July 2018 “Tabletalk” – The Eighteenth Century of the Church

The July 2018 issue of Tabletalk continues a series Ligonier has been doing for some years now on the centuries of church history. As you will judge from the cover, this one focuses on the eighteenth century (Can you identify the significant man whose image is on the cover?).

If you are like me, you probably do not know a lot about the history of the church in that century. Maybe in part because we so focus on the sixteenth century and the Reformation that we ignore God’s work in His church in subsequent centuries. But we ought not do that. If we believe, as our Heidelberg Catechism teaches us in Q&A 54, that Jesus Christ is at work gathering, defending, and preserving His elect church in every age (from the beginning of the world until the end!), then we may not neglect to study each century of church history. This month’s issue of “TT” will help us overcome both our ignorance and neglect of the eighteenth century.

Burk Parsons introduces the issue with his editorial “To the Ends of the Earth.” Pointing out that this was an era of mission fervor as well as of personal piety, Parsons tells us what we can gain from studying this century:

We study church history not merely to learn from and remember the past but to help us wisely serve and glorify God now and for the future. We look to the great figures of eras gone by in order to learn from their successes and failures. We examine their lives that we might be encouraged to imitate them insofar as they followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). For until Christ returns, we must be concerned to see the conversion and discipleship of our neighbors and the nations. As we labor toward this end, we must rest in the glorious truth that God is sovereignly fulfilling His purposes as He sovereignly works in and through us as His instruments. As some have said, history is a story written by the finger of God, and that story is centered around the history of the cross of Christ Jesus, who is coming again at the culmination of His mission, when the Great Commission has been fulfilled and all the elect have been saved from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

The first featured article is an overview of the century, and well worth your reading. “The Eighteenth Century: An Overview” by Dr. Nick Needham is linked below, but we quote from a portion of it here. Needham covers these main topics: “Enlightenment and Religion,” “The Kantian Revolution,” “Moravian Missions,” “The Church in America,” “Rome and the East,” and “Machines and Music.” How’s that for a  variety of significant subjects covering this century? While we could reference any of these sections this evening, I chose the last subject from which to quote. Let that be a good reason to read the rest of Needham’s article linked below.

Machines and Music

One last word on the eighteenth century—another paradox. On the one side, it was the century that witnessed the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution—the birth of the machine age, with all its transforming impact on technology, society, and human thought patterns.

On the other side, the same “century of the machine” witnessed an outpouring of creative musical genius perhaps unsurpassed in history. Composers including Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91), Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) ensured that music would never quite be the same again. Many of their works are explicitly Christian in nature and have provided spiritual as well as aesthetic inspiration to millions. Karl Barth captured this in a beautiful if half-humorous saying: “When the angels play music for God, they play Bach. When they play for themselves, they play Mozart.”

Tolle lege!

Source: The Eighteenth Century

Go and Disciple – June 2018 Tabletalk

The June issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional, centers around the theme of “Discipleship.”

This is another issue that features a larger number of articles, but considerably shorter. Eighteen writers draw our attention to various aspects of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, from the “mandate of discipleship” to the “rewards of discipleship.” I am again finding the articles instructive and inspirational.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the course of the issue with his introduction “Christians are Disciples.” In he makes this important point:

…Although many people don’t want to hear it, and while many pastors fail to preach it, there is no distinction between a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christians are disciples. A disciple is someone who trusts Christ and who lives his life according to that trust, following Christ and growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). His call is clear: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). If we are genuinely trusting Christ, we will follow Him, but if we’re not following Him, it means that we don’t trust Him. Similarly, if we know the gospel, we will strive to walk in a way that is worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27); if the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we will walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25); if we are united to Christ, we will bear fruit in Christ (John 15:1–11); if we love Christ, we will obey Christ (John 14:15); if we are justified by faith, and faith alone, our faith will not remain alone but will result in a life of faith, repentance, and good works, which Christ prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26).

