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.

Love God with All Your Mind – J.P. Moreland

Why have we lost, or neglected, the ability to disciple the mind for Christ?

In part, it may be that we have confused the need for a childlike faith (that is, an attitude of profound trust in God, and a faithful love for Him) with childish thinking. The apostle Paul, for one, had no confusion on this point. Reading any one of his epistles will show you that. And even Peter – the everyday workman, the fisherman – was no intellectual slouch, judging by his writings. What we have, everywhere in scripture, are profoundly intelligent teachings poured out from minds that are also inspired and centered in a love for God.

Step one generation away from the New Testament writers to meet the men who were discipled by the apostles and you will find treatises, apologies, and circular letters of stunning intelligence from those intensely devoted Church fathers.

Faith and a disciplined mental life were not natural enemies then. A well-informed mind held a place of honor. And it was believed that the Christian mind could be the best mind.

love-god-mind-morelandTaken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), p.15.

New and Noteworthy Publication: The Reformed Baptism Form by B. Wielenga

A new and noteworthy publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association has been released and may be noted here for your profit. The book is titled The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, authored by Bastiaan Wielenga, translated by Annemie Godbehere, and edited by David J. Engelsma.

In a special blog post yesterday (Sept.12), the RFPA addressed the importance of this newly translated work:

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide. It is certainly the most read in the churches. In its original form dating from the late 1500s, soon after the Protestant Reformation, it received its present form and official standing from the Synod of Dordt in 1618/1619.

In various languages, including the Dutch, the Form functions at the baptism of adult converts and of the infant children of believers in many Reformed churches everywhere in the world. By virtue of its use to administer, solemnize, and explain the sacrament of baptism, this form is read in the worship services of Reformed churches more often than any other creed or form, with the exception of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Lacking has been a thorough, faithful, sound commentary on the Baptism Form in the English language.

This lack is now met by a translation into English for the first time of the authoritative, if not definitive, commentary on the form by the highly qualified and esteemed Dutch pastor and theologian, Dr. B. Wielenga, Ons Doopsformulier (in the English translation of the commentary, The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. Kok of Kampen published Wielenga’s commentary in 1906.

The 448 page commentary includes chapters on “The Doctrine of Baptism in General”; “The Doctrine of Infant Baptism in Particular”; “The Prayer before Baptism”; “Admonition to the Parents”; and the “Prayer of Thanksgiving after Baptism.”

The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers, and other vitally important truths related to the sacrament, including the relation of the covenant and election. 

It is also intensely practical, considering such matters as whether the officiating minister should sprinkle once or three times; whether it is proper to make of the administration of the sacrament an occasion for the gathering of relatives and friends; and, more significantly, whether parents and church are to regard and rear the baptized children of believers as regenerated, saved children of God, or as unsaved “little vipers”—in which (latter) case, of course, no rearing is possible.

The author was determined to explain the language itself of the form, avoiding the temptation to introduce convictions of his own. Written clearly and simply so as to be of benefit to all Reformed believers, the commentary also gives the Reformed pastor deep insight into the sacrament of baptism and its administration. This is a book that will help all Reformed Christians, pastors, and churches to be Reformed in thinking and practice with regard to the sacrament of baptism, especially with regard to the baptism of the infant children of believing parents.

To order the book, visit the RFPA website, www.rfpa.org, or email them at mail@rfpa.org.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — The Reformed Baptism Form

The Gospel Solution for Our Society – Rev.K. Koole

StandardBearerThe September 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and in it Rev. K. Koole has an editorial addressing the need our current society has (and has always had!) for the true gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

He speaks to the bitter enmity, division, and violence that are openly on display in our land, and speaks to the root problem and the only solution: man’s enmity against God and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is how Rev. Koole addresses the problem:

One can talk about ‘loving the neighbor’ all one wants, loving even those who seem to be your enemy and returning good for evil, but for all that, one has not proposed the Biblical solution for ungodly man.  Such is not the solution that is going to resolve the enmity that permeates our society.

Why not?

Because the root of the problem in our society so filled with violence and division and with hatred and abuse of others is not the lack of love for the neighbor; rather it is rooted in our society’s hatred for God and for God’s good commandments

And when the news media begins to ask us what we think the problem is in our society and what’s the solution, before we start talking about people learning to love their neighbors in a more Christian way, we must point the questioners and reporters to God and our society’s relationship to almighty God.

We must remind those who interview us that we are living in a society that has turned its back on God, denying any truthfulness in Him, and that in a most public and arrogant way.  There is, they say, no God to whom we must answer.  So who cares one iota about His laws?

And where that spirit rules and becomes embedded into a nation’s laws, judgments will follow matter of course.

That’s the problem, the evil let loose in our society.  And our society is reaping a harvest of thorns.  When you go to war against God (and have no humility before Him), you will, matter of course, go to war against your fellow man.

So it is today.

And this is what he has to say about the only solution:

So, what is the solution?

Our answer:  as things stand now, as our society despises Jehovah God, there isn’t any!  At least not along the lines society is looking for, namely, men learning to love their neighbors as themselves and living in unity and peace.  There is only one solution in the end, namely, repentance from the sins of despising the things of God, and turning in faith in Christ Jesus.  Otherwise, all this call for love, and learning to live in love, is doomed to failure.  It’s nice talk, but it is not Biblical Christianity.

Our answer must be along those lines.

There is plenty of other good content in this issue as well. For information on subscribing to the “SB, visit the homepage linked above.

Justin Martyr – Apology (3)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers and church fathers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In this installment we continue our posts from some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapters five and six of Justin’s first apology (and follow from my previous post where we quoted chapter four):

CHAPTER V — CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH ATHEISM.

