Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

New and Noteworthy in the PRC Seminary Library – 1st Quarter 2017

Having passed the first quarter of 2017, plus this week being National Library Week, it is time to inform you of some of the latest additions to the PRC Seminary library.

For the benefit of the Theological School Committee that oversees all aspects of the PRC Seminary, including the library, as well as for the benefit of the faculty and student body I have compiled the following list of significant titles obtained in the first quarter of this year (2017).

I divide the list into categories so that it is easier to keep track of the kinds of books we look for. I hope this helps you see the quality of titles we strive to add each year. Keep in mind, that as long as this list appears, it is only a sampling of what is actually added.

And I would remind our PRC members as well as friends that even though the library exists first of all for our faculty and students and area ministers, its resources are for YOU too. It is very much a denominational resource (you support it financially and spiritually!), and I hope you will feel free to make use of the excellent reading and research materials we have.

Now, on to the list! All of these are cataloged and currently available.

Biblical studies

  • IVP Reformation Commentaries (OT & NT)
  • IVP Ancient Christian Commentaries (OT & NT)
  • Preach the Word Series (Crossway)
  • Reformed Expository Commentary Series (P&R)
  • Specific Commentaries
    • Revelation / Joel R. Beeke, 1952-. ; Jon D. Payne . — 1st-hc. — Grand Rapids, MI : Reformation Heritage, 2016. (The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary On The New Testament)
    • Genesis: Everything Created by God : Outlines on the book of Genesis /  Isaac De Wolff, 1901-1976.. ; J. de Vos, J. Plug, M. VanderWel, Transls.. — 1st Engl.-reprint-pb. — London, Ontario : Inter-League Publication Board, c2001.
    • Content Yet Contending : Jude / Daniel R. Hyde. — 1st-pb. — Welwyn Garden City, UK : EP BOOKS, 2017.
    • John Calvin’s Sermons on 1 Timothy : Volume 1 [Sermons 1-27, 1 Timothy 1-3] / Jean Calvin, 1509-1564. ; Ray. Van Neste. ; Brian Denker. — 1st- revsd.-updated-pb. — Middletown, DE : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016 [both volumes].
    • Unceasing Kindness : A Biblical Theology Of Ruth / Peter H. W. Lau. ; Gregory Goswell. ; Donald A. Carson. — 1st-pb. — Downers Grove, Illinois : A Pollos, InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Church History

  • Ulrich Zwingli : Shepherd Warrior / William Boekestein. — 1st-pb. — Fearne, Ross-shire, GB : CF4Kids, 2016.
  • Being Protestant In Reformation Britain / Alec. Ryrie. — 1st-pb. — Oxford, United Kingdom : Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Beyond The Ninety-Five Theses : Martin Luther’s Life, Thought, And Lasting Legacy / Stephen J. Nichols. — 1st-pb. — Phillipsburg, NJ : P&R Pub., 2016.
  • The Life And Times Of Martin Luther : Selections From D’Aubigne’s Famed History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century / J. H. (Jean Henri) Merle d’Aubigne, 1794-1872. ; H. White. — 1st-hc. —  Chicago : Moody Press, 1950.
  • Protestantism After 500 Years / Thomas Albert Howard, editor. ; Mark A. Noll, 1946- , editor. ; Jr. Witte, John. — 1st-pb. — New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2016.

Creeds/Confessions

  • Believe and Confess : Volume One / Cornelis G. Bos, 1909-1988. — 1st-pb. — London, Ontario : Inter-League Publication Board, 2001. (2 volumes)
  • The Christian’s Only Comfort In Life And Death : An Exposition Of The Heidelberg Catechism, Volume 1: Lord’s Days 1-26 / Theodore VanderGroe, 1705-1784.. ; Bartel Elshout. ; Joel R. Beeke . — 1st Engl.-hc. — Grand Rapids, MI : Reformation Heritage Books, 2016. (2 volumes)

