Columns

By now many of you have heard of the Genevan Commons Facebook group. The Genevan Commons (GC) group was apparently formed several years ago to provide a forum for discussion of Reformed theology. All well and good. But more recently some of the group members began attacking Aimee Byrd, Rachel Miller, and us (Carl and Todd). At times the banter degenerated into sinful mocking and slander. Unbecoming to say the least. 

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).

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.

"With troubled heart and trembling hand I write.
     The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met
     When I on fading things my hopes have set." [1]

Satan tempts us to compare ourselves to men whom we think are worse than we are.

"You do so much better than Brother Ralph," Satan says:

"Compare yourself to Ralph. You know more theology than he does. You serve God more zealously than he does. You are a lit­tle sloppy with your holiness sometimes, but Ralph frequently engages in big sins. You can indulge this small sin and still be far more effective than most Christians. Don't take this one sin so seriously; you'll still be better than Ralph."

This week’s conversation brings in a New Englander, and--mind you--a Grove City College alum! Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife living in Massachusetts. She’s a pastor’s daughter, a mom, an editor, and the author of A Place to Belong - Learning to Love the Local Church.

Todd and his “sidekick” Carl believe that they have much wisdom to dispense to the world. They’ve picked a tech-free and quiet spot nestled in among the Amish in Pennsylvania to share their thoughts on the “evils” of social media—particularly regarding church officers. Since quitting Twitter Todd’s rosy cheeks are back, his cholesterol and blood pressure are under control, and he’s grown enough hair to sport a man-bun!

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)

The question of frequency—how often or seldom we do something—isn’t a trivial matter. This is true about consumption. How often should we eat and drink? Most of us partake three times per day. Some prefer smaller quantities more often, while others gorge themselves at every meal. Still others diet to their peril, malnourished in their self-denial. Our bodies need food and drink to survive, the right amount to thrive. 

A few years ago, after writing the nth article on the benefits of learning church history, I decided never to touch this subject again. Editors kept asking me to write more, but I thought I had said all there was to say about it. Until now, when recent events have brought the study (or ignorance) of history in the limelight, providing inescapable object lessons on the dangers of dismissing, over-simplifying, or distorting historical facts.

Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion according to the Reformed Confession (Westminster Seminary Press 2019). 549pp. Hardcover. $30.00.

Robert Strivens, Philip Doddridge and the Shaping of Evangelical Dissent, Ashgate Studies in Evangelicalism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015). 201pp. Hardcover.

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:

They came from California, Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New York City, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Georgia. Why did they come? They came because they are all leaders of large churches and wanted to consider best practices for shepherding large numbers of people. The consultation had been in the planning for 4 years. After visiting First Presbyterian in Augusta, Georgia, First Pres. Executive Pastor John Barrett and I began to imagine a consultation of large church leaders to talk about shepherding their flocks.

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.

Jan Laski – The Polish Reformer

            Jan Laski (also known as Johannes à Lasco) is normally remembered as the Reformer of Poland, but he had also a great influence in England and other parts of Europe and was an untiring opponent of the heresies of his time.

Mary Honywood and Her Flickering, Unquenchable Faith

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

Looking for the Lost

There is a well-known nursery rhyme that generations of British children grew up with which begins with the words,

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them;

Leave them alone and they will come home, wagging their tails behind them.

It would be tempting to think that yet another article on suffering at this time is nothing more than jumping on the bandwagon of the current situation; but that is not altogether the case. Yes, we are facing a crisis of global proportions that is full of uncertainty; but it is neither the first, nor (to date) the worst of its kind. What it does represent, however, is yet another of those many examples in world history of God’s using a megaphone (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ imagery) to get our attention.

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)

Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!

“Love yourself.” This modern psychological mantra, we are told, is the cure that heals all ailments. Have a negative self-image? Just love yourself. Are you being treated poorly? Don’t let them define who you are – just love yourself. Is society, or certain aspects of it, abusing you and keeping you down? Just remember that you are special – love yourself. Remember that you are a lion and let others hear your roar. Do you feel like you just don’t fit in or there is something about you that’s not quite normal? Just remember you were born this way – love yourself.

One afternoon a group of bored boys decided to bother an old man working in his yard.  After causing the man a little trouble they moved on.  However, the town wherein they lived was a small one and so having recognized one of the boys the old man called on the father of that particular boy.

Pastors and Polemics

 Jonathan and James bring up a timeless topic facing pastors of every generation—most especially, today. Polemical debates and arguments rage in the streets, online, even from the pulpit. But, should pastors be involved, and—if so—to what extent?  

Exuberant over an experience, an oh-so-sweet manifestation of divine providence, you delightedly seek to give God praise in telling your story. “It was such a ‘God thing’,” you proclaim. As you see it, God wove together an otherwise inexplicable combination of events to deliver a wonderful—even stunning—outcome. The story nearly tells itself, and the words gush with geyser force. In such times, it is good to credit the Lord for his work. That is what God’s people do.

God has a Grand Plan

Larger than life itself, Paul’s God is a big God. The God of the prophets and apostles, in fact, created life. Creator and Redeemer, he becomes the awesome Benefactor of new life. Words fall short of the splendor. To say God is great is to call Niagara Falls a quaint and serene stream.

Small and stunned by God’s grace, the apostle inhales the air of grace and not surprisingly pens his letter on his face. Praise is befitting of the upright (cf. Psalm 33:1). Theology airs best from our knees.