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

CHAPTER VI — CHARGE OF ATHEISM REFUTED.

Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

The Church and Her Head – Guy Waters

TT-Sept-2016On this first Lord’s Day of September I began digging into my new issue of Tabletalk, the always-profitable devotional magazine produced by Ligonier ministries. And, by the way, the daily devotions continue the study of the Gospel According to Mark.

This month the theme is “The Church,” with eight-plus articles dedicated to explaining the Reformed doctrine of the church. Editor Burk Parsons introduces it with his article “Our Family Forever,” while Dr. Guy P. Waters leads off the featured articles with his, “The Head of the Church.”

Though brief, it is a fine summary of what it means that Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, His body. After explaining the doctrine of Christ’s headship over the church, Waters has a fine application section at the end. It is from this that we quote today.

To read the rest of his article as well as to find other articles on the church, use the link Ligonier below.

Why is the headship of Jesus Christ over His church important for the life of the church? As Christians, it is both our duty and delight to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9). Since the church is the place where Christ’s lordship is on unique display in this world, how could a believer refuse to be part of the church of Jesus Christ? Our commitment to Christ requires us to commit to His church. This commitment means that we join a local church where the Word is purely proclaimed. It also means that we honor our vows of membership. For most churches, including my own (the Presbyterian Church in America), these vows include a commitment to live godly lives, to participate in and support the “worship and work” of the church, and to “submit . . . to the church’s government and discipline.”

Resolving to submit to the church’s government and discipline is difficult and countercultural. But it is also necessary. How can we live under Christ’s lordship in this way? Those who are called to be elders in the church should remember that they serve under the authority of Christ. They are servants, not lords. They are ultimately accountable to Christ for all that they teach and do in the church. But theirs is an important office. Through their labors, Christ is visibly governing His church.

Christians obey their leaders in the church because Christ has commanded them to do so. But Christian obedience is never blind. Like the Bereans, we measure everything our leaders say against the standard of God’s Word. God alone is Lord of the conscience. For government to work properly in the church, Christians must know their Bibles well and develop the capacity to discern biblically all that they hear and see in the church. It is in this way that Christ is glorified in His church’s government.

King Jesus often does extraordinary things through ordinary means. The church’s life and government are no exception. How does your involvement in the church put on display the reign of Jesus Christ?

Source: The Head of the Church by Guy Waters

Note to Self: Speak to Others

Note-to-self-Thorn(Recall the last one was “Listen to Others.”)

Begin by reading and reflecting on Hebrews 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

Are you connected to others in such a way that affords you opportunities to speak into their lives? Just as God has put people near you to speak to you for your God, so he has intended to use you to speak words of grace to others. The questions are – are you connected, and are you speaking?

…At times you feel as if you have little to say, or that your words are too simple and not deep enough. But when you doubt that you have anything to offer, you question God’s ability to use you beyond your own weakness. Your usefulness in the lives of others is not dependent on your intellectual or creative abilities, though God will use your talents whatever they are. Your usefulness to God and his people is connected with your dependence on God and his Word and your love for his people.

The people around you need to hear from you. Share God’s Word with those who need to hear it.

Taken from Chap.24 “Speak to Others” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.85-86.

“Let the church… emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God! H.Hoeksema

Blessed, indeed, are the people who know this God who is God blessed forever. It is true that God is God, and therefore he cannot be comprehended. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite; time cannot compass eternity. But there is a difference between knowledge and comprehension, and comprehension is not necessary for knowledge. Although in the very testimony that God is God the church confesses that God cannot be comprehended, she also proclaims that he is knowable, and that he is known. He is known because he has revealed himself. He has revealed himself not merely as god, but also as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves his church with an eternal and unfathomable love; who reconciles his people to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; who delivers them from the power of sin and death; and who gives them life eternal in the knowledge of himself.

We know God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and not merely with our head, intellectually, as theology knows him; we also know him with our heart, spiritually, so that we taste that he is good and the overflowing fountain of all good. We know him and have fellowship with him, and we hear him tell us that we are his friends, his sons and daughters. We know him, and in this knowledge we have eternal life. “This is  life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Let the church of Jesus Christ in the world clearly understand her calling and emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God!

This is another quote from the very first message broadcast on the Reformed Witness Hour (celebrating 75 years in 2016!), “God is God”, based on Isaiah 43:12 (“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.”) and delivered by Rev. Herman Hoeksema, pastor of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHBesides being published in individual leaflet form, this message was later published by the RFPA in book form, along with the other messages in this series on the doctrine of God and another on the doctrine of man that followed it. That book is titled Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006). The quote is taken from p.12.

Note to Self: Listen to Others

Begin by reading and reflecting on Hebrews 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

You want God to speak, but are you willing to hear him speak to you through others? Make no mistake about it – you need to hear from others for your own progress in the faith. The author of Hebrews says that through mutual exhortation believers are protected from the hardening influences of sin.

Make no mistake about it – you need to listen to others, because otherwise, sin begins to petrify your heart. This means you become less sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and increasingly insensitive to the ugliness of your own corruption. A petrified heart is an ugly irony because it is like a returning to the heart of stone God once removed and replaced with a heart of flesh.

To work against this hardening, God calls you to be in and to listen to the Christian community. Proverbs tells us there are answers to be found in the counsel of friends (Prov.24:6). What this implies is that you need the local church, and you need to see the body of Christ as the people God brings into your life to learn from.

So the local church must be more than a weekly event. It needs to be your covenant community and extended family who have the right and privilege to exhort you – to speak into your life when you need it most. From words of encouragement to gentle but needed rebuke, the words of wisdom and insight are all around you. Are you listening?

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.23 “Listen to Others” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.83-84.