Results tagged “Mark Johnston” from Reformation21 Blog

The Psalms in Worship

Too many churches never sing the psalms in public worship. Despite the fact the two direct injunctions that relate to singing in the New Testament place psalms at the head of the list of what Christians ought to sing as they 'make music in [their] heart to the Lord' (Eph 5.19; Col 3.16), these expressions of praise are strangely absent from many orders of service.

It would be interesting to explore the reason for this. It may well be because of straightforward ignorance on the part of many. The form and content of worship have gone through many phases over the years and important elements of both have often been lost only to be rediscovered by later generations. The use of structured liturgy is one example. So it may also be the case that churches that do not sing the psalms do so because they have never had exposure to them. But it needs to be asked what led to these omissions in the first place. What caused so many churches to move away from more formal liturgy and why did it so often coincide with a departure from psalm singing in the process? Continue reading...

This post was originally posted by Mark Johnston on

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The idea of 'the means of grace' has undergone an encouraging rehabilitation in the life and ministry of many Reformed churches in recent years. This has come as a healthy corrective to pressure from the wider church to embrace ideas and practices that seem more effective vehicles for church growth. However 'effective' these alternative means may have seemed, it has been at the expense of a meaningfully biblical definition of the church. So, the widespread return to emphasising the Word, sacraments, fellowship and prayer (Ac 2.42) as the core components of a faithful and effective church has been welcome. These 'ordinary' means of grace are God's ways of communicating his great salvation in Christ and by his Holy Spirit.

The very fact, however, that the adjective 'ordinary' is applied to these means by which God works implies that they are not the only way he works. They may be normative, but they are not exhaustive.

The men of the Westminster Assembly noted this in their treatment of Effectual Calling in chapter 10 of the Confession of Faith. It deals with the means by which the call of the gospel which is universal is made to be effective in the lives of 'All those whom God hath predestinated unto life' (10.1).

The divines open up what this entails and how it happens as being, 'at his appointed and accepted time' and by means of 'his word and Spirit' in order that they may be actually lifted 'out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace' (10.1).

They go on in the next section to explain this further: 'This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it' (10.2).

Here, then, are the normal means God uses to bring the spiritually dead to life, enabling them to turn in repentance and faith towards God as they rest on Christ alone for their salvation. But they are not the only means. The very next section goes on to make this clear in what it says about 'elect infants dying in infancy': 'Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word' (10.3). There are certain circumstances of life in which the 'ordinary means of grace' cannot function.

The Westminster divines reiterate this point in chapter 14, 'Of Saving Faith'. There they state, 'The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened' (14.1) [italics added].

There are at least two reasons for drawing attention to the fact God's grace has extraordinary as well as ordinary dimensions.

The first is pastoral. Infant mortality may not be as common in developed countries in the 21st Century as it was in those same countries just a few centuries ago, but the pain of loss and questions about life and destiny it raises are just as real. In some respects they are even more real for Christian parents who believe that 'faith comes from hearing the message and is heard through the word of Christ' (Ro 10.17). Knowing something of God's extraordinary grace for such extraordinary circumstances can only bring comfort.

The fact the scope of this principle goes beyond 'elect infants dying in infancy' to 'all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word' is also pastorally significant. Not least in terms of how the church regards and cares for those who are mentally incapacitated. At a very basic level the questions must be asked, 'Can they be accepted as members of the church?' and 'May they receive the Lord's Supper?' If a church turns 'the ordinary means of grace' into 'the sole means of grace', the answer must be 'No!'.

The other reason for raising this issue relates to the question Jesus was asked en route to Jerusalem: 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' (Lk 13.23). It is the question many have asked throughout the centuries. And it is significant that Jesus does not give a direct answer, but says instead the real issue is making sure we ourselves are in his kingdom (Lk 13.24).

This does not mean the question in itself is wrong, or that it is wrong to ask it. Interestingly it was taken up by several 19th Century Reformed theologians, among them Charles Hodge and W.G.T. Shedd, in their consideration of the so-called 'Larger Hope'.

In his book, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed - A Defence of the Westminster Standards, Shedd deals with this question (following chapters on 'Common and Special Grace', 'God's Love and Credal Proportion' and 'Infant Salvation as Related to Original Sin') in a chapter entitled 'The "Larger Hope"'.[1]

There he discusses this issue in light of the relation between God's glory and the number of the redeemed, but with cognizance of the extra-ordinary dimensions in the operations of grace.

Charles Hodge also addresses the issue, notably in his comments on Romans 5.18-20, where he says,
We have no right to put any limit on these general terms, except what the Bible itself places upon them...All the descendants of Adam, except Christ, are under condemnation; all the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved. This appears to be the clear meaning of the apostle, and therefore he does not hesitate to say that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, that the benefits of redemption exceed the evils of the fall; that the number of the saved far exceeds the number of the lost.[2]

This issue has had extensive coverage by Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant and Evangelical Protestant authors from a range of differing perspectives and with correspondingly different conclusions. But all too frequently their concern has been to try to justify, at one end of the spectrum, 'sincere' faith in any religious context, or good works in all contexts as the basis of acceptance with God; or, at the other end, some form of universalism.
It is significant, therefore, that the issue was raised in the way it was by the Reformed theologians cited above and on the theological foundation they build with the inferences they drew from it, but also those they did not.

