Results tagged “missions” from Reformation21 Blog

Shusaku's Silence

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Some readers may be curious about the forthcoming Martin Scorsese film, Silence. The story follows two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who leave Portugal in order to discover the fate of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a missionary to Japan whom rumor has it had abandoned the faith. Although I have not seen the movie, I have read the book that the movie is based on. I have some spoilery reflections on the book, but since I haven't seen the movie I'm not necessarily prepared to comment on it or recommend it.

My suspicion is that the majority of Christians in the west, much like myself, have never heard about the earliest Catholic missions to Japan in the 17th Century. The Jesuits came to Japan in 1549, and while I should not (and cannot) here give a history of Christianity in Japan, it is worth admitting that the 1630s and 40s were a time of unbearable persecution. The tortures exacted on the Christians of Japan during this time are horrifying to consider.

Shusaku Endo's book Silence, a fictionalized account of these true events, was written in the 1960s by a Roman Catholic.  I speak of this book as neither a Roman Catholic, nor as someone with any special or unique knowledge of the history of Christianity in Japan. One of Endo's enduring themes is the incompatibility of Christianity (or any other religion) with the Japanese culture. One of Endo's repeating themes in this book is that Japan is a "swamp" which takes, changes, and transforms ideologies until they no longer resemble their former selves. From reading the translator's preface, one can see that there are autobiographical aspects to this argument. Endo sees a struggle within his own heart away from his Catholicism, and in one interview said that in spite of his own religious upbringing, "there was always that feeling in my heart that it was something borrowed, and I began to wonder what my real self was like. This I think is the 'mud swamp' Japanese in me." So for Endo, Christianity can never really take root in Japan unless it changes, transforms, or adapts. Of course, this is a popular modern theme, this idea that Christianity will wither and die if it does not change with the times. It seems harder to believe here in the West where most people still preserve some nominally religious veneer. It's a bit more persuasive when one considers that less than 1% of people in Japan are Christian. I do not agree with Endo that Christianity must change in order to be received, but there is a tension here in the book. On the one hand Endo seems to think that Christianity needs to change. On the other hand, he seems to fault the corruption of Christianity in Japan with the Jesuit willingness to adapt.

Father Ferreira in the book does give a speech where he points out that the type of Christianity that has taken root in Japan is nothing resembling what they knew back in Portugal. Accommodations have been made for ancestral reverence, and the gods they worshipped haven't gone away - they've simply taken a back seat to Christ in the minds of the new Japanese converts. Ferreira faults the Jesuit tendency to adapt to local superstitions and customs rather than replacing them, implementing them into their version of Christian theology, thus transforming it into something entirely different. And so there is an interesting tension in the book. Was the accommodation of the Jesuits right or wrong in Endo's mind? If it was right, then why does Ferreira find fault with it? If it was wrong, then Endo seems to think Christianity wouldn't have even taken hold in the slightest.

I found myself utterly captivated by Silence. Reading this book was a remarkable experience for me. I will try to make the case here that Christians need to be made more aware of this book. It belongs on our bookshelves next to Walker Percy's The Moviegoer and the writings of Flannery O'Connor in the sense that it asks the hard questions, pushes the reader in painful ways, and doesn't offer preachy or simple answers.

[I warn that from here on out my review contains spoilers. If you want to read the book, I recommend that you get it and read it right away, but do stop reading this review!] The novel takes place in the 1630s after a Jesuit priest in Japan named Ferreira is reported to have apostatized from the faith. Finding this impossible to believe, the Priests Rodrigues and Garpe make the dangerous journey from Portugal to Japan in order to live as missionaries among the Japanese and also to find out what the truth is of Ferreira's fate. Half of the book is the written journal of Rodrigues, while the other half of the book is either written in a third person format, or contains the letters of others associated with the narrative. Rodriguez and Garpe are eventually captured by the authorities and witness horrific circumstances as they watch the Japanese Christians laying down their lives for the faith. There is no glory in these martyrdoms, as Rodriguez had always imagined. Rather, there is a brutality and cruelty which he had never imagined. Prior to the arrival of Rodriguez, the Japanese forced the priests to renounce the faith and tortured them until they did so, with none of them recanting. However, we soon discover that the Japanese chose a different method altogether, beginning with Ferreira. They use this same technique to great effect on Rodriguez, as well. Rather than torturing the priests, they torture the Christians, telling Rodriguez that all he must do is renounce the faith in order to end their sufferings.

Some of the greatest struggle in the book takes place as Rodriguez recounts his own psychological agony. There are hard questions. It is one thing to suffer for your own faith - to endure pain and suffering for the sake of one's love for Christ. But is it self-centered to refuse to recant in order to end another's suffering? "The price for your glory is their suffering," says Inoue.

