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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).

The season leading to Christmas is a wonderful time to draw attention some of the all-too-familiar lyrics of some Christmas carols. Some of the best Christmas carols not only speak of Jesus as the child in the manger, but also the gospel reason for why the Christ had to come—the presence of sin that cannot be satisfied but through the peace that comes from the blood of the cross. Jesus did not come to be a sweet child but as the Word made flesh, the bruised and broken sacrifice, the conqueror of death by death, and the ascended Lord at the right hand of the Father.

In this age, the Church is perennially confronted with the challenge of maintaining a kingdom identity in the midst of a fallen world. How do we live as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) while remaining in our culture so that we can bear witness to the gospel? How do we “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Php. 2:15) without being corrupted by a pagan society? The fundamental answer of Scripture, seen in these passages and elsewhere, is a firm call to Christian ethics. We must live by the Holy Ghost, not the zeitgeist.

“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

Our favorite spin slayers believe that Christians and non-Christians alike should care about religious liberty. So, Carl and Todd choose to revisit a prominent First Amendment case and note other offenses that are popping up all around.

A very old and common problem in the pastoral world has recently returned to the headlines with allegations of sermon plagiarism lodged against the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why is sermon plagiarism such a big deal? Does it reach beyond the simple theft of intellectual property? What are the advantages and blessings of sermon preparation for the pastor and his congregation? Join Carl and Todd for an instructive conversation!

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.

"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)

Does the Bible offer us any insight into whether we should take the COVID vaccine? I think it does when we think through the implications of the early chapters of Genesis.

Right before God made the first human beings, he declared why he was making them:

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26).

Several months ago the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus provoked the ire of many with their controversial song, “We’ll Convert Your Children.”

“You think that we’ll corrupt your kids,
if our agenda goes unchecked.
Funny, just this once, you’re correct.”

The song continues,

“We’ll convert your children.
Happens bit by bit.
Quietly and subtly.
And you will barely notice it…

We’ll convert your children.
We’ll make them tolerant and fair…

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

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.

When was the last time you wandered in the desert wastes of addiction or anger, dissensions or divisions, enmity or envy, idolatry or impurity, sensuality or strife, finding no way to fulfill the hole in your heart, but desperately trying to anyway? When have you faced betrayal or blame, cancer or chronic pain, depression or disillusionment? When was the last occasion you felt burdened or burned out, fainthearted or fearful, homesick or hopeless, weary or worried, as you served the Lord in the places He has called you?

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:

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.

Radegund of Thuringia – Giving Refuge to Women in Violent Times

In 531, an army of Frankish soldiers invaded the Kingdom of Thuringia (in today’s France), sacked the palace, killed the royal family, and took the royal children back to the Frankish capital, Athies. Among these children was Radegund, daughter of Bertachar, who had ruled Thuringia jointly with his brothers until one of them killed him. At the time of the Frankish conquest, she was living in the home of her father’s murderer.

Solan Gidada – An Ethiopian Christian Hero

            His family name, Gidada, meant “one who weeps for his people.” But when Solan Gidada became blind at age five as a result of smallpox, his parents wept for him. But he was alive. Seven of his siblings had died from the same illness during an epidemic that swept through Ethiopia.

            None of the traditional remedies restored Solan’s sight. He seemed doomed to become a beggar for life.

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

Nothing tears at the inner fabric of our humanity more than ruptured relationships. Whether it be the heart of a family ripped apart through divorce, or rebellious children, a church fellowship shredded by conflict, or all the other levels and layers of human relationships that are the perpetual casualties of Adam’s fall. It is often only in the midst of division that we fondly wish for the sweet unity we once knew.

We may not always realise it, but the Bible has a theology of conflict. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, we are literally no further than 57 verses into Genesis before we find ourselves in the conflict zone that changed the course of history. And the conflict that emerges there in the opening section of Genesis 3, culminating in the fall, very quickly proves itself to be the fountainhead of every other form of conflict this world has ever witnessed.

To understand anger and its peaceful Biblical therapies, we make use of the Puritan John Downame’s book, The Cure of Unjust Anger.[1]  Downame focuses on Ephesians 4:26 to frame his discussion:  Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

“Our life on earth is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness.” So wrote the late Rev. John Stott. He was commenting on Paul’s candid way of summoning the believer’s soul to the green pastures of contentment.

Writing to Timothy, Paul says: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Tim. 6:6-7).

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.