How Do the Sacraments Function in Worship? – Rev. C. Griess

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer (just out), Rev. C. Griess (pastor of Calvary PRC in Hull, IA) returns to contributing to his series on worship for the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.”

For this volume year (93) he will be writing on the place of the sacraments in Reformed and biblical worship. His first installment introduces this important subject under the title “The Sacraments in Worship.”

What follows are a few paragraphs from this article. In them pastor Griess reminds us of the proper place and function of the sacraments in the true worship of the church of Christ.

Since the sacraments are elements of worship, they are part of the holy dialogue between God and His people. This is the divine motivation for regulating worship in such a way that the sacraments take place in church worship. In these sacraments God speaks to us, all His people, and we, hearing and understanding and appropriating His speech, respond to Him in prayer and praise. The sacraments have their own dialogue, so that there is a “dialogue within the dialogue” when the sacraments are used. In fact, this is the primary purpose of the sacraments, and we are to use them this way, aware that a holy and special conversation with Jehovah is taking place through them. This makes the sacraments, too, part of the covenantal assembly, the assembly of fellowship with God.

If you recently had a baptism in your church God spoke to the congregation beautifully. He did not just speak to the parents or to the one being baptized. He had a declaration to give to the whole of His true people gathered before Him. The main point of that baptism was not that God was there acting in that sign itself. God is not as Roman Catholics and many Lutheran and Anglicans teach, actually regenerating the one baptized by the water. The sacrament itself, that is, the water on the person, though a visible thing, is not accomplishing a divine invisible action. It is accomplishing a divine invisible speech. Even the sealing aspect of the sacrament is accomplished by what is being declared. The sacraments are speech that give witness to divine acts, but they are not the acts themselves; they are declarations.

That is why the Catechism asks and answers, “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all…” (Q&A 72). Well, then, what is it? Lord’s Day 25, A. 66 states, “The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that He may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel” (emphasis added). Declare! Speak! And then, to answer this question, How do the sacraments speak to us? Lord’s Day 26, A.69 “Christ appointed this external washing with water adding thereto this promise… (emphasis added).Christ attached a promise to this sacrament, so that it is God speaking to us. In baptism God is speaking to His church.

For information on subscribing to this Reformed periodical, visit the RFPA link above.

Learning from John Wycliffe: an Interview with Douglas Bond – Redeemed Reader

In connection with some suggested Reformation reading books for children earlier this month, I referenced church history teacher/writer Douglas Bond’s novel on John Knox titled The Thunder.

the-revolt-dbond-2016But his newest one is actually on a pre-Reformer – John Wycliffe. It’s title is The Revolt: a Novel in Wycliffe’s England (P&R, 2016; for teens 12-15), a book reviewed here on the Redeemed Reader website. The publisher gives this brief summary of the book:

As a secretary at the battle of Crécy, Hugh West’all has come close to death many times in his short career. But when he leaves the war behind to enter the stone halls of Oxford, he meets John of Wycliffe and soon embarks on a mission even more exciting—and perhaps just as dangerous. Using his scribe’s quill to translate the Bible into English, the language of the common people, Hugh begins to understand the beauty of the gospel as never before. But he and his friends are not safe. The corrupt and decadent church is planning to choke Wycliffe’s translation and silence him forever.

Since the Reformation began with the “revolt” of returning to the Word of God because the Bible had been returned to the people of God through its being translated anew into their languages, – including already by Wycliffe in the 14th century – it is worthwhile looking at this important pre-Reformation figure.

Redeemed Reader recently did an interview with the author on his new book on Wycliffe, including some thoughts on his translation work. From that section we post a few lines today as well.  Find the full text of the interview at the link below.

RR: You mention Bohemian scholars getting involved in Wycliffe’s translation work.  Were other scholars in Christendom becoming interested in Bible translation at this time, or was Wycliffe a true pioneer?

DB: Very good question. Wycliffe certainly was a pioneer in Bible translation, one of the greatest, but others had gone before him, even as far back as Patrick in Ireland who was translating parts of the Bible into Old Irish so he could communicate the gospel of Jesus to the tribes in Ireland, and the Venerable Bede in eight-century England was translating parts of Scripture into Anglo-Saxon even on his deathbed (see Hand of Vengeance). So there is a long history of God raising up scholars, evangelists, pastors, missionaries who were passionate about getting the Word of God in the language of the people.

