Some New Helpful Reformed-Christian Perspectives on COVID-19

I realize that we are probably weary of all the mixed and confusing information being published relating to COVID-19, both in terms of the data about the pandemic and in terms of the response we ought to have as Christians. I understand, and admit that I have reached the point at times that I do not want to hear anything more about it.

But two new items entered my email box overnight that I found very helpful, in part because they are both from a clear and consistent Reformed-biblical perspective. In these days in which we all struggle with our proper attitude and calling, it is good to listen to other Reformed-Christian voices about us. I judge these two to be good examples.

The first is a new venture from Reformed Perspective (magazine and more) – a podcast on COVID-19 and its challenges to the Christian and Christ’s church. It is called “Focal Point” and is done by Chris DeBoer. You may find the YouTube version below. The Facebook version may be found here. I think you will find that most of what Chris says resonates with our faith and practice, even if you may differ with a few details. His practical suggestions at the end about how to manifest the communion of saints during this time is quite profitable.

The second item was a new post from Reformation21. Pastor Grant Van Leuven presents an open defense of his Session’s decision to submit to his government’s decisions (he serves in San Diego, California) and abide by the mandates as a conscious act to serve God and love the neighbor. I think you will find his arguments compelling because they are biblically and confessionally balanced.

Here are a few paragraphs from the beginning of his post. Follow the link below or above to read all of it.

A few weeks ago, due to the present coronavirus pandemic, our Session decided to postpone face-to-face assemblies of worship at the church building electing (for a time) to serve Christ and our covenanted saints through online Lord’s Day webcasts.[1]  This decision was not unanimous but we moved forward with it in hearty unity.

…While it sometimes seems unclear from our State and Federal mandates (or strong recommendations) of what “essential” may include or exempt for public gatherings, our local and national magistrates are strictly guiding us to presently stay home and not assemble to avoid spreading COVID-19 and the coronavirus to other citizens and risk their deaths.  After prayerful study and discussion, we decided to follow our civil leadership for this civic concern and adhere to our magistrates’ current timelines.[3]  We here provide Scriptural and confessional support.

…Let us now reflect on much of what informed our decision that our temporary change to online worship webcasts would not be disobeying God but rather submitting to Him.

First, it is important to recognize that the present government mandates are not religious persecution (if they were we would insist on public worship together and be ready to face the consequences).  Everyone in our society is suffering indiscriminately.  The government is not forbidding Christian worship assemblies in principal but is trying to curtail an unknown pandemic that life’s religious sphere affects.

Second, Christianity is a religion of submission and we are to submit to God’s authority through His ordained ministers not only in the sphere of Church but also of State.  We mainly turn to Romans 13:1-10 for our consideration and leave the reader to attend to this and other Scripture references directly.

In summary, Paul teaches that as citizens of this world we must not rebel against our earthly authorities in the civil sphere of life for they too are ministers ordained by God to serve us just as are ministers of the Word over the religious sphere of life; as Kingdom of Heaven citizens we are to lovingly work for the good of our earthly societies under their lawful jurisdiction and to do so is to obey the Law of God.

 

 

Source: Submit to the Government Serving God to Save Lives – Reformation 21

 

Saved by Grace: Faith as God’s Gracious Gift and Work – H. Hoeksema

wonderofgrace-hh… and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.– Ephesians 2:8

We are saved by grace and through faith. Another way than that of faith in Jesus Christ, the Christ of the Scriptures, Who was delivered for our transgressions and raised for our justification, there is not.

…It is an important question, therefore: what is this faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and what does it mean to believe in Him?

…Secondly, we must observe that this saving faith is faith in or into Jesus Christ as the revelation of the God of our salvation. This is often emphasized in Scripture. We do read sometimes of believing on Jesus, and then the idea of faith as confidence appears to have the emphasis. But the true character of saving faith is expressed in the phrase: faith in Christ. He who has the true faith believes into Christ.

What does this signify?