One of the other articles I reference tonight is by Rev. Anthony Carter, who penned a short piece titled “What is a Disciple?” We quote a portion of his article too:

In short, a disciple is a student. A disciple is one who disciplines himself in the teachings and practices of another. The word disciple, like discipline, comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning “pupil” or “learner.” Consequently, to learn is to discipline oneself. For example, if one is to advance in the arts or the sciences or athletics, one has to discipline himself and to learn and follow the principles and fundamentals of the best teachers in that area of study. So it was and is with the disciples of Christ. A disciple follows Jesus.

When Jesus called His first disciples, He spoke the simple words, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17; 2:14; John 1:43). A disciple is a follower, one who trusts and believes in a teacher and follows that teacher’s words and example. Therefore, to be a disciple is to be in a relationship. It is having an intimate, instructive, and imitative relationship with the teacher. Consequently, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is being in relationship with Jesus—it is seeking to be like Jesus. In other words, we follow Christ to be like Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) because as His disciples, we belong to Christ. The disciple of Jesus has certain traits that are commensurate with a relationship with Jesus. What are the qualities of a disciple of Christ? What are the traits of those who follow and are called disciples of Christ?

To find out the answers to those questions, follow the link below and finish reading. For the other articles, visit the Tabletalk link above.

Source: What Is a Disciple?

Hope in the Midst of Disappointment

The May 2018 issue of Tabletalk treats the practical theme of “Hope Amid Disappointment.”

Editor Burk Parsons points us to the idea of this them in his introduction “When Hope is no More.” This is part of what he says:

Those who think life is all about being happy in themselves by finding happiness within themselves will always be disappointed. That’s precisely how God designed us. For it is only when we become utterly hopeless about ourselves that we really hope in God, and God does not disappoint, because He cannot disappoint. Becoming hopeless about ourselves takes a sovereign act of God, who alone enables us to turn from hoping in ourselves to hoping in Him alone. Hope is a gift from God. Out of the good pleasure of His will, before the foundation of the earth, He has chosen to give eternal hope to those whom He elected from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Hope is given to us by God’s grace, and it is sustained in us by God’s Spirit for our earthly and eternal good and all for God’s glory.

There are four main articles that center on this theme of hope:

Today we take some thoughts from the article by Dr. D. Murray (professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI). As you will note from the title of his article, he looks at “failure and disappointment” as they are found in the Word of God. Murray shows us that the Bible never hides these two realities of life from us. Concrete examples are found in the lives of the greatest saints – from Moses and David to Peter and Thomas.

But Murray also shows us why these failures and disappointments are recorded for us: they are gospel lessons and moral lessons for us. Here are a few applications he makes on this point:

Failure Should Be Shared

One of the problems with the constant success narratives that we are fed today is the message that success is for everyone and everyone will be a success. The result is that no one is prepared when success never visits and when failure knocks at their door repeatedly. Conscious of this imbalance, Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University published a résumé listing his career failures on Twitter. He did this “in an attempt to balance the record and encourage others to keep trying in the face of disappointment.” “Most of what I try fails,” he said, “but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me.”

The Bible publishes résumés of failure for just about all the characters in it. Some of them even publish their own. The psalmists, for example, not only confess their failures but sing about them—not to celebrate them, of course, but to grieve over them and to seek God’s help with them. They are brutally honest about their lives and about how so much of life just doesn’t work out well. In Psalms 73 and 78, for example, Asaph confesses how he fails while the wicked succeed, resulting in a failure in his faith. He puts it all on the table and says, in effect, “I’m not handling this well.” God then steps in to remind him of His promises and purposes, and Asaph begins to recover his spiritual poise and equilibrium. How thankful we should be for these songs of failure that we can identify with, reminding us that we are not alone, helping us to accept that the abnormal is normal, and guiding us to bring our failures before God as well as share them with others.

And here is another good one:

Failure Does Not Define Us

The result of this is not that we never fail again. No, the result is that failure no longer defines us. Our God and Savior does not define His people by their failures but by their faith. Look at all the failures of the Old Testament saints, and yet look at how God defines them in Hebrews 11. It’s not the hall of failures but the hall of faith. He doesn’t recall their stumbles but celebrates their successes through their faith in Christ alone. Failure is still part of our identity, but it’s no longer the major part. It’s still part of our lives but it’s not definitive, it’s not the last word, and it’s certainly not the first word. Failure is not what God sees first when He looks at His people, and it shouldn’t be what we see first when we look at ourselves or other Christians either. We are righteous in Christ. That’s our primary identity. That’s what God sees first, and that’s what we should see first, too.

