Results tagged “Covenant Children” from Reformation21 Blog

When It Happens Among Us...

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Great sadness and shock have struck the denomination of which I am a minister--the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. That shock pales in comparison with the tragedy faced by the members of Chabad Poway who suffered grievous loss at the hands of John Earnest, a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The unspeakable, which normally takes place far from the door-step of denominations like the OPC, has kicked in the door and left carnage: a race-inspired shooting, death and destruction. The statements released by the Pastor of the church, and the Moderator and Stated Clerk of the OPC speak clearly for themselves, and also for all Orthodox Presbyterians.

There is no defense for such an act. There is no justification. No explicitly Christian theology can ever justify such terror mingled with anti-Semitism or other racial bias and sin. Orthodox Presbyterians know this is not the norm. Racial bias and violence are not taught explicitly or implicitly from its pulpits (at least not in my experience). The only explicit racism I have encountered in the OPC was that which was dealt with in a church discipline case, to the credit of the church in which it occurred. Those who have truly embraced Reformed theology know that God's plan of salvation transcends racial, social and economic borders. They know that the free offer of the gospel goes out to all regardless of race or religion. In fact, those who truly adhere to Reformed theology have a better-than-average understanding of the globalization of the gospel, promised early on to Abram (Gen. 12) and then commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18ff). In fact, I would adamantly insist that any racism that was historically tolerated or propagated in churches that professed to believe Reformed theology was glaringly antithetical to the system of doctrine which they professed. 

The purpose of this article, however, is not to defend Reformed theology or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from charges of racism, charges made either from within and without. That is easy enough to do. We have such clear words in Scripture. For instance, Ex. 22:21; 1 Sam 16:7; Acts 17:26; Gal. 3:28; Revelation 7:9. Particularly when it comes to anti-Semitism, the most obvious refutation from a Christian perspective are the words of our Lord Jesus from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). We also have clear teaching on our doctrinal standards. Westminster Larger Catechism 191 abundantly speaks to the matter of racism as a heinous sin and our duties towards others. Neither do I wish to contest that racism exists in reformed denominations: that would be like saying the pride does not exist in Reformed denominations. Nor do I wish to contest the argument that there has been a long history of anti-semitism in the church. Martin Luther was guilty of it. However, one is hard-pressed to provide convincing argumentation that the modern-day American church is anti-Semitic--actually, quite the opposite. Given the ill-advised admixture of politics and faith, the American church has largely been pro-Israel.

Neither do I wish to dwell on the unhelpful rhetoric of some within the church towards this situation. "Pastors need to take a look at themselves," we are told. Of course we do. As long as that means all pastors, including those who are making these calls (and in all areas of our lives). Some comments coming out of those quarters have come close to insinuating that a lack of careful teaching in John Earnest's church was the cause of this shooting. That argument is facile and is guilty of the very error it accuses others of: it lacks nuance, sensitivity and any real insight of that church's preaching and teaching. By the same argument we might as well blame Jesus' teaching and lack of learned sensitivity to the Jews (of two thousand years ago!) for their rejection and crucifixion of him. The church is not to blame, though it is an easy target. The pastor in question is not to blame either, and these accusations appear to pander to the current knee-jerk reaction of the world which reduces everything to bias, race or inequality of some kind.

Moreover, I do not wish to take a pot-shot at the family of the shooter. I do not know the family, their parenting, family-life, or church commitment. It is simply impossible to speculate on whether such were causes.

Yet, of this much we can be sure: from a denomination which highly values God's gracious covenant and His promises, from a family which presumably raised their children under these promises, came one who perpetrated a devilish act, supported by a devilish manifesto. The reality check for us all is this: it could be your son or my son that commits such an act. Or for pastors, it could be one your members under your ministry that commits such a crime. That includes pastors who make social justice the primary application of the gospel of Christ. Left to the depravity of their hearts, any of our children (God forbid) could end up acting out horrific racially or ideologically motivated crimes. 

Whether as preachers of the gospel or as parents, Scripture shows us that God's covenant is generational (Gen. 17:7 and Acts 2:39 for example). As covenantal Christians we expect, as we make use of God's means of grace in church and the home, that God will bless our children with faith and trust in Him and His Son. But, does faithful preaching and parenting lead to faithful members and children? Generally, the answer is "yes!" Not that the faithfulness of the preacher or the parent is the cause of children coming to faith, but God has given us means to use them and raise our children in covenant nurture. We ought, as we do with the preaching of the word (c.f. Romans 10:14), to look for God to work through those means, in the church and the home.

However, Scripture also provides us with multiple examples and explicit teaching that this is not always the case. Proverbs spends much of its time instructing parents and children in the way they should go. It holds out life for the child who hears, believes and obeys, and poverty, sorrow and death to the one who rejects that teaching. 