It means that faith is that altogether mysterious and wonderful spiritual power whereby the soul strikes its roots into Christ, to cling to Him, appropriate Him, and draw out of Him all the glorious blessings of salvation which are in Him – the forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and life. The difference between a believer and an unbeliever is not unlike that between a living young tree and a dead fence post. You can plant that fence post deep into the ground, but you do not expect that it will show signs of life and develop branches and fruit. On the contrary, it will rot in the soil in which it is planted. But plant a young sapling in the same soil, and it will strike its roots into the ground, draw nourishment from it, grow and bear fruit. The same is true of a living, saving faith in relation to Christ. Bring the unbelieving, dead sinner into contact with Christ as He is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and there will be no saving reaction. On the contrary, there is a reaction of unbelief unto damnation. But if the believer is led to Christ through the preaching of the Word, he will take hold of Him, cling to Him, strike the roots of his entire soul into Him, and draw out of Him all the spiritual nourishment necessary unto eternal life. What the roots are for the young tree, saving faith is for the believer in Christ: by faith the believer is rooted in Him. And since Christ is revealed to us in the Scriptures, true faith always turns to them, has its delight in the Word of God, is called into activity through the Word preached, and constantly grows according as it increases in the knowledge and understanding of all that God has revealed to us in His Word.

The activity of a true and conscious faith, therefore, engages the entire soul, with mind and will and all our desires and inclinations. Through faith the whole soul fastens itself upon Christ.

…From all that we have said about the nature and activity of saving faith it also should have become evident what is the relation between faith and salvation. He that believeth shall be saved, have everlasting life. But why? What is the relation between salvation and faith?

The impression is often left by preachers who present the matter of faith as something that depends on the sinner’s own will and choice, as if faith were a condition unto salvation. God is willing to save us on condition that we believe. But there are no conditions to salvation. We are not saved on condition of faith, or on the ground of, or because of our faith. The only ground of our salvation is Jesus, crucified and raised. Nor are we saved through faith because faith is regarded as a good work, or because through faith we are able to do good works and obtain righteousness before God. For we are saved by grace; and if it is of works, it is no more of grace. It cannot even be said that faith is the hand whereby we take hold of the salvation that is offered us. Salvation is not an offer, but a wonder work of God; and the sinner has no hand to accept it. But faith is the means, and that, too, God’s means, whereby we are implanted into Christ. It is the spiritual power whereby we cling to the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord, our righteousness and perfect redemption forever! By grace are ye saved, not on condition of, nor because of, but through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Yes, faith is by grace. It is the gift of God! This, too, should be perfectly evident from all that has been said about its nature and activity; but it is not superfluous to accentuate this truth. How often this truth is distorted in our day! How many there are who, even though they do not literally preach that faith is the work of man, leave the impression by their way of preaching, their pleading and begging, that it is in the power of any sinner to believe in Christ whenever he pleases, and to reject Him as he pleases! 0, the matter is so simple and easy, say they. Just say that you accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and the thing is settled! And so they change the wonder work of God into an arbitrary whim of the sinner’s will. But it is not so. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. (Romans 9:16) Only when the Holy Spirit accomplishes the wonder work of faith in the heart can the sinner accept Christ. And he in whom the Spirit has wrought the marvelous work of faith neither can nor will ever reject Him. And through that faith he is surely saved. Saved he is now: for he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. And saved he shall be in the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ: for he shall then be made like Him in resurrection glory.

By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God!

Taken from chapter 7, “Believing Through Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.58-65. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

Book Alert! New Title Commemorating Dordt’s 400th – “For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation”

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Now available from the Reformed Free Publishing Association is a new title commemorating the 400th anniversary of the “great Synod” of Dordt (1618-19). The work is titled For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation: 400 Years of the Synod of Dordt, edited by PRC Seminary professor Ronald Cammmenga. The work is a compilation of the speeches given at the April 2019 conference sponsored by the PRC Seminary marking Dordt’s 400th.

The publisher gives the following for its description:

Among Reformed Christians, the celebration of the anniversary of the Synod of Dordt (1618–19) is second only to the commemoration of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Indeed, marking the anniversary of the “great synod,” as it soon was called, is commemoration of the Reformation. For mainly Dordt’s accomplishment was the preservation of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace, which was restored to the church through the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary held a conference to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the Synod of Dordt. For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation includes all the presentations made at this conference, plus a bit more. The book explores the heritage that faithful Reformed churches ought to esteem, as that heritage was defended and handed down by the Synod of Dordt.

