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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).

My car was in the shop this week to fix an evolving A/C apocalypse. When the work was finished, a kind mechanic from the place picked me up to take me to my car. On the way, we talked about the things of God, and he asked me how could God send a good Jewish Rabbi to Hell? After all, he said, the Rabbi is only doing what he was brought up to do; he is doing his best to live up to the light he received.

This is a common objection to the Christian message. It deserves a compelling answer. What would you say? You might try something like this:

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts.

“There is a great deal of comfort in skepticism,” writes Gordon H. Clark.  “If truth is impossible of attainment, then one need not suffer the pains of searching for it… Skepticism dispenses with all effort… Skepticism is the position that nothing can be demonstrated.”[1]

Note: Read more on John Bunyan's pastoral heart here. 


The life of John Bunyan proves, perhaps more than any other, that God indeed does not call the equipped, but rather equips the called. Bunyan understood the great grace he had been gifted in Christ, and he was eager to use every moment and every ounce of strength to preach this same gospel to others. 

Learning to Love the Communion of the Saints

Once again Carl and Todd welcome a guest brave enough to make a return visit to the lions’ den. Craig Carter is research professor of theology at Tyndale University and theologian in residence at Westney Heights Baptist Church in Ajax, Ontario. Craig is renowned for producing some very fine work on recovering Trinitarian classical theism and classical metaphysics. His newest book is Contemplating God with the Great Tradition, the follow-up volume to 2018’s Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition.

After Carl’s Freudian slip concerning his being a pastor, our resident professor/minister/author quickly recovers and gets back on track by introducing his sidekick and their special guest. Benjamin Fischer is a missionary priest of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, rector of Christ the Redeemer, a congregation in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), and the associate professor of Literary History at Northwest Nazarene University. Ben has translated and edited Being a Pastor: Pastoral Treatises of John Wycliffe.

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.


Dear Friend,

Some years ago, I took a Nazirite vow never to write on race in America.  Yet, persuaded by the editorial team at First Things, I broke that vow.  Now it is time to offer a brief reflection on some of the responses.

In the first six verses of this chapter, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to fix our attention on Jesus--to keep him in our eye and to hold and cling to him. One reason why we should "consider Jesus," why we should fix our attention on him is because of his character displayed in his office. He is both apostle and high priest of our confession: he is the "sent one" who declares God's Word to us and he is the "mediator" who stands before God for us. As both prophet and priest, he does God's work on our behalf. 
"O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption."-Psalm 130:7
   
What is "plentiful redemption"?  This is a rich and full expression, and one used nowhere else in Scripture. As the climax of a penitential prayer, the phrase sums up the teaching of the entire psalm. 
  
Verses 1- 2  bring to mind the desperation of the awakened sinner. "Out of the depths" is the cry of a person drowning in sin and guilt.

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.

Popular opinion concerning sexuality is changing rapidly. “It took more than a century for the homosexual movement to win cultural affirmation. Transgenderism’s acceptance happened much more speedily, partly due to the path carved out by the homosexuality movement.”[1] The traditional boundaries defining appropriate sexual activity are nearly obliterated. Of the manifold sins prohibited by the Seventh Commandment only a few are generally considered negative today. Even these—rape, incest, and polygamy—have their advocates.

Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2021). 368 pp. $50.00.

Gerald Bray, The Attributes of God: An Introduction (Crossway, 2021), 160 pp., Paperback, $15.99.

Orientation to the Book

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:

ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Not an offering, not a sacrifice
i. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

Gi Pung Yi – First Korean Martyr

He was the first Korean Protestant missionary and the first Korean martyr, often remembered as the father of the Korean Protestant church. It all began through a rock and a bout of hot temper.

A Paul-like Conversion

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.

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

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.

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.

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

In First Kings 8 we see King Solomon lead in corporate prayer and what stands out about his prayer is that it is Solomon pleading for what the Lord has already promised. He uses language like “keep for your servant David my father what you have promised” (verse 25) and “let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken” (verse 26). This is what the Puritans referred to as “pleading the promises”, a way of praying which brought the person praying closest to the will of God.

Vital Churches

Wendell McBurney is our special guest. He’s been dean of research at Indiana University and has done a lot of writing in academic circles. Dr. McBurney has also been a valuable member of the RPCNA—the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America for many decades. Today’s topic is his recent book related to his work as a churchman. 

R.C. Sproul, A Life 

Reformation Bible College President Stephen Nichols joins Jonathan and James. Their old friend stops by to discuss the biography he’s written about pastor, teacher, and theologian R.C. Sproul. Nichols talks about his working and personal relationship with Sproul, and the wonderful experience it was to finally compile his memories and “napkin notes” into this lively book.

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.