At one climactic moment in the book, Rodriguez can hear the moaning of the Christians as they hang in the pit, their cries going up and reaching his ears. These Christians have all recanted, but they will not be released until Rodriguez tramples the image of Christ himself. Suddenly, the image of Christ speaks: "Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross." Rodriguez obeys, and the Christians are released.

The title of the book, Silence refers to Rodriguez' constant lament that God is silent as his people suffer. "Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?" At one point Rodriguez is praying and he says, "'Lord, I resented your silence." He receives a reply: "I was not silent. I suffered beside you." The book is Job-like in its unwillingness to offer straight answers.

As the reader you can't help but wonder if what Rodriguez did is right or wrong. The book implies that he never really gives up believing, but that he spends the remainder of his days as a secret Christian of sorts, outwardly obeying the magistrate. As long as the priests stay away and Rodriguez continues as he is, the authorities promise to leave the Christians alone.

Later in the book, Inoue speaks to Rodriguez and he says, "I've told you. This country of Japan is not suited to the teaching of Christianity. Christianity simply cannot put down roots here...you were not defeated by me...You were defeated by this swamp of Japan."

Another character in the novel who matters a great deal is the weakling Kichijiro, who is a pathetic figure, folding under persecution every time, terrified of the authorities, turning in Father Rodriguez at one point, but always returning, always repenting. At one point Rodriguez is thinking of Kichijiro and he wonders to himself: "How many of our Christians, if only they had been born in another age from this persecution would never have been confronted with the problem of apostasy or martyrdom but would have lived blessed lives of faith until the very hour of death." What stinging words! To Christians who live in the West, free of persecution, free of tortures and pain it is so easy for us to judge one such as Kichijiro, and yet constantly throughout the novel we are confronted repeatedly by his tragic and pathetic figure. I think that we as readers would be wise to see ourselves in Kichijiro.

Part of the reason why this book became so controversial in Japan upon its release was that people read the book as theology and not as literature. Endo has complained about this, because he insists his purpose was not to offer up a story for theological dissection. Though I can't resist the urge completely, as you can see, I will do my best not to follow Endo's critics into the murky theological waters that this book seems to invite. Endo's novel is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Christians need to meditate upon the nature of suffering, the pains of martyrdom, and the difficult questions that confront us in this novel. I have lamented before that Protestant writers seem to be incapable of facing painful and hard existential questions like those in this book without resorting to preachy narrative devices. Silence is the exemplification of how to do a novel tackling the subject of faith and suffering head-on while avoiding the dreadfully tacky literary pitfalls we so often see all around us.

Martin Scorsese's adaptation of this film has been recently completed and it is expected that it will begin showing in theaters in time for awards season. I really hope that Scorsese is able to faithfully translate this book into film. I have my doubts, but I do suspect that if the trailer is any indication the film may hold very close to the novel.

Griffith Who???

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Griffith John was a contemporary of Hudson Taylor in China. One of theses two men is well known all over the globe--and has been an inspiration to the Christian church ever since--while the other has been all but forgotten.

Griffith was brought up in the same Chapel as I was in Swansea, South Wales and the author of this new biography taught me in school (though that isn't the reason why I'm commending the book). 
griffith-john-and-taylor-and-martin-from-thompson1.jpg

Griffith John deserves to be remembered for his sacrificial labors for the sake of the Gospel; and, Evangelical Press are to be commended for commissioning this biography in their series of Bitesize Biographies.

Griffith John exercised a remarkable pioneer ministry for 50 years in China and his desire to reach the unreached remained with him throughout his life. He returned to Britain in 1911 and left behind him many churches with a combined membership of over 100,000 Christians and yet, in all likelihood, you've never heard of him.

Two particular things stand our for me from this biography. First a quote from the start of his ministry:

"There is a glorious work before me. When looking at it, I cannot but rejoice, but with trembling. It is both humbling and cheering.  Oh that I could but feel that I am not my own, and that I am thoroughly consecrated to God. How difficult  it is to get rid of selifishness. The drunkard may set aside his drunkenness, the blasphemer his blasphemy, his curses and oaths, but it is almost impossible  to destroy self and live, to be and not to be at the same time. Self clings to us wherever we go; we find it with us in all our engagements, however sacred they may be. This is the great demon that continually seeks the mastery over us, the old Adam that perpetually speaks within us and driving us from God and goodness. Oh, could I but feel as Paul felt when he said, 'To me to live is Christ'." (p.18)

Griffith John was obviously a man of considerable ability and yet he's not known. John Aaron draws out that Griffith John was not unaware of the influence he could have in Wales for someone with his abilities, at a time when preachers were rock stars. He writes:

"'But he turned his back on it all, and chose a land where he would be an utter novice and a complete unknown...Looking back, he described his experience:

'It was during my stay in Brecon that I began to think seriously of the  missionary work and its claims. I entered college with two things in mind -  a higher and a lower. The higher desire was to serve man and to glorify God; the lower was the desire to become one of the great preachers of Wales. The higher desire was there all the time and occupied, I hope, the  highest place; but the lower was  there also and occupying, I am bound to say, no mean place. When, however, the missionary desire  came in and took full possession of my heart, the lower desire was driven out, and driven out never to return again. That was a great victory, one of the greatest victories ever won on the arena  of my heart and one for which I never ceased to feel truly thankful to God'"(p.140/141)
The book is a remarkable reminder that to bury yourself in the work that God has given to you can have huge ramifications for the work of the gospel.