The questions are real but Scripture is noticeably silent on them. Nevertheless the men of the Westminster Assembly offer a judicious response in what they say in relation to effectual calling. They enable us to focus on what the Bible makes clear - that the church's duty is to 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Mt 28.19-20) - while at the same time acknowledging that 'the Judge of all the Earth' will most certainly do what is right (Ge 18.25).

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[1] Shedd, W.G.T. Calvinism: Pure and Mixed (Banner of Truth; Edinburgh) 1986 [first published 1893] pp. 92-131
[2] Hodge, C. Systematic Theology Vol. 1 (Scribner & Co; New York) 1872 p. 26

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Originally posted by Mark Johnston on
Place for Truth editor Jonathan Master reminds us that Mark Johnston, also of Place for Truth, will be the keynote speaker at the Church Leader's Conference. This is a one-day conference offering a message of "Maintaining our Sanity in Ministry."

It's scheduled for March 19th and more information can be found at

Keep following the Alliance, Jonathan, and Mark at Place for Truth.
21st Century Challenges Not Allowing Ourselves to be Defined by Sexuality
By Mark Johnston from Place for Truth

It may seem more than a little strange to include this issue as one of the major challenges facing the church in the 21st Century, but the sad reality is that it is. The glaring evidence for this can be seen in the way the church in many parts of the world has allowed itself to be backed into a corner over this aspect of its teaching. In doing so has allowed not only its own credibility to be called into question, but that of the gospel as well.

This situation has not arisen suddenly. For four decades and longer the Bible and the role of women - especially when it comes to holding office in the church - has been hotly debated among those within the church as much as with those on the outside. In many denominations this has led to a deliberate shift away from the belief that the offices of elder (both those who teach and those who lead) and of deacon are intended only for males in the church.

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Fides sola est quae justificat; fides quae justificat non est sola. 

Latinisms can have a wonderful way of crystallising issues in theological reflection - so with this one: 'It is faith alone that justifies; but faith that justifies is never alone!' This isn't just a statement about the alone-ness of faith as the means by which we receive God's justifying grace, but something much more far-reaching. It highlights the crucial distinction we need to grasp as we try to understand what it means to be justified. Namely, that a person who is truly justified is never merely justified!

This may sound like theological hair-splitting, but actually it is tied in with one of the most vexed issues of Christian experience that goes back to the earliest days of the New Testament church and further back still. Because that is so, we are reminded that every pastoral problem has theological dimensions and every theological problem has pastoral implications and we dare not lose sight of either. Continue on Place for Truth.
When the Banner of Truth Trust published the second volume of his Collected Writings in 1977, John Murray's views on effectual calling sparked off animated debate in Reformed circles at that time. He challenged the formulation found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that defines effectual calling as 'the work of God's Spirit' (Q.31), preferring instead to see it as 'the act of God the Father' (p.166). The new generation of 'Precisionists' who were revelling in the rediscovery of Reformation and Puritan literature in those days were eager for the argument and lapped up this latest insight in the desire to sharpen their thinking.

There is no doubting the fact that Professor Murray was right to raise his query of the Westminster formularies, but with hindsight one cannot but wonder if, in correcting one theological imbalance, he actually created another. The danger in the precision involved in any attempt to systematise theological truth is that we can so focus on particular detail that we 'cannot see the wood for the trees!'

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A Life of Prayer by Mark Johnston

There are few places in Scripture where we are given deeper insight into the anatomy of a life of prayer than in the book of Daniel. The well-known words of the old children's chorus, 'Daniel was a man of prayer...' could not be more apt! This great man who was so greatly used for such a great length of time had a great secret that lay behind his usefulness - it was his prayerfulness. From our first introduction to him as a mere teenager to our last glimpses of him - presumably as an octogenarian - it seems as though he exudes an aura of prayer.

The beauty of this biblical cameo is the fact that it is not given merely to be a portrait in some gallery from the dim and distant past, but as a reminder that in the same way as 'Elijah was a man just like us' (Jas 5.17), so too was Daniel. The prayerfulness that was bound up with his usefulness is recorded both to instruct and inspire us in our own prayer life.

Every Christian obviously needs such instruction and inspiration - especially as we begin to appreciate that living the Christian life means 'going the distance' - but the same is true for those in the Christian ministry in its many and varied forms. If there is such a thing as 'the loneliness of the long-distance runner' in the world of marathon running, so too there is a sense in which we can feel as though the same is true in a life of ongoing service. Those in ministry need to cultivate the art of praying.

Even though it is very tempting to develop our abilities in prayer with our eye on its public face, it is clear from the Bible in general and the life of Daniel in particular that there is another facet of prayer that lies behind what is heard in public: that is our private prayer. If we make that the focus of this brief overview of the prayer life of Daniel, then several things come to light.

