Persecution: What the Future Holds – Owen Strachan

What the Future Holds by Owen Strachan | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The fourth featured article in the August issue of Tabletalk on the theme of persecution is written by Dr. Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Dr. Strachan addresses “What the Future Holds” in his article, and he presents a very realistic picture of what Christians can expect in this country. He lays out four main points, all of which are worth reading and contemplating.

What I really appreciated, however, was the way in which Strachan closed out his thoughts. These words especially, it seems to me, are worth our careful pondering.

There will be no retreat of the church. We will never stop witnessing unto life. We will never cease to minister the gospel. We will not forget the holy Apostles. We remember how they welcomed the jail cell, the Roman prison ship, the hair-raising tribunal. In any and all settings, they preached Christ. They went so far as to believe that God had not only permitted such moments, but had appointed them for His glory (Acts 5:41). They saw suffering with Christ as a privilege, much as this challenges our material sensibilities. We must not forget that if the church is unsettled, it is not by accident. It is by divine design, and it will be used for divine purposes.

While we live, like the priests of old in fallen Jerusalem, we may weep (Ezra 3:11–13). We cannot forget the millions of babies driven into the afterlife at abortion clinics. We cannot erase the suffering felt in fatherless homes and families detonated by selfish sin and bitter divorce. We cannot help but think back to past days, happy days, that celebrated the good of religious people and did not seek their undoing. All these trends speak to fallenness. All of them deserve our tears.

We will weep. But we will also dry our eyes. We will rise to our feet. Whether in a gated community, a busy city, a tense workroom, a chilly playgroup, or a prison cell, we will never cease to speak and to minister the gospel. The gospel was not made for quiet days and easy questions. It was made for the toughest stuff, the worst of times, the hardest of circumstances.

What does the future hold? The future will bring suffering. The days will be evil, as they have been (Eph. 5:16). But the future is bright, because God is real. The church must take heart. We have a living Lord. When history concludes, we will reign with unbroken bodies in a world of love. We will worship the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the earth. There is no life like this life. There is no hope like this hope. There is no God like our God.

“…There can be no true zeal for the church without spiritual warfare against sin.” – A.Kuyper

Fight we must, constantly, without rest. Every child of God is a soldier of Jesus Christ, called as were the Levites of old to war the warfare of the Lord. And every office bearer must know that as he takes office he enters into that warfare.

It is a warfare for God, against Satan. It is a participation in the war which God himself wages against Satan, and which God’s holy angels wage against Satan’s angel-hosts. The war of the world against the King of glory. The war of the spirit against the flesh.  War within us and without. War which emanates from God and is directed against the might of Satan, the world, death, sin, deceit, and the lusts of the flesh.

Therefore it is a war of every one who is anointed with the Holy Spirit. He must fight with Christ, for Christ, and under the leadership of Christ.

…It is evident, then, that there can be no true zeal for the church without spiritual warfare against sin.

Zeal for the church, however pious it may appear to be, is abominable hypocrisy if it goes hand in hand with neglect of spiritual warfare against such enemies of God as lying, uncleanness, self-righteousness, cold-heartedness.

Some there are who pretend to be faithful watchmen upon Zion’s walls but harbor such sins in their own hearts, or overlook them in their children and fellow-church members.

They are unfaithful.

For they allow the enemy free play within. They cry out against the danger of the wolf howling outside the walls, while a pack of wolves is busily devouring the sheep within!

This is not real devotion to the cause of Christ. Nor does it reveal true faith.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ” (and the section headed by “Fighting the Good Fight”), found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.57-58.

“It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart.” – August 2015 “Standard Bearer” – Prof.R. Cammenga

SB-Aug-2015-coverThe latest issue of The Standard Bearer has been published and is now available. The August 2015 issue (the “SB” is published monthly in the months of June, July, and August; otherwise bi-monthly) contains a fine variety of articles once again – from a meditation on 1 Cor.12:3 to material on Reformed doctrine, world and life view, missions, and family matters (cf. cover image to the left; click on it to enlarge).

