False gods: “The glitter of idols is overcome by the glory of God.”

no-other-godsGood thoughts read today in this weekend’s devotional in the November Tabletalk – “False Gods” by Joe Thorn.

Another reason we are prone to idolatry is because we want to be autonomous, not accountable. To admit that we are the creation of God is to confess that we belong to Him, that He has authority over us. It not only means that He alone should be worshiped, but that we must answer to Him for what we do and who we have become. Idolatry is tempting because, at least in our minds, it frees us from the God who owns us.

Idolatry is not just delusional, it is dangerous. Such false gods will not only fail to serve us and save us, but they will lead us to our condemnation. It is only when we see idols for what they are, in contrast to who the Lord is, that the glitter of idols is overcome by the glory of God.

This is the core reason why we worship idols – because we are not gripped with the glory of God, glory that is seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who Himself is the ‘radiance’ of God’s glory (Heb.1:3), whose death brought about our redemption, and whose resurrection secured our life. The beginning of the end of the idolatry in our hearts is found in the supremacy of Jesus Christ (p.58).

November Tabletalk: Christian Maturity

We are nearly halfway through the month of November and we have not yet called your attention to this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’s monthly devotional magazine.

tt-nov-2016The November 2016 issue focuses our minds and hearts on the subject of Christian maturity, a trait mirrored in the creation in the Fall season as the crops reach their ripened state and are harvested. So believers in Christ are to develop in Christian graces as we go through life, so that in the harvest of our lives we are ripe for glory, to the praise of the God of all grace.

Burk Parsons introduces this subject with an editorial titled “Mature in Christ.” There he writes in his closing remarks:

Paul said to young Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Even the youngest believers can attain and model emotional and spiritual maturity, for maturity is not a matter of age. Some of the youngest among us are the most mature and some of the oldest are the least mature. Young and old alike, God calls all His people to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), and this not so people will exalt us but so they will exalt our risen and returning Savior, as we strive to live as mature believers, looking to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

One of the main articles I read yesterday before worship was “Immaturity” by Dr. Dan Demas. Part of his message is to put the finger on the causes of immaturity in the church and among Christians in our day. He points to three causes: apathy, laziness, and ignorance – all serious maladies.

About apathy he writes:

Apathy is a primary maturity killer. When self-focus enters our hearts and consumes us, the hunger for spiritual things exits. The cold hard fact is that some people just don’t care and have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Small thoughts of God yield a small view of sanctification.

Little thoughts of God snuff out the necessary zeal for mature Christlikeness. The backslider has said in his heart, “I don’t care.” A cold, apathetic faith is an immature faith. Immaturity as a result of apathy doesn’t animate anything; it only steals, kills, and destroys maturity. Apathy cannot be reasoned with and makes us numb to spiritual realities. All sin makes us stupid, but apathy makes us cold and stupid.

But Demas is not simply negative in his approach to immaturity. At the end of his article he points us to the positive side:

We must have sanctification in our sights. Make maturity a high-value target. Ask God to awaken zeal in you to fight the flesh. Ask Him to ignite your zeal for truth. Maturity is not for a select few but is the goal for all of us. Once you’ve tasted maturity, it’s hard to go back.

…We must exchange apathy, laziness, and ignorance for a zeal for spiritual maturity, an insatiable appetite for the Word, the necessary discipline to consistently walk in the Spirit, and a passion for modeling maturity for the next generation. My prayer is that God will awaken us to our apathy, give us a healthy disdain for immaturity, a right theological perspective regarding sanctification, the necessary discipline to pursue maturity with diligence, and a hunger and thirst for a more mature faith.

Is maturity in our Christian faith and life something we are striving for and praying for?

How Do the Sacraments Function in Worship? – Rev. C. Griess

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer (just out), Rev. C. Griess (pastor of Calvary PRC in Hull, IA) returns to contributing to his series on worship for the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.”

For this volume year (93) he will be writing on the place of the sacraments in Reformed and biblical worship. His first installment introduces this important subject under the title “The Sacraments in Worship.”

What follows are a few paragraphs from this article. In them pastor Griess reminds us of the proper place and function of the sacraments in the true worship of the church of Christ.

