Reformed Piety and Practice – R. Scott Clark

Today I read the third and final featured article on this month’s Tabletalk theme, which covers the 17th century of church history. This third article is “Reformed Piety and Practice,” written by Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (west).

In the article, Clark contrasts the prevailing view of the Christian life as taught by and found in the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages (the monastic life) with the view that Martin Luther and the other Reformers rediscovered and taught during the Reformation period – true, biblical piety and practice.

Below I quote a few paragraphs from his profitable description of this proper view of the Christian life, significant too as we begin a new work week on the morrow. For the full article, visit the Ligonier link at the end.

As we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, much is rightly made about the recovery of the biblical doctrines of salvation sola gratia, sola fide. The recovery of a biblical piety and practice is less well known but no less essential to the Reformation. When Luther left the monastery, he left behind Antony’s assumptions about the world, grace, and the Christian life. He recovered the biblical and ancient (anti-Gnostic) Christian doctrine of the essential goodness of creation. He recovered the biblical and Christian doctrine that every Christian, not just the priest and the monk, has a vocation from God. According to Luther, we are not called to flee the material world. We are called to flee sin but to serve Christ in God’s world as sinners freely forgiven for Christ’s sake alone.

In that connection, he points to a number of specific “reformations” the Reformers brought to the Christian life, especially in the area of worship. That included the place of God’s written Word in the lives of God’s people.

Following Luther’s translation of the Greek New Testament into German, the Reformed theologian William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), a martyr for the gospel, translated the New Testament into English in 1525. Ten years later, Robert Olivetan (1506–38) produced a French translation of Scripture. The Reformed devoted themselves to this work so that God’s people could have Scripture in their own language that they might read it, pray over it, and teach it to their children at home. These translations also enabled families to hold devotions during the week, and the metrical Psalters gave them God’s Word for singing at home.

And Clark closes with these pertinent thoughts:

When, in 1517, Luther complained about the abuse of indulgences, he began a movement back to Scripture and toward a biblical understanding of piety in which Christ’s grace received in public worship overflows into private prayer and family devotions. He repudiated the error that there are two classes of Christians, and he repudiated their spiritual exercises. The Reformed followed him back to Scripture. But history tells us that there is a monk within each of us, continually looking for new ways to corrupt Christian piety, seeking to draw our eyes away from Christ, His grace, and His piety.

Source: Reformed Piety and Practice by R. Scott Clark

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

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Special Grade-School Visitors This Week

This past Tuesday and Wednesday the PRC Seminary hosted some very special guests.

Adams-5th-2017-1Prof. R. Cammenga introduces the students to the seminary and its work.

On Tuesday the fifth-grade class from Adams Christian School (Wyoming, MI) taught by Mrs. MaryBeth Lubbers joined us for an hour of their morning. We so appreciate these visits and the time we have to interact so as to present more about the seminary and its special labors.

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Seminary students introduce themselves during devotion time.

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Professors and students mingle with the Adams’ students at coffee time.

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A very special student from Adams 5th grade (Abbey Rose, my granddaughter) visits with Stephan Regnerus.

Adams-5th-2017-5Group picture in the seminary assembly room – Adams 5th graders and Mrs. M. Lubbers with our students and professors.

On Wednesday, the fourth-grade class of Mrs. Jane Woudenberg from Heritage Christian School in Hudsonville, MI made their annual visit to us.

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Mingling with the HCS 4th graders at coffee time.

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More mingling as break time begins.

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Learning about the seminary from Prof. R. Cammenga – tough, theological questions! But the children can handle them.

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The visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip through the library! Always a pleasure seeing them browse through and poke around.

We are thankful for the interest in our seminary on the part of these teachers and students. And, as always, we pray that seeds were sown in the hearts and minds of some of these young boys to consider the call to the ministry some day.

God bless your work in the Christian schools too! Pray for us as we pray for you.

Published in: on March 31, 2017 at 6:45 AM  Leave a Comment  

Ministering in the Vatican’s Front Yard – “Tabletalk” Interview

Under the final rubric in this month’s Tabletalk (“Last Things”) is a fascinating interview with Leonardo De Chirico, a Reformed Baptist church-planting pastor laboring in the heart of Roman Catholicism – Rome, Italy.

