Columns

“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).

I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:

This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.

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.

Everyone's favorite Welsh theologian returns, and Pelagius has nothing on Derek Thomas! Drop in to hear the Spinners talk with Derek about a whole slew of topics. Principally, they ask him about sin in the lives of pastors. Is it truly "authentic" to be vaguely vulnerable from the pulpit? How do pastor's keep themselves accountable?

This installment of Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit sees the crew discussing a pervasive cultural sensation - The Fifty Shades of Grey book series. Since the release of the movie's first trailer, the Internet is abuzz with talk of the series; some of the hype is even streaming from Christians.

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)

1. Preach sound doctrine. Don’t reserve Bible doctrines such as justification and sanctification for your Sunday school. Preach these doctrines during your worship service.

 

2. Preach with discrimination. Address both believers and unbelievers in your preaching. Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation is saved, but neither assume that no one is saved.

 

People who are part of a particular Christian congregation are often called church “members.” This language is profoundly biblical, and is a visible manifestation of the believer’s union with Christ and the communion of saints.

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

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.

Margaret Mure and the Love of Christ

 

            Today, James Durham is remembered as a faithful preacher, a moderate spirit at a time of great controversy, and an early advocate of the free offer of the gospel. But few people know that some of his celebrated commentaries were edited and published after his death by his second wife, Margaret Mure, who proved to be a theologian in her own rights.

Tiyo Soga – The First Ordained Black South African

 

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.

     “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).

     Suppose that several young couples decide to live in community. Questions arise. Shall we try to live near each other? If so, where? In the city or the suburbs? What is our view of child safety? Is the goal to remove risks or to teach children to assess risks? May they walk several blocks to each other's homes? Will children wear helmets on bicycles?

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

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.

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.

Mark Daniels gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Subscribe to a free devotional delivered to your email inbox:

Think and Act Biblically

Reformed, confessional theologians often point out that discipline is one of three signs of a true church.[1]  Highlighting this distinguishing mark, my seminary professor once rhetorically asked our class, “How many true churches are out there?” 

The right preaching of the Gospel, the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline have together been held, among Protestants, as the key marks of any true church.

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. 

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.