EP have done a limited print run because who wants who wants to read a biography of an unknown!?! But I'd encourage you to get in touch with them so this man who God, used so powerfully, might be better known. 

Saving Power Among All Nations - Psalm 67

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Psalm 67
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67 is a testament of God's people focusing on missions. Israel, in this psalm, is singing that not only will they be blessed, but that God will also focus his blessings on the Gentiles. The Israelites sing that God will bring himself greater glory by expanding his global influence. The focus of this psalm is God's people asking that his salvation and praise may spread throughout the earth. The universal perspective of Psalm 67 is remarkable. The global focus is quite visionary even when compared to the rest of Scripture.

The psalm reiterates the need of God's great mercy and calls for God to expand his glory throughout the globe. God's promise to Abraham (Gn 12:1-3), that "all families of the earth shall be blessed," is called upon in Psalm 67.

The Text
Psalm 67, at first read, could be viewed as a song of thanksgiving for a fruitful harvest. At a closer inspection, it is a prayer that God would bless Israel so the rest of the world can be inspired to come to know God. Each Israelite is a bit player in a grand story designed to go beyond his own influence and into the world. In this psalm each Jew wants God to be glorified beyond the borders of Israel and in the world of the Gentiles.

The author of Psalm 67 is unknown, but it is assumed to have been written in the vicinity of 1500 - 1400 B.C. Thus the original audience of the psalm were likely the pre-exilic Jews. Helen Jefferson stated, "the cultic coloring of Ps 67, its vocabulary and style, all point to Canaanite influence. This supports the theory that Ps 67 is pre-exilic in origin."

Eckhard Schnadel, in Early Christian Missions, concludes that OT Israelites did not engage in missions as NT Christians did later. Schnadel does not see any formal concept of disciple-driven missions or global evangelism in the Psalms. He does, however, see evident in the Psalms a divinely initiated desire that the world would soon worship Yahweh.

Call To Missions
The emphasis of Psalm 67 is a call for missions. It calls for disciples of God to be blessed, not only for our own pleasure, but so our joy in God will reflect his glory to the nations. Lawrence Nemer stated, "The nations are sometimes chosen, according to the Psalmist, to be instruments of God's punishment; but ultimately, as recorded so marvelously in Psalm 67, they are to be witnesses of God's work among His people and are to come to worship Him in Jerusalem."

Missions, in and of itself, is a concept that is focused not on man's actions but instead on God's. While man is involved in reaching the nations, he is only a tool in the hands of a master carpenter. Graeme Goldsworthy echoed this thought when he wrote, "Even the missionary focus of Psalm 67 emphasizes that God himself must act for the nations to be blessed." It is God working to bring the nations to himself. God may work through man, but the results, and thus the glory, are God's alone.

Worshipers of God should not view blessings as rewards. Blessings are not always to bless us. They come to us not for what we have done, but what God has done.  The purpose of God blessing us is to bring glory to himself. It is so others in the world will see God more clearly. Carl Bosma writes, "The function of this signally important harvest is to catch the attention of the nations and move them to recognize and praise God. The particular history of God and Israel is meant to become a blessing for all."

Implications
Only a small number of hymns have been inspired by Psalm 67. Martin Luther's hymn, "May God Bestow on Us His Grace" is one of them. The second stanza of Luther's hymn begins with these words, "Thine over all shall be the praise, and thanks of every nation, and all the world with joy shall raise, the voice of exultation." Oliver Rupprecht stated of this hymn, "What missionary can be timid after hearing or singing Luther's great missionary hymn, 'May God Bestow on Us His Grace,' based on Psalm 67?" The words inspired by God in Psalm 67 have and will continue to have a great impact on disciples of Christ as they respond by going out amongst the nations.

Psalm 67 shows the people of God are to be concerned with not only their own lives nor the circumstances within their own borders. God's disciples are to be concerned about the eternal condition of all races, tongues and tribes. God does not bless his chosen people because they are good or worthy. God's elect receive blessings so they can share those blessings with others and draw attention to the greatness and mercy of God.

In this psalm it is evident we have a God who is concerned about all nations and he wishes to draw them to himself. God's followers, in order to bring him glory, are also called to have a burden for other nations.


Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill's work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries

In Paul's letters to the Corinthian church he desired the believers to be enthusiastic about the expansion of the gospel. In Paul's time, Corinth was located in an ideal geographic location to spread the new faith. A vibrant and mission minded church located in Corinth could easily use the heavily traveled trade route to speed the gospel throughout the world.

 

Paul's letters to the church in Corinth provided a clear missions parameter for both the young church and believers today. Paul called the Corinthians to send, train and provide for missionaries so they could spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere (2 Cor 2:14).



Call To Missions


The call to be a full-time servant and preacher of the gospel was not to be taken lightly. Paul told the Corinthians as Christ called them to share his wisdom to other lands, the Holy Spirit would empower them with the strength of the message itself.

 

The members of the young Corinthian church were concerned. How could these novices of the faith share such a significant message? Paul assured the Corinthians with the example of himself. He instructed the new believers they should imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 4:16-17, 1 Cor 11:1-2).

 

Paul showed the Corinthians how God desired to work through their weakness for his own glory. Could God be glorified by the labors of the fractured church in Corinth? If God could use Paul and Apollos to work in conjunction to advance the gospel (1 Cor 3:5-15) he could certainly use the Corinthian church. As servants of Christ we are to go as we are called and proclaim God's victory over darkness.

              

 

Instruction For Missionaries


The message the followers of Christ are to deliver is simple. It is outlined in scripture and is a perfect message prepared by God. Deliverers of the true gospel will lack in nothing they need to convey the message of salvation (1 Cor 1:7). Paul outlined to the church in Corinth the message is far more important than the messenger. The messengers may need to bend like a reed in the wind, but the truth must take precedence (1 Cor 9:19-23).

 

The gospel message is perfect and needs no help from us. The missionary should never preach more than what is written (1 Cor 4:6). In the first three chapters of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul focused greatly on the point of the sufficiency of scripture. He warned the message barer to rely only on the message and not to become puffed up or conceited by their own abilities. It is a central point in preaching and teaching for us to recall we are only messengers and we should only focus on the humble deliverance of God's perfect Word.

               


Care For Missionaries


The full-time minister of the gospel has given himself for the advancement and glory of Jesus Christ. It falls upon his brothers in the faith to care for and facilitate his service. A cheerful servant brings great glory to Christ as he serves without grumbling. So too, the brothers in the faith bring great glory to Christ as they give sacrificially to make possible that full-time service. While a laboring Ox should be fed and a temple servant should be cared for from the temple, so too a missionary should be aided by his brothers in the faith (1 Cor 9:8-14).

 

In Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth he became more insistent on sacrificial giving to support others in need and others busy in full-time service of God's work. Paul told the Corinthians how their generosity to the believers in Jerusalem multiplied the grace of God in their lives. To the great glory of God, Paul also praised the generous giving of the Macedonian brothers (2 Cor 8:1-15).

 

Paul told the Corinthians they were not only to give financially in support of full-time ministers of the gospel, but they were to help through prayer. Paul desired to have many brothers praying for missions work (2 Cor 1:11). Praying in the name of God that missionaries would have all they need to glorify God greatly honors our Father.

 

The Corinthians were also instructed by Paul to rejoice in the coming of future servants of Christ and to give recognition to such men (1 Cor 16:17-18). This seemingly odd command is also echoed in other writings of Paul (1 Thes 5:12-13 and Phil 2:29). Indeed, the full-time servants of the gospel are worthy of our gratitude.

 


Hold The Rope


Paul's letters to the church in Corinth indeed provided a plain instruction for the young church and also for believers today. Paul called the Corinthians to send, train and provide for the needs of missionaries, preachers and other full-time servants for the Lord. When William Carey, famed 19th century missionary, volunteered to serve in India, he implored those who sent him, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." Paul calls missionaries to go, but he implored both the Corinthian church and modern Christian churches to hold the rope and support full-time servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World (www.mtw.org). Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill's work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries (www.pettengillmissionaries.org).

Why Most Missionaries Are Liars

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No job description I have ever seen for a missionary includes the words "fast and loose with the truth." It is not my belief missions attracts the kind of people who are predisposed to being insincere. Unfortunately, I have seldom encountered a missionary who will tell the entire truth when asked important personal questions.

The questions which would cause a typical missionary to light up a lie detector include: "How are you doing?" "How is your family?" "How is your marriage?" "How is your spiritual health?" These personal questions are frequently asked by friends, family, and supporting churches. What gives a typical missionary emotional fits is juxtaposing an honest desire to receive help with the concern he or she may be perceived as a ministry failure.

The Truth

The truth is most missionaries are suffering. They just don't want their supporters to know it. A typical missionary has an unspoken adversarial relationship with their supporters. It has to do with financial support. We missionaries think, at some level, if our supporters discover we are suffering, struggling or having a hard time while on the mission field, we will be viewed as a bad investment and our supporters will go find a better missionary who has his act together.