But there is a great irony here. The established (Roman Catholic) church had created Latin into a sacred language and used it as a barrier to keep the people from hearing the Word of God in their own language.  The constructed doctrine of papal supremacy–that the pope interprets what the Bible says and tells you what it means—made it heretical and unnecessary for you to read the Bible in your own language. But here’s the Spirit’s ironic touché: Latin actually served to unite scholars and students from all over Europe. A student could go from Bohemia or any other language group in Europe to study in Oxford and you didn’t have to sit in a cubicle for months with headphones on doing language training. No need to learn Middle English for the Bohemian student or any other. You showed up day one for lectures and tutorials delivered all in Latin. Wycliffe exploited this and created a conduit for vernacular Bible translation all over Europe, really, all over the world. That’s my kind of hero.

Source: Learning from John Wycliffe: an Interview with Douglas Bond – Redeemed Reader

Luther and the Church – Rev. M. McGeown

sb-oct-2016-lutherWe return today to the annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer (October 15, 2016).  This year’s special issue is entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”

 

One of the articles focuses on Luther’s doctrine of the church. In “Luther and the Church” Rev. Martyn McGeown (missionary-pastor laboring in Limerick, Ireland) summarizes Luther’s ecclesiology, while recognizing that he was not a systematizer like Calvin.

For example, McGeown says this about Luther’s view of the unity of the church:

Luther did not deny, or even attack (as his opponents alleged) the unity of the church. Luther never intended to create a second church to rival the Roman church. Luther denied that the Roman church was the church. It was, and had become, a wicked, degenerate counterfeit of the true church. What Luther did (and what Calvin and the other Reformers did after him) in establishing congregations on the basis of the Word of God was to continue the one church of Jesus Christ. Luther’s close friend and ally, Philip Melanchthon, wrote in the Augsburg Confession, “It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places” (Article VII).

And when he ends his article, McGeown brings up Luther’s love for the church:

Finally, Luther loved the church. His great grief was to see what he called the Babylonian Captivity of the church, and his great desire was to see the church restored to her biblical foundations. Above all, Luther saw himself not as a mighty Reformer, or even as a great spiritual leader, but as a humble, yett thankful, member of the church:

I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the faint-hearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who believe in the forgiveness of sins, and who suffer persecution for the sake of the Word which they confess and teach purely and without adulteration.”1

That, too, is our thankful confession. We love the church, for in the church we find Christ.

1 Cited by Eugene F. Klug in “Luther on the Church” (Concordia Theological Quarterly [St Louis, Missouri, volume 47, Number 3, July 1983]).

The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue

Of the Church (1) – M. Luther’s “Tabletalk”

tabletalkluther

OF THE CHURCH

CCCLXVI.

The true church is an assembly or congregation depending on that which does not appear, nor may be comprehended in the mind, namely, God’s Word; what that says, they believe without addition, giving God the honor.

CCCLXII.

We tell our Lord God plainly, that if he will have his church, he must maintain and defend it; for we can neither uphold nor protect it; if we could, indeed, we should become the proudest asses under heaven. But God says: I say it, I do it; it is God only that speaks and does what he pleases; he does nothing according to the fancies of the ungodly, or which they hold for upright and good.

CCCLXVIII.

The great and worldly-wise people take offence at the poor and mean form of our church, which is subject to many infirmities, transgressions, and sects, wherewith she is plagued; for they say the church should be altogether pure, holy, blameless, God’s dove, etc. And the church, in the eyes and sight of God, has such an esteem; but in the eyes and sight of the world, she is like unto her bridegroom, Christ Jesus, torn, spit on, derided, and crucified.

The similitude of the upright and true church and of Christ, is a poor silly sheep; but the similitude of the false and hypocritical church, is a serpent, an adder.

CCCLXIX.