Since the sacraments are elements of worship, they are part of the holy dialogue between God and His people. This is the divine motivation for regulating worship in such a way that the sacraments take place in church worship. In these sacraments God speaks to us, all His people, and we, hearing and understanding and appropriating His speech, respond to Him in prayer and praise. The sacraments have their own dialogue, so that there is a “dialogue within the dialogue” when the sacraments are used. In fact, this is the primary purpose of the sacraments, and we are to use them this way, aware that a holy and special conversation with Jehovah is taking place through them. This makes the sacraments, too, part of the covenantal assembly, the assembly of fellowship with God.

If you recently had a baptism in your church God spoke to the congregation beautifully. He did not just speak to the parents or to the one being baptized. He had a declaration to give to the whole of His true people gathered before Him. The main point of that baptism was not that God was there acting in that sign itself. God is not as Roman Catholics and many Lutheran and Anglicans teach, actually regenerating the one baptized by the water. The sacrament itself, that is, the water on the person, though a visible thing, is not accomplishing a divine invisible action. It is accomplishing a divine invisible speech. Even the sealing aspect of the sacrament is accomplished by what is being declared. The sacraments are speech that give witness to divine acts, but they are not the acts themselves; they are declarations.

That is why the Catechism asks and answers, “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all…” (Q&A 72). Well, then, what is it? Lord’s Day 25, A. 66 states, “The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that He may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel” (emphasis added). Declare! Speak! And then, to answer this question, How do the sacraments speak to us? Lord’s Day 26, A.69 “Christ appointed this external washing with water adding thereto this promise… (emphasis added).Christ attached a promise to this sacrament, so that it is God speaking to us. In baptism God is speaking to His church.

For information on subscribing to this Reformed periodical, visit the RFPA link above.

“This diamond Jesus Christ.” – Martin Luther

reformation-in-lit-smellie-1925Another interesting book that is part of the T. Letis collection (and that was also part of the library of Prof. D. Engelsma) is The Reformation in Its Literature by Alexander Smellie (Andrew Melrose, London/New York, 1925 – also author of The Men of the Covenant).

The book is a wonderful study of the Reformation from the viewpoint of the major works of literature that it produced – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to Calvin’s Institutes to Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Last evening I read chapter three, “The Deep Heart of Martin Luther,” a study of Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Part of that chapter focused on the Reformer’s view of Jesus Christ – a gem of a section. This is part of what Smellie had to say:

But Luther has a still vaster and sweeter word for us to set over against the battalions of our adversaries – the word ‘Christ.’ ‘This diamond Jesus Christ,’ ‘this precious pearl Christ’; no jewel can be compared with Him. Those of us who wish to see what endless resources the Reformer finds in Our Saviour and Lord must return to Hermann’s wonderful book, The Communion of the Christian with God, and must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the chapter which is headed ‘Luther and Christ.’  How he retained the Christological dogma of the Mediaeval Church in which he had been nurtured, but breathed into it a vital and ardent and magnificent content. How he was sure of the Deity of Christ, and believed that ‘the man who seeks salvation will stop trying to help himself only when he knows that God has helped him.’ How he was just as rejoicingly certain of Our Lord’s humanity, and rose from the humanity step by step to the vision and conviction of the Deity. ‘For the Scriptures begin very gently, and lead us on to Christ as to a Man, then afterwards to a Lord over all creatures, and after that to a God. So do I enter delightfully and learn to know God. But the philosophers and the all-wise men have wanted to begin from above; and so they have become fools. We must begin from below, and after that come upwards.’ How, in short, confidence in Christ is all that poor sinners need; for He is the true and faithful Lover of those who are in trouble and anguish. He is the merciful High Priest of the wretched and the fearful (pp.65-66).

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The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue

Special Reformation Issue on M.Luther – Oct.15, 2016 Standard Bearer

The annual special Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and it truly is a special issue – entirely devoted to “Martin Luther, Reformer Convicted by Scripture.”

sb-oct-2016-luther

As you will see from the above cover and table of contents, the issue contains a variety of articles on Martin Luther and the beginning of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century – from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to his struggle for assurance to his views on Scripture and the church.

There is much edifying reading here, and you are encouraged to make this reading a priority this month as we remember God’s work in His church in the past. To obtain your issue or to subscribe to this Reformed magazine, visit the SB link above.

For today, let’s hear Luther himself, as found in his commentary on Galatians 2:19 (Kregel, 1979), quoted in the “Meditation” for this issue.

