“Our Name is Reformed” – Prof.B.Gritters

SB-Feb15-2015Such is the wording of a line taken from the February 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer. Specifically, this brief sentence is pulled from Prof. Barry Gritters’ editorial, in which he begins he series on “What It Means to Be Reformed.”

He does so in connection with the ninetieth anniversary of the forming of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1925. This initial article is introductory, and part of that introduction includes explaining the name “Reformed” in this denomination’s name.

Here is a glimpse into what Prof. Gritters includes in his explanation of what it means to be “Reformed”:

For us, to be Reformed is to be biblical. It is simply to be Christian. Identifying as Reformed is not an attempt to be something other than what Christ calls His church to be. But since hundreds of groups, unfaithful to Jesus Christ and His Scripture, call themselves Christian, it is necessary to distinguish ourselves from them by our name.

…In the past, when a distinctive confession of faith was valued, churches understood the need for a distinctive name – a kind of flag they hoisted on their ship.  Thus Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Methodists, and all the other church groups were plainly identified in their faith and life by their name. Our name is Reformed.

Holding convictions and announcing them in a name is not smug arrogance. It is not sectarianism. Holding convictions about faith and life and announcing them in a name is a desire to be faithful to God and His Word, and transparent to those who may want to join our churches. It’s also a recognition that the ecclesiastical landscape is strewn with churches that are not true churches any longer, because in their history they lost a conviction that Christ is truth, lost the boldness to broadcast their faith, lost a sense of who they were historically, and lost the realization that churches are destroyed under the judgment of God for lack of knowledge. …Here the point needs to be made that convictions and transparency about those convictions are vital.

Not to hold convictions and publicize them in a name may well indicate the sentiment that one form of Christianity is as good as any other. And that’s one step away from becoming a false church.

Early CRC Life in Orange City, IA – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanIn his “semi-autobiographical story” titled Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), John J.Timmerman, long-time professor in the English Department at Calvin College (my alma mater), reflects on his early years in Orange City, IA, where he grew up as an adopted son of a CRC minister (Jan Timmerman).

I found his thoughts on his family and church life in NW Iowa in the early twentieth century to be a fascinating look at the nature of Reformed church life in our “mother church”, so on this archive/history day this is part of our history lesson.

Orange City, Iowa, in 1909 was a little town almost lost in the endless prairies. Most of the members of my father’s church were survivers, sturdy people of great faith and superior intelligence who had refused to be conquered by successive waves of crop-devouring grasshoppers.

…The city, as it called itself, was to a large extent a Dutch town. Dutch was spoken in the stores, on the porches, in sermons and catechism classes; even the horses understood some of it. The city paper, ‘Volksvriend’, was a Dutch paper. It was a very civilized city: I don’t remember if it even had a jail; and I never saw a drunk. The congregation was, as my father often said, well above average in intelligence and reading habits, and some of them read Kuyper and Bavinck instead of merely displaying their works. Religion was at the core.

As a little boy, I has no awareness that our church was a citadel of conservative and exclusivistic religion. From the perspective of a boy, we were, as a church and individuals, in the infallible hands of the Lord, God’s eye was upon us, especially during the three Sunday services, devotions at every meal, and evening prayers – but everywhere else also. I remember my mother saying, when some children were missing in a storm, ‘De Heere Jesus zal de kinderen wel bewaren’ (‘the Lord Jesus will surely care for the children’). Life in those days was often harsh: childhood diseases were less curable; pitiful accidents occurred on the farms; great storms ravaged the land; hail wiped out crops. Tornadoes were eerie and devastating. However, nothing – nothing at all – was outside the pattern of the Lord. Religion was a comfort in life and death, and the grave a resting place before glory (7-8).

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21.

Ash WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent on the church’s calendar – at least if you are Roman Catholic (preceded by “Fat Tuesday” and Mardi Gras, those paragons of piety!), Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican (especially later).

But of late it has also become fashionable for Protestant groups (“evangelicals”) and even Reformed folk to get excited about Lent and start practicing its customs, from fasting and fish-feasting to having ashes put on one’s forehead.

That’s why I appreciated Carl Trueman’s forthrightness in addressing this evangelical trendiness in this online article posted at Reformation21. He makes some excellent points about why Reformed Christians do not need Lent – with or without its ashes.

I give a few paragraphs here, encouraging you to read the full article at the “Ref21″ link above.

It’s that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent’s virtues to their own eclectic constituency.