Where God’s word is purely taught, there is also the upright and true church; for the true church is supported by the Holy Ghost, not by succession of inheritance. It does not follow, though St Peter had been bishop at Rome, and at the same time Christian communion had been at Rome, that, therefore, the pope and the Romish church are true; for if that should be of value or conclusive, then they must needs confess that Caiaphas, Annas, and the Sadducees were also the true church; for they boasted that they were descended from Aaron.

CCCLXX.

It is impossible for the Christian and true church to subsist without the shedding of blood, for her adversary, the devil, is a liar and a murderer. The church grows and increases through blood; she is sprinkled with blood; she is spoiled and bereaved of her blood; when human creatures will reform the church, then it costs blood.

CCCLXXI.

The form and aspect of the world is like a paradise; but the true Christian church, in the eye of the world, is foul, deformed, and offensive; yet, nevertheless, in the sight of God, she is precious, beloved, and highly esteemed. Aaron, the high priest, appeared gloriously in the temple, with his ornaments and rich attire, with odoriferous and sweet-smelling perfumes; but Christ appeared most mean and lowly.

Wherefore I am not troubled that the world esteems the church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country-people, covetous men, and drunkards, condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us. To please the good is our virtue.

Taken from The Tabletalk of Martin Luther (ed. Thomas S. Kepler; Baker reprint, 1979). You may also find this online at CCEL.

William Tyndale: Neglected Reformer

One of the Reformation’s often forgotten and neglected leaders is William Tyndale (1494-1536), the English theologian, linguist, and martyr through whom God gave us the first major English Bible. This forgetfulness and neglect of Tyndale is being remedied by several new works on the man and his work.

tyndale-teemsRecently, Steven Lawson has written a fine book on him under the title The Daring Mission of William Tyndale (Reformation Trust, 2014). Another title I recently purchased for the Seminary library (and in Kindle format for $.99) is David Teems’ Tyndale:the Man Who Gave God an English Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2012). I am currently reading this title and it is a very good read.

Allow me to give you a taste of Teems’ portrayal of Tyndale and his translating work on the Bible:

He is always moving. He has little choice. The threat level suspends between orange and red. The heat is never off. He is nomadic. And as we might expect, his work reflects this condition. …Tyndale must think and write while on the run. His text, therefore, has a modern economy and a pace that moves it along evenly. And though he is neither truculent nor combative by nature, he is not afraid to strike when that is all that is left to him, when the bullies rant.

Even his Englishing of the Scriptures has something to tell us. To William Tyndale, the Word of God is a living thing. It has both warmth and intellect. It has discretion, generosity, subtlety, movement, authority. It has a heart and a pulse. It keeps a beat and has a musical voice that allows it to sing. It enchants and it soothes. It argues and it forgives. It defends and it reasons. It intoxicates and it restores. It weeps and it exults. It thunders but never roars. It calls but never begs. And it always loves. Indeed, for Tyndale, love is the code that unlocks and empowers the Scripture. His inquiry into Scripture is always relational, never analytic.

img_0346Also recently, this post on Tyndale was made by Timothy Paul Jones. Here is part of the introduction. You will also find an interesting video presentation on the man and his significance at the link below.

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was burned at the stake. He was only forty-two years old or so at the time, but the work he had already accomplished in those four decades of life would change the world. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: “If you can read, thank a teacher.” Another bumper sticker—or Bible sticker, perhaps—would be every bit as appropriate: “If you can read the Bible in English, thank William Tyndale.”

After graduating from Oxford University and studying at Cambridge University, William Tyndale became a chaplain and tutor for a wealthy family. One evening, a visiting priest challenged Tyndale’s interpretation of a difficult text. During the debate, the priest declared his perspective on the value of Scripture.

“We had better be without God’s law than the pope’s,” the priest said—in other words, “It would be better to be without God’s law than to be without the pope’s law.”

“If God spares my life,” William Tyndale retorted, “I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than you do.”

Source: Church History: How William Tyndale Changed the World – Timothy Paul Jones

A Century of Change: A Survey of the 16th Century – Nicholas Needham

tt-oct-2016Yesterday before worship services I read some more articles in the October issue of Tabletalk.  One of the featured ones on the 16th century age of the church is Dr. Nick Needham’s “A Century of Change” (author of 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power), a profitable survey of the entire period of Renaissance and Reformation.