The Proverbs do not teach us that if we are faithful enough as parents our children will receive our teaching.1 Rather, they reveal that we are to be faithful in our teaching of our children and they are to receive that teaching. However, they also reveal--just as with the preached Word (the primary means of grace)--some will receive it and others will not.

Proverbs 5 starts like many other chapters of the book, with instructions to hear and learn and be wise. There are many such instructions in Proverbs. The faithful parent, pictured chapter after chapter in these Proverbial instructions repeatedly calls the child to a faith-filled response. However, Proverbs 5 reveals that in spite of such faithful parenting and instruction (and we know the same is true for preaching) there is responsibility to receive that same instruction. Observe the dynamic of Proverbs 5:7ff,

"And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, "How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation."2

Do we not see the call to hear? Do we not see the call to hear and listen? Do we not see the warnings to stay away from troubles? Do we not see the same call repeated many times over in Proverbs? And yet, it seems, the son in this case rejects the godly counsel of his parents. What he heard in the pew, what he heard in the living room, he did not embrace by faith, but rather rejected it for the fleeting delights of the world.

Do we not see that this could be us? It could not just be our church - from under our own ministries - from which such evil comes, but also from our own families. It could be from white families, African-American families, Chinese-American families or Welsh-American (in my case) families from which one comes who is a devil. The faithfulness of teaching in church or in the home does not guarantee the faith or godliness of the hearer. As Thomas Goodwin noted, "Judas heard all of Christ's sermons."3 It could be that any of our children may be lost to anti-Semitism, inner-city gang life and warfare, drugs or any other such evils. We are right to examine ourselves in such times of tragedy. We should ask ourselves, "Is my preaching as a minister generally faithful or not? Is my parenting generally faithful or not?" But, to simplistically jump to a conclusion about a church, a pastor or a family is unbiblical and blinds us to the fact that God will have mercy on whom he will, and will harden whom he wills (Rom. 9:15, 18).

What then is our remedy? First, we ought not to think the route of the Poway shooter is the norm. Faithful pastors and parents have every expectation of godly children without ever falling into the sin of presumption. So, we still raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Second, we pray and pray (see Calvin's four rules of prayer, Institutes Vol III, Ch. 20 for the atmosphere of this prayer - confidence and expectation) that God will bless those means with faith in the hearer. In other words, we are to do what God has told us to do and leave the rest up to him. Third, parents of straying children ought never to give up. Church discipline is sure to follow in this case. Therein lies our hope for the church and the perpetrator. Church discipline was not instituted by Christ to principally tell the world that such behavior is "not welcome in the church" (that's the world's language). That is a shallow view of the means of grace. Rather, church discipline first protects and vindicates the honor of Christ, then it preserves and protects the church from wickedness, impurity and danger, and if the Lord wills, may it be a means of grace for the perpetrator in this situation. Let's pray to that end - and for the perpetrator's own salvation.

The act of terror in Poway was Satanic and deserves not only the full measure of the civil magistrate's rule, but also of the church's rule. However, may we never forget that this evil has come from within the covenant community (see Acts 2:23) and could have come from anywhere in the church, or any family. We need grace to be humble and Christlike in our self-reflection. Then, as we seek to be careful in our call for self-examination - let us be informed in such calls. By all means, let us be careful what we say, how we say it, especially in public ministries. But let us all--pastors and parents alike--approach this with the realization that such a tragedy could strike far closer to home that we ever could have expected.

1. Prov. 22:6 ought not be appealed to as a counterpoint here, without rigorous research and exegesis of that passage.

2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 5:7-14.

3. Alexander Whyte Thirteen Appreciations (Fleming H. Revell Co.) p. 174.


Rev. Matthew Holst is the pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. 


When Our Children Sin

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Do you remember when you first learned you would have a child? You likely prayed over your little one day after day. Even though you'd never met him or her in person, you loved your child more than anything. You waited for months--and if you were an adoptive parent, sometimes years--anticipating the amazing moment when you would hold that precious gift of God in your arms.

As new parents, it can be hard to think of our sweet baby as a sinner--unless he or she cries all night, then we are convinced of it! It isn't until our precious little one starts to move around, gets into things, and even starts to talk back that the evidence of their sinfulness hits us. That first time they reach out to touch something right after we told them not to, or the first time they yelled "No!" in response to an instruction we give, the truth that we knew in our mind about their sinful state is fully realized. The doctrine of sin we learned in church hits us square in the face: our children inherited the same sinful state we all inherit from Adam (1 Cor. 15:22, Ps. 51:5).