Two of the most discussed topics in the bible are sin & money. It should come as no surprise that money is at the core of much of our sin. Many missionaries are willing to suffer in silence for fear someone may discover we are ineffective servants. If the truth of a missionary's suffering was revealed someone may pull their financial support or a missionary may be called home for a season, or permanently. In a missionary's mind, what could be more painful than to be revealed as incapable of doing that which God has called and prepared them to do?

To The Missionary

Missions is hard. Humans are weak. God is sufficient. What could be more unnatural than to leave a culture where you know the language, you are succeeding at life and are surrounded by people who support you, to live in a culture where you speak like a child, have no support group and fail daily? Missionaries leave for the mission field with visions of Amy Carmichael, David Brainerd and Jim Elliot in their heads. The reality is many missionaries spend some part of a typical day in emotional and spiritual anguish. Struggle and failure are typical items on a missionary's "to do" list. Missionaries, always remember what Hudson Taylor said, "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supplies."

Tell your supporters and friends the truth. Get people to pray for you often. Let those who love you know you are in pain. When missionaries are honest, supporters don't run from you, they run to you. When you left for the mission field you asked individuals and churches to partner with you in ministry. Give others the opportunity to glorify God by serving you. You may be surprised how your honesty results in a deluge of compassion.

To The Church

You agreed to partner with missionaries. Now do it. This is not simply a financial relationship. John Piper said, "All the money needed to send and support an army of self‐sacrificing, joy‐spreading ambassadors is already in the church." It is not about the money. Care for your missionaries at least as well as you care for your stateside congregants. Ask them frequently how they are doing. Assume they are struggling and lying to you. Probe deeper. Ask them hard questions. Remind them frequently you are praying for them. They know you are praying, but they love to be reminded. Remember their family. 
Don't forget anniversaries and birthdays. One short e‐mail or phone call will provide energy for months. You may not be called to go, but you are certainly called to pray for or support God's Great Commission. Every Christian is a participant. 

Visit your missionaries on the field. Counsel them. Dive into their lives and invest in their spiritual health. Send them personal Christian resources. Conferences, books and CDs aren't as prevalent outside the U.S. Loving on a missionary isn't hard, but you'd be shocked at how few churches and supporters do it. Be the one to make a difference.

Focus On The Big Things

I have explained to dozens of churches I would rather see them invest sacrificially in two missionaries than superficially in two dozen missionaries. Instead of giving a $100/month to two dozen missionaries and ignoring their personal needs, give $1000/month to two missionaries and pour your time, effort and soul into their personal wellbeing. Invest deeper into fewer missionaries instead of going a mile wide and an each deep.

Missionaries, quit being so prideful. It is better for you to be spiritually healthy and able to serve for decades, than burning out after a couple of years. Be willing to be vulnerable so you can recover.

Sorry, to break the bad news to you. Most of your missionaries are lying to you. As they see it, they are sacrificing their personal wellbeing for the advancement of God's work. It is this type of self‐sacrifice that makes them good missionaries. Let your missionaries know you love them and want to provide a safe place where they can heal their wounds.

Mike Pettengill is a full‐time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World (www.mtw.org). Mike is a team leader of a 12‐person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill's work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries (www.pettengillmissionaries.org)
In previous entries in what is becoming an impromptu antiphonal blog series on the Trinity, Fred Sanders and I have focused on the nature and relevance of the doctrine of inseparable operations (see here, here, and here). To this point, we have considered ways in which the unity of God's being informs the unity of God's action towards his creatures in making, redeeming, and perfecting them for his glory. In the present post, I want to consider a couple of the ways in which his tripersonal manner of existing is inflected in his external works. As God is one and three, so God acts as one and three.

God's triune identity informs our understanding of God's triune actions in two areas, both which specify in different ways how the three persons relate to one another within the context of their indivisible activity toward creatures. 

(1) The doctrine of appropriations helps us appreciate why the Scriptures characteristically appropriate (for example) the act of predestination to the Father (Eph 1.4-6; 1 Pet 1.1-2) even though each divine person is an agent of God's electing grace (John 6.70; 13.18; 1 Cor 2.7-11). The reason distinct divine actions are appropriated to distinct divine persons is not because God's actions toward his creatures are divided between the persons: the external works of the Trinity are undivided (opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt). The reason is due to the ways in which the personal characteristics of the three manifest themselves in their common, indivisible action. Thus, as the Father is the principle of the Son and the Spirit (i.e., he eternally generates the Son and he eternally breathes forth the Spirit), his personal character shines forth in a special way in predestination, the principle act of the Trinity in salvation. Similarly, because the Son is eternally generated by the Father and because he eternally breathes forth the Spirit, the Son's personal character shines forth in a special way in the work of redemption, since the work of redemption flows from divine predestination and issues in the work of sanctification (Eph 1.3-14). Finally, because the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as the bond of God's tripersonal perfection, his personal character shines forth in a special way in the work of sanctification, since the work of sanctification brings the acts of predestination and redemption to their divinely appointed goal (Eph 1.4; 5.27), making us a habitation for the triune God (John 14.16-17, 23).

