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

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 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

“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.

The Christian and Suffering – R.C. Sproul

TT-Aug-2016Last night in our home church (Faith PRC) our Seminary intern, Justin Smidstra, brought a comforting message to us from James 1:2-4 about our calling to rejoice in the midst of all the trials God gives us in this life.

That tied in nicely to the article I read by Dr. R.C. Sproul Sunday morning. Writing in his usual column “Right Now Counts Forever,” Sproul explained the difference between and the connection between “bearing and enduring” as found in I 1 Cor.13:7.

For our profit today as we start a new work week and begin to face the manifold trials God places on our path, I quote a section from that article. May it give us proper perspective and enable us by God’s abounding grace to “count it all joy” when we fall into these trials.

Pain and suffering tend to eat away not only at our love but also at our faith, because we begin to wonder if God is loving and if He is even real. We ask how in the world He can let this relentless pain grip our lives. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our attention on the Word of God. We are told not to be surprised when suffering comes our way. The New Testament doesn’t say that suffering might occur—it says it’s a certainty. Remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 when he talks about what he bore for the sake of the gospel: beatings, stonings, being left for dead, shipwrecks, days and nights at sea, fighting with wild beasts, and constantly being the target of human hostility. Why was he willing to bear those things? Because he understood the divine purpose for suffering and the divine promise not only of relief from suffering, but of the redemption of the suffering itself. In this interim between Christ’s resurrection and return, Christians are called to participate in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). By bearing and enduring pain, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus and mirror and reflect Him to onlookers. Pain and suffering are opportunities to show the love that God has shed abroad in our hearts.

Source: Bearing and Enduring by R.C. Sproul

The Pillar and Ground of the Truth – Prof.R. Dykstra

SB-June-2016-coverIn the June issue of The Standard Bearer Prof.R. Dykstra has a powerful and profitable editorial on the church as the pillar and ground of the truth.

The passage he expounds is the striking one in 1 Timothy 3:15:

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

In explaining this verse, he gives us these important thoughts for contemplation:

Scripture applies that figure to the church, calling the church the pillar and ground “of the truth.” In this figure, the truth is pictured as the roof, as it were. As the pillar of the truth, the church holds up the truth. As the ground, the church is that on which the truth rests. The picture reveals that the church on this earth acts as the support of the truth. Without the church the truth would come crashing down.

…What then must the church do to be faithful to this description, this calling? In a word, the church must defend, maintain, and promote the truth. What a glorious calling God has given to the church! The truth is a treasure beyond compare, for it is the revelation of God Himself, the sovereign Creator and Preserver of the entire creation. It is the truth of the Holy One, far exalted above all that He has made, infinite in His perfections. It is the truth about Jehovah, the Triune, covenant God.

That truth is set forth in God’s beloved Son, Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. This Jesus is the very Word of God. When God speaks, He reveals Himself to His people. That speech is always in and through Jesus Christ, for “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). To His people, God’s speech expresses His love for them manifest concretely in the cross of Jesus.

What a glorious possession is God’s truth! Because God is unchanging, His truth is unchanging. God’s truth reaches “unto the clouds” (Ps. 57:10). All His “works are truth” (Dan. 4:37) and He “keepeth truth for ever” (Ps. 146:6). Thus, His “truth endureth to all generations” (Ps. 100:5), even “for ever” (Ps. 117:2).

Truth is a vitally important gift. “Mercy and truth preserve the king” (Prov. 20:28); it is the believer’s “shield and buckler” (Ps. 91:4). God “begat…us with the word of truth” (Jam. 1:18). Jesus promised all His disciples that they will “know the truth, and the truth shall make [them] free” (John 8:32). And He commanded that “they that worship [God] must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

The church is the pillar and ground of that truth. She is called to set forth that truth in all its beauty. The church studies the Bible with the desire to grow in understanding of God’s truth. She develops the doctrines of Scripture so that the truth is ever more clearly and precisely maintained. This happens weekly as the minister searches the Scriptures and preaches the truth to his congregation. This happens as believers expound the truth in articles, pamphlets, books. The truth is being held up, sharpened, and displayed.

May we seek that truth in Jesus Christ today as we worship with God’s church. And may we promote and defend that truth in all our life and labors as members of Christ’s church, so that He is seen in every place as The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Legalism and the Grace of God in Christ – Nicholas Batzig

TT-June-2016This month’s Tabletalk addresses a serious error into which the church of Christ and Christians can easily fall – that of legalism.  Legalism goes hand in hand with other sins as well – pride, self-righteousness, Phariseeism, and judgmentalism to name but a few.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject in his editorial “Legalism vs. Gospel Religion.” The first main featured article, “Legalism Defined: Taken Captive by Empty Deceit,” is by Rev. Nick Batzig, and it is from this one that we quote today.