Dogmatics/Theology/Historical Theology

  • The Cambridge Companion To Reformed Theology / Paul T. Nimmo, (Paul Thomson). ; David A. S.. Fergusson. ; J. Todd Billings. — 1st-pb. — New York : Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Biblical Covenantalism: Engagement with Judaism, Law, Atonement, the New Perspective, and Kingdom Hope : Volume One: Biblical Covenantalism in Torah: Judaism, Covenant Nomism, and Atonement / Douglas W. Kennard. ; Paul D. Wegner. — 1st-pb. — Eugene OR : Wipf & Stock, 2015 (3 volume work).
  • Covenant Theology : A Reformed Baptist Perspective / Phillip D. R. Griffiths. — 1st-pb. — Eugene OR : Wipf and Stock, 2016
  • “I Will Be Your God” : An Easy Introduction to the Covenant of Grace / Wes Bredenhof. — 1st-pb. — London, Ontario : Inter-League Publication Board, 2015.
  • Reformation Riches For The Contemporary Church : Liberation For Both Skeptics And Burned-Out Evangelicals / David Bruins. — 1st-pb. — Eugene OR : Wipf and Stock, 2016.
  • Devoted To God : Blueprints For Sanctification / Sinclair B. Ferguson. — 1st-pb. — Edinburgh ; Carlisle, PA : Banner of Truth, 2016.
  • Searching For Adam : Genesis & The Truth About Man’s Origin / Terry Mortenson. ; William D. Barrick. ; Thomas J Nettles. ; Terry. Mortenson . — 1st-pb. — Green Forest, AR : Master Books, 2016.
  • The Works Of William Perkins : Volume 2 – Commentary on Galatians / William Perkins, 1558-1602. ; Paul M. Smalley. ; Joel R. Beeke, 1952- editor. ; Joel R. and Derek W.H. Thomas Beeke. — Reprint – hc. — Grand Rapid, Mich. : Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.
  • The Works Of William Perkins : Volume 3 – Commentary on Hebrews 11 / William Perkins, 1558-1602. ; Randall J. Pederson, 1975-. ; Joel R. Beeke, 1952- editor. ; Joel R. and Derek W.H. Thomas Beeke. — Reprint – hc. — Grand Rapid, Mich. : Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.
  • God The Son Incarnate : The Doctrine Of Christ / Stephen J. Wellum, 1964- , author. ; John S. Feinberg, 1946-. — 1st-hc. — Wheaton, Illinois : Crossway, 2016.
  • After Merit : John Calvin’s Theology of Works and Rewards / Charles Raith, II , author. ; Herman J. Selderhuis, 1961-. — 1st-hc. — Gottingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co., 2016.
  • Death and the Afterlife / Robert A. Morey, 1946-. ; Walter Martin. ; Roger Nicole. — 1st-pb. — Minneapolis, Minn. : Bethany House, c1984.
  • The Atonement of Christ. / Oliver B. Greene. — 1st-hc. — Greenville, S.C. : Gospel Hour, c1968.
  • Lectures in Systematic Theology : Volume I – Doctrine of God / Greg Nichols. ; Rob Ventura. — 1st-pb. — San Bernardino, CA : CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016.
  • Who Made God? : Searching for a Theory of Everything / Edgar H. Andrews. — 3rd-pb. —  Darlington, England ; Carlisle, Pa : EP Books, c2009.
  • Luther and the Beloved Community : A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom / Paul R. Hinlicky. ; Mickey L. Mattox. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010.
  • Doing Theology for the People of God : Studies in Honor of J.I. Packer / Donald M. Lewis. ; Alister E. McGrath, 1953-. ; J. I. Packer, (James Innell). — 1st-pb. — Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, c1996.

Practical Theology

  • Schooling The Preachers: The Development Of Protestant Theological Education In The United States, 1740-1875 / James W. Fraser, 1944-. — 1st-hc. — Lanham : University Press of America, 1988.
  • The Doctrines of Ministerial Order in The Reformed Churches of the 16th And 17th Centuries / James L. (James Lyon) Ainslie. — 1st-hc. — Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1940 (Letis collection).
  • Endangered Gospel: How Fixing The World Is Killing The Church / John C. Nugent, 1973-. — 2016. — Eugene OR : Cascade Books, 2016.
  • Christ’s Under-Shepherds : An Exploration Of Pastoral Care Methods By Elders In The Christian Reformed Churches Of Australia Relevant to the Circumstances of Twenty-first-century Australia / Leo Douma. ; Graeme Chatfield . — 1st-pb. — Eugene OR : Wipf and Stock, 2016 (Australian College Of Theology Monograph: Bible and Languages)
  • A History of Pastoral Care in America : From Salvation to Self-realization / Brooks. Holifield. — 1st-pb. — Nashville : Abingdon Press, 1983.
  • The Elder : Today’s Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture / Cornelis Van Dam, 1946-. ; Robert A. Peterson . — 1st-pb. — Phillipsburg, N.J. : P&R Pub., 2009.
  • The Deacon : Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy / Cornelis Van Dam, 1946- , author.. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, MI. : Reformation Heritage, 2016.
  • Pastoral Ministry From A Covenantal Perspective : With Specific Application to the RCUS / Maynard Alan Koerner. — 1st-pb. — Lexington, KY : CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014.
  • Preaching With Balance : Achieving And Maintaining Biblical Priorities In Preaching / Donald L. Hamilton. — 1st-pb. — Fearn, Ross-shire, GB : Mentor, 2007.
  • For The Glory Of God : Recovering A Biblical Theology Of Worship / Daniel Isaac Block, 1943-. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, Michigan : Baker Academic, 2014.
  • The Shepherd as Theologian / John MacArthur, 1939-. ; William D. Barrick. ; R. C. (Robert Charles) Sproul, 1939-. ; John MacArthur, 1939-. — 1st-hc. —  Eugene, Oregon : Harvest House Publishers, 2017.
  • The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling : Personal and Emotional Issues / Timothy E. Clinton, 1960-. ; Ronald E. Hawkins. — 1st-pb. — Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 2009.
  • The Family : A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home / Jack O. Balswick. ; Judith K. Balswick. — 2nd-pb. — Grand Rapids : Baker, c1999.