In connection with his work in this city (almost 20 years now) TT asked him a number of significant questions, the answers to which provide keen insights into the state of Catholicism there as well as in the U.S.

I quote several of these questions and pastor De Chirico’s answers here, encouraging you to read the complete interview at the Ligonier link below.

And by the way, De Chirico is also the author of a recent title on the Roman Catholic papacy – A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy (Christian Focus, 2015)

TT: What are the greatest obstacles to church planting in Italy and, specifically, in Rome?
LD: Italy has been shaped by the Counter-Reformation. The gospel that the country has been exposed to is a blurred and confused gospel. The reading of the Bible was forbidden, the control of the church on society was obsessive, the way people lived out their faith was and still is full of pagan elements. On top of this, the modern wave of secularism has added another layer of skepticism, thus making resistance even greater. Rome is even more unique because here the Roman Catholic Church is also a political state, thus mixing religion and power. Rome looks like the city of Ephesus described in Acts 19 where the temple and businesses were intertwined in a shrewd alliance.

TT: Do you find that Roman Catholics are hostile to hearing the gospel? Why or why not?
LD: The main problem is that most Roman Catholics presume they know what the gospel is because they assume that the Roman Church has somehow taught it to them. When they reject the church (as many do), they think that they are rejecting the gospel. We have to show them that this is not the case. It is one thing to distance oneself from the Roman Church, but we try to show them that the gospel is something different that needs to be heard outside of the Roman Catholic box and in its biblical presentation.

TT: Is the Reformation over? Why or why not?
LD: The Reformation, according to God’s Word, is an ongoing task for the church: ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming). Until Christ returns, it will never be over. As far as the sixteenth-century Reformation is concerned, the issues that were highlighted then are as relevant as ever: the “formal” principle of the Reformation, the supreme authority of Scripture, is far from being accepted by Rome. According to its teaching, Tradition (capital T) precedes and exceeds the written Word. It is the church that ultimately decides what is true. The last three dogmas promulgated by Rome—the 1854 dogma of Mary’s immaculate conception, the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility, and the 1950 dogma of Mary’s assumption into heaven—are binding beliefs for Roman Catholics, and yet they totally lack biblical support. The Bible, though important, is inconclusive. As for the “material” principle, justification by faith alone, Rome rejected the forensic dimension of justification and reconstructed its meaning in a synergistic and sacramental framework that runs contrary to it. The Roman Catholic Church responded to the Reformation first by condemning its teachings and then by committing itself to a long journey of aggiornamento—an update of its doctrine and practice without altering the theological core, which remains utterly unreformed.

I found the last Q&A important too:

TT: How should Reformed Christians engage with their Roman Catholic friends and neighbors?
LD: My rule of thumb is to expose them to Scripture as much as possible. They may know some Christian vocabulary, but it is generally marred in distorted traditions and by deviant cultural baggage. It is also important to show the personal and the communal aspects of the faith in order to embody viable alternatives for their daily lives. The gospel is not only a message for individuals on how to go to heaven, but a fully orbed message centered on the lordship of Christ encompassing the whole of life.

Source: Ministering in the Vatican’s Front Yard: An Interview with Leonardo De Chirico by Leonardo De Chirico

Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? – Stephen Nichols

On this St. Patrick’s Day 2017 it would be easy to think (judging from the secular celebration of the day) that this holiday is about green Irish stew and brew.

But, in fact, this holiday is about a Christian missionary to Ireland, indeed, the “Apostle of Ireland,” as he would come to be called. Yesterday on Ligonier’s blog Stephen Nichols posted a short article on this Christian man and his significance for Christians. Here is a portion of it:

Before he was a prisoner, Patrick’s Christian faith meant little to him. That changed during his captivity. His previously ambivalent faith galvanized and served to buoy him through those long, dark days. Now that he was back in his homeland he committed to his faith in earnest. He became a priest and soon felt a tremendous burden for the people that had kidnapped him. So he returned to Ireland with a mission.