Despite this theological knowledge, sometimes it's shocking to see our children's sin on full display: angry outbursts, lying, stealing, idolatry, bullying, defiance, to name a few. And all this can happen before a child enters kindergarten! As our children grow into their teen years, they will face greater temptations to sin. More than shocking, it's often disheartening to watch our children sin. It can break our heart when our children make choices that lead them farther and farther off the path of life. Many a parent has wept over a child's sinfulness.

Preach, Point, and Pray the Gospel

When we see our children sin, whether as a young toddler touching breakables on the shelf or as a first grader lying about a school assignment or as a teen watching a movie they were forbidden to watch, we need to remember the gospel. When we despair over our children's choices, we need to remember the gospel. When we fear the path our children are headed down, we need to remember the gospel.

We need to preach the gospel to ourselves, remembering that we are all born fallen in sin. We were once separated from God, and it was by his grace that he saved us. We must remember that our children need the same gospel we need. It's not going to be our excellent parenting, or the top-notch education, or the amazing life experiences that transform our children; rather, it's going to be the power of the gospel. We must trust and look for God to work in their hearts and lives. We also need to point our children to the gospel. We have a responsibility as parents to teach and disciple them in the faith (see Deut. 6:6-9).

We need to teach our children who Jesus is and what he came to do. We need to teach them about his perfect life lived for them, his sacrificial death, his triumphant resurrection from the grave, and his ascension back into heaven. The gospel is the story we tell them when they sit, when they walk along the way, when they lie down, and when they rise. At all times and in all places, we point our children to the gospel. While it is the Spirit who brings our children from death to life, God uses us as parents as one of the means through which he saves our children. Perhaps it could be compared to how God uses our prayers to carry out his will; he doesn't need to, but he chooses to. This truth should compel us all the more to be diligent in our labors to teach and instruct our children in God's Word.

Third, we need to pray for the Lord's work in our children's heart. As parents, it's easy to focus our prayers on the health of our children or our children's success in school. We may find ourselves praying they would develop good friendships or that they wouldn't be bullied on the playground. We may even pray that they would stop fighting with their siblings or having tantrums. These are all excellent and important prayers. But the prayer we can't forget to pray is that God would ratify his covenant in our children's hearts. We must pray that God would save our children from their sins.

A Parent's Prayer

Father in Heaven, I come to you today with a burdened heart. A weary heart. A heavy heart. Parenting is hard. Just when I think I know what I'm doing, something changes, and I need to learn something new. Some days I wonder if I'll ever feel confident in my parenting. But maybe that's the point. Maybe I'm not supposed to be confident in my methods and strategies. Maybe those methods aren't supposed to always "work." Maybe parenting is supposed to keep me on my toes because instead of trusting in what I am doing as a parent, I need to trust in you. Maybe parenting is hard so that I would learn to depend and rely on you and your Spirit to be at work in my life and in the life of my children.

Father, I bring my children before you. They are covenant children and enjoy all the rich benefits of being a part of the church, of hearing the Word preached each week, of having other adults pour into their lives, of learning and memorizing your Word. I pray you would ratify the covenant in them. Bring them from death to life by the power of your Spirit. Open their minds and hearts to see their need for Jesus. Convict them of sin and draw them to repentance. Help them to love you with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Be at work in them, refining and shaping them into the image of Christ. Protect their minds and hearts from evil and may they never know a day when they did not know you as Lord of their lives. May Jesus always be their greatest treasure.

I pray for my parenting decisions and responses. Help me to parent out of your wisdom and not my own. Help me to seek your glory and not my own. Help me to speak the truth in love, point my children to Christ, teach and discipline them according to your Word, and love them as you have loved me. Help me not to fret, worry, or fear. Help me not to despair. Help me not to react. Help me to remember that they are sinners, just as I am. Help me to remember that they need a Savior, just as I do. Help me to trust and rest in you and the power of the gospel at work in me and in them. Help me to be quick to repent, slow to anger, and generous with love and affection.

Good things happen while we wait. It took time for these precious souls to be knitted in the womb--what joy I felt at their arrival! May I be patient as I wait for the work you are doing in their hearts. Help me to watch and wait with hope and trust. Help me to see and trace the evidence of your grace at work in their hearts. Help me to glory in your goodness and faithfulness in Christ.

Please hear all these cries of my heart. In Jesus's name I pray, amen.


Note: This post is based on Christina's new book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms, published with P&R Publishing.

Bio: Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College where she currently serves on the advisory board. She received her Master's in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Christina serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. She is a speaker and author of several books, including Closer than a Sister, Idols of a Mother's Heart, and Sufficient Hope. You can find her at www.christinafox.com.