August “Tabletalk “: What Is Christian Persecution? Tom Ascol

What Is Christian Persecution? by Tom Ascol | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This past weekend I began digging into the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries devotional magazine. While the daily devotions continue to take one through the wisdom literature of the Bible, focusing on the theme of worship, the featured articles are on the theme of persecution.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject with his editorial “Blessed are the Persecuted.” After pointing out that here in America opposition to Christians and the Christian faith is on a rapid rise, he encourages us with these words:

As Christians of conviction, we will continue to fight for our constitutional freedoms. Yet, in the final analysis, we must always remember that ultimately we fight not against men but against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). Ultimately, we fight on our knees, praying for all who are in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:2). We are citizens of our nations, and we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As such, we can pray for national leaders even when we must vote against them. We pray for the persecuted and for our persecutors. We love our enemies while praying for their defeat—their coming to the end of themselves in repentance and faith (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).

In the face of persecution, we must not lose hope. We must not fear our enemies but fear the Lord as we stand our ground in the battle ahead. Jesus told us we would be persecuted, but He also told us He has overcome the world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 16:33). Regardless of whether we ever die as martyrs for our faith, we are all witnesses of Christ. Though they may imprison us, shun us, despise us, or kill us, they can never really hurt us. For we conquer by dying—humbly dying to self that we may, under any persecution our Lord sovereignly allows, boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified. And when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, not for being obnoxious, we can count ourselves blessed. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired.”

The first main article on persecution is by Dr. Tom Ascol and has the titled found above – “What Is Christian Persecution?” Here are a few of his profitable thoughts on this topic:

So, Christian persecution can include a wide variety of responses to believers—from scorn, hatred, and ridicule to physical violence, imprisonment, and death. But for such opposition, no matter how mild or severe, to be regarded as persecution in the biblical sense, it must be provoked by the believer’s devotion to Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

This helps make sense of Paul’s statement that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) and Jesus’ promise that His followers will face persecution “for my sake and for the gospel” (Mark 10:29–30). Every Christian should expect to experience persecution, not all in the same way, but all for the same reason—because of uncompromising devotion to Jesus.

Our Lord experienced opposition. Hatred against Him led to His crucifixion. Those who follow Him must realize that by identifying with Jesus, we are inviting into our lives the very opposition that came against Him. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Followers of a persecuted master will themselves be persecuted. When we intentionally live according to the way of Christ, we can count on meeting opposition from those who hate Christ. Whether that opposition comes in severe forms of physical violence, imprisonment, and loss of life or in comparatively benign forms of a low grade on a school paper, loss of position on a sports team, or being mocked by family and friends, if it is provoked by submission to Christ and obedience to His commands, it is Christian persecution.

For the full article, use the Ligonier link above.

Western Michigan and the Dutch Immigrants – H.Brinks

write-back-soon-hbrinks-1986From chapter two of Herbert J. Brinks’ book Write Back Soon: Letters from Immigrants in America (CRC Publications, 1986), about the Dutch immigrants who settled in West Michigan:

By the 1870s Dutch communities in Michigan, Chicago,and Wisconsin boasted ethnic churches and schools supported by a constituency of artisans and farmers. Arriving in these neighborhoods between 1870 and 1920, new immigrants found their own people, language, and institutions. By the mid-twentieth century, when urban blight spoiled the attractions of city life, many urban Dutch-Americans joined their country cousins who had established agricultural communities on the metropolitan fringes. These new suburbanites were again able to enjoy familiar social patterns, including the churches, schools, and general mores they had previously supported in their urban neighborhoods.

This conveniently pleasant arrangement of urban-rural mobility occurred first in western Michigan. Albertus C.. Van Raalte, who founded his colony on the shores of Lake Michigan, had neither planned nor encouraged this arrangement. But economic necessity forced his followers to send their children off among the Americans as hired hands, housemaids, and factory workers. They scattered in all directions; Allegan, Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids. Among these, Grand Rapids offered the best opportunities for employment. In addition, a pious Zeelander named H. Van Driel had already organized a Dutch-language worship service there in 1848. Thus, only one year after Van Raalte’s people occupied the wooded shore of Black Lake, Van Driel was reading Dutch sermons to an audience which included over one hundred young women who were providing domestic service among the American families of Grand Rapids. By 1851, it is estimated that a total of four hundred Hollanders were living in Grand Rapids.