Christ, with most sweet names, is called my law, my sin, my death, against the law, sin and death: whereas, in very deed He is nothing else but mere liberty, righteousness, life, and everlasting salvation. And for this cause He is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me, and quicken me. So then, while Christ is the law, He is also liberty: while He is sin (for ‘He was made sin for us’), He is righteousness; and while He is death, He is life. For in that He suffered the law to accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to devour Him, He abolished the law, He condemned sin, He destroyed death, He justified and saved me. So Christ is the poison of the law, sin, and death, and the remedy for the obtaining  of liberty, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Thus Paul goeth about to draw us wholly from the beholding of the law, sin, death, and all other evils, and to bring us unto Christ, that there we might behold this joyful conflict: to wit the law fighting against the law, that it may be to me liberty: sin against sin, that it may be to me righteousness: death against death, that I may obtain life: Christ fighting against the devil, that I may be the child of God: and destroying hell that I may enjoy the Kingdom of heaven (p.87)

October “Tabletalk”: The Doctrine of Scripture – Stephen Nichols

tt-oct-2016Yesterday I began diving into the October issue of Tabletalk – and I mean diving! This issue has ten rich and rewarding (deep!) articles on the church in the sixteenth century, as the monthly devotional magazine continues its series on each century of church history.

That means, of course, that this issue is on the Reformation, and it is covered well, with articles ranging from “The Necessity of the Reformation” (Dr. R. Godfrey) to “The Reformation of Education” ( Dr. P. Lillback). And, yes, worship, justification by faith alone, the sacraments, and marriage are also covered.

But the theology of the Reformation begins with the doctrine of Scripture, which is treated ably by Dr. Stephen Nichols and is the article I chose to feature today.

Below are a few of his paragraphs; find the rest at the link at the end. In addition, by all means read editor Burk Parsons introduction – “Truth and True Peace.”

The Reformation was built upon the Bible, so we should not be surprised to find in the Reformers a robust doctrine of Scripture. One helpful construct to unpack the doctrine of Scripture involves four key terms: authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency. Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli stated the authority of Scripture rather clearly by drawing attention to the two-word Latin phrase Dominus dixit, meaning “Thus says the Lord.” The Bible is God’s Word, therefore it is true; therefore, it is authoritative; therefore, it is inerrant; therefore, it is infallible; and therefore, it is our only sure guide.

John Calvin famously likened Scripture to spectacles. Apart from Scripture, we misread the natural world, human nature, and the Creator. Scripture alone gives us the clear picture of who God is, who we are, and what God’s plan for the world truly is. Without Scripture, we stumble around in the dark. Scripture is necessary to see the world rightly.

Source: The Doctrine of Scripture by Stephen Nichols

“The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic.” – Martin Luther

bondagewilllutherIn Martin Luther’s introduction to his classic work On The Bondage of the Will (Cole ed., Baker reprint, 1976) he gives some fundamental principles for refuting Erasmus’ Diatribe (in which the latter defends free will). His starting point is the authority of the Bible as God’s Word.

Another of those principles is the clarity of holy Scripture. Erasmus (following the medieval sophists of his day) claimed that the Bible was so unclear that Christians could not make definite assertions about doctrine (such as free will and man’s total depravity). Luther demolishes this argument on the basis of the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture.

One of his classic statements is found in this “Introduction”:

The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic, nor are what He has written on our hearts doubts or opinions, but assertions more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience. (p.24)

But later he also has this to say:

But, that there are in the Scriptures some things abstruse, and that all things are not quite plain, is a report spread abroad by the impious Sophists; by whose mouth you speak, Erasmus. But they never have produced, nor ever can produce, one article whereby to prove this their madness. And it is with such scare-crows that Satan has frightened away men from reading the Sacred Writings, and has rendered the Holy Scripture contemptible, that he might cause his poisons of philosophy to prevail in the church.

This indeed I confess, that there are many places in the Scriptures obscure and abstruse; not from the majesty of the things, but from our ignorance of certain terms and grammatical particulars; but which do not prevent a knowledge of all the things in the Scriptures. For what thing of more importance can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulchre, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light, Christ made man: that God is Trinity and Unity: that Christ suffered for us, and will reign to all eternity?

Are not these things known and proclaimed even in our streets? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find remaining in them? (pp.25-26)

As children of the Reformation. are we certain about this clarity of the Bible? And if we are, do we embrace wholeheartedly the truth (assertions) contained in them? Do we hear, see, and believe (receive) the Christ revealed in them?

As we worship our God today and hear His Word read and sung and preached, let us be true Protestants and bow before the pure, clear revelation of our God in His Savior-Son.

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