More clearly than in the doctrine of appropriations, (2) the doctrine of divine missions reveals how the mystery of God's tripersonal being shines forth in God's tripersonal actions toward his creatures. In trinitarian theology, "mission" refers to the "sending" of one divine person by another for a specific purpose in relation to our salvation. In Scripture, these missions follow a very specific pattern: the Father sends the Son to accomplish his redemptive mission; and the Father, with the Son, sends the Spirit to accomplish his sanctifying mission (Gal 4.4-7; John 15.26). This missional pattern in turn corresponds to the eternal relations that constitute the divine persons: the Father eternally generates the Son; and the Father, with the Son, eternally breathes forth the Spirit. As insightful as this correspondence is, it does not fully capture the wonderful reality expressed in the doctrine of the divine missions. Not only do the eternal relations of the Trinity constitute the "whence" of the divine missions, the latter being the temporal embassy and extension of the former. The eternal relations of the Trinity also constitute the "whither" of the divine missions insofar as they provide the divine prototypes and goals of those missions: the goal of the Son's redemptive mission is to make us sons and daughters in order that he might become the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Gal 4.5; Rom 8.29); the goal of the Spirit's sanctifying mission is to embrace us within the fellowship of the Father and the Son, pouring out the Father's love into our hearts (Rom 5.5), and awakening within us the Son's filial cry of "Abba! Father!" (Gal 4.6). Formally stated, we may summarize the law of God's triune action as follows: The eternal relations of the Trinity are inflected in their undivided external operations, even as the external operations of the Trinity extend their eternal relations to elect creatures in a manner suitable to creatures.

Why does any of this matter? Along with the fact that the doctrines of inseparable operations, appropriations, and missions help us think truly about the true and triune God in his saving action, these doctrines also help us become better readers of Scripture (see, for example, here) and help deepen our communion with the triune God (see, for example, here and here). Those are not insignificant reasons for caring about trinitarian theology. 

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Now, in order to round out this impromptu series, somebody needs to say something about the relationship between the Trinity and divine simplicity and about the nature and significance of the eternal generation of the Son of God. Fred? 

I Worshipped "Allah" Last Sunday

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Never have I so carefully typed quotation marks. Those tiny dashes keep intact both my ordination vows and my soul. They also refer to my enjoyable experience last Sunday attending an international service organized by the Gereformeerde Kerken in IJsselmuiden, Netherlands. Gathered there was a small group of immigrants and refugees from around the world, including not a few from the Middle East. The sermon was in Dutch, but it was immediately translated, phrase by phrase, into French, Russian, English, and Arabic . . . all at the same time. By accident I sat in the Arabic section, but I could still hear the English translator parked on the other side of the room. 

The kaleidoscope of languages spoken all at once pushed the limits of my sensibilities for "decency and order," but it also made the service unforgettable. I was particularly struck by how the content of a single sermon--fittingly, on Pentecost--appeared to resonate with all of the congregants, each in his own tongue. Through both ears, I heard that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of "Allah." Of course, in this case, "Allah" unequivocally meant the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

How different was the carefully choreographed prayer service hosted last week by Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. The well-intentioned event enjoyed pre-approval by the modern Catholic Church's declaration that, with the Church, "Moselms . . . adore the one God." Similar confusion between the "Allah" of Islam and the, well, quite different "Allah" of Christian (triune) theism now swirls at the doorstep of our theological homes. What will we do?

At the close of my own international assembly, the congregation sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness," dividing the stanzas into the languages represented there. Such unity in diversity offered a faint analogy of the glory of the triune God. Discerning when that glory gets diminished in the name of well-intended desires to reach and respect foreign cultures requires the wisdom of God. Thankfully, as I heard last Sunday, that is just what our faithful God has promised to give his sons in the Spirit.

What is truth?

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As part of our attempts to proclaim Christ in our small corner, we are investing some effort in a village near the town where I live. This village is, I think, fairly typical of our part of the world. It has a storied and pleasant-looking Church of England building nestled near the comfortably ancient pub at the centre of the village, and a good number of the villagers have some kind of association with the church (often a long family tradition). Some have lived in the village for years, if not all their lives, while others are newcomers. Many are simply apathetic, though some are sufficiently stirred to be hostile. There are agnostics, atheists, pagans and heathens all living cheek-by-jowl with one another.

It has been hard going to make Christ known here. In an attempt to engage a little more with the people that we meet and speak with, as well as to provide some kind of impetus and framework for some upcoming gospel meetings, we have been using a brief survey (six questions with multiple choice answers) to prompt discussion and thought as we go from house to house. We ask, on a number of points, "What is truth?" The results to date have been profoundly grievous.

