Columns

“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).

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

A few years ago, at the start of a new school year, I announced to the kids that we would be memorizing the book of James.

“The whole book?” one son asked, eyes wide with surprise.

“That’s the goal,” I responded.

“Impossible!” he declared.

Up to that point, my children had memorized single verses and short passages of Scripture. I thought it was time to take on something bigger.

Memorizing God’s Word

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB, 1977)

These are the words of Matthew immediately after he wrote, “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying” (Matt. 1:22). The “prophet” here refers to Isaiah. In Matthew 1:23, Matthew references aspects of Isaiah 7:14, 8:10, and 9:6. Those texts read as follows:

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.

Preaching the Word of God is one of the most blessed tasks a man may be called to perform. However, just as James warns that not all should desire to teach—for their judgment will be all the harsher before Christ (James 3:1)—many others prove to be ineffective communicators of gospel truth because they have failed to apprehend by faith the very conviction of truth needed to be a true preacher of the Word of God.

NOTE: Mortification of Spin is now a biweekly podcast. In the “off” weeks through the month of November, we’ll feature an encore episode of another Alliance podcast: Theology on the Go with Jonathan Master and James Dolezal. A new episode of “The Spin” is coming 10/27/21. 

He’s a “Thought Leader”…an “American Theologian”…and an “Anti-Social Media Influencer” (or is that, an “antisocial Media Influencer?”). Yes, the great Carl Trueman and his faithful sidekick Todd “Tonto” Pruitt sit down to chat about some very contemporary issues, as they also share an important family development!

The last few years have seen a significant – and most welcome – revival of interest in the Christian doctrine of God among Reformed and evangelical writers.  Scholars working in patristic, medieval, and Reformation periods have enriched our knowledge of the creedal and confessional heritage of the church; and, as our knowledge of what the creeds and confessions meant has deepened, many of us have become acutely aware of the (unintentionally) heterodox and even heretical nature of many of our own previous beliefs on these matters.

"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).

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb. 13:16)


"... that which is pleasing in his sight" (Heb. 13:21)

Is it possible for men to hug other men, or young boys without the suspicion of being gay? It is a serious, if offensive question, raised by the "pansexualist" agenda foisted upon the culture by Hollywood. We are reaching a point where almost no communication is free from sexual connotation of some kind. Unthinkable, then, that Tolkien could write today of Sam Gamgee cradling Frodo's head in a cell in Mordor and saying, "Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear" without raising the suspicion of a gay theme.

The last few weeks of international news have carried multiple reports of the rioting that has broken out across great swathes of the world as a response to the publication of apparently offensive cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. I say `apparently' because none of the news media in the US - a nation with a First Amendment which separates religious and political institutions, and which guarantees freedom of the press - none of the news media, I say, seems to have had the courage to show these cartoons.

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. 

That’s supposedly me. I read that about myself yesterday. Just a couple of hours after reading an OPC pastor in my own denomination telling others on Facebook to call my church to put a stop to me. Then he gave my church’s information, showing a picture of my pastor.
 
Not a daughter of Sarah. Because I resent God’s created order and hate him for not letting me teach. That’s what I read. Is that me?
 

I read John Webster’s The Culture of Theology a few weeks ago. There is much to discuss in this penetrating book of the Thomas Burns Memorial Lectures he gave, but I thought I’d just share a small nugget and some reflection on it:

 

Now at ReformedResources.org: a companion packet to The Shepherd Leader!

In this packet, you will find three sample tools to consider as you implement your shepherding plan. Click here to download your free resources.

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:

iii. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: (2 Pet. 3:11, 14, 2 Cor. 5:10-11, 2 Thess. 1:5-7, Luke 21:27-28, Rom. 8:23-25) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen. (Matt. 24:36, 42-44, Mark 13:35-37, Luke 12:35-36, Rev. 22:20).
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington

 

            “And what if you save (under God) but one soul?”[1]

            This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.

 

Selina’s Early Life

Pablo Besson - For the Gospel and Religious Freedom

 

When Pablo (then Paul) Besson received a request from Mathieu Floris, a Belgian emigrant to Argentina, to help him find an evangelist to spread the gospel in that country, he did his best to promote the cause. When no one answered, he understood that the call was for him.

 

From an Inherited Religion to an Understanding of the Gospel

This blog is adapted from Dan Doriani’s book, published in July, Work That Makes Difference.

At this moment, two contradictory ideas about work compete for our attention. On one hand, economists say the desire to work is waning. People aren’t rushing to return to work after the disruptions of Covid. Specifically, employers can’t obtain laborers for entry level jobs. People would rather be unemployed than accept a job with low pay, poor benefits, and no prospects. Meanwhile, the church, and especially the faith and work movement, enthusiastically promotes the dignity and value of all labor. We cite Paul, who says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col.

I get to talk with pastors all the time.  It’s one of the joys and privileges of the work God has given me to do.  I’ve also served as a pastor for ten years – less than many of my brothers, but long enough to experience some of the ups and downs of ministry.
 
One of the biggest challenges that pastors and anyone engaged in Christian work faces is remembering the spiritual nature of the work.  If the measurables – budgets, attendance figures, projects – seem to be headed in the right direction, those tend to be our focus, to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

We live in a time of loneliness.  It is not because we are isolated.  Most people live within a short drive of a city, and those who don’t can easily connect with others over the phone or the internet.  And yet there is a sense that our technological connection has made use less connected in other ways.  This is anecdotal, I know, but most of the people who approach me for counsel – whether in church or at the university where I teach – express some kind of longing for connection – someone to talk to, someone who understands, someone who cares.  All those who cry out for this have cell phon

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

Executive Director Bob Brady is back with the Alliance Member Update for September.

The Alliance is the new home for the teaching ministry of Eric Alexander.  Visit ReformedResources.org to order new audio.

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).

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.