One of the featured articles is the latest installment on the Second Helvetic Confession from the pen of Prof.R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary). In this article he expounds Chapter I,B of this Reformed confession, “Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God.”

Here are his opening lines as he introduces his conclusion to Chap.1:

Fundamental to everything that the Reformed Christian believes and confesses is the truth of sacred Scripture: “…in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….” (SHC, 1.1). What we believe and confess is derived from Scripture, is taught in Scripture, and can be defended on the basis of Scripture. It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart. It distinguishes us from those who are not Christians and who have no regard for the authority of Scripture. It sets us apart from those who have apostatized from the faith, who invariably regard Scripture as less than the divinely inspired book that it is and therefore undervalue its authority. For good reason, then, the very first article of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith concerns the doctrine of Holy Scripture. In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1, the SHC affirms the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, as well as the sufficiency of Scripture. In addition, the creed relates Scripture and preaching, expressing the Reformed conviction that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

Part of Cammenga’s exposition is pointing out the errors of those who deny the Bible’s sole authority and sufficiency:

Either error, whether taking away from or adding to the canon of Scripture, is a fundamental denial of sola Scriptura—Scripture alone. Both fall under the condemnation of the apostle in Revelation 22:18, 19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

What arrogance, that puny man should presume to excise certain books of sacred Scripture—the Word of God! What arrogance, that puny man should presume to exalt his writings to the level of the Word of God! That same arrogance is on exhibition in our own day. It is evident in the cults and sects, who add to Holy Scripture either the writings of the founder of the cult, or additional sacred writings like the Book of Mormon or the Quran.

And so he concludes with this positive point:

The distinctive mark of the believer and of the true church of Jesus Christ in the world is the confession that Scripture alone is the authority for faith and for life. Nothing may be taken away from Scripture and nothing may be added to Scripture. Because Scripture is the Word of God nothing need be added to Scripture and nothing may be placed alongside Scripture. Scripture is sufficient for the individual believer and for the church as a whole. In the words of the opening paragraph of this first article of the SHC: “And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….”

To receive this Reformed magazine, contact the Reformed Free Publishing Association at the “SB” link above.

Persecution around the World – Dave Furman

Persecution around the World by Dave Furman | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The third featured article on persecution in the August Tabletalk is pastor Dave Furman’s. His article focuses on the worldwide persecution taking place currently, including in his own country of Dubai, where he is serving as pastor.

After describing a case very close to his church, Furman broadens his scope, pointing out concrete ways in which Christians are experiencing persecution throughout the world.

Part of his article is headed by the words “Our Hope in Persecution”, and it is from that section that I quote today. Referencing 1 Peter 4:13-14, Furman makes the following comforting comments:

There is blessing for the persecuted and there is cause for rejoicing.

We have hope in persecution because we are made for another place. We are “citizens” of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are by nature strangers, foreigners, and even exiles in this world (1 Peter 1:1). Our eternal passport is not Kenyan, Indian, Filipino, or Canadian. In God’s kingdom, we no longer receive our identities from the place we were born, but from the place into which we were born again for all eternity. This is why the world doesn’t feel like home. This is why we face persecution: we’re of another place.

Fellow Christian, a day is coming when there will be no more sickness and death. No more imprisonments and slander. We will not suffer the anxiety of car bombs or kidnappings. The downtrodden and depressed will sing of their never-ending gladness in Jesus. God will dwell among us forever.

The gospel is good news for the persecuted because there is nothing we can do to lose God’s grip on our lives. Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The gospel is not about getting you to heaven—it’s about getting you to God. The good news of the gospel is that we get God. I’ve often heard R.C. Sproul say that a better way to describe the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is to say the “preservation of the saints.” God won’t stop short of bringing us home. Even though our bodies might be destroyed on this earth, God will keep us to the end. We can entrust our souls to the living God of the universe (1 Peter 4:19). Our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us by God Himself. It is guarded through God’s power (1:3–4).

As persecution increases – including here in the U.S., it is good for us to remember these truths.