… The imposition of ashes is intended as a means of reminding us that we are dust and forms part of a liturgical moment when sins are ‘shriven’ or forgiven. In fact, a well-constructed worship service should do that anyway. Precisely the same thing can be conveyed by the reading of God’s Word, particularly the Law, followed by a corporate prayer of confession and then some words of gospel forgiveness drawn from an appropriate passage and read out loud to the congregation by the minister.

An appropriately rich Reformed sacramentalism also renders Ash Wednesday irrelevant. Infant baptism emphasizes better than anything else outside of the preached Word the priority of God’s grace and the helplessness of sinless humanity in the face of God. The Lord’s Supper, both in its symbolism (humble elements of bread and wine) and its meaning (the feeding on Christ by faith) indicates our continuing weakness, fragility and utter dependence upon Christ.

…Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.

Standing to Confess the Apostles’ Creed – Rev.C.Griess

SB-Feb1-2015-coverAnother profitable article found in the February 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer is the latest installment from Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC, Hull, IA) in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”, a series dealing with the public worship of the church.

At present he is treating the various elements of Reformed worship and is up to the church’s united confession of faith usually found in the evening service. We refer to the saints’ recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Rev.Griess titles this article, “The Church Confessing Truth: Reciting the Apostles’ Creed” (this is the first part of two).

Interestingly, pastor Griess ties together the reading of the law in the morning service with its “replacement” in the evening service, the Apostles’ Creed. I will only quote a portion of that section where he treats this connection, but hope that you will certainly read all of it on your own.

Here he explains part of the significance of what the congregation is doing when it recites the creed together:

What drives the church to confess her faith in the evening is the overwhelming grace of God that she has experienced already in the morning. And she comes together in the evening, then, and stands up (that is great practice)! She arises to confess the truth that has liberated her and that continues to guide her in all her life.

To stand up and confess indicates commitment, a certain passion in the soul. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘stand up’ to tell people to hold to a conviction: ‘Stand up for freedom. Stand up for rights.’

When we confess the faith, we are standing up for God and all His truth. We are arising, in the face of all the world and its untruth, and saying, ‘God, this is what we believe about Thee, and should the world come into our building tonight and try to stop us from confessing truth about Thee, they will not stop us. We are redeemed by this truth, and we have experienced that again this morning; therefore Thou dost have our full allegiance’ (208).

All Things Well – Labor and Rest: February “Tabletalk” – Burk Parsons

All Things Well by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Feb 2015With the start of a new month comes a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine.

The February 2015 issue is on an interesting subject: “Labor and Rest: Finding the Right Balance.” Besides the editorial by Burk Parsons introducing the theme (linked above), there are five other articles developing this matter of our work and our rest.

Here’s how they are listed at the beginning of the magazine:

  • “The Purpose of Labor and Rest” by Miles V. Van Pelt
  • “Missing the Mark” by Richard D. Phillips
  • “The Right Balance” by John S. Redd
  • “The Rhythm of Life” by Ed Welch
  • “A Well-Spent Sabbath” by David Strain

Yesterday I read the editorial, from which we quote today, and D.Strain’s article under “Pastor’s Perspective.” I think you will find both articles profitable, keeping in mind that we will differ with our Presbyterian brothers on certain matters (Strain speaks of Christ fulfilling the covenant of works, e.g.). Follow the links above to both articles.

And, by the way, the daily devotions are on the wisdom literature of the Bible this year – Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.

For today, here is a section of Parsons’ editorial:

Both labor and rest are creation ordinances given to us by God before the fall. They are given to us for our good and for God’s glory, and God calls us to work hard so that we can rest hard. By God’s design, the most revolutionary thing we could do in our busy, fast-paced society is take one day every week to rest and worship with our family and friends. However, we are living in a generation that doesn’t rest well because it doesn’t know what it really means to work hard, plan well, and say no to various opportunities and activities. And too often, the culprit is the local church that programs its people with so many activities that people have no time left to spend with their families and friends to enjoy life together and rest together—let alone take care of widows and orphans.

In many cases, our inability to rest says more about the busyness of our hearts than the busyness of our schedules. As Christians, we are called to labor well and rest well, and only when we do both as God has directed us will we find the right balance in life.

H.Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession – R.Cammenga

SB-Jan1 2015Writing in the January 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer, Prof.R.Cammenga begins a new series on the historic Reformed creed, the Second Helvetic Confession (1566).