You will plenty of profitable reading in this issue of Tabletalk. Follow the links above and below the read more on this important subject.

Source: Failure and Disappointment in Scripture

Why Do We Attend Corporate Worship?

Another fine article in this month’s Tabletalk is found in the back. There, under the rubric “For the Church,” Jared Wilson has some fresh thoughts on “Attending Corporate Worship.”

Acknowledging at the outset that there are many good reasons for being in the Lord’s house for worship on Sunday (including the fact that God commands it!), Wilson gives four (4) reasons for gathering with our brothers and sisters each week for corporate worship:

  • As an encouragement to others
  • As an act of self-crucifixion
  • As a witness to your neighbors
  • As a foretaste of heaven

Let’s “break open” that second one and consider his thoughts on that point:

As an Act of Self-Crucifixion

Your church attendance is a rebellion against your sense of self-sovereignty. Oh, I know that sometimes the sermon is a little (or a lot) longer than you’d like, the songs aren’t quite to your taste, the people are too shy to welcome you properly or so exuberantly friendly that you feel overwhelmed. I know sometimes there are a million things you’d do differently if you were in charge. So just think how sanctifying going to church must be!

The gathering of the diverse and divinely empowered saints is a community organized in part to stifle the selfish human desire for autonomy. In a world where we encounter so much that caters to our sense of self-sovereignty, going to church can be a way of taking up our cross—not our will be done, but the Father’s, not our interests be first, but our brothers’—and in that regard, it is extremely helpful to our growth in Christlikeness.

Good thoughts as we prepare to meet the Lord and His redeemed tomorrow. May we begin already now to crucify our old man and put on our new man in Christ, so that our worship will be God-focused and not self-centered.

For the rest of his points, visit the link below.

Source: Attending Corporate Worship

Does God Call You to Be a Teacher or a Minister? ~ Prof. R. Dykstra, April 15, 2018 Standard Bearer

sb-logo-rfpaThe latest issue of the Reformed magazine, the Standard Bearer, is now out (April 15, 2018), and once again it is packed with edifying content.

In this issue are articles by Rev. M. DeVries on Ps.61:2 (a meditation), by D. Doezema on the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 16, by Prof. R. Cammenga on the sufficiency of Scripture, by Rev. R. Kleyn on remembering the Lord’s Day (the 4th commandment as taught by the Heidelberg Catechism), by Rev. J. Laning on the believer’s heavenly life in Christ alone, and by Rev. J. Mahtani on our calling to relate to other Christians who belong to the universal (catholic) church of Christ.

There is also an editorial by Prof. R. Dykstra, part of a mini-series he is doing on the idea of Christian vocation. This particular article hones in on two very special callings God gives to some of His people – that of Christian school teacher and that of gospel minister. In addressing the need for young people to face the questions, “Does God call me to teach in a Christian school? Does God call me to preach the gospel?” Prof. Dykstra points them to four spiritual qualifications and to three natural abilities they ought to find in themselves as they face God’s call.

Tonight we post a portion of his editorial, focusing in on two of the four spiritual qualifications he mentions. It is our prayer that this editorial will stir up serious consideration of these gifts and of God’s call to these special labors in His church and kingdom.

Second, prospective teachers and preacher must find in themselves a genuine love for God’s people, particularly the youth. This brotherly love enjoined on all Christians truly desires the good of God’s people, and truly desires to help them as he is able. Do you have this yearning to give your time, abilities, and heart – to give yourself –  for the good of sinful saints? Then perhaps you have the call to be a teacher or a minister.

Closely related, since both teaching and ministry are positions of service, the desire to serve must also be part of your spiritual makeup. Self-promotion has no place in these vocations. The proud must stay far away. Despite what you might imagine, God does not need you, no matter how gifted you may be. Ultimately, under God’s judgment, the proud will fail, for God’s people cannot abide such pride, and God will not tolerate it. A desire to serve, coupled with humility and meekness, these are the spiritual virtues found in godly, effective, beloved teachers and ministers.