Almost without exception, men and women of any and all convictions have assured us that - if there is a God, and if he communicates at all - he does so through impulses and feelings, and that there is nothing any clearer or more certain. Asked if life has any point, the responses are largely split between the assertion that life has no point whatsoever or that life is whatever you make it, no more and no less. God is in none of their thoughts.

The people of this village have no explanation for suffering, although some have accepted the possibility that it is the result of natural selection. What happens when we die? Several assert that it is simply the end, but most believe that it is impossible to know.

Although none to date have claimed that Jesus was a fraud, most will take him merely as a good man or great teacher rather than as the Son of God - and I will not begin to describe what they think that last option actually means. Most believe that the death of Christ was either pointless or a tragic mistake.

These answers are given across the board. Men and women who have been faithfully attending the Anglican church for decades give the same answers as the Muslim policeman who patrolled the streets one day and the casual mystics and dabbling Buddhists. We have found so few with any seemingly substantial faith and hope, almost none for whom their profession makes any more than a superficial difference to their patterns of life. With the exception of a few who attend churches outside the village, the professing Christians are as void of any accurate knowledge of the truth as those who claim to have rejected Christianity with all its trappings. Ardent religionists, angry atheists, friendly agnostics, earnest seekers, and those who cultivate their own private spirituality are all equally lost in the same moral morass, drifting lost without any anchors to drop, let alone any solid ground in which to drop them.

On one level, this is not surprising, for it is precisely what the Scriptures tell us to expect. On another, nothing can be more agonising, for there is a fearful judgement ahead for these needy sinners, many of whom are blithely skipping toward it, confident in their own strength and wisdom, or assured by false teachers of every stripe (including those who sail under cover of a Christian profession) that all will be well.

Christian friend, do you long to see God shake the secure, rattle the carnal, convict the careless and terrify the ungodly, to give them a present and pressing sense of their need in order that the gospel of Christ in all its sweet simplicity and saving security may become precious to them? Do you long to see them running to the great Physician as those who have become profoundly aware of their spiritual sickness? If we are to make any headway in this village and in the other places in which we preach Christ crucified, it must be as the Spirit of Christ opens the eyes of the blind, unstops the deaf ears, and gives life to the dead heart - we must pray to this end. It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 4.6), and it is that same God with whom we must plead that he might do the same for others. Pray for us, and pray for yourselves, that God would do the work, shatter the chains of those in bondage, and bring the lost to their senses and then - through Christ as Saviour - to himself.

What Are You Doing After High School?

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Editor's Note: We welcome Lydia Sorkness, our guest blogger. Ms. Sorkness is a freshman in college and the daughter of an OPC ruling elder in the Philadelphia area.

Most people my age make the long awaited, bittersweet drive with their parents to college, the car packed full of dorm room accessories and school supplies. After graduation my destination, on a frozen February morning of 2011, was quite different. I had made the decision to take a year "off" before heading to college to get a degree and start my "American Dream" life. I decided to follow the Lord and take a leap of faith into the unknown. I went to the small town of Santa Marta, Colombia and felt the Lord transform me as I was immersed with people who showed me what Jesus meant when he said, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:25-37).

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. When a certain lawyer put Jesus to the test, asking him what it meant to love the Lord and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28), Jesus told him a story of a poor traveler beaten by robbers. The man was left lying helpless in the streets, passed by prominent religious people who did not want the inconvenience of helping him. The traveler's hope had almost diminished when a hated Samaritan came upon him on the road and had compassion on him, taking him to a home, dressing him, and giving him something to eat (Luke 10:29-35). When the lawyer was asked by Jesus which one of these men proved to be a neighbor of the man who fell among the robbers, the man answered, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise" (Luke 10:37).

I learned how this story applies to my life this past year. I had the  privilege of sharing in the work of those who constantly endeavor to follow Jesus' command to show mercy and love to suffering neighbors in Columbia.  

For over ten months, I worked and lived in a Christian childrens' home  called,Hogar La Providencia. It was established by a small Presbyterian Church, called La Puerta, which is pastored by Jaime Leal. Presently, HLP is used to house and educate sixteen displaced and impoverished indigenous children of the South American tribe Chimila. In addition to these orphans, HLP serves as home for a family from Bogota: thirty-one year old Sandra and her six children, who were discovered barely surviving on the streets of Santa Marta only three years ago.

These children are growing together in the Word of God under the discipleship of adults who have taken on the responsibility of raising them as their own. As you might imagine, everyone has a story. Two of the children, sisters Piedad (age 10) and Yoryanis (age 8) were born in the land of the Chimila tribe, "Oristuna."  They were abandoned at a young age by their parents who, unable to care for them properly, left them to fend for themselves in the wilderness. The older of the two, Piedad, took Yoryanis on her back and walked boldly through the jungle, determined to do whatever it took to defend her little sister.

