Columns

When I was a student the University of Houston, my English Composition 1 instructor told our class that the greatest novel ever written was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I went out and got a copy and began to read it. Lots of words. But one thing that stood out to me was the character of the Grand Inquisitor. He has a lot to say. Along the way he offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

"What does this have to do with baptism?" is the frequent response to citing Jesus' blessing the little children (Matt. 19:13-15), as much in Calvin's day apparently as today. Calvin's response? "If it is right for children to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ?

A polemic in favor of infant baptism built on the following platform:

1) An anagogic relationship between circumcision and baptism: both are covenantal signs and seals to faith of forgiveness of sin; the power of the signs consist in the underlying promise of God rather than any ex opere operato understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments.

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.

Note: The Alliance is once again offering a year-long reading challenge for Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Click here for more information.

The Wesleys had an enduring friendship and connection with George Whitefield (1714–1770), beginning with their Oxford Holy Club, followed by separate missionary journeys to America, and a call to open-air field preaching in England. During the earlier years of that association, the Wesleys published some of their most enduring poetry, especially in the first edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). In this collection, Charles Wesley had penned a Christmas hymn with a curious opening line:

With Todd hopelessly delayed by an extended hair styling appointment, Carl alone sits down to chat with our special guest. At the table is Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian Ethics and Apologetics, associate dean of the School of Theology, and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, all at Southern Baptist Seminary. Andrew’s also an editor and writer for several publications.

Life is full of tragedy, sadness, and suffering. Scripture is replete with such stories from Genesis to Revelation. Why is there suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is there any hope to be found in the midst of suffering?

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.

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?

"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).

The medieval church struggled to approach the Lord with confidence through the sacraments. When teaching my seminary class about this, the professor asked, “How can we live the Christian life without getting ulcers?” This is a good question. Maybe you have wondered about this when coming to the Lord’s Supper.

One of the most acute and enduring struggles that I have experienced in my own life has been the struggle to be content with myself. The real problem, as I have discovered, is that deep down I don’t want to be the person God has made me to be. Deep down I want to be someone else instead.

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin. Edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura. Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2021.  

Michael T. Jahosky, The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth (Wipf & Stock, 2020), 238 pp. 

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:

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.

Onesimos Nesib, Aster Ganno, and the Oromo Translating Team

 

In my last post, I wrote about Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo, and their efforts to bring the gospel to Ethiopia. Rufo worked with the German Johann Ludwig Krapf to translate portions of the Bible into the language of the Oromo, which at that time was the second most-common language in Africa. Besides being incomplete, Rufo’s translation, published in 1876, suffered from the fact that it was done by three different people.

 

Onesimos Nesib’s Conversion

Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo and the Early Missions to the Oromo

 

When we think of Ethiopia, we often think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its impressive buildings and its ancient, unique, and colorful traditions. The religious complex of Lalibela, for example, with its monolithic churches, has been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

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

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.

Constancy is something every human being craves. Knowing that, in the midst of all the upheaval and change that marks the course of life, there are anchor-points that provide stability along the way. But where can we find such certainty?    

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

We all know combinations that just don’t go well together, don’t we? We even have a saying for them—they go together like oil and water. Some people think this about God’s Law and love. Others perhaps agree that God’s Law and love are compatible, but wouldn’t do well in explaining how they harmonize. Yet, they do. It is not possible for there to be discord or incompatibility, at least in an ultimate sense, between God’s Law and love, because they are God’s. But affirming that they harmonize is not the same as expressing how or why they do.

What Metaphor?

The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five brings to mind images of an orchard. It’s a serene and beautiful scene.  However, the more I look at the text of Galatians I start to think that the orchard metaphor may be a more pleasing one but not entirely consistent with what we find in the letter. But if not that then what image is appropriate?  What about a prison metaphor?

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.