The Origin and Presence of False Teaching – April 2018 “Tabletalk”

A week into the new month of April, we are due to take a glance at the latest issue of Tabletalk magazine.

The April issue has the timely subject of “False Teaching” as its focus, with four main articles on it: the one in the heading to this post (which we will get to in a few lines); “False Teaching and Out There and In Here” (by Sean M. Lucas), “False Teaching and the Peace and Purity of the Church” (by Eric Landry), and “Teaching the Truth” (by John Macarthur).

Burk Parsons  introduces this important subject with his editorial “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” from which we quote this portion:

False teachers creep into the church not because they look like false teachers but because they look like angels. They disguise themselves just as their master Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. When false teachers attempt to creep into the church, they typically don’t look like wolves because they wear sheep costumes and use some of the same language that the sheep use. They regularly quote Scripture, and they are often able to quote more Scripture than the average Christian. False teachers are not always argumentative or divisive; often they are some of the nicest people we know. They usually creep in not with scowls on their faces but with big smiles. They don’t normally creep into churches and teach obvious heresies and falsehoods; they usually subtly question the truth and teach partial truths, and they are not always identified by what they actually teach but by what they leave out of their teaching. They often speak of Jesus, salvation, the gospel, and faith, but they twist the words and concepts of Scripture to fit their own versions of the truth, which is no truth at all. They typically don’t attempt to creep into churches where the Word of God is preached boldly and passionately, in season and out of season, and where the people are eager for the sound preaching of Scripture and are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, they usually target those churches where people are indifferent to doctrine and apathetic about the preaching of the Word of God.

Those chilling words (they should send chills down our spines!) set the stage for the serious, informative articles that follow. The one we headline tonight is “The Origins and Presence of False Teaching” by Fred Greco, senior pastor of Christ Church (PCA) in Katy, Texas. I reference two places in his considerable article on the subject – one at the beginning and one at the end.

At the beginning of the article Greco makes a powerful point about not ignoring the seriousness of false teaching, no matter how sound our church is and we are as members. Hear him out on this point:

False teaching is a real threat to the church. False teaching is not a threat only in certain circumstances, or only in churches with certain governmental structures, or only in certain places and cultures in the world. We must recognize it as a threat because the Bible continually warns us that it is a threat.

And then after quoting several Scriptures proving this, he writes further:

The Bible’s testimony about false teaching should make it clear that we are not invulnerable to this threat. When we are tempted to think we are beyond such threats because we have it all together, we will do well to remember the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, which thought it was beyond the errors that had sprung up during the days of Old Testament Israel: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). If doctrinal aberrations can spring up in churches that were nurtured with the teachings of the Apostles, what makes us think we are immune? Paul had to warn the Galatians about false teaching on the central doctrine of the faith—how man is justified before God—when the generation of disciples that were taught directly by Jesus was still walking the earth. How, then, can we afford to be complacent?

Subsequently, Greco makes good points about how false teaching can enter the church: “the desire for new teaching;” “overreaction to error;” and “the desire to avoid criticism.” But with that he also points out why false doctrine “takes root,” directing us to three things: “lack of Bible knowledge and discernment among the people;” “failure to hold people accountable for their false teaching;” (in other words, a lack of discipline) and a lack in the leadership of the church.

It is that last point that we reference in our second quote from this article:

There is a third contributor to the advance of false teaching in the church, and it is related to leadership. Even when the people of God are eager to study His Word and the church is prepared to exercise discipline, false teaching can flourish when the leadership of the church is ill prepared and poorly trained. The lower we set our standards for training pastors and elders for the ministry, the less prepared they will be to recognize false teaching. Pastors and elders who are untrained in historical theology will miss the reappearance of ancient false teaching in modern clothing. Those who have not been trained well in the Bible, its languages, and principles of its sound interpretation may fall prey to novel teachings that seem to explain away problems or contradictions. To combat false teaching, the church needs pastors, elders, and teachers who are both willing and able to confront falsehood (Titus 2:8; 1 Peter 2:15).

That too should give us reason to pause and ponder the state of our church(es) and of ourselves personally. Are we and am I prepared to detect and refute false teaching when it comes at us?

