Columns

The National Partnership is gearing up for the PCA’s General Assembly (June 29-July 2). If you are unfamiliar with the National Partnership, it is a confidential, dare I say secretive organization of PCA elders who, to use Bryan Chapell’s word, represents the more “progressive” wing of the PCA.

It appears we have a pretty intense food fight developing over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Lots of accusations are being thrown about. But that seems to be nearly unavoidable when disagreement arises over such an emotionally charged issue as race and how best to address the tensions that exist between us.

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.

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:

Doctrinal Pride

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.

The following letter comes from The Works of the Rev. John Newton (London, 1808) pp. 346–353. Reader beware: Newton's portraits are both humorous and piercing.


Whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, — think on these Things. – Phil. 4:8.

Dear Sir, 

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.

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.

Occasionally in this blog I am going to address things that bug me. Here is the first one: church planters are shepherds, too!

It is the first in this category that I write about not because it is the thing that bugs me most but because it came to mind first. What bugs me is that I have heard folks make a somewhat hard distinction between pastors and church planters. Even putting it this way is a false dichotomy. To clarify, folks who talk this way are talking about pastors of established churches in contrast to church planters who are called to start churches.

I recently had the opportunity to consult with elders who are striving to develop a shepherding ministry though they are in the search for a new senior minister. Some might think that they should wait until the new pastor arrives. Don’t wait! This is exactly the right time to begin a shepherding ministry. In fact, there is no better time to initiate regular contact with the sheep than when members might be concerned about the continuity of care without a pastor in place. You will probably preclude some of the straying away that happens whenever a pastor leaves a church.

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

      Pastors, elders, and godly parents rightly take interest in the education and nurture of their children, and as a result action-minded Christians start schools. Christian schools represent a natural or spontaneous result of faith, and the Lord is pleased with such loving motives and acts. Nevertheless, when a church attempts to govern the school it has created the results are often mixed. Theology can explain why.

It is a struggle to live out our faith. But we can see that in ways that owe more to secular trends than to Scripture and obscure the teaching that our lives can show the beauty of life in Christ and his gospel.

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.

One of the joys of gathering with my local church on Sundays is sitting under the ministry of the Word. This is especially dear to me after having been un-churched for many years. I was spiritually malnourished by the time God providentially led me to the church I now call home. Hearing sound preaching was a feast for my soul after those lean years, and it still is. During the sermon, I take notes. Some may prefer to devote all their attention to listening and forego the pen and paper, but taking notes helps me learn and to recall what I have heard.

You are a pastor in a small city.  You’ve known your barber for almost twenty years.  One day while he trims he asks for help in prayer.  He, like many others, struggles in that area.  So, you decide to go home and write a brief thirty-four page guide for him.  You even incorporate your friend in the work.  Encouraging attentiveness in prayer you write, “So, a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting.” Once finished you decide to publish the work

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.