Continue at Place for Truth

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Life and relationships have become all too superficial in our present age. It is the easiest thing in the world to say we know someone and yet really have nothing more than a nodding acquaintance. Indeed with the influence of the media - television in particular - it is possible to see some famous personality on the street and instinctively feel that we know them, even though we have never even met them. They are really complete strangers to us. Sadly the same can be true of our reaction to the greatest personality ever to step on to the stage of human history - the Lord Jesus Christ. The critical difference about our knowledge of him is that it impinges upon our eternal destiny. Thus one of the most penetrating questions a person can ask in life is, 'Who is Jesus Christ?'

Continue at Place for Truth.

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Pastor Mark Johnston leads us in a three-part series on the historical veracity of Adam. This work was done with the cooperation and encouragement of the Session of Proclaimation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr PA, home of this years Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Who, just last year, addressed this same topic In the Beginning: God, Adam and You.

Must We Believe in an Historical Adam
by Mark Johnston

There is nothing new about the question of how science relates to the Bible - it is as old as the Copernican Revolution of the 16th Century and older. There is, however, real urgency to the question in our present age when science is being increasingly exalted to an almost supreme status as the arbiter of what we can know and are to believe.

Continue reading at Place for Truth

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For almost 40 years the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (PCRT) has been synonymous with Tenth Presbyterian Church in center city Philadelphia. It was started there in 1974 by James Montgomery Boice, and as it grew and flourished, it was taken to many other venues throughout America over the years. Now, as it prepares for its 40th anniversary celebration, it is on the move.

Recent years have seen some significant developments in the life and organization of PCRT's parent body, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, not least the decision to relocate its headquarters from downtown Philadelphia to Lancaster, PA. This move occurred largely for logistical reasons, and it has proved worthwhile in many ways. It has also led to a number of other changes in the Alliance's larger frame of operation.

It was in this context that the future of the PCRT conference came under review, especially in terms of its venue. After lengthy discussions with the leadership at Tenth, the Alliance felt that, after a long and happy relationship between their respective bodies, there would be merit in moving the conference to a new location. 

With the desire to keep the conference in the greater Philadelphia area, the Alliance approached the leadership of Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr in the western suburbs of the city to explore the possibility of its hosting the conference. Proclamation and Tenth have long enjoyed a close relationship and have strongly supported the work of both the Alliance and PCRT through the years. 

Proclamation counted it a privilege to have been asked to host the conference and was glad to accept the invitation to do so, knowing full well that Tenth has set the highest standards for what it entails. Its elders, staff, and members are looking forward to taking on this responsibility for the 2014 event.

Tenth's elders and senior minister Dr. Liam Goligher remain enthusiastically committed to the work of the Alliance and to the ministry of PCRT and join the elder body of Proclamation and their senior minister Rev. Mark Johnston in supporting the conference and seeking God's richest blessing on its ongoing work. 

The shared prayer of the Alliance and these two churches is that the ministry of PCRT will continue to bless the church at large and continue to spread the rich and vital heritage of Reformation theology through the USA and to the wider world for many years to come. 

You can't be serious!' is one of the most common reactions when I tell people we're planning to tackle a serious study of the entire book of Romans in just under 24 hours. You can almost see their minds racing as they imagine a marathon, through-the-night, verse-by-verse exposition of the most famous of Paul's letters. So, after their panic attack has subsided, I gently tell them that's not quite what we have in mind.

Romans in a Weekend, as it was first called, began in Philadelphia back in the 80's under the leadership of ames Boice and Sinclair Ferguson. Their aim was to provide a carefully crafted overview of the book, supported by study guide materials that would allow people to feel at ease with a book that so often intimidates them. It by no means tried to say all that could be said about Romans, but it said enough to encourage people to really get into it for themselves. 

The mini-conference proved so successful in Philadelphia that it morphed into Romans in 24 Hours and effectively went coast-to-coast across the States and even as far as Scotland. Well, after over a decade since it was last aired, the idea has been revived, adapted for a 21st century audience (Ro24) and is being re-launched in Bryn Mawr, PA at Proclamation Presbyterian Church. Sinclair Ferguson will be back as one of its keynote speakers along with Liam Goligher and Mark Johnston. Dr. Ferguson will be preaching both services in Proclamation on the next day, which happens to be Reformation Sunday.

Here's a great opportunity to be exposed to a first rate introduction to the Book of Romans and discover why this book has in so many ways shaped the growth of Christians and Churches through the ages all over the world.

Be sure to register for the conference!

Editor's note:  Watch Mark Johnston, senior pastor of Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA and iam Goligher, senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, PA, talk about the history and idea behind the Romans in 24 Hours conference: 

Be sure to look for other Alliance videos at YouTube by entering "Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals" in the YouTube search bar.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals seeks other event venues and concepts like Romans in 24 Hours.  If you would like to host an event or just want to learn more about the Alliance, contact: Robert Brady, executive director at 215-546-3696 ext. 33 or by email at

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