Yes, only by grace, through Christ, but also using the means He gives us by that same powerful grace.

By all means read the rest of the article at the link below, as well as the others on the subject on this month’s issue. They will help you whet your sword and raise your shield for the fiery darts that are sure to come.

Source: The Origin and Presence of False Teaching

Why Care about Doctrine? To Worship God Aright – Rev. B. Huizinga, March 15, 2018 “Standard Bearer”

quote-the-foundation-of-true-holiness-and-true-christian-worship-is-the-doctrine-of-the-gospel-john-owen-53-28-65

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer is now available (March 15, 2018) and among its edifying articles is the second installment of Rev. Brian Huizinga’s little series titled “Why?” penned for the rubric “Taking Heed to the Doctrine.”

In these articles he is answering the question, ‘Why take heed to doctrine?” That is, as Reformed Christians who confess to believe the truths contained in the Word of God and summarized in the Reformed confessions, “why hold on to and pay attention to this doctrine?”

To this question he gives a six-pronged answer, the third of which we reference in this post. That third reply is “worship: because doctrine of the foundation for worship.” Here’s more of what he has to say about this reason for embracing sound doctrine:

The goal of all things is the worship of God. The redeemed church exists for God’s glory. Unlike the reprobate wicked whom God uses to glorify Himself in spite of their hatred for Him, and unlike the brute creation which gives glory to God without conscious awareness of it, believers in the church have an intellectual understanding of God by faith and willingly, consciously, and joyfully extol Him from the heart. But how can we arrive at an understanding of our covenant God apart from a careful study of His revelation to us in the doctrines (teachings) of the Bible? We must worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24); therefore, doctrinal knowledge is a sine qua non for worship.

To put it differently, doctrine exists for the purpose of doxology and is necessary for doxology even as the foundation exists for the house and is necessary for the house. No doctrine means no doxology, and false doctrine tends to idolatry. We take heed to doctrine so that we might rightly know and then fittingly praise our God. 

…When a congregation of believing sinners is brought to stand under the shadow of the cross and see the eternal, unchangeable, particular, saving love of God through a faithfully explained, sensibly applied and dynamically delivered exposition of Scripture by a preacher who cries, “Behold your God!” hearts come alive in fruitful worship.

Who exclaims in doxology, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God…for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things to whom be glory forever, Amen!” (Rom. 11:33-36), but that blessed Jewish or Grecian soul that has sat spellbound at the feet of the holy apostle listening to him explain with careful doctrinal precision the righteousness of God that is revealed from faith to faith?

Who sings in doxology, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen!” (I Tim. 1:17), but that humble speck of dust who has first given himself to serious contemplation of the loaded doctrinal statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief,” (I Tim. 1:15) and made it his own?

Who cries in doxology, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of thy glory!” (Is. 6:3) and cries so loudly that the posts of the doors move (Is. 6:4), but that creature, heavenly or other, who has stood in the immediate presence of the enthroned God?

We take heed to doctrine. Why? It is the foundation of our worship. The church must take heed to sound doctrine, for only the foundation of sound doctrine – Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone – makes possible a fitly framed building of doxology to God. Orthodoxy! Orthodoxy not for the sake of orthodoxy; orthodoxy for the sake of doxology.

Precious food for our souls as we live in these doctrinally parched times. May our thirst for God lead us to hunger for His truth, so that we break forth in praise to Him.

March “Tabletalk”: Loving the Neighbor and Resisting the Spirit of Our Age

TT-March-2018We have not yet introduced the March 2018 issue of Tabletalk and tonight affords us the opportunity.