“Michigan: A Model for Ethnic Solidarity” (pp.25-26)

Humanism and the 15th Century Church: Erasmus and the Greek NT – R.Reeves

Setting the Stage by Ryan Reeves | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Before taking leave of the July issue of Tabletalk, we will spend one more post looking at the history of the church during the 15th century – the theme of this month’s issue.

Dr. Ryan Reeves has the final featured article on the subject and he gives us another “big picture” glance at this important century of church history.

ErasmusHis entire article is worth your time and effort – lots of new things to learn or be reminded of as far as major events during this time; but I will give you the end of his article because of the special significance of a certain Dutchman whom God used to set the stage for the Reformation in a special way, and whom a certain great Reformer would engage theologically and biblically on the doctrine of free will (Remember the great Reformation work The Bondage of the Will?!).

Sensing the opportunity to expand learning and literacy, the humanists unleashed a torrent of writing on theology, Bible, classical studies, and history. Of all the humanists, Erasmus of Rotterdam was their prince. Born in 1466 as the illegitimate son of a priest, Erasmus demonstrated skill with languages and textual criticism that propelled him onto the stage as a leading light of the new intellectual movement of the Renaissance. In the course of his life, Erasmus gave the world complete editions of the works of the church fathers as well as numerous tracts on theological subjects.

By far his most impactful work was the Greek New Testament—a work he admitted was gathered in a slapdash manner from twelfth-century Byzantine texts, with some passages wrongly added to the Bible and six verses of the book of Revelation missing entirely. The Greek New Testament was something like a modern interlinear Bible. In one column was the Greek text; next to it was a fresh Latin translation by Erasmus. Not only did this provide readers with the original Greek, but it also provided a road map for students to help determine how to render the Greek into their language. It is no surprise, then, that Luther used this text as the basis of his German New Testament, which he translated after his trial at the Diet of Worms.

Through destruction and exploration, the fifteenth century did more than bridge the gap between the medieval age and the modern world; it set the stage for the Reformation.

 

“To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God. ” ~ Abraham Kuyper

Moreover, there can be no real and lasting peace in the church of God without full harmony of opinions and belief. If doctrines were so toned down and moderated that they were capable of more than one interpretation, those who differed in opinion would still argue and each would do all he could to uphold and spread his own interpretation. For what a man conscientiously accepts as truth, he desires others to believe also. The false unity would not last.

We must indeed seek peace, with all earnestness. Bitterness, ill will, malice, and love of dispute should never characterize a Christian in his defense of the truth. Instead, there should be a sincere interest in the honor of God and in the well-being of our fellowmen. Paul says, ‘As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men’ [Rom.12:18].

But when he says, ‘As much as lieth in you’ he plainly implies that sometimes peace is impossible. When peace is injurious to the truth, peace must give way. Peace with God is of greater value than peace with men. To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God.

Having then purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently [1 Pet.1:22]. Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [Eph.4:1-3].

And the God of mercy and peace, the God of order and unity, grant that we may be of one mind and may together praise Him in unity of faith, now and eternally.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.51-52.

The Museum of the Bible: The Bible in America: Pilgrims, Puritans, and Patriots

▶ The Bible in America: Pilgrims, Puritans, and Patriots – Norm Conrad – YouTube.

I have mentioned the collection of Steve Green (Hobby Lobby founder ) and the coming of his “Museum of the Bible” in Washington, D.C. before (here), but now as it gets closer, they are promoting its incredible collection through videos. I give you two of them today – well worth watching and learning more about this wonderful library.

Here’s the introduction to the first video:

Published on Jul 10, 2015

Filmed at Museum of the Bible’s lecture series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 2, 2015. Norm Conrad, Curator of Americana and English Bibles for Museum of the Bible, presents a fascinating study of the Bible in early American history. He uses many fascinating examples from the Green Collection to illustrate what role the Bible played during the time America gained its independence from England.

If you wish to view a video presenting an overview of the Museum of the Bible, watch this video – fascinating!

Jan Hus: God’s Czech “Goose” – Aaron Denlinger

The Goose by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015 As noted on previous Mondays this month, the July issue of Tabletalk takes us through the 15th century of church history, when God’s hand was sovereignly preparing the world, especially Europe, for the coming Reformation of His church. One of the ways in which God worked was through certain “pre-Reformers”, such as John Wyclif and Jan Hus.

The above-linked article by Dr. Aaron Denlinger, professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL, focuses on the latter man and his place in this part of the history of Christ’s church.