Patrick had no less of a goal than seeing pagan Ireland converted. These efforts did not set well with Loegaire (or Leoghaire), the pagan king of pagan Ireland. Patrick faced danger and even threats on his life. He took to carrying a dagger. Yet, despite these setbacks, Patrick persisted. Eventually the king converted and was baptized by Patrick and much of the people of Ireland followed suit. A later legend would have it that Patrick rid all of Ireland of snakes. Snakes were not native to Ireland at the time. Instead, Patrick rid Ireland of marauding ways and a cultural and civil barbarianism by bringing not only Christianity to Ireland, but by bringing a whole new ethic. It was not too long ago that a New York Times’ bestselling book argued that St. Patrick and his Ireland saved civilization

To finish reading the article, including why you might consider wearing orange instead of green today, visit the Ligonier link below.

For another perspective on St. Patrick, visit my 2015 post.

Source: Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark (2)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today we return to a brief look at the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

Last time we looked at some of the introductory material in this book; this time we look at some of the content of chapter 1 – “The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark.” Douma opens the chapter with this:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902 – 1985) was born into the Christian tradition of Old School Presbyterianism. Known for requiring ministers to subscribe to the system of Protestant Christian doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Old School Presbyterianism shaped Clark’s understanding of the world. In his career as a theologian and a Christian philosopher, Clark defended the Confession and sought to keep his own philosophical views in line with its teachings. In fact, it could be said that he was a philosopher of the Westminster Confession, truly a Presbyterian philosopher [p.1].

Then after relating the solid Presbyterian background of his parents and their influence on him (his father, David Scott Clark, was a Presbyterian pastor), Douma writes,

Gordon Clark embraced his Presbyterian heritage. When he was a child his father taught him the Westminster Shorter Catechism – a question and answer summary of the basic beliefs of the Presbyterian church. He also followed his father’s interest in theology by reading from the many books in their home library [I hope you make special note of this fact.]. Local neighborhood children associated Clark so strongly with the church, that they gave him the nickname ‘Clerg,’ a dig at his father’s status as a member of the clergy. Looking back on his Presbyterian heritage later in life, Clark recalled:

Well, I’ve known about Scottish Presbyterianism from both sides of my family; I guess you call it a heritage. So many of us are blindly proud of our heritage without knowing what it is. But in my experience I think heritage is like a bedtime story of grandpa’s reminiscence. It’s really kind of a naive thing like the Jews remembering the wilderness and the walls of Jericho. It’s to give you a respect for courage as well as a feeling of worth as a descendant of Abraham [pp.7-8].

As I continue to make my way through this important biography, I am learning much about Clark the person as well as about Clark “the Presbyterian philosopher.”

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (1)

listen-up-ashWe have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).

But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.

At the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” I believe this is a fair and important way to distinguish “bad sermons.” And these distinctions will also properly help us know what our responsibility is in each case.

We begin where Ash does – with “dull” sermons. This is a sermon “that leaves a lot to be desired in its style or presentation,” to which he adds some more detail. But then he also goes on to say,

Let us suppose, however, that this dull sermon is biblically faithful and accurate, and delivered by a preacher who believes the truth, has prepared as best he knows how, and that the sermon is surrounded both by his prayers and yours. If this is so, we ought to do all we can to listen with the aim of profiting by it (p.25).

The author does grant that there is a place here for encouraging the preacher to “get help with his presentational skills” and to pray for improvement – and express appreciation when there is some.

But what I like is the fact that he puts the onus on us listeners to listen better in these circumstances. Listen up to this counsel from Ash:

But above all, we must search our own hearts and come to the sermon praying for God’s help to listen as attentively as our bodies will let us…. My advice is not to worry that quite a bit of the sermon may go over our heads or bypass our consciousness, but to ask God that some part of it may stick and be turned in us to repentance and faith.

Isn’t that a proper, spiritual response to “dull” sermons? That’s a sign of maturity on our part, a mark of being willing to submit to the authority of the Word of God even when it comes through weak means (which it always does).