The chapters included in this book are written by: Rev. Angus Stewart, Prof. Brian Huizinga, Rev. Mark Shand, Prof. Douglas Kuiper, Rev. William Langerak, Prof. Ronald Cammenga, and Prof. Barrett Gritters.

Some of the subjects covered are Dordt’s doctrine of the covenant, reprobation (and election), the call of the gospel (over against the free offer), the Church Order, the five points of Calvinism, and assurance of salvation. All set against the background of the attacks on sovereign grace by the Arminians (Remonstrants) in seventeenth-century Holland (the Netherlands). In that context, the “great synod” was an international synod and brought together the best theologians from across Europe to set forth the “canons” that would refute the Arminian heresies troubling the Reformed churches and bring her peace through the establishment of the truth of the gospel.

Included in the book are an historical overview of the times and the controversy, and two appendices, one summarizing the various sessions of Dordt and the other being the opening sermon by Reformed pastor Lydius Balthasar (which you may also read here – click on the November 2018 issue of the PRT Journal).

The book is highly recommended for your reading enjoyment and edification, even if you heard the speeches. And if you missed those, read the book and watch the videos here.

Make this title one you add to your personal, family, and church libraries.

Reconciled by Grace – H. Hoeksema

2Cor2-19… be ye reconciled to God. -II Corinthians 5:20

The first part of the marvelous work of salvation to which we now call your attention is that of reconciliation. That we are saved by grace means, first of all, that we are reconciled by grace. In the wondrous work of salvation God reveals Himself as the Reconciler, full of grace and truth, rich in lovingkindness and tender mercies.

…First of all, reconciliation is the restoration of an existing relationship, whether of love, or friendship, partnership, or some other alliance. The actual existence of such a relationship is presupposed in reconciliation. This is true among men. You do not reconcile strangers. There is no bond between them; there never was; and, therefore, no bond between them can be restored. One may speak of reconciling man and wife, between whom exists the sacred bond of matrimony, when they drifted apart for some reason; or of the reconciliation of friends that are at variance for a time; or of the servant to his master, or the subject to his king. Always a relation or bond of friendship and love is understood. The same is true of God’s work of reconciliation. It presupposes the eternal covenant relation of love and friendship into which God entered with His people, a relation that is rooted in His eternal purpose of election. That covenant relation can never be destroyed for the simple reason that it rests wholly in God. God loves His people with an eternal, unchangeable love. He never ceases to love them. No matter what they may do or become, He still loves them. Though their sins be as scarlet, and though they be red as crimson, He loves them still, and will restore them to His favor and fellowship. He may be angry with His people in righteous wrath for a moment, but even in His anger He loves them. He is like a husband that loves and remains faithful to his wife, no matter how often she may play the adulteress; or like the father who, no matter how grievously his son may sin against him, still loves that son and will receive him whenever he may return. If this were not so, how could God be the Reconciler? Reconciliation is an act of infinite love, of unlimited grace, of abundant mercy. God loved His people when they were enemies. Reconciliation presupposes the eternal covenant relation of God with His people that rests in God, the I Am, the Faithful and True!

Secondly, reconciliation implies that the parties to be reconciled are at variance through some fault on the part of either or of both parties. The relationship is disturbed for a time. It cannot properly function because something intervened that makes the exercise of friendship and love impossible. There is separation. One of the parties in the matrimonial covenant was unfaithful, committed adultery; the son sinned against his father and lives in that sin; the friend offended his friend. The same is true of the relationship between God and His people. He created them in His image and took them into His blessed covenant in Adam. For Adam was the friend of God, clothed with righteousness, the object of God’s favor. He knew his God and was known of Him. He loved his God and was loved by Him. He walked and talked with God and was blessed by Him. But in and through Adam the whole human race, and with the human race God’s own elect, violated the covenant relationship. They sinned and became guilty, the objects of God’s righteous wrath, foolish and corrupt, enemies of God. And as they are in their sin and death, they cannot be and function as God’s covenant friends. Because of sin they are alienated, and they have forfeited the right to God’s favor and love. The covenant relationship has been violated and disturbed. God is terribly angry with His people in their sin, and they are in themselves worthy of death and damnation!

