” Is that your plea?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 604 other followers