News traveled to the Hogar that the two sisters were nearby. In God's providence, due to similar situations, siblings and cousins of these two girls had already been brought to HLP and had come to know the Lord. The girls' half-sister, Esther was sent to their rescue from the foundation. Seven-year old Piedad was found at a local billiard hall serving men alcohol in order to buy food for her and her sister, Yoryanis. The sisters were taken in by Pastor Jaime and the loving hands at the Hogar. I am happy to report that both are now eating daily, receiving education and  getting much needed medical attention. Yoryanis arrived at HLP so skinny that she hardly had the strength to recover from a common cold. The two of them are learning and growing in the Word of God and have professed faith in Jesus Christ. Piedad wrote in a letter to her mother, in which she said, "I am happy and have many friends at the Hogar. I hope you know that Jesus loves you and is your Savior. God will take care of you like he has taken care of me." These were the kinds of stories I heard on a daily basis.

Another child of Christ, Nataly, is a beautiful example of the power of the love and compassion of the Lord working at Hogar La Providencia. She was orphaned as a very little girl in Oristuna when her mother and father were murdered due to an invasion of a local drug army. She was left to wander from house to house, begging for food. A distant aunt ended up taking her into her home to work as a servant girl where she was treated with harsh cruelty. As time went by, Nataly was transformed into a hateful and lazy girl unwilling to do anything she was told. When she was almost unbearable to have around the house, her aunt took her to the Hogar in Santa Marta, where a few of her aunt's own children were already living.

Pastor Jaime Leal described Nataly as a like a "wild horse" when she arrived at the Hogar. Uneducated, flea bitten to the most painful degree, and never having been shown an ounce of love, Nataly was received with open arms and open hearts. We were anxious to see what God had in store for such a child. As soon as she was taught to read, Nataly launched into studying and climbed right up the grade chart with the top students. Her arms and legs healed from hundreds of raw oozing bug bites, which still left  scars on top of scars. These were a reminder of how far she has come in the past few years. "I give thanks to God," she wrote to me in a very eloquent letter about two months ago. "He brought me here where I am content and have people like you who take care of me."

Stories like the above have given me something I could not have gained if I had simply gone straight to college. Not that there is anything wrong with doing that, but I wanted something different. Not just to travel, but to serve. And I give thanks to God, for giving me Nataly to take care of, as well as the other precious children living at Hogar La Providencia in Santa Marta, Colombia.

Luke 10:27 tells Christians to love their neighbors as themselves and I am so thankful for the time I was given to love my Christian little brothers and sisters in a place so different from my own home. I remember often what Jesus said in Luke 18:16, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God."It comforts me when I'm worrying about "my kids," now so far away from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but knowing that God loves them so much more than I ever could and continues to provide for them. I am thrilled I got to be a part of God's work in their lives for even a little while. May God bless our care of orphans around the world!

All Souls

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I'm in London for a week of lectures at London Theological Seminary.  Of course, London's a wonderful city to visit, not the least of which reason is the chance to visit places everyone talks about.  So on Sunday morning I made my way to All Souls.  I was struck by many things, a very warm and gracious congregation, a Christ-centered sermon, and great coffee after the service (Yes, Derek, far superior to First Pres Jackson coffee.).  Here's what struck me most, though. During the first round of prayers, the first prayer was for Zimbabwe.  The sermon had a lot to say about justice for the poor, even mentioning that we, on the richer side of things, can actully learn about what it means to be a disciple from the poor. 

It became rather obvious to me that All Souls talks and prays about these things becasue they actually do them.  It also occurred to me that congregations don't cultivate these things overnight.  What I saw just on one visit was the result of a lifetime of ministry aimed at bringing these things to pass.

It also struck me that all of All Souls emphases stem from Christ-centeredness.  When you have a big view of Christ and what he is doing in the world, you can understand how your first prayer is for Zimbabwe, not for yourself.

After a day in the city, I ended up at the other Church of England church that everyone wants to see, attending an organ recital at Westminster Abbey.  The day wouldn't be complete, however, without some blues.  But I'd rather not blog about that.  At least here.

Greetings from Uganda

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This is a message from the campus of African Bible University, Uganda, where I am spending a week with my son, Stephen. Along with Rev Burk Parsons of St Andrews Chapel, Florida, editor of Tabletalk, we are involved in the Spiritual Emphasis Week on campus. Burk is giving an exposition of John 17, I am giving a series of studies on Christ and the Commandments. Many of you have links with ABU, and have been strong supporters of the ABC ventures in Malawi, Uganda and Liberia. Please continue to pray for the extension of the kingdom of Christ in this vast continent, and not least that the pearl of great price will be seen in all his glory in Uganda, the pearl of Africa.