Thirdly, if the disrupted relationship of friendship and love is to be restored, the cause of the disruption must be removed. Among men this may take place through repentance and confession on the part of the party that had offended, and by the promise on his part henceforth to be faithful to the relationship that was violated, and through forgiveness on the part of the one that was offended. An adulterous wife may return to her husband in heartfelt sorrow, and be received by him; and if the woman gives proof of her repentance and renewed faithfulness, the reconciliation is accomplished. The prodigal son returns to his father in dust and ashes, confesses his sin and unworthiness, and his father restores him to his place in the home. But with God this is different. He cannot deny Himself. He cannot permit His holy law to be trampled under foot with impunity. He cannot simply forgive and forget. If the sinner’s relation to Him is to be restored, the cause of the separation must actually be removed, so that it is no more. But how can sin be removed? How can the guilt of sin be blotted out? How can the guilty become righteous? How can the object of God’s wrath be restored to His favor? There is one, and only one way: that of perfect satisfaction! The sinner must atone for his sin. And atonement for sin consists in perfectly satisfying the justice of God!

But of what does this atonement consist? What can so satisfy the justice of God that the sinner’s guilt is blotted out and that he is declared righteous before God? Again, there is only one answer: the sinner must freely, voluntarily, motivated by the love of God and true sorrow for his sin, bear the punishment of sin, eternal death! Mark you well, he must not merely bear the punishment and suffer eternal death, he must do so willingly; the bearing of the punishment must be an act of all his soul, and mind, and will, and heart, and strength.

…Now it is at once evident that the mere sinner can never do this. As far as he is concerned, the case is hopeless. No good works, supposing that he could perform them, will ever atone for his sin: for he is obliged to do them in the first place; and as no man can pay a back debt by paying his current bills, so man cannot atone by doing good works. But the case with the sinner is much worse. He is dead in sin. He cannot do any good before God. He stands in enmity against God, and his nature is so corrupt that he loves the darkness rather than light. He is not at all concerned about the righteousness of God. How then could he possibly bring the sacrifice that would atone for his sin? Even if he would, he could not possibly bear the punishment of eternal death, and finish it, so that he would live. But he will not seek God. He does not care to be reconciled with God. It is clear then that his case is hopeless, and that, if he must reconcile himself to God, he will never be restored to God’s favor. Reconciliation cannot be of man; it must be of God. It cannot be by works; it must be by grace!

And this is exactly the wonder of reconciliation: God reconciled us unto Himself while we were yet sinners! God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. Never change this truth into something different. Never say that Christ reconciled God to us, and us to God. That would make of Christ a third party between God and us. And although it is certainly true that Christ in His human nature is the Mediator of God and man, this Mediator is entirely of God! Nay, He is God Himself, the Son of God, begotten of the Father eternally, Who is eternally in the Father’s bosom, God of God in human flesh! In Him the strong arm of the God of our salvation reaches down into our death, in order to remove the cause of our estrangement from Him, and to restore and raise to a higher, heavenly, eternal level the covenant of friendship between Him and us.

That is the meaning of the cross: God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son! There God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. There God Himself, through His Son in the flesh, satisfied His own justice. The Son of God brought the sacrifice that was required to blot out the guilt of sin and to clothe us with an everlasting righteousness. He could do so, because He was the holy child Jesus, the Lamb without blemish, and the zeal of God’s house consumed Him. He could and did willingIy, from the motive of the love of God, descend into lowest hell, to suffer the punishment of sin, to bear the wrath of God to the very end. He stood in the place of judgment, and on Him all the vials of God’s wrath against sin were poured out. And when He cried out, “It is finished!” He had completed His sacrifice, removed sin, obtained righteousness, a fact which God sealed when He raised Him from the dead. And He was able to bring this sacrifice as an atonement for the sin of all His people. For God had appointed Him to be the head of His church, representing them. For them He died. And, because it is not mere man, but the Son of God Who died on the cross, His death is abundantly sufficient to blot out the guilt of all His own!

And so the gospel is the ministry of reconciliation. It proclaims that reconciliation is an accomplished fact: the elect are surely reconciled to God. He reconciled us! We are reconciled by grace, by pure, free, sovereign grace! And it is He, too, Who sends out the word of reconciliation. For He gave unto the apostles the ministry of reconciliation, and put the very word of reconciliation in their very hearts, so that they had the power and authority to speak in the name of God the Reconciler, and so that they became ambassadors of Christ, as though God did beseech us by them: “Be ye reconciled to God!” (II Corinthians 5: 18-20) This word of reconciliation is still proclaimed among us, from the Scriptures, and through His own ministry of the Word by the preachers He Himself sends unto us.