I believe you will find this article to be a stimulating account of how God used “the goose” to  open the door to further and full Reformation in the church. Here are the opening paragraphs; read all of it at the Ligonier link above.

If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after.” So wrotJan-Huse John Foxe in his sixteenth-century Book of Martyrs, referring to a statement attributed to the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus on the occasion of his death. Convicted of heresy in 1415 by the Council of Constance, Hus—according to a story that originated some years after the fact—turned to his executioners shortly before his sentence was carried out and remarked, “Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.”

Why might Hus have identified himself as “a goose”? And why might later commentators—not least, Luther himself—have believed that Hus’ legendary prophecy referred to the German monk whose protest against indulgences launched the Reformation a century later?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Hus, born about 1372, hailed from the southern Bohemian town of Husinec (literally, “Goosetown”) in what is now the Czech Republic. His surname, derived from his place of birth, means “goose” in Czech. Understanding why Luther and later Protestants believed Hus had anticipated, if not predicted, the Reformation is more difficult and requires some consideration of Hus’ life, doctrine, and death.

“We may not tamper with truth.” – Abraham Kuyper

The articles of Christian faith are like links of a chain. If one link is removed, the chain is broken. For instance, one cannot deny God’s eternal election without taking away our assurance of salvation and undermining the steadfastness of our hope. For then man’s salvation is left in his own hands; he must exercise his free will and choose to be saved. That, in turn, denies at least in part man’s total depravity. And if man is not totally depraved, Christ’s atonement loses much of its value – in fact we would finally arrive at the conclusion that we do not need Christ for salvation!

Furthermore, if we would hush certain doctrines, we are suppressing the truth. If we hide differences under a broad creed that permits of two or more interpretations, as some suggest, we hide truth and leave men in uncertainty. We may not tamper with truth.

Satan knows that he can undermine the structure of the church by slyly removing just one fundamental doctrine at a time, and he frequently loosens a large foundation stone gradually, chiselling it away bit by bit.

That is why tolerance for the sake of peace may be dangerous.

…If the principles of our faith are man-made, they should be discarded. If they are from God, let no man tamper with them to tone them down. Even though some points may seem to be but small, God has bidden us be faithful in little things, and has forbidden that we should subtract even one iota from His Word.

One step toward giving in will lead to a next step. And will not God visit us with blindness if we deliberately darken the truth He has graciously entrusted to us? How shall we justify ourselves if we permit even a little of the truth to be laid aside. Is that ours to do?

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.50-51.

Pre-Reformation Rumblings: Gutenberg and Gansfort

The Fifteenth Century by Nicholas Needham | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015Last Monday we began to reference this month’s issue of Tabletalk, this one focusing on the 15th century of the church and “the eve of the Reformation.” At that time I gave you the link to this opening featured article by church historian Nicholas Needham, an article that gives us the “big picture” of this century of Christ’s church.

Today I want to pull a couple of sections from it so as to highlight two ways in which God was preparing the way for the great Reformation of the 16th century. One item is a technological advance; the other is an obscure Dutchman.

Here is what Needham says on these two pre-Reformation matters.

The Printing Press Revolution

From the closing decades of the fifteenth century, the Renaissance overflowed into the rest of Europe. One of the main reasons that humanist ideals spread so effectively from their Italian heartland was the invention of printing by movable type. In about 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1395–1468) of Mainz, Germany, set up the first such European printing press, and the first book he printed was the Bible. By 1500, more than two hundred presses were operating throughout Europe.

We can hardly overstate the cultural revolution this effected. Gone were the days when scribes had to copy books by hand. For the first time, a publisher could make thousands of copies of a book easily and quickly and then put them into mass circulation. This meant that ideas could spread more swiftly; it also meant that literacy became more highly valued.

Wessel Gansfort (1419–89)

Born at Groningen in the Netherlands, Wessel Gansfort studied in various universities before lecturing in Heidelberg and Paris. He was a pioneer humanist and an expert in Greek and Hebrew. In theology, Gansfort was at first a disciple of Thomas Aquinas, but he later turned to Augustine of Hippo as a safer guide. He went back to Groningen in about 1474 to act as spiritual director in the Mount St. Agnes monastery.