In addition, Ash has some practical advice:

Try taking some notes, or at least having paper and pen with you, with the aim of jotting down a verse or truth that you can take home and respond to. Try going with a friend and agreeing together not to spend lunch lamenting the preacher’s inadequacies, but rather, sharing positive Bible truths that you have learned or been reminded of, and praying together for God’s help in putting them into practice (p.25).

Since we are accustomed to worshiping and hearing the Word with our spouses and families, this should not be difficult to carry out. Instead of “roast preacher” for Sunday dinner, let’s have “discerning, delightful, and delicious milk and meat” – the milk and meat of our Savior’s gospel (look up Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Peter 2:2).

PRC Archives: YP’s Convention and Mystery Photo #1 of 2017

We are overdue for some pictures from the PRC archives! So, on this Friday we will have some fun and include TWO items – and make them into mystery photo contests too.

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The first is from the 1957 Young People’s Convention held in…. (You didn’t think I was going to tell you everything, now, did you? That’s part of your responsibility to find out.) But I am sure you will recognize some of these young people and members of the crowd in the photos above and below. Some are clear; others you will have to work harder at.

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The question with these photos is not only who are the people in the numbered pictures, but WHERE was the 1957 YPC held? And if you were an attender, let us know – and whether you made it into one of these pics!

Our second photo is a mystery PRC church building one. It’s in a folder by itself in the archives photo file cabinet. But it’s an important church from our past, so take a stab at it and see what you can guess.

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Have fun! Friday fun! Can’t wait to hear back! 🙂

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 2:26 PM  Comments (4)  

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark – An Introduction

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today I want to return to the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

You may recall that a few weeks ago when I received notice of the release of this book from the author, I did a brief blog post highlighting it. I have now received my review copy and the extra copies I ordered for the Seminary bookstore (available for purchase). I have started to delve into the book and am pleased with what I read so far.

I knew a little about Clark, especially, as I pointed out before, because of his connection to Herman Hoeksema and the PRCA. But I am intrigued by his philosophy and theology and interested in learning more about him as a Presbyterian churchman and as a person as well.

For today, I pull a few quotes from the introduction, where Douma gives his reason for writing about this man and his importance in his day and for our time. Here is one question and his answer:

What, then, did Clark believe? Why should Christians, particularly Christian theologians, wrestle with his philosophy and apply his insights? Clark provides perhaps the best philosophical understanding of Protestant Christianity. For its breadth and depth, his work can be difficult at times. He challenges us to question basic assumptions of the world, and of our faith, and he forces us to think in a rigorous, logical fashion (p.xx).

After laying out the broad “contours of Clark’s philosophy,” Douma points to the heart of Clark’s philosophical theology. His view of knowledge and the understanding of the world about him was not based on empiricism (observation and analysis), nor on rationalism (pure logic and reason), but on God’s revelation in Scripture. Concerning this the author writes,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is ‘The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, whom Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the propositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them (xxi).

In addition to this fundamental axiom, Clark was also a dedicated Presbyterian confessionalist, subscribing to and promoting the historic creed of Presbyterians. About this says Douma,

As much as the story of Gordon Clark connects with American Presbyterian history, the philosophy of Gordon Clark engages the most important Presbyterian confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Time and again in Clark’s life and works, his commitment to the system of belief described in this historic document is revealed. …The Confession set the boundaries for Clark’s philosophy beyond which he would not strive to venture (xxiii).

And though these commitments to Scripture and the Confession brought him into inevitable controversy wherever he went and taught, “Clark remained convinced of the truth of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a truth centered in biblical revelation alone” (xxiii).

And so Douma points us to the significance of Clark for our own time:

Clark’s true import, however, is that, in an age of increasing secularization and rising atheism, he put up an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. This faith, he believed, was a system. All its parts linked together, a luxury of no other philosophy. The Scriptures exhort us to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘(1 Peter 3:15). This requires that we love God fully with our minds and study His Word. Only from God’s revelation can we be assured of the truth of our reasons (xxiv).

That’s sufficient introduction to Clark for this post. I trust you see from this introduction that Clark has much to say to our age and generation. Until next time, perhaps it is time for you to be exposed to Clark’s Scripturalism.