Periodicals (Old & New)

  • Comment (new)
  • Founders Journal (Calvinistic Baptist)
  • Reformed Journal (added some more missing years from a donation)

Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Back on February 22, 2017 this informative article appeared at The Federalist website. Written by senior contributor Jennifer Doverspike, the article is a call to read entire books in addition to all the short reading we do on the Internet and elsewhere.

While it is easy to keep quoting statistics on the decline of reading and lamenting its demise, we have to keep encouraging ourselves and our children to read books. So take this article that way too. Find the positive inspiration from what this writer says to read an entire book this year. And while you are at it anyway, read more of the same!

Here are her opening points:

I encounter this meme a lot on social media: “Surprising Book Facts!” It begins with the disturbing statistic that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives and ends with saying reading one hour a day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in seven years.

Needless to say, there are some major difficulties with this graphic. You can even say the proliferation of this meme demonstrates why we should turn away from silly shares on Facebook and instead read a real book once in a while.

Misleading statistics aside, reading has indeed declined in the last few decades. The Pew Foundation reports that as of March 2015, 73 percent of Americans read a book at least partly in the previous 12 months, a figure lower than the 79 percent reported in 2011 but statistically in line with more recent years. This reading can be in any format—print, electronic, or audio.

Comparing to past decades, that number has dropped. Gallup polls from 1978 reported 88 percent of Americans had read a book at least partly in the past year. The numbers were 81 percent from a 1990 poll, and 85 percent from a 2001 poll.

But Doverspike also adds these thoughts to point us in the right direction:

In “Life Together,” World War II-era theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the common practice of reading daily devotional passages from the Bible without context and advocated a consecutive reading of biblical books, thereby allowing the reader to “become a part of what once took place for our salvation” and “forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, [passing] through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.”

Immersive, slow, deep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” Many studies and articles on this subject focus on the benefits of print books versus e-readers, as opposed to Internet scrolling versus novel reading, but the common theme of limiting distractions remains the same.

Source: Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Spiritual Warfare: The Gospel of Peace Footwear

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we will gather again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

We are currently treating the chapters that explain the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we looked at the third part of the armor – ” [having] your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v.15). In the book this is explained in chapter 7 – “The Gospel of Peace Footwear.”

The authors take the position that this “preparation” is to be understood both offensively and defensively. That is, this preparation is first of all a “readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace” to sinners taken captive by Satan. This is, in part, how they explain this idea:

…God’s people today must… [go] forth into enemy quarters shod with the combat boots of the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord.Wherever we go and at every opportunity God grants, we must seek to assault Satan’s kingdom, telling men and women who are under his power (Eph.2:2) that spiritual freedom is found in Jesus [p.61].

I believe that is an important element of this weapon, one perhaps we do not emphasize sufficiently.

But secondly, according to the authors this preparation is also a defensive weapon in our spiritual battles. This is how they explain this aspect:

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev.12:10) and is relentless in his attacks on us. He lives to make our lives miserable. How do we stand against such a fearsome foe? The answer is the gospel of peace. Just as the gospel is a powerful means for advancing God’s truth and delivering many from Satan’s clutches, it is also a powerful means for stabilizing us as believers, helping us to stand against his attacks. The gospel of peace, like the shoes of the Roman soldier, gives us firm footing in life and the ability to stand in the spiritual war [pp.61-62].