Gansfort’s preaching and teaching attracted a wide circle of admirers. As John of Wesel did, he made probing criticisms of medieval Roman Catholic doctrine. He denied the infallibility both of the papacy and of general church councils. He defined the church as the entire company of believers, not the organization headed by the papacy. He accepted the sacrifice of the Mass, but he also maintained that Christ was present in the bread and wine for believers only. A strong Augustinian, he upheld salvation by God’s sovereign grace, rejected indulgences, and even taught a doctrine of justification by faith, though it was somewhat confused.

Gansfort was more fortunate than John of Wesel in escaping the Inquisition; he died peacefully. None of Gansfort’s writings were printed until the Reformation, when Luther issued an edition with an admiring preface by himself.

If you want to read further, follow the Ligonier link above.

PRC Archives: Introducing Fourth PRC, Grand Rapids, MI

A week ago we gave you a mystery photo of one of the PRC congregations off the cover of one of its bulletins (dated July 17, 1955). Below is now a scanned copy of the full cover and back of the bulletin with the rest of its information (click on it to enlarge).

4thPRC Bulletin-July-1955_Page_1

As you might guess, there was considerable interest in this photo and church, since it looked so “new” to many of us – including myself! And some of you really went to work attempting to find out what building this was and why you were not familiar with it – and also, what happened to it, since we know it is no longer a place of worship among us.

If you have read the comments on this post (the fine print at the bottom of the post), then you may know that some correctly identified it as Fourth PRC, located at 1436 Kalmazoo Ave, SE, in Grand Rapids, MI.

The reason why so much of my generation and younger do not know this building is because it was lost in the schism of 1953, with members loyal to the PRC eventually becoming SE PRC, the congregation we know to this day. The congregation of Fourth, which followed Rev.H.DeWolf, kept the building, and then were absorbed into the CRC in 1961 when the church became Faith CRC. That congregation disbanded in 1978 and the building is now occupied by Faith Temple Church of God in Christ.

I wish to thank those of you who left comments and others who sent me emails about it. The Noormans from Faith PRC (now) have roots in that congregation, as you will see from Dorothy’s comment. Especially I thank Terry Dykstra for his persistent research on Fourth PRC, some of which I have included here. And for the pictures which he sent me of the building as it still looks today – in very fine condition.

4thPRC-2015

I told a few of you that I would love to stop and tour this building – even rummage around to see if there are any PRC remnants left there yet – as archivists/historians are prone to do! Who knows, I may get brave yet and head over there before the summer is out. I think I may have some interested tag-alongs. :)

The Antithesis at Calvin College: “An Uneasy Alliance” – John J. Timmerman

Last night I did some more reading in John J. Timmerman’s “semi-autobiography”, Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987). I read his fascinating chapter on the early years of Calvin College (“Golden Branch among the Shadows”), since his father served as a curator of the board of the CRC Theological School. And, of course, Timmerman himself would go on to teach English there for many years.

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanA section at the beginning of this chapter in particular struck my attention. It touches on the “uneasy alliance” that existed early on between two groups in the CRC which understood the antithesis quite differently, especially as regards the nature of Reformed education.

For those new to this word, the antithesis refers to the Christian’s place and calling in this world, namely, that he is by God’s grace in Christ holy, set to be and called to live in spiritual separation from the ungodly world about him.

This is part of what Timmerman says about this “uneasy alliance” regarding the antithesis (I have slightly edited this paragraph for ease of reading):

In 1876 a small, poor, and humble people in a strange land established a theological school, and then successively an academy, a junior college, and in 1920 a college. They were in many ways attached to the culture of their homeland; but they were citizens of an often bewildering new land, and they profoundly believed themselves to be citizens of the kingdom of God. Between this kingdom and the secular world there was a profound antithesis, which demanded a form of education on all levels that would be uniquely designed to meet the demands of both kingdoms.

One group, the descendants of the Afscheiding in the Netherlands [the Reformed church separation of 1834 led by H.De Cock and others], viewed education essentially as a caretaking operation, devoted to the unaltered transmission of the Reformed faith with minimal dilution by worldly culture, and unfortunately sometimes tending to identify the antithesis with ancestral habits. The other group, the Doleantie [the Reformed church separation of 1886 led by Abraham Kuyper], also believed in the antithesis; but they saw education not as flight but as conquest, not safety but bold appropriation of the fruits of common grace, which when properly mediated by the believer required him to modify or conquer the culture around him.

These two impulses for many years lived in uneasy alliance, even at times in opposition, but until the 1930s no word was more pervasively influential at Calvin College, whether in bold prominence or quiet remembrance, than antithesis (pp.28-29).

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