“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).
In contesting Rome's claim to universal authority over the entire Christian Church, Calvin pits the sober record of history against the fraudulent records of the papacy. It had long been the besetting sin of Rome, Calvin asserts, to desire hegemony over all bishops, and while this is reflected in genuine writings of many Roman pontiffs, as well as in many forged documents, this was vigorously contested by all in the ancient church.
As Calvin continues his refutation of papal claims to supremacy, he shows the great value of detailed learning. Reading 4.7.5-10, one may soak in the volume of facts marshaled by Calvin, but we should appreciate his vast reading in the early church fathers and councils and the value of this learning to his ministry. Our unlearned generation is greatly rebuked by Calvin's casual recitation of facts, and we are exhorted to put in the hard reading and the mental effort needed to attain to the mastery of fields in which we are called to serve.
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.
Note: this post has been adapted with permission from A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin.
There are some things we do in church that go completely unquestioned—until they are.
I think it is safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace. Many famous musicians have sung or performed it. It’s heard at many funerals and other events. Yet too few know the grace of which the author wrote and more, what makes it so amazing.
John Newton penned this much-loved hymn and the story of his life reveals God’s grace at work in one who was far from him. And, as we’ll see, God’s grace is amazing indeed.
John Newton and God’s Amazing Grace
Learning from the Smyth-Fletcher Abuse
Note: The following is adapted from a letter sent in response to a gracious correspondent who was concerned about Dr. Trueman’s representation of the words of Rev. Greg Johnson. It is published here rather than First Things due to the intramural nature of the matter involved.
On Sunday, May 30th, cries of terror filled the scattered homes that make up the rural community of Nwori Nduobashi, Nigeria. It was around 3 in the morning, and people were still asleep when an armed band broke into their homes, flashing light in their eyes to confuse them while they swung their machetes. In the meantime, some attackers stood by the door and windows, killing those who tried to escape. Some had guns.
Last year I changed pastorates from a church in the southeastern United States to a church in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there are cultural changes that come along with geographic shifts, but one of the biggest differences I noticed was the attitude toward church membership. I am painting with a broad brush here, but in general it seems that southerners highly value church membership. Whether or not someone attends church, it seems almost more significant from a social perspective that they at least be members somewhere.
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, I treated myself to read Volume II of Amy Mantravadi’s Chronicles of Maud series, The Forsaken Monarch. At first, I couldn’t decide whether to read it on Kindle or in print, as I didn’t know if I could comfortably hold a 657-page book the way you’d want to curl up and read a novel.
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:
Rebecca Protten and the First Black Protestant Church in the Americas
When seven-year-old Rebecca Protten was kidnapped from her family home in Antigua, she couldn’t possibly imagine that her new life in the island of St. Thomas, a Danish sugar colony in the West Indies, would become a catalyst for the conversion of many slaves and the foundation of what has been considered the first Black Protestant Church in the Americas.
“Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).
Suppose that several young couples decide to live in community. Questions arise. Shall we try to live near each other? If so, where? In the city or the suburbs? What is our view of child safety? Is the goal to remove risks or to teach children to assess risks? May they walk several blocks to each other's homes? Will children wear helmets on bicycles?
Editor’s note: Place for Truth is pleased to post an excerpt from Dan Doriani’s forthcoming commentary on Romans, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series from P&R Publishing (Late Fall 2021).
It is vital to revisit and reaffirm essential doctrines, especially society questions or even attacks them. Propitiation is just such a topic, for it represents a vital aspect of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.
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.
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.
The book of Ezra is notoriously difficult to read, let alone preach; but it is there in the canon of Holy Scripture to edify and equip the saints (2Ti 3.16). Whereas, at one level, it provides a crucial link in the chain of God’s redemptive dealings with Israel, it is ultimately vital to our understanding of salvation history for the world. It does this in more ways than we might at first realise.
Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
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“In the Last Days of Narnia, far up to the west.” This is how C.S. Lewis begins the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. I reread this book last year, right in the middle of the pandemic lock-downs, and since doing so I’ve found myself more and more referring to the book to help find the language which describes so much of the cultural confusion we see around us.
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.