And they add this paragraph to show how this is so from a practical point of view:

It works practically like this: When the devil seeks to plague our consciences with guilt after we have confessed sin, we remember what the gospel of peace tells us: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ ( 1 John 1:9). When the devil condemns us, we are to bring to mind and soak our hearts deep in the comprehensive truths of the gospel and remember that God has no dispute with us because of Christ (Rom.8:33). When the devil attacks our assurance, we must remember that we are in an unbreakable union with the living God through Jesus and that nothing will be able to ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). When the devil tempts us to sin, we must push back and resist his enticements, recalling our deliverance from such things and our newness in Jesus (2 Cor.5:17.) [p.62].

Which leads them to end with these thoughts about how important this gospel of peace is for us:

As Christians, we must live day-by-day in the gospel. That is, we must let its truths regularly pervade and control the citadel of our souls. God’s great grace and love for us in Jesus must be our firm foundation throughout our entire lives [p.62].

So then, how well are putting on and using this gospel of peace footwear? Today gives us another opportunity to receive that gospel of peace and be equipped for the battles. May God give us grace so to do.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

Listen up! How to Listen to Sermons (5)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-4; tonight we consider #5 – “Be there week by week.”

I think you can discern why point #5 follows #4, as well as the points that go before that one. If preaching is what it is (God speaking His Word to us through an appointed servant, and He knows perfectly what we need), then we need to be in His appointed place of hearing – His instituted church – with our fellow hearers, to whom we are also accountable (cf. last week’s post).

And if that is so  (and it is!), then it is not enough to gather from time to time to hear God speak (one out of two sermons isn’t bad, is it?!), not enough to hear a message from the Bible when we feel like it and expect that that message is going to “strike home” perfectly and meet all our needs until the next time, whenever that is.

In chap.5 Ash goes after this faulty mentality and says in effect, “Yes, by all means hear the sermon in church, but be there week after week, not occasionally to listen sporadically.” This is how he explains why this is necessary:

The Bible is not designed to give me a series of instant fixes. It is God’s instrument to shape and mould my mind and my character into the likeness of Christ. And that takes time. I need to listen to the Bible passage being preached today, and to turn my heart to God in submission and trust today, not only because I may need that passage today, but because I may need that passage tomorrow. And tomorrow may be too late to learn it. I need to start learning it today, so that it can begin to sink in and change me. And this takes repetition, and reminder. Peter understands this when he writes, ‘I will always remind you of these things, even though you know” (2 Peter 1 v 12).

So we need, not a random series of sermon fixes, but to sit together regularly, week by week, under the systematically preached word of God. And as we are taken through the teaching of the Bible by patient exposition, gradually Christlikeness is worked into our characters, our affections, our desires, our decisions and our lives. We need to pray for this supernatural, gradual but lasting work to begin and continue in us, as we hear the word of God preached week by week (p.16).

Makes perfect sense, does it not? Think of the preaching as our necessary food, Christ being the meat and drink of our spiritual diet. And then read 1 Peter 2:1-3 and remind yourself of the hunger level we ought to have for this “milk of the Word.”

Luther and the Reformation (2) – The Small Catechism, 1529

ref-500-1

This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we have begun a series of posts to run throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

Today we take a preliminary look at Luther’s Small Catechism, sometimes called “Enchiridion,” a Latin word meaning small handbook or manual.

One of the earliest fruits of the Reformation was the development of a catechism curricula of Protestant (and later Reformed) truth and practice for the instruction of the youth and the adults of the church. Just as Rome recognized the importance of teaching the children of the church in her doctrines, so did the Reformers. Only they were intent on teaching the youth the truth and godliness of the Word of God, not the false teaching and ungodliness of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

luther-small-catechism-1529And so, early on Luther wrote his small catechism (1529), to instruct and guide the members of the recently formed Protestant churches in the newly rediscovered doctrines of the Bible. The content was simple and clear, as this paragraph from a Lutheran website states:

The Small Catechism explores the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion.

For this post, we refer you to the preface of this catechism of Luther, where he deplored the spiritual condition of the church and implored the pastors and preachers to get about instructing their members in the basic truths and practices of the Christian faith.

Here are his opening lines of that Preface:

Martin Luther, to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers: grace, mercy, and peace be yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!