At the outset Cammenga explains his intent with this series:

Beginning with this issue of the Standard Bearer, the undersigned has agreed to write a series of articles explaining the Second Helvetic Confession.  These articles will regularly appear in the rubric “Believing and Confessing.”  This first article and the one that is to follow will serve as a general introduction to this new series.  In this article we will focus on the author of the Second Helvetic Confession, Heinrich Bullinger.  In the next article we will take an overview of the confession that he penned.

A bit further on he makes the connection between the Swiss Reformed H.Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession, before going into a more detailed description of this godly man and his reforming work in the church of the 16th century:

The Second Helvetic Confession was exclusively the work of Heinrich Bullinger.  It was not commissioned by any particular church or group of churches.  Originally Bullinger intended it to be included with his last will and testament as an abiding testimony to his faith.  However, unforeseen circumstances led Bullinger to share the confession of faith that he had composed.  Those who first examined it immediately saw its value as a Reformed confession, among whom was Frederick III, the pious prince behind the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and Elector of the Palatinate.  What was intended to be a private confession of faith, therefore, turned out to be one of the most widely adopted confessions of the Reformation era.  Rather than to go into Bullinger’s grave with his remains, the Second Helvetic Confession was disseminated by Reformed believers around the world.

If you are interested in learning more about this significant Reformed confession, you are encouraged to subscribe to the “SB” and follow this interesting and informative series.

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing – Randall Van Meggelen

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing by Randall Van Meggelen | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Jan-2015While the theme of this month’s Tabletalk is the gospel (“The Good News”) and there are many good articles on this, I always enjoy and profit from the special rubric articles as well.

Under the rubric “Heart Aflame” musician and professor of music Randall Van Meggelen (see below) penned a nice piece on what to do “when you don’t feel like singing.” We have all experienced this reality in our lives, whether in public worship or private devotions, whether because of sadness, or depression, or just plain unspiritual attitudes.

To help us sing anyway, Van Megglen offers seven (7) doctrinal and practical points (all starting with a “p”). I give you the first two here and encourage you to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

PURPOSE

God saved us to proclaim His praises (1 Peter 2:9). He seeks true worshipers (John 4:23) who express their worship in song. Singing is an important means of glorifying and enjoying God. Singing expresses our covenant relationship with God and submission to His will. It demonstrates the unity we enjoy in God with His people. We sing to offer adoration, praise, and gratitude to God for His name, perfections, Word, and works. Singing helps us remember and celebrate God’s past saving deeds, rejoice in His present goodness, and rehearse our future heavenly worship. Singing is also a command, gift, and spiritual discipline that is formative not only for what we believe, but how we live. Therefore, proclaim God’s praises.

PASSION

Worship rightly evokes feelings, but it is not chiefly about how we feel. Our feelings must be informed by God’s Word and subject to Christ’s lordship, not to the whims of personal preference. Scripture commands us to rejoice in the Lord. Singing enlivens our minds, wills, and feelings in ways that words alone cannot. When we engage our whole selves by presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), He does not despise our worship, but is pleased to bless our obedience with a greater hunger for and joy in Him. Therefore, sing even when you do not feel like it.

Randall Van Meggelen is chief musician at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and adjunct professor of sacred music at Reformation Bible College.

The Prayers of J.Calvin (7)

Praying with calvin- JeremiahContinuing our posts of the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah, today we post a brief section from his sixth lecture and the prayer that concludes it. This covers Jeremiah 2:12-19, which includes this familiar rebuke: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (v.13).

In his exposition of this verse Calvin has this to say for our instruction and admonition:

When any one forsakes an old friend and connects himself with a new one, it is an iniquitous and a base conduct: but when there is no compensation, there is in it united together, folly, levity, and madness. If I despise what I know to be profitable to me, and embrace what I understand will be to my hurt, does not such a choice prove madness? This then is what the Prophet now means, when he says, that the people had sinned not only by departing from the true God, but also by going over, without any compensation, unto idols, which could confer no good on them.

…We now perceive what the Prophet meant, – that we cannot possibly be free from guilt when we leave the only true God, as in him is found for us a fulness of all blessings, and  from him we may draw what may fully satisfy us. When therefore we despise the bounty of God, which is sufficient to make us in every way happy, how great must be our ingratitude and wickedness? Yet God remains ever like himself; as then he has called himself the fountain of living waters, we shall at this day find him to be so, except he is prevented by our wickedness and neglect.