Be ye reconciled to God!

wonderofgrace-hhTaken from chapter chapter 3, “Reconciled by Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.26-33. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

God’s Work Only, God’s Glory Alone – A. Kuyper

So, you who fear the Lord in all righteousness, give him the glory due his name.

Curtail your estimation of your own contribution; cut them down to their actual, trivial size. Peek behind the curtain of external appearance; look at the miraculous, comprehensive, and majestic work of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Consider the work of the Son of righteousness in your heart. It is grace that causes the beginning, germinating, and ripening of that work in you. It is to his glory.

That’s when you’ll find peace – peace, because now you’ll be honoring God!

That’s when you’ll be better able to let go of what has been entrusted to you than you’ve been able to do up until now. That’s when you’ll be able to focus much more on what only God can do. That’s when you’ll immediately put far less of a premium on your own work, realizing that when you turned the ground over, you only pushed the spade in halfway. You’ll realize that you sowed bad seed in your child’s heart and did a far from perfect job at weeding. You’ll find peace when you’re converted, perfected, and gripped by God’s power in this way.

Furthermore, you’ll also discover that you’ve been delivered from your fears. It will no longer be the case that when you sow today, you’ll moan and groan tomorrow because you don’t see a stem or blade. Calm and content, you’ll know that the Holy Spirit is busy at work. You’ll know that because he is, things will flourish in an orderly way: ‘first the bud, then the flower, and then the full head of grain.’

That’s because God’s doing the work. He’s the real worker! The blessed, saving work of God belongs to him alone – in its beginning, its progress, and its completion. This is what you first failed to see in your unfaithfulness, but what you now confess to your comfort.

honey from the rock-ak-2018Taken from the new translation by James A. De Jong of Abraham Kuyper’s Honey from the Rock (Lexham Press, 2018), pp.193-94.

This particular meditation (#61 of Volume 1) is titled “He Himself Does Not know” and is based on Mark 4:26,27, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” [And throughout Kuyper also refers to the next verse, “For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”]

A Special Standard Bearer and Two Special Interviews on Dordt 400 *(Updated)

Today we feature two items in this post.

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The first is something archive assistant Bob Drnek found today while sorting through two large boxes containing PRC Foreign Mission Committee material (and that will be your only hint as to the source of what is to come). He pulled out copies of three issues of the Standard Bearer, translated in a foreign tongue and published as complete issues (cf. image above).

And, of course, he wondered what language they were in, so he came up and asked. I guessed one of two, based on a little knowledge of our mission history. But I will let you make a guess before revealing it. It was a nice find, and a good addition to our mission archives.

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*UPDATE: The translation is indeed into Burmese (confirmed by John VB of Hope PRC and Rev. J. Laning of the FMC). And the work, as supposed, was that of Rev. Titus, who continues to do some of this for his weekly “Sunday Digest.” Above is a picture of two other issues that he translated.

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The second item we feature today is notice of two special interviews to be held TOMORROW, Wednesday, April 3. Both Prof. Doug Kuiper and Prof. David Engelsma (PRC Seminary) are going to be interviewed on the live Internet program Iron Sharpens Iron.

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Host Chris Arntzen will interview Prof. Kuiper on the subject of his upcoming Dordt400 Conference speech, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in the Canons of Dordt,” while he will interview Prof. Engelsma on the subject of “The Great War: What Led to the Synod of Dordt?” 

These back-to-back interviews will take place Wednesday, April 3, from 4-6 pm (ET). Sounds like something you won’t want to miss!

*UPDATE: The audio file of these interviews are now available at the “Iron Sharpens Iron” website. You can listen to both interviews at this link.