Therefore dear brothers, for God’s sake I beg all of you who are pastors and preachers to devote yourselves sincerely to the duties of your office, that you feel compassion for the people entrusted to your care, and that you help us accordingly to inculcate this catechism in the people, especially the young. If you cannot do more, at least take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill the people in them word for word….

To read the rest of this powerful introduction to Luther’s catechism, go here. And when you are tempted to criticize or complain about the catechism lessons your children have to learn and you as parents have to help them learn, go back and read this preface.

February “Tabletalk”: Christian Joy

tt-feb-2017With the beginning of a new month we need to introduce you to the February 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month the theme is simply “Joy,” with various articles dealing with “Joy in Our Work,” “Joy in Community,” “Future Joy,” and “Our Groaning Joy,” to name a few.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the tone for this issue with his introductory article “Joy in Christ Alone.” Here are a few of his thoughts on this vital subject:

Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The first featured article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and titled “To Enjoy Him Forever,” which you may recognize as coming from the first Q&A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. As Ferguson goes on to show, this Catechism also directs the child of God to the means God has appointed for finding joy in Him.

For this Lord’s day night I would direct you to his first two – joy in salvation and joy in revelation. Here are Ferguson’s explanations of how these lead to enjoying God:

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–7, 9–10, 32). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Once again it is evident that there is much profitable reading for the mind and soul in the latest Tabletalk. Would you like to learn more about Christian joy – the only joy there is? Then dig in to these articles! Follow the Ligonier link below the get started.

I might also add that the daily devotions this year are on Reformation themes, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation. January’s devotions were on the doctrine of God, while February’s cover the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Source: Tabletalk: The Devotional Magazine of Ligonier Ministries

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (4)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we are examining a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-3; tonight we consider #4 – “hear the sermon in church.” This may seem so obvious to us, but Ash makes another important point here, especially in light of our day of “virtual” church (concerning which he says “there is no such thing”!) and private “digital” listening to sermons via the Internet anytime we want, maybe sometimes in lieu of the Word in church on Sunday with God’s people.

“So what” you say? Listen up! as Ash reminds us why we must “hear the sermon in church.”

…The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.

…This church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under the word of God. It began when God said to Moses: ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4 v 10). This set the standard shape and pattern for the people of God, who are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon them, and us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’), to be shaped together by His word. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people.

We may even say that preaching is properly done only when the people of God in a local church gather. When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching in the past (pp.12-13).

Do you see the biblical basis for what Ash says? Do we see the pattern God set for us? But there are practical reasons why we need to hear the word together too. I like what Ash says next:

When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. Hearing while gathered is significantly better than hearing alone.

…When we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. By being with you, I make it easier for myself to respond the way I know I ought to respond. …If I pay no attention to the sermon I heard with you sitting beside me, you will know, and I would hate you to know I wasn’t listening!

When we listen together, we respond together… (pp.13-14).

Isn’t that a valid point? And a very practical one? I need you to help me listen to the Word preached properly. And you need me. And so we need to be in church together to hear the Word together.

Let that truth help us prepare for worship tomorrow. Including the determination to be there. In church. Next to you. I’m going to pray for the preacher and for God’s blessing on the Word he brings. And for you as you hear. Will you pray for me? We are in this “together.”

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashIn this first month of the year we have begun to examine a short booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Once more let’s get before us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Tonight, to help us prepare for hearing the Word of God tomorrow, let’s “listen up” as Ash instructs us in that third ingredient“Check the preacher says what the passage says.” What does he mean by this?

Unless we want to be brainwashed, we ought never to hear or watch anything without engaging our critical faculties. If that’s true for TV or a movie, how much more for sermons where the preacher claims the authority of God. We need to check that the preacher is actually using the only available authority, which is a borrowed authority  that only comes from teaching what the Bible passage teaches. So, we need to listen carefully to the passage and ask whether what the preacher says is what the passage says.

And then, after pointing out that some sermon listeners like to take notes to be better focused, while others prefer not to because they find it distracting, Ash states this:

Whatever strategy you use, always have in mind the question: where did the preacher get that from? We are not asking how well or badly the preacher preached, in terms of communication skills. We are asking whether the message of the sermon was unpacking and pressing home to us the message of the passage.

And, in conclusion on this point, he reminds us that for this too we need the Holy Spirit:

It is the work of God, by His Spirit, to open our minds so that we listen clearly, think clearly, and discern clearly whether a sermon is true to the Bible. By nature we cannot think straight. So again we need to pray for His Work in us.