“A deep and living faith in God’s Covenant is the foundation of our quiet, watchful, patient waiting and working.” – A.Kuyper

If the Lord is to come as a thief in the night, the church should go about its daily duties in quiet devotion, until He suddenly appears. We are not to keep looking out the window, or climbing to the housetops to gaze eagerly into the distance, while neglecting our work and giving our household duties but scant attention.

Indeed we must watch. We must so live that we are ready to welcome Him at any moment. Like a Christian family that, having commended home and children to God’s care for the night, quietly goes to bed and to sleep, and awakens in the morning to resume the daily task, so the church of Christ upon earth must go on quietly, prayerfully, with its common daily tasks, until He comes, in His own time, to break off this round of daily duties.

A deep and living faith in God’s Covenant is the foundation of our quiet, watchful, patient waiting and working. For included in God’s covenant are also all the chosen who are yet to be brought into the fold, though they may now be drunkards, or thieves, or self-righteous rejectors of the truth. They are destined to be saved; and it is through the ministration of the church that they must be brought to the light and taught in the truth.

This one confession, that God is God, and that He will bring in His own, makes us patient to bear with the imperfections and weaknesses of the church, since He has seen fit to place that cross upon us. And it also keeps us humble before Him, as we must confess our own guilt. ‘The sin of the church is also my sin. I, yea even especially I, am at fault.’

…Being keenly aware of his own sins, and knowing full well that he has fanned the flames of sin perhaps more than others, the true Christian fights against sin the more earnestly and zealously.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.56-57.

The Antithesis and Chapel at Calvin College – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanIn the last few months we have been quoting from the fifth chapter of John J. Timmerman’s book Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), where he describes the early years of education at Calvin College. We called special attention to his emphasis on the antithesis as it was taught and manifested at this Reformed institution.

Today I continue quoting from this section, as Timmerman relates the antithesis to chapels at Calvin. This too makes for interesting – and some humorous – reading.

The emphasis on the antithesis was also apparent in the insistence on chapel attendance. There was little surveillance in those days. Prof. Rooks wandered around occasionally, checking likely retreats; but in actuality there was little disciplinary action. There always were inveterate skippers, but chapel was generally well attended. A far greater proportion of the whole student body attended than do today. In fact, in actual numbers there were often more students attending daily chapel at Calvin then than there are today in a college ten times its size.

Chapel services varied. Occasionally, clergymen and celebrities were invited to speak, but most of the sessions were conducted by faculty members. Those humble enough to recognize their ineptitude at public speaking regularly devoted the session to song, Scripture reading, and prayer. Others, however, spoke frequently. I remember a fascinating series of talks by Prof. Johannes Broene on the personalities of the apostles. Prof. Vanden Bosch always spoke. He was a meticulous man, almost fussily neat. Annoyed at the litter dropped in the building, he once spoke on the text ‘Let him that is filthy be filthy still.’ Dr. Peter Hoekstra often illuminated Scripture passages with historical data. Prof. Rooks gave his talks in the Oxford accent he had acquired in Graafschap. Dr. Ralph Stob spoke on the same topic for quite a while, and he always assumed that the students remembered the content of the preceding speech. Prof. Nieuwdorp, a fine mathematician, gave several talks on the ‘Stahrs.’

…At its best, chapel was spiritual refreshment; at the lowest level it was a rendezvous, a brief date, a study period, or a time to sleep. For most it was an activity to participate in, not something to escape. It was a boon not a bore. Students did not often skip chapel; and neither did the professors (pp.29-30).

“You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives” – Banner of Truth

YouMustReadCoverA new title I had been eagerly anticipating finally came last week – part of an order from the Banner of Truth Trust. The book is You Must Read; Books That Have Shaped Our Lives (2015, 289 pp.), a collection of thirty-two chapters written by authors, pastors, teachers, and readers who have benefited from the books published by the Banner of Truth. Each one describes how a particular book shaped their Christian thinking and living – from the works of John Bunyan to the Letters of John Newton, from biographies on Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards to titles on prayer and devotion.