This month’s issue has as its theme “Loving Our Neighbors.” Editor Burk Parsons leads us into a good understanding of the subject and of our calling as Christians in his editorial “Enabled to Love.” Here is part of what he has to say:

Although we often hear about loving God, we don’t as often hear about loving our neighbor. And while we can certainly distinguish between these commandments, we cannot ultimately separate them, for we cannot claim to love God while at the same time hating our neighbor. If we truly love God, we will love our neighbor. What’s more, those who attempt to narrowly restrict the identity of who our neighbor is must remember that Jesus also said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43–45). As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not only to love our neighbor but to love our enemies, and sometimes they are one and the same. Just as our love for one another demonstrates that we are disciples of Christ (John 13:35), our love for our enemies demonstrates that we are sons of our Father. If we belong to the Lord, we will love the Lord, because He first loved us—enabling us to love Him and our neighbor to such a degree that we would pray for and speak the truth in love to our neighbor. We love our neighbor in the hope that he might know the truth of God and, by His grace, turn to the Lord in faith, believing the gospel as the Spirit enables him to love the Lord and his neighbor, even sinful, albeit justified, neighbors like us.

Subsequent articles in the issue address who our neighbor is and why we should love him, loving ourselves, loving our family, loving the church, loving our communities, loving the unlovely, and Christ and the love of neighbor. Profitable subject, indeed.

It is, however, another rubric article that I wish to draw attention to this evening. Under the rubric “City on a Hill,” Matthew Roberts writes about “Resisting the Spirit of the Age.” In it he tackles the “new” religion of today’s secularists who claim to have freedom from religion. He shows that while they argue that they are free of all gods (especially the Christian one!) and all religious beliefs and practices, in reality they have simply taken another idol god and practice another false religion.

What follows is part of what he says by way of Christian response:

So, then, this is the spirit of our age. How are we to respond? In the same way, of course, that Christians in every age are called to respond to the reigning idols of their day. Let’s go back to Paul in Acts 17.

First, we must get God right (vv. 24–25, 29). The God of the Bible is the only, the true, the ultimate God. There are no fundamentals of human civilization deeper than Him. We must see the secular version of “freedom” not as our friend or a safeguard for our private religion, but as a false, invented deity to be decried and to be denied the worship it desires. There will be no defeating of identity politics and all the horrors of our secular age in any other way.

Second, we must get history right. The “progress” of “freedom” assumed by our age is an illusion and a lie. Rather, history is leading unstoppably from the resurrection of Christ to His return to judge the world (v. 31). The story of now is the story of the risen Christ calling people to turn from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9–10). We live waiting for that day. We therefore need to lose our fear of persecution. It is to be expected for those who refuse to worship the idols of this age. But it will be temporary, and at its end is a crown of glory.

Third, we must get the gospel right. For too long, conservative Christians have presented the gospel as if it were an option, one of the ways in which those who hear us may exercise their (unquestioned) service of the god “freedom.” But the Bible never speaks in this way. Rather, God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). We don’t ask the world to give people permission to worship the Christian God; we proclaim to the world the imperative to worship the Christian God. And attached to that imperative is the promise of mercy to all who come to do so through Christ.

We resist the spirit of the age by refusing to worship the idols of the age. And we do this by trusting, obeying, and worshiping the one true God of this and every age, who has called us to know Him forever through His Son and by His Spirit.

This tied in well with our pastor’s sermon this morning on the first article of our Christian faith: “I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” He explained the Heidelberg Catechism’s beautiful explanation of this truth in Lord’s Day 9:

Q. 26.  What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?
A.  That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence) is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father;3 on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt but He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body; and further, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.

What a blessing of God’s grace to know and trust in this one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word and in all His daily providences as our loving Father – for Christ Jesus’ sake!

Help and Hope for the Bullys and the Bullied – The March 2018 “Beacon Lights”

Anti-Bully BL-ad-2018

As we pointed out in a post a few weeks ago, the March 2018 issue of the Beacon Lights (the Protestant Reformed youth magazine) is devoted to the subject of bullying. Now that it is out and available, we can encourage you to get it and read it so as to benefit from its timely theme.

This is not an easy subject to treat. Not least of all, because it convicts all of us of the sins of bullying that we have committed. And that exposes us in the sins of hating our neighbor and of hating the God who made our neighbor, as the editor and other writers for this special issue point out.

But is there hope for us? And is there hope for those who have experienced the painful reality of this sin? Yes, indeed there is. And, as we might know, it is found alone in our Savior, Jesus Christ and in His sin-crushing, peace-making, love-producing cross.

