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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).

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

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.

Christians are commanded to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16), be instant to always preach the Gospel (2 Tim. 4:2), continually work to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and pursue peace and holiness (Heb. 12:4). Far from being a calling to laziness, the Christian is called by Christ to continually be at work towards holiness. In fact, the command to pursue holiness is exactly like the command to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). It is a command for active obedience in the life of the Christian.

Thomas Watson (ca. 1620-1686) was a great Presbyterian Puritan preacher who wrote much and whose books are still read today. Watson’s most famous work, A Body of Practical Divinity, published posthumously in 1692, consisted of 176 sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Watson was a clear writer, adept at providing memorable phrases and illustrations. He joined theological understanding with warm spirituality and piety. When he died suddenly, he was engaged in private prayer.

Carl publicly concedes that he’s no match for our special guest’s husband after losing their “mustard-colored trouser” Facebook contest a few years ago. That guest is Catherine Stewart, and she’s the editor of Surviving the Fishbowl: Letters to Pastor’s Kids. Catherine reveals what motivated her to lead the project, assembling an exceptional host of contributors. 

While Todd laments knowing Carl far too long, the professor tries to boost his brand by mentioning that he was recently referred to as “one of God’s gifts to humanity.” With egos finally in check, the pair introduce today’s guest.

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.

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1) Jesus' encounter with the devil was an appointment he had to keep. It was established within the terms of the covenant of redemption in the counsels of eternity. In order for the kingdom of God to be established, the kingdom of darkness has to be plundered. Jesus must disarm "the rulers and authorities" and put them to shame, triumphing over them in the cross (Col. 2:14).

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.

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

Orientation to the Book

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

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.

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.

Helene Kottanner – A Medieval Thriller

Helene Kottanner had been a loyal friend and adviser to Queen Elisabeth of Hungary. But when the queen asked her to steal the royal crown, her devotion was severely tested.

To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs.  Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).

As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.

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

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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Think and Act Biblically

“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.

Author Jim Belcher illustrates his chapter, “The Struggle Within,”[1] with a compelling psychoanalysis of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.[2] 

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.