“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas). That statement has often been attributed to St. Augustine who almost certainly did not say it. It seems to have its origins in the 17th century either from Roman Catholic or moderate Lutherans in Germany. Whatever the case, the saying stuck. It has found its way into the common vernacular of many churches and denominations. I once served in a non-denominational church where it was repeated copiously.
The 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was held in St. Louis last week (June 29-July 1) and so far, the dust has not yet settled. Having missed a year because of the COVID crisis many of us were eager to address issues which had been causing controversy in our denomination since the first Revoice conference in the summer of 2018 (hosted by Memorial PCA in St. Louis).
Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind. But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God. This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.
No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind, and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).
As we come the the end of 2018, the Alliance wants to thank you for another year of faithful readership and continued support of the Christward Collective. We look forward to 2019 and the ways in which the Lord will continue to work through us to help provide resources for the building up of His people. To that end, here are the top ten posts of this past year:
In Scotland there is a blasphemy law on the books. It has been around for hundreds of year. However, the last person to get brought up on blasphemy charges was a couple hundred years ago. Right now there is a debate in the larger society (and it has made its way into the government) as to whether this law should still be part of the Scottish law code.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1
What are the important milestones for the Reformation? Traditionally, we date the beginning of the Reformation from Oct. 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther set out his ninety-five theses. That day was indeed a watershed. But we can also point to the importance of several other milestones. The pope excommunicated Luther on Jan. 3, 1521. On April 18, 1521, Luther declared his stance before the Diet of Worms. All three of these events were dramatic, capturing the attentions and imaginations of thousands down to the present day.
The podcasting world’s most interesting pair is joined by “the Queen,” as her husband calls her. It’s not Elizabeth II (sorry, Carl!) or the 80s rock band, but Mary Beeke; author, wife of Joel Beeke, mother of three adult children, a former nurse and elementary teacher, and long-time servant of the church.
Believe it or not, our hosts can be positive every once in a while. This week, they sit down to chat about the encouraging outcomes of this year’s PCA General Assembly. What happened at the GA that is giving Todd such encouragement about the future of the denomination? (It’s been well-documented that Carl couldn’t care less!)
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jam. 1:27).
For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light
~ Proverbs 6:23 ~
I recently published a book on covenantal baptism. Entering into these waters (pun intended) of constant discussion and even conflict have caused me to reflect a lot in recent months upon Christian parenting. Though there may be differing views among Christian parents about whether we should apply the waters of baptism to our infant children, we have the greatest of things in common. And I simply want to remind us of that in this brief article.
Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church. Edited by Ivan Mesa. The Gospel Coalition, 2021. 139 pp. Paperback. $16.99
Dane C. Ortlund. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages, hardback. $21.99.
Dane C. Ortlund is the author of the widely-acclaimed book Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners & Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), which has won awards, drawn the ire of certain readers, and was given away for free to every church who wanted it.
It had been a long, hot summer. The heat wave outside seemed to match the heat wave in my own heart of anger, chaos, disappointment, fear, grief, insecurity, loneliness, and physical pain. One night things seemed particularly bad. I was overwhelmed with the different needs of each of my four children, then ranging from age ten to a baby. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, Psalm 60 steadied my soul. I had a banner to run to in my fear. The Word of God would anchor my soul. It would give me the right answers.
Several years ago I missed a turn for one of my speaking events. It didn’t take me long to realize I was on the wrong road, but I didn’t know how to find my way without help. So I pulled into a gas station and asked the locals for directions. Thankfully, they were kind and helpful, and before long I was on my way again on the right road.
When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.
These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.
I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:
Margaret Mure and the Love of Christ
Today, James Durham is remembered as a faithful preacher, a moderate spirit at a time of great controversy, and an early advocate of the free offer of the gospel. But few people know that some of his celebrated commentaries were edited and published after his death by his second wife, Margaret Mure, who proved to be a theologian in her own rights.
Tiyo Soga – The First Ordained Black South African
To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs. Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).
As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians begins with an expression of confidence. Paul’s confidence is ultimately in God. It was God who had begun a good work in the Philippians (Phil 1:6); and it was God’s grace that they had been partakers of, along with Paul (Phil 1:7). But when Paul looked at the spiritual fruit produced by God in the Philippian church, one thing stood out: the Philippians had been partners in the gospel, together with Paul.
The much-loved hymn, ‘I greet thee who my sure Redeemer art’ – included in the Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 and attributed to John Calvin – contains the lines,
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou, and no bitterness
These words have often drawn comment, or been quoted because they point to a divine attribute we can easily overlook.
How little we appreciate the privilege and blessing of prayer. That we, sinful mortals as we are, should have access to God beggars belief. That he should even consider us, let alone countenance our requests is astounding. Yet he calls us to pray, he has opened the way of access in Christ for us to approach him in prayer. He has even given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pray, stirring the desire and giving us words. Jesus even gives us a model prayer that helps us shape the kind of prayers we know God delights to hear.
“Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.” - Cambridge Declaration
Two of some of the biggest questions that many Christians ask relate to prayer. On one hand, Christians want to know how they should pray. On the other hand, they want to know what they should be praying for. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WLC 178).
What Hath Athens to Do With Jerusalem?
Gary Schnittjer returns this week to continue the fascinating and vital conversation about his book Old Testament Use of Old Testament. Released just a few weeks ago, it has already proven to be an essential tool in the hands of Bible scholars, pastors, and students of theology.
We probably all have bank accounts with savings, and maybe investments and 401(k)s. Wisdom would suggest that while we trust God we also should be good stewards and save. You want to have in inheritance—at the end of the road of your work life, you want to have a nest egg. This doesn’t make you greedy, in most cases it means you were prudent. But all of this should make us ask, where is my real inheritance? What is the real price? Where, or better, in whom is my true retirement.
What season did we recently enter? Spring. What comes next? Summer. Then what? Fall. Then what? Winter. And then? Spring. And so on until Christ’s Second Coming. The year’s seasons are cyclical—and somewhat predictable. So the seasons of our years should not surprise us but rather inspire our adaptability, acceptance, and appreciation.