While I appreciated many things about this article, his section on the timeliness and influence of Gutenberg’s printing press I found especially satisfying. I give you a portion of that section, encouraging you to read the rest at the Ligonier link below.

And while you are there, read Dr. Jon D. Payne’s article “Why Study Church History?” Well worth your time too, just in case you wondered whether you should bother with the first article.🙂

The Printing Press Just as important as the Renaissance for the Reformation was the revolutionary new way of disseminating information—printing by movable type. Perhaps one of the basic reasons why previous movements of evangelical reform did not capture the public mind (one thinks of the Waldensians, the Lollards, and the Hussites) was that they came on the scene before the printing press had been invented.

In a Europe dominated by the Roman Catholic establishment, the intellectual spread of new “unofficial” ideas was far more difficult before the introduction of movable type.

The invention of printing by movable type was the information revolution of the late Middle Ages. Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, was the great pioneer in the 1450s. By 1500, more than two hundred printing presses were churning out books throughout Europe. Gone were the days when scribes (usually monks) had to copy literary works by hand. For the first time, a publisher could make thousands of copies of a book easily and quickly and put them into mass circulation. This meant that ideas could spread much more rapidly than they could before. It also meant that the ability to read became more highly valued.

As a result, the reforming ideas of the Renaissance were able to flow across Europe relatively easily, and in their wake, the even more radically reforming ideas of Luther, Zwingli, and others. We might say that printing enabled the Reformation to “go viral” in a way that simply would not have been possible in a previous age. The new information technology turned out to be God’s gift to His people.

We can discern the alignment between the printing revolution and the spread of the Reformation in a single fact: it was cities and universities that first embraced the Reformation. In England, for example, London fast became the nation’s hotbed of Protestantism. Here were the great printing presses. Here, too, was a thriving port where merchant ships could bring in Protestant literature from Continental Europe.

Source: A Century of Change by Nicholas Needham

October “Tabletalk”: The Doctrine of Scripture – Stephen Nichols

tt-oct-2016Yesterday I began diving into the October issue of Tabletalk – and I mean diving! This issue has ten rich and rewarding (deep!) articles on the church in the sixteenth century, as the monthly devotional magazine continues its series on each century of church history.

That means, of course, that this issue is on the Reformation, and it is covered well, with articles ranging from “The Necessity of the Reformation” (Dr. R. Godfrey) to “The Reformation of Education” ( Dr. P. Lillback). And, yes, worship, justification by faith alone, the sacraments, and marriage are also covered.

But the theology of the Reformation begins with the doctrine of Scripture, which is treated ably by Dr. Stephen Nichols and is the article I chose to feature today.

Below are a few of his paragraphs; find the rest at the link at the end. In addition, by all means read editor Burk Parsons introduction – “Truth and True Peace.”

The Reformation was built upon the Bible, so we should not be surprised to find in the Reformers a robust doctrine of Scripture. One helpful construct to unpack the doctrine of Scripture involves four key terms: authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency. Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli stated the authority of Scripture rather clearly by drawing attention to the two-word Latin phrase Dominus dixit, meaning “Thus says the Lord.” The Bible is God’s Word, therefore it is true; therefore, it is authoritative; therefore, it is inerrant; therefore, it is infallible; and therefore, it is our only sure guide.

John Calvin famously likened Scripture to spectacles. Apart from Scripture, we misread the natural world, human nature, and the Creator. Scripture alone gives us the clear picture of who God is, who we are, and what God’s plan for the world truly is. Without Scripture, we stumble around in the dark. Scripture is necessary to see the world rightly.

Source: The Doctrine of Scripture by Stephen Nichols

The Origin (and Security) of the Church – John Muether

TT-Sept-2016As we have noted here before, this month’s Tabletalk carries the theme of “The Church,” with eight-plus (brief) articles dedicated to explaining the Reformed doctrine of the church.

