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“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).

Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God.

"With which person in the Bible do you most identify?" This is a question I have often asked others in the church over the years. Most of us lack even enough self-awareness to able to answer the question. Others among us have a propensity to appeal to the best characters in Scripture.

In an oft-quoted passage, Charles Spurgeon reflects on the nature of his calling as a pastor: 

"I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways."
— Psalm 119:15 — 

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!

By now you’ve heard that Mortification of Spin has moved to a bi-weekly format. For the next two months, we’ll use the “off” weeks to bring you an encore episode of another Alliance podcast: Theology on the Go, featuring Jonathan Master and James Dolezal. You’ll find more episodes at TheologyOnTheGo.org, or when you subscribe to the podcast.

Three events this week have given me pause both for thought, nostalgia, and hope. The first was the arrival of an email on Thursday containing the memoir manuscript of a well-known Welsh Baptist pastor who served only one congregation in his ministry, and that for over fifty years. He asked me to read it with a view to offering a commendation, though he couched the request with comments about how busy I must be, and how many more important books I no doubt have to read. Read it with a view to commendation?

Many congratulations to both Jon  Master and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on his appointment as their new president, starting July 1 next year.

"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)

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve felt bombarded with major prayer requests. One day I hear news of sick and struggling family members, the next I hear a church friend report that she has cancer. A steady stream of WhatsApp messages report crushing trials for international ministry partners. Then I look at the news and hear of turmoil in Afghanistan, an earthquake in Haiti, and a growing darkness in our country—and this doesn't even account for the prayer concerns in my own extended family that I seldom seem to remember before the Lord.

Were the Jehovah’s Witnesses right? Among their central boasts is that they have revived the covenantal name of God, the Hebrew YHWH, sometimes pronounced Yahweh and sometimes Jehovah, that Jesus came to restore. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels so the precise pronunciation may never be known. Given the growing practice among Evangelicals of referring in sermons and lectures to Yahweh, one would think that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right. What they have advocated since the 1870’s has finally caught on, though with the former rather than the latter pronunciation.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020), 256 pp., hardcover, $27.00

Samuel Renihan, Crux, Mors, Inferi: A Primer and Reader on Christ's Descent (Independently published, 2021), 230pp., Paperback/Hardcover/Kindle. 

Samuel Renihan has recently published an excellent book on the doctrine of the descent of Christ into hell. His thesis—that Christ descended to hell on the Sabbath, as stated in the ancient creeds—is one with which I was in agreement prior to reading it. What surprised me was how helpful it was devotionally.

           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.

I stumbled upon something Gregory the Great wrote warning how vices often masquerade as virtues.* It made me pause and reflect. Here are some of his words:
 
Often, for instance, a niggard passes himself off as frugal, while one who is prodigal conceals his character when he calls himself openhanded. Often, inordinate laxity is believed to be kindness, and unbridled anger passes as the virtue of spiritual zeal. Precipitancy is frequently taken as efficient promptitude, and dilatoriness as grave deliberation.  
I kind of stumbled into becoming an author. I began as a reader and a thinker in the church, connecting a lot of dots in my reading that led to more convictions and questions. And I couldn’t find the next book I wanted to read. So, I wrote it.
 

They came from California, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New York City, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Georgia. Why did they come? They came because they are all leaders of large churches and wanted to consider best practices for shepherding large numbers of people. The consultation had been in the planning for 4 years. After visiting First Presbyterian in Augusta, Georgia, First Pres. Executive Pastor John Barrett and I began to imagine a consultation of large church leaders to talk about shepherding their flocks.

When you come right down to it, the heart of shepherding and success in shepherding for that matter, boils down to the importance of relationships. This is quite clear in the dynamic that Jesus established in John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me.” This remarkable statement acknowledges the blessing of knowing the Lord and being known by Him. Of course, this relationship comes to us at His initiative by grace through faith. The Lord has changed our hearts so that we have now “heard” Him and “follow Him” (John 10:27).

vi. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.
iv. This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

Catherine Willoughby – An Outspoken Reformer

 

When fourteen-year-old Catherine Willoughby married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in 1533, she became one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in England. Thirty-five years her senior, Brandon had been married three times before. His latest wife had been Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister – a marriage that had greatly increased his sphere of influence.

The story of the flight of Katie von Bora from her convent and her arrival at Wittenberg, where she eventually married Martin Luther, is well-known. Few are acquainted with the person who engineered the flight, Ursula von Münsterberg, granddaughter of King George of Poděbrady of Bohemia and cousin of Duke George of Saxony.

Reluctant Nun

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.

Escapism seems to be everywhere.  If you have internet access, try typing “escape” or “escapism” into a search engine.  You might not want to visit all the sites that come up in such a search, but what you will see – if you need proof – is that many people seek to escape.  Or think about the commercials on TV.  Almost every commercial for an airline will talk about escaping.  Restaurants promise that we can “escape to the unexpected.”  Day spas are big business, and they promise a few hours of escape.  And of course there are illicit types of escape.  With the rise of the internet, pornogra

Teaching has its own occupational hazards.  Teachers complain about lack of respect and pay.  They frequently gripe about the students under their care.  Teachers grumble about other teachers.  In fact, you can read complaints about any and all of these things from teachers in the ancient world, from medieval tutors, or from almost any teacher in almost any school today.    

Back in 1959 a short book appeared under the title The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. It was the fictional account of a troubled teenager who took up running to deal with his inner troubles and it was later turned into a movie under the same title. I have often wondered if there might be mileage for book for those in ministry under a similar  title: The Loneliness of a lifetime Pastor. There are many aspects of a pastor’s calling that he and he alone must carry. Issues he has to face that few other people can grasp or enter into.

Church was never intended to be the spiritual equivalent of a spectator sport. Yet, somehow, this is how it has come to be treated, not only by many Christians; but by their pastors as well. Those who serve as ministers of Christ can easily approach their calling as though it is their job to please their people. While those who are under their care can hear them in such a way as to think it is indeed their job to do just that. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that congregations expand and shrink on the basis of perceived performance ratings.

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).

Evangelism Around the World

Jonathan and James have the privilege of speaking with Anthony Curto, professor of Missions and Apologetics at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Anthony also has extensive experience serving as a pastor, church planter, and missionary worldwide, all of which qualifies him as the ideal guest for today’s conversation. 

Confessional Subscription and the Minister’s Integrity 

Today’s topic couldn’t be timelier. Jonathan and James are joined by David Strain, senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MI, to talk about David’s recent address at the Gospel Reformation Network conference on the topic of confessional subscription and why it matters.

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.