But the Prophet adds another crime; for when we fall away from God, our own conceits deceive us; and whatever may appear to us at the first view to be wells or fountains, yet when thirst shall come, we shall not find a drop of water in all our devices, they being nothing else but dry cavities (pp.92-94).

And then at the end of his lecture on this section of the prophet Calvin has this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast hitherto shewn to us so many favours, since the time thou hast been pleased to adopt us as thy people, – O grant, that we may not forget so great a kindness, nor be led away by the allurements of Satan, nor seek for ourselves inventions, which may at length turn to our ruin; but [grant] that we may continue fixed in our obedience to thee, and daily call on thee, and drink of the fulness of thy bounty, and at the same time strive to serve thee from the heart, and to glorify thy name, and thus to prove that we are wholly devoted to thee, according to the great obligations under which thou hast laid us, when it pleased thee to adopt us in thine only-begotten Son. – Amen (p.106).

The 50 Best Christian Books of 2014 | Monergism

The 50 Best Christian Books of 2014 | Monergism.

MonergismLogoHere’s another great list of the best Christian (and Reformed/Calvinistic) titles of this year, put together into five groups of ten books. There are plenty of good suggestions here too for your reading list and for building a good library. And you may also still get an idea of two for your Christmas season gift-giving.

You have heard me commend Monergism several times, as a great online store to keep up on good books and as a great website for other Reformed/Christian resources. Plus, you will want to check out their weekly offers of free ebooks – quite often Puritan and Reformed classics. Be sure to browse around a bit while you are at their site.

Here is the first group of ten best books, along with links for purchasing.

1-10

Barbara R. Duguid , Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration (P&R)
Joel R. Beeke, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible (Reformation Heritage)
Jeff Pollard, A Theology of the Family (NCFIC)
Dean Davis, The High King of Heaven (Redemption Press)
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Crossway)
John Calvin – Robert White (translator), The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1541 edition(Banner of Truth)
Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Crossway)
Chris Sinkinson, Time Travel to the Old Testament: An Essential Companion for the Christian Explorer (P&R)
Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP)
David Gibson (editor) From Heaven He Came and Sought Her (Crossway)

Emerson, Scripture, and Our Permissive Society

Markings on long journey-TimmermanContinuing my readings in the collection of John J. Timmerman’s writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982), I came across this good commentary in connection with an article Timmerman wrote for The Banner back in October of 1970. 
 
The article is titled “Emerson and Our Permissive Society” and treats the permissive youth culture that was becoming rampant in his day and that has only continued into our own day.
 
Timmerman first describes how Ralph W.Emerson’s philosophy (along with Henry D. Thoreau, leading 19th century Transcendentalists) influenced his own generation and subsequent ones, including our own:
‘What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions if I live wholly from within? ..No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature. The only right is what is after my constitution. The highest revelation of God is in every man. Make your own Bible.’
Concerning which he states: “This is the ultimate permissiveness. Trust your own instincts, trust only your own conscience, and make your own Bible” (160).
 
But then Timmerman ends with what must be our only standard and guide in answering to a society gone utterly permissive, a standard that will alone help our youth conquer this “Emersonian individualism in which each man does his own thing as seems right in his own eyes. …We have to transcend personal conscience; we must find an objective law to which young and old can submit, a set of sanctions which we find in Scripture.”
 
And from there he adds these significant words:
The cogency of this answer will depend upon the value we place upon Scripture and the way we interpret it. If the Bible is a book whose historical accuracy has to be established by extra-biblical documents, if we have to find its meaning through highly sophisticated mythological approaches, if we see in the biblical stories recurrent archetypes, symbols or images whose origins lie in a shadowy evolutionary past – then we are, it seems to me, destroying the uniqueness of the book. If we disregard the testimony of traditional Christian experience as it has been illuminated by the Spirit through generations of Christians, if the main lines of scriptural truth are no longer plain over the ages and have to be reinterpreted by each generation, we will wonder just how valid our temporary interpretations are. I do not that my grandmother, who was a life-long reader of the Bible, or that my father, who was a gifted student of the Bible, came to basic convictions about the creation of Adam and Eve, redemption, grace, and Christian duties without the guidance of the Spirit. If basic interpretations have constantly to be changed instead of being rooted in the past and developed in conformity with it instead of repudiation of it, then Emerson was right when he said, ‘God speaks,’, not spoke once for all (161-62).
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