As we contemplate the Lord’s Day tomorrow and prepare to exercise our place in Christ’s body, part of which is worship, we may benefit from the thoughts of Dr. John R. Muether (professor of church history and dean of libraries at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL and an OPC ruling elder).

He wrote an article on “The Origin of the Church” and, strikingly (for our doctrinally weak age), roots the church in the eternal counsel of God, specifically, the covenant of redemption and sovereign election in and by the Triune God.

He has some excellent points by way of application of this truth, two of which I include here – his closing paragraphs. Deep thoughts, but rich thoughts. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is supremely practical and comforting, as you will see again. And that, in turn, should lead us to deep praise to our Savior God.

The eternal counsel of peace highlights the Son as the “surety” of the covenant, and so we find in Christ alone the hope and security of the church. “All that the Father gives to me will come to me,” Christ assures us, “and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The “peace” of this covenant is purchased for us according to Christ’s priestly office, maintained and defended by His kingly office, and revealed by His prophetic office. Because the God who decrees the church is the same God who sustains the church, the future of the church is in God’s hands. This encourages us to see the church with the eyes of faith. It is bigger and stronger than its frail and precarious human expression suggests. Though despised and disparaged by this world, the church is the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8) that will prevail against all of her enemies.

Finally, the eternal origin of the church provides our assurance of faith. Commenting on God’s words in Jeremiah 31:3 (“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”), Geerhardus Vos famously wrote, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” That everlasting love finds expression in the covenant of redemption. As the Heidelberg Catechism beautifully puts it, the church is “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member” (Q&A 54).

Source: The Origin of the Church by John Muether

The Christian Faith of Jane Austen

8-women-haykin-2016A few weeks back I did a post on some new books from Crossway publishers, one of which was Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin (2016). One of the woman written about in this book is Jane Austen, 1775-1817 (author of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and many more).

(As a partial aside, I might mention that I really want a woman (young or old!) to take this book that I offered for review, and to this date no one has. Would you reconsider, ladies?)

Recently Crossway did a feature on this title and included an excerpt, from which I also quote today. I include a couple of paragraphs, encouraging you to read the rest of Crossway’s post by following the link that follows.

Jane “displays an Anglican reticence about religious affections”[1] and is very interested in Christianity as a teacher of morals. Given this, it is not surprising that Jane was not an evangelical.[2] In fact, in 1809, Jane was forthright: referring to a novel by Hannah More, she told her sister Cassandra, “I do not like the Evangelicals.”[3] By 1814, however, her attitude had changed. As she told her niece Fanny Knight (1793–1882): “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am persuaded that they who are so from reason & feeling, must be happiest & safest.”[4]

Haykin then points to Austen’s prayers as evidence of her Christian faith, prayers that show her familiarity with and use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

An excellent vantage point to see Jane’s faith is one of three written prayers that have been attributed to her and that probably date from Jane’s life after the death of her father in 1805,[9] though there are doubts about the authenticity of two of them.[10] The third runs as follows and does seem to have been written by Jane:

Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present, from thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our thoughts on thee, with reverence and devotion that we pray not in vain.

Look with mercy on the sins we have this day committed, and in mercy make us feel them deeply, that our repentance may be sincere, & our resolutions steadfast of endeavouring against the commission of such in future. Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own souls. May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing thoughts, words, and actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of evil. Have we thought irreverently of Thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our hearts these questions, Oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity.

Source: The Christian Faith of Jane Austen

And, by the way, the eight women featured in this book are as follows:

Jane Grey: The courageous Protestant martyr who held fast to her conviction that salvation is by faith alone even to the point of death.

Anne Steele: The great hymn writer whose work continues to help the church worship in song today.

Margaret Baxter: The faithful wife to pastor Richard Baxter who met persecution with grace and joy.

Esther Edwards Burr: The daughter of Jonathan Edwards whose life modeled biblical friendship.

Anne Dutton: The innovative author whose theological works left a significant literary legacy.

Ann Judson: The wife of Adoniram Judson and pioneer missionary in the American evangelical missions movement.

Sarah Edwards: The wife of Jonathan Edwards and model of sincere delight in Christ.

Jane Austen: The prolific novelist with a deep and sincere Christian faith that she expressed in her stories.