What Is Arminianism? ~ J. I. Packer

What Is Arminianism?1

Historically, Arminianism has appeared as a reaction against Calvinism, affirming, in the words of W. R. Bagnall, “conditional in opposition to absolute predestination, and general in opposition to particular redemption.”2 This verbal antithesis is not in fact as simple or clear as it looks, for changing the adjective involves redefining the noun. What Bagnall should have said is that Calvinism affirms a concept of predestination from which conditionality is excluded, and a concept of redemption to which particularity is essential, and Arminianism denies both. The difference is this. To Calvinism, predestination means foreordination, whereas to Arminianism it means only foresight of events not foreordained. On the Calvinist view, election, which is a predestinating act on God’s part, means the foreordaining of particular sinners to be saved by Jesus Christ, through faith, and redemption, the first step in working out God’s electing purpose, is an achievement actually securing certain salvation—calling, pardon, adoption, preservation, final glory—for all the elect. On the Arminian view, however, what the death of Christ secured was a possibility of salvation for sinners generally, a possibility which, so far as God is concerned, might never have been actualized in any single case; and the electing of individuals to salvation is no more than God noting in advance who will believe and qualify for glory, as a matter of contingent (not foreordained) fact. Whereas to Calvinism election is God’s resolve to save, and the cross Christ’s act of saving, for Arminianism salvation rests neither on God’s election nor on Christ’s cross, but on a man’s own cooperation with grace, which is something that God does not Himself guarantee.

Drawn from Packer’s excellent introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (first published in 1647). The title to this introduction is simply “Arminianisms.” The work is also found in this collection of Packer’s writings: Puritan Papers – Vol. 5, 1968-1969. We hope to continue to pull some quotations from this work in the next few months, and you will see why in the next paragraph.

This week we will be focusing on some Canons of Dordt items in connection with the 400th anniversary (1618-19/2018-19). There are some new and exciting resources available on the “great Synod” and its work. Watch for these posts in the days to come!

If you wish to continue reading Packer’s essay, visit the link below.

Source: Arminianisms | Monergism

The Power of Books in China – Even Calvinist Ones

souls-of-china-2017Last week I ordered a new book for the PRC Seminary library, one that has received some attention since its publication last year. It is titled The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian Johnson (New York: Pantheon Books, 2017).

The author’s website gives this description of the book:

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao (2017) tells the story of one of the world’s great spiritual revivals. Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with new temples, churches and mosques–as well as cults, sects and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty–over what it means to be Chinese, and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is still searching for new guideposts.

This book is the culmination of a six-year project following an underground Protestant church in Chengdu, pilgrims in Beijing, rural Daoist priests in Shanxi, and meditation groups in caves in the country’s south.

Along the way, I learned esoteric meditation techniques, visited a nonagenarian Confucian sage, and befriended government propagandists as they fashioned a remarkable embrace of traditional values. These experiences are distilled into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle–a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world’s newest superpower.

That may strike you as a rather broad look at the revival of religion in this vast land, maybe even disappointing. But did you know there is also a Calvinist resurgence in China and that the Reformed church is growing? I discovered this to my own surprise as I was cataloging it.  When I catalog a book, I always look at the chapters for subject ideas. When I did so with this book, I was surprised to see a chapter on Calvinism. But there it was – chapter 21 – “Chengdu: The New Calvinists.”

In the chapter Johnson focuses on three different men who are involved in growing Calvinism and the Reformed church in this city of Chengdu. There are some fascinating references to their solid creedal Christianity; one of the churches, for example, has this as one of  their statements:

We are Reformed-denomination Protestants. We accept the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), as the complete, balanced and authoritative expression of Christian faith.

And another congregation spent a summer reading and studying the Heidelberg Catechism.

But what also caught my attention was the importance of Calvinistic literature in that place. One of the men had a special vision and gifts, and used them to open Trinity Bookstore and begin Enoch Publishing. Johnson tells the amazing story of Peng Qiang:

After graduating in 1994, he returned to Chengdu and fell in with friends who had found an unusual niche publishing books. Most publishing houses were government run, and they were allotted a certain amount of ISBN numbers each year, allowing them to publish books. But these state-run companies had little idea what would attract readers. Most lost money. Some started selling their ISBN numbers to middlemen who used them to publish popular titles on doing business, self-help, and psychology. This was Peng’s role: a broker trying to figure out what excited and moved Chinese people, without running afoul of government censors.

…Peng began to hone his business model. Many books related to Christianity could be sold through the same model he used to sell pop-psychology books. All books still had to pass censorships, but a book on church history would be approved if given a straight historical title. But unlike most history books, these had a broad audience of Christians, making the publication profitable. So, too, books on Christian ethics or historical figures like Calvin and Luther. A book on Chinese theology would be banned, but if presented as part of Western history, ideas like Calvinism could be printed.