Here is part of the publisher’s description:

Have you ever wondered what influences have shaped the preachers, teachers and authors you respect? You Must Read brings together more than thirty well-known Christian leaders and gives them the opportunity to talk about a book that has made a lasting impact on their lives. Their personal narratives and recommendations of the literature that has moulded and matured them combine to produce a book full of interest from start to finish, but also one that can be ‘dipped into’ for occasional reading. Best of all, You Must Read will be an indispensable guide to some of the truly great books that have transformed, encouraged, instructed and challenged countless Christians’ lives. You Must Read is a ‘must read’ in itself, and a marvelous stimulus to read more.

ValleyofVisionA chapter that immediately stood out for me was the sixth, in which Mark G. Johnston describes how the book The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett influenced his prayer life. You may know how much I have appreciated this book as well (a gift from my sister Sue many years ago!), if you have seen some of my posts here.

Below is a portion of Johnston’s comments on this highly profitable volume – about the value of written, recorded prayers – ones with a high view of God:

It follows that if our view of God is too small then the prayers we offer will be small and limited as a consequence. Even within the limits of the Lord’s Prayer, which in so many ways seems short and simple, there is a height, depth, and breadth that should take our breath away.

…We see something of that scope in the prayer-psalms of the Old Testament: they manage to cover an extraordinary array of issues that take their authors through the entire spectrum of human emotions. It is for that reason the Psalms not only speak to us in what they reveal of God and teach about his purpose, but they also speak for us as we struggle to find words to express ourselves before God in similar life situations.

That same scope and variety has been reflected in the recorded prayers of God’s people throughout the ages. We see them eloquently expressed in the prayers and collects for the common man that lay at the heart of the older liturgy of the Church of England, prayers that traverse the needs of the nation and the world while at the same time plumbing the depths of the human heart. We see them too in the rich variety of the Puritan prayers assembled by Canon Bennet in The Valley of Vision.

From prayers of worship and adoration to prayers of penitence and confession, prayers for daily needs of life to prayers for the church and those who serve in it – there is hardly a circumstance of life which is not addressed somewhere in this anthology – a feature that enhances its usefulness as an aid to personal prayer (p.46).

A History of Persecution – George Grant – August “Tabletalk”

A History of Persecution by George Grant | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This month’s issue of Tabletalk centers on the theme of persecution – persecution against Christians and the Christian church.

The second main article on this subject covers the history of persecution, and is written by Dr. George Grant, pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN. I found this broad treatment to be profitable and provide you the link to it here on the Ligonier website.

Here are a few paragraphs from Grant’s article:

The horrific ruthlessness of ISIS, the brazen cruelty of Boko Haram, the obsessive repression of the North Korean Juche, the vicious terrorism of al-Qaeda—I confess that when confronted with the persecution of my Christian brothers and sisters around the world in recent days, I am shocked. But I know I shouldn’t be. Long ago, the Apostle Paul asserted, “All those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There is no way around it. Persecution is inevitable.

Throughout church history, believers have suffered persecution and obscurity. They have been beaten, ridiculed, defrocked, and defamed. They have suffered poverty, isolation, betrayal, and disgrace. They have been hounded, harassed, and murdered. The heroes of the faith have always been those who sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and reputations for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, persecution and martyrdom have been among the church’s highest callings and greatest honors.

In the first three centuries of the church, from Nero to Diocletian, Roman imperial and provincial persecutions were fierce. Tradition tells us of gladiators in the Colosseum, lions in the Circus Maximus, and staked pyres in the Forum as threatening the earliest believers. They were forced into a precarious, often secretive existence, living on the margins of society and meeting in catacombs, caverns, and copse (thicket of trees) hideaways. Yet they persevered. As Tertullian quipped, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I also appreciated this section at the end of the article, where Grant treats how Christians must respond to persecution:

Merciful service in the face of suffering is “often the glue that holds together the varied fragments of the confessing church,” Romanian pastor Josef Tson says. It affords the church “strong bonds of unity, compassion, and tenderheartedness,” Russian evangelist Georgi Vins says. “In the face of tyranny, oppression, and humiliation, the church has no option but to be the church,” Croatian pastor Josep Kulacik asserts. “Disguised as evil, persecution comes to us as an ultimate manifestation of God’s good providence,” Bosnian Christian leader Frizof Gemielic says, “because it provokes us toward a new-found dependence upon His grace, upon His Word, and upon His people. It is in that sense a paradoxical blessing perhaps even more profound than prosperity.”