In an early paragraph, Batzig defines legalism this way:

Legalism is, by definition, an attempt to add anything to the finished work of Christ. It is to trust in anything other than Christ and His finished work for one’s standing before God. The New Testament refutation of legalism is primarily a response to perversions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The majority of the Savior’s opponents were those who believed that they were righteous in and of themselves, based on their zeal for and commitment to the law of God. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes exemplified, by their words and deeds, doctrinal legalism in the days of Christ and the Apostles. While they made occasional appeals to grace, they self-righteously truncated and twisted the Scriptural meaning of grace. The Apostle Paul summed up the nature of Jewish legalism when he wrote: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3–4).

But then he also shows how a proper understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone keeps us on the right path:

Understanding the relationship between the law and the gospel for our justification is paramount to learning how to avoid doctrinal legalism. The Scriptures teach that we are justified by the Savior’s works—not our own. The last Adam came to do all that the first Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:47–49). He was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). He came to be our representative in order to fulfill the legal demands of God’s covenant—namely, to render to God perfect, personal, and continual obedience on behalf of His people. Jesus merited perfect righteousness for all those whom the Father had given Him. We, through faith-union with Him, receive a righteous status by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In Christ, God provides what He demands. The good works for which God has redeemed believers, that we might walk in them, do not in any way whatsoever play into our justification. They are merely the necessary evidence that God has forgiven and accepted us in Christ.

Finally, after pointing out how legalism can creep into our hearts and lives in practical ways too, he ends by showing that the only cure for this error is the pure grace of God:

The grace of God in the gospel is the only cure for doctrinal and practical legalism. When we recognize doctrinal or practical legalism in our lives, we must flee to Christ crucified. As we do, we will again begin to grow in our love for the One who died to heal us of our propensity to trust in our own works or achievements. On a daily basis, we need to be reminded of the grace that has covered all of our sins, provided us with righteousness from outside of ourselves and freed us from the power of sin. Only then will we joyfully pursue holiness. Only then will we love God’s law without attempting to keep it for our justification before Him.

Source: Legalism Defined by Nicholas Batzig

God is God: A Fire in the Church’s Bones – H.Hoeksema

In connection with the 75th anniversary of the Reformed Witness Hour this year, we plan to post some excerpts from various messages delivered on the program in the past.

The very first message broadcast on the RWH (“The Protestant Reformed Hour” as it was initially called) was “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).

Today we post this paragraph from that first radio message in this published form – a powerful word for the church today. At his point in his message, Hoeksema is explaining what it means that the church is a witness to the truth that God is God.

For the church to be witness of this implies not only that the church hears and believes the word of God and professes nothing about God of herself, but it also means that the church speaks and that her speech is strictly a testimony. The church is called to speak. She is under authority to speak. She has no choice in the matter, for God has chosen and ordained her for this very purpose. She has neither the alternative whether to speak or not to speak, nor the choice of what shall be the content of her speech. Always she must say, ‘God is God.’ The church cannot refrain from speaking, because the divine calling she has is irresistible. When God directs his omnipotent word to the church, saying, ‘Ye are my witnesses,’ the word becomes a fire in her bones, an overwhelming power that impels the church to speak. This is the reason the church institutes the ministry of the word wherever she comes to manifestation in the world. She must proclaim that God is God. The character and form of her speech is that of a testimony, for she witnesses of the word of God that she hears (p.8).

Should Not Perish – Guy Richard

TT-May-2016As we noted last time, the featured articles in this month’s Tabletalk (May 2016) focus on the theme of the Reformed theology of John 3:16. As Reformed Christians, we must not let the Arminians, who have so abused and misused this text, rob us of its true gospel content and comfort.

Another featured article that I read and profited from today was this one from Dr. Guy M. Richard, a PCA pastor in Gulfport, Mississippi. Carefully and clearly, according to the Scriptures, he explains what the word “perish” signifies and what the promise of John 3:16 means when it says that those who believe on Jesus Christ will “not perish.”

This is how he ends his article, but you may find all of it at the link below. As we end this Lord’s day, let us who have placed our trust in the only Savior rejoice that we will not perish, as we deserve.