Amazing, the power of Reformed books in Communist China! A testimony to the sovereign grace for which Calvinism is known. Not surprisingly, given the greatness of our God, the church of Christ is being gathered and being reformed in that land.

Living in the Grace-Gratitude Economy – M. Horton

Yet the good news is that God provides the sacrifice for guilt. …God wasn’t bound in any way to do this. It’s a sheer act of mercy on his part. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed forward to the moment when God the Son, in our flesh, would bear the curse for our sin and bring an end to all sacrifices.

Now we live in a grace economy, not a debt economy. At last we are free to be thankful, to offer ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ of praise rather than dead sacrifices of guilt. We’re on the receiving end of everything. We’re not building a kingdom, but receiving one. We’re not appeasing God, but receiving the gift of righteousness in his Son.

As recipient of this covenantal exchange between the Father and the incarnate Son, the church lives in an economy of gratitude rather than either sacrifice or an as extension of Christ’s atoning work. We are passive receivers of the gift of salvation, but we are thereby rendered active worshipers in a life of thanksgiving that is exhibited chiefly in loving service to our neighbor.

Especially when we gather for corporate worship, we are reminded again that beneath all of the contracts we have conducted throughout the week, reality is fundamentally ordered by God’s covenantal faithfulness. God speaks and we respond with thanksgiving. Here the logic of the market (debt) is disrupted by the doxological logic of grace (gift).

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter ten, “Stop Dreaming and Love Your Neighbor,” of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), pp.195-96.

Book Alert! “The Belgic Confession: A Commentary” by David J. Engelsma

belgconf-comm-DJE-2018This week I received the latest offering from the Reformed Free Publishing Association – my personal copy along with that of the seminary library. The new book may have an unassuming title – The Belgic Confession: A Commentary – but it represents a new subject matter for the RFPA and helps fills a major void in  English for those who embrace this Reformed Confession (also known as the Netherlands Confession).

The author of the commentary is well known – emeritus PRC Seminary professor David J. Engelsma – and his commentary is the fruit of a ministry spent preaching, teaching, and writing about the Reformed doctrines summarized in this Calvinistic creed.

The publisher gives this description of the new book:

An orthodox commentary on the confession, that is, one that is in wholehearted accord with the teachings of the confession, and resolutely faithful to them, will be profitable to Reformed Christians and churches in the twenty-first century, not only for invaluable instruction in the Reformed faith, but also for the maintenance and defense of Reformed orthodoxy.

Founded on holy scripture, the Belgic Confession determines sound doctrine for Reformed churches and believers. This doctrine is rich, lovely, and powerful. The confession also authoritatively exposes contemporary heresies. As they read this commentary which proclaims the doctrine and authority of the confession, all believers who love the Reformed faith will be faithfully guided in the truth of the “old paths.”

Volume one covers Articles 1-21 of the Belgic Confession.

The first volume is a hardover of 368 pages, retailing for $31.95. But join the RFPA Book Club and the title is yours for only $20.77! The author promises in the introduction that the second volume is not far behind (that will cover Articles 22-37 of the Belgic Confession).

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In his introduction, Engelsma sets forth the importance of the Belgic Confession for the modern reader and church member:

As the official authoritative creed of Reformed churches worldwide, how great is the importance of the Belgic Confession! It authoritatively defines the truth of scripture. Explicitly and by implication, it also authoritatively defines heresies. It identifies true churches of Christ in the world. It constitutes the authoritative witness of these churches to other churches and to the world outside the church. On the title (front) page of the original publication of the Confession was a quotation of 1 Peter 3:15: ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.’ It is a document to instruct the members of reformed churches in the biblical truth that they profess, especially the children of Reformed believers. It is the guide of reformed preachers concerning the doctrines they must teach and defend. It is the defense of the Reformed faith against errors by which the faith is threatened, whether by heretics within the churches (always a danger, to all churches) or by the winds of false doctrine blowing upon the true church from without [pp.12-13].

All Reformed Christians interested in bolstering their faith with solid teaching and practical counsel will want to add this volume to their personal and family libraries. And don’t forget those church libraries also. 🙂

Contact the publisher at the information found at the links above to obtain your copy and to join the book club.