“I Will Come Again” – Prof.R. Dykstra – August 2015 “Standard Bearer”

SB-Aug-2015-coverThe latest issue of The Standard Bearer has been published and is now available. The August 2015 issue (published monthly in the months of June, July, and August; otherwise bi-monthly) contains a good variety of articles once again – from a meditation on 1 Cor.12:3 to material on Reformed doctrine, world and life view, missions, and family matters (cf. cover image to the left; click on it to enlarge).

Among these is the powerful reminder from the editorial of Prof.R. Dykstra that the Lord’s promise to come again is being fulfilled in many ways – a striking call to us to prepare ourselves for His return. Below is an excerpt from this article.

To receive this Reformed magazine, contact the Reformed Free Publishing Association at the “SB” link above.

“I will come again.” This is Jesus’ word to each and every believer. By this He promises: This world is not your eternal habitation. Your eternal dwelling place is in Father’s house in heaven where I have gone to prepare a place for you to live. It is My good pleasure to deliver you from this world of sin and death in order we may dwell together in blessed covenant fellowship forever. I will come again for you “that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Sad to say, even it is a shame to express it, believers do not often live in the consciousness of this gracious promise. We are so earthly minded that we can scarcely devote an hour at a time to spiritual things. The weekly sermons on the Lord’s day set before us the promises of our crucified and risen Lord, but even that is not enough. We soon return to our work and play, and heaven is far away from our thoughts.

“I will come again, and receive you unto myself.”

There are times when Jesus forcibly reminds us of His promise. He comes. He takes to Himself. An eight year old boy. A new born child. A beloved grandmother or grandfather, full of years. A former teacher. A thirty year old husband and father.

There are times when our Lord speaks very loudly and forcefully. In the Protestant Reformed Churches in western Michigan Jesus has spoken again and again from the end of May on as He came. He came repeatedly. Surely during this year already the Lord came repeatedly to His church all around the world and He continues this very day taking His people to Himself.

Every coming of Jesus – through death—is another reminder: I will come again.

The Lord speaks. How long will we consciously remember His promise? How long will it be before work and play, earthly possessions and pleasures control almost all our thoughts and activities again?

Confessions of a Bibliophile – Keith Mathison

Confessions of a Bibliophile by Keith Mathison | Ligonier Ministries Blog.

bibliophile-1And here is another perspective on the value of being a lover of books and reading – only this time from a distinctive Christian perspective. I am grateful for Mathison’s clear voice concerning why we ought to be readers of good books.

For the full article (originally printed in Tabletalk magazine), visit the Ligonier link above. Here are Mathison’s closing paragraphs, which contain the heart of this thoughts.

Our God is a God who has revealed Himself in a book, in words. We learn about God and His will, therefore, by reading. We learn by reading and reflecting on His Word. We also learn by reading and thinking with the church. This means we read and reflect on the insights of our brethren, those who are still with us and those who have gone on before us. We may also learn by reading with discernment the works of those who have spent time “reading” God’s general revelation. This includes works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and literature.

If I might offer a word of advice and encouragement to my fellow bibliophiles, it is this: As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (12:12). Millions of books have been published, and thousands more are published every year. We cannot read them all, so it is best to read the good ones. If you don’t know which books are the good ones, seek the advice of mature Christians. Find recommended reading lists by churches and ministries you trust.

Finally, while we read to learn about our God and His works of creation and redemption, we must not allow a love of reading to supplant our love for Christ. If we do, our books, even our Christian books, become nothing more than idols. All the reading in the world, if it does not ultimately promote our love of Christ and our brethren, is nothing but futility.

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