This understanding of the word perish is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching about hell. In Matthew 25:31–46, for example, Jesus sets the “eternal life” that is reserved for “the righteous” over against the “eternal fire” (v. 41) and the “eternal punishment” (v. 46) that is reserved for everyone else (referred to as both “goats” who do not follow the shepherd and as “cursed”). Those who do not receive eternal life do not simply die or cease to exist. They experience an eternity of “destruction” or “punishment” that manifests itself in “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 18:8; Mark 9:43, 48; Luke 3:17) or in the “fiery furnace” in which “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42, 50). This is what it means to perish. It is an eternity of getting what our sins and our rejection of Jesus Christ deserve.

And this is precisely why John 3:16 is so encouraging for the Christian. It holds out to us the promise that “whoever believes” in Jesus Christ will not perish. Although our sins and our rebellion clearly deserve an eternity of destruction, that is not what we will receive from God. He will be merciful. He will spare us from destruction. He will not give us what we deserve. Jesus has ensured that. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift (2 Cor. 9:15).

But John 3:16 also stands as a warning that there are only two types of people in the world: those who are perishing and those who believe in the Son and are thus spared from perishing; those who “remain” under God’s wrath for eternity and those who believe and receive eternal life instead (John 3:36). Each person’s response to Jesus determines which of the two categories he or she is in. Those who respond to Him in faith and obedience (which is the fruit and, thus, the proof of genuine faith) will not perish but will have eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith and obedience will not be shown mercy. The wrath of God will remain on them for eternity.

The good news of John 3:16 is that, though we were all at one time numbered among the perishing, now, through faith in Christ alone, that is no longer the case. We have been shown mercy. And for that reason, we will not perish.

Source: Should Not Perish by Guy Richard

What It Means to Be Reformed: Christian Life – Prof.B. Gritters

StandardBearerIn the May 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer Prof.B. Gritters concluded his series of editorials on “What It Means to Be Reformed.” The last segments of the series treated the Reformed Christian life.

One of the sub-points in this part of the series was the truth that the Reformed Christian lives a “dual citizenship” in this life – in the church and in the world. This is how he explains the first citizenship:

When the Reformed Christian’s spiritual GPS asks him to assign an address for “Home,” he enters “Church.” Membership in and life in a true church is the starting point and ending point of his existence. The center of his life is the church— the church as institute. Although he has many interests in the world and a multitude of responsibilities, these interests and responsibilities all trace their significance back to his membership in the church.

What demands that he make the church central is his union with Christ. Christ Himself makes the church central. He ascended into heaven “that He might appear as head of His church,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says. God “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,” as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1. “The church He loveth well,” the Psalms teach us to sing. For the Reformed Christian, no minimizing of church is permissible. Hold that thought.

But, then, he also goes on to show that the Reformed Christian lives a full life in this world – though he is not “of it.”

Reformed Christians also live in, and have a citizenship in, the world. They are citizens in a particular country and reside in an earthly community where not all are Christians. They have responsibilities there. They do not flee the world, Anabaptist-fashion, but live as productive citizens in it, engaging freely but cautiously in all its dimensions. They seek an occupation that fits their gifts, study to advance understanding in science and the liberal arts, and delight in good music and arts. In other words, they live broadly as productive citizens with a view to the welfare of the community. Part of that life is submitting to the magistrate. Reformed Christians usually cast votes for their leaders and, if necessary, write letters of concern to the powers that be. Some will sign petitions to keep a business closed on Sunday, or to
bar from the neighborhood a so-called Gentlemen’s Club, an abortion clinic, or a casino. Others will join with fellow citizens—of course, in a manner that does not compromise their Christian principles—to oppose evils like abortion, or do good for the community or nation in which they live. They are citizens of an earthly country.

In that connection, he also points out the real danger of neglecting this part of the Christian life:

There is a real danger that we Reformed Christians belittle or even shun these components of the Christian’s existence, huddle in a little corner, and avoid contact with the world. There is a history of Christians making this mistake, and we must not repeat it by an unbiblical understanding of antithetical living. Living antithetically does not mean physical separation from the world. Healthy Reformed Christians grasp the teaching of the Belgic Confession’s Article 36, and appreciate its reference to I Timothy 2’s call to pray for rulers. And even if they do reject the new, but common and foolish, interpretation of Jeremiah 29:7—that Babylon must somehow be transformed by our efforts and even become the friend of the church—they also properly understand Jeremiah’s call to seek the peace of today’s “Babylon.”

How then shall we live? In this way, by God’s sovereign grace.