The editorial by new editor Dewey Engelsma, “Delivering the Helpless,” is as significant as his story that precedes it, “Murder on a School Bus.” Read the latter first and weep, for yourself and for those we have hurt in such a way. And then read this from Engelsma’s editorial:

Where then for relief, for the bullied, the bully, and bystander alike? For that we must look to the one of which Job was merely a type. And it is that someone greater that not only provides a perfect example of a holy life, but himself gives courage to the redeemed bystander, so that they no longer stand idly by, but jump up to the defense of the bullied person, and show “mercy and compassion every man to his brother” (Zech 7:9).

Where else for relief but the cross that stands at Calvary? At the foot of that cross three parties come together in peace at last, the bullied, the humbled oppressor, and the repentant bystander, all clinging to the One crucified. For it is the bullied child herself, the reed that was not broken, and the flax that was not extinguished, who finally by the grace of their Savior experienced “judgment unto victory” (Matt. 12:20). It is the bully himself who is transformed by God into a blessed peacemaker, and who now is at peace with his God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

And for you, the young person who doubts they have the strength to stand up for the bullied person? You are right. When God’s people rely on their own strength, “even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” (Isa. 40:30). You don’t have the strength. You will fail time and time again. Until you finally find your strength in the Son of God, the Son who not only stood up for you, but gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20). This is the one who empowers you courageously to defend the weak and powerless, so that when you have against all odds delivered “him that had none to help him,” your victory cry will be, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

In that light we can weep for joy, even as we seek the joy of those wounded spirits among us.

Shall we fight the sin and find the joy in Christ alone?

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Doing Theology to the Glory of God

TT-Feb-2018Today I did some final reading of the main articles in the February 2018 Tabletalk. The theme this month, as we pointed out earlier this month, is “Doing Theology,” a favorite subject and activity of Ligonier’s founder, Dr. R. C. Sproul, who passed away late last year.

Today I read the final article on this theme, “The Goal of Doing Theology” by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. It too is a fine contribution to the subject, as Ferguson shows us plainly from the Word of God that we are called to do theology with one main purpose in view: the glory of our God – soli Deo gloria!

I’ve pulled a few of his thoughts together from the online version, which you may reference above to read the entire article. It will be to your profit to do so, even if you think you are not a theologian. Because, remember, as “R.C” liked to remind us, “everyone’s a theologian.”

…Theology is a joyful and glorious activity because it is ultimately about the glory and joy of our God. Its goal is that of the angels, indeed, of God Himself: this combination of glorifying and enjoying God, which is to the unbeliever the ultimate contradiction but for Christians the discovery of our destiny.

From there, Ferguson takes us to the letters of the apostle Paul, in particular, to Romans. Here is part of what he says about Paul’s perspective in this letter:

Next to the Lord Jesus, no one has embodied what this means more fully than the Apostle Paul. His thirteen letters (totaling a mere seventy pages in the Bible on my desk) turn out to be heavier than a man can lift, so densely packed are they with theology in all its forms. And the style? Soli Deo gloria.

Sit down for an hour with a concordance and look up the verses in Paul’s letters that contain the words “glory” and “glorify.” It will leave you breathless, at least metaphorically. The glory of God is the magnetic pole of his thinking. He had seen it in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). And those who have seen this glory can never be satisfied unless they taste more of it, and think more clearly about it. Like a young man who has seen a “glory” in a young woman (1 Cor. 11:7), we long to know more, to meditate lovingly, and to describe eloquently. Theology is simply eloquence about God, called forth by His glory.

And, speaking about that marvelous section of Romans, chapters 9-11, he writes this:

These three chapters, then, are perhaps the headiest theology anywhere to be found in Paul’s letters. But what they reveal is that the doctrines of creation (from Him), providence (through Him), redemption (by Him), and final consummation (to Him) all are shaped by this one great end: the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From this Ferguson draws this fitting conclusion:

…There is a grandeur to this perspective because it makes sense of cosmic reality; it humbles and exalts us; it leads us to our true “end.” In Thomas Aquinas’ summary, theology teaches God, is taught by God, and leads to God. What more can we ask for if indeed the chief end of both men and angels is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”?

Is that the controlling purpose and the driving principle of all our theologizing? If not, it is not worth anything – not for the here nor for the hereafter.