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.

 

It is a dangerous and impious zeal that seeks to "unchurch" a brother or sister because they do not meet our standards of perfection. Discipline in the church,  Calvin argues, must be done with a measure of grace and understanding; it must be on biblical grounds and not out of rigid severity. In the crosshairs for Calvin are the ancient Donatists and the contemporary Anabaptists. Calvin's model is Augustine (whom he cites often in these sections).
Common as it is today to cast the burden of examination prior to participation at the Lord's Supper upon the participant, Calvin saw it otherwise: knowingly and willingly to admit "an unworthy person whom he could rightfully turn away, is as guilty of sacrilege as if he had
cast the Lord's body to dogs" (4.12.5). The purpose of discipline is three-fold: the maintenance of the church's purity, the prevention of temptation of the saints by the unchallenged actions of the ungodly, and to encourage repentance.

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.

This is the third post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654). In the previous posts we defined a "covenant of works" and determined that God did actually make such a covenant with Adam in the Garden. But is the covenant of works still in effect today?

The Puritans show us how to live from a two-world point of view. Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Rest is a magnificent demonstration of the power that the hope of heaven should have for the directing, controlling, and energizing of your life here on earth. Despite being 800+ pages, this classic became household reading in Puritan homes, exceeded only by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which, by the way, is an allegorical proof of my point.

This week, we reach “across the pond” for insight on the much-anticipated critical biography of Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck. James Eglinton, the Meldrum Senior Lecturer in Reformed Theology at New College, the University of Edinburgh, wrote the bio. Eglinton is acknowledged for his pivotal role in extending Bavinck’s popularity outside the Dutch-speaking world. 

The dynamic duo today becomes a trio, as a third pessimist—that is, a third realist—joins in.

Rod Dreher is an American writer and editor, culture critic, and the author of several books, including The Benedict Option and the freshly released Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. Rod’s book is a wakeup call for Christians about ideas that have become prevalent in American society…notions already adopted in other countries that have proven to be a threat to civil liberties. 

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)

Envy is often misunderstood. I suspect many of us today are apt to confuse it somewhat with Greed. Both, it seems, boil down to wanting more stuff, so that Envy would seem to designate merely the sub-set of cases in which someone else already has the stuff that you want (and perhaps their having it is what prompts your wanting it). 

At some point in your schooling, you have probably come across the handy diagram that explains the various components of a strong, dramatic narrative. It’s a little line that begins steadily with the exposition, takes a vicious turn skyward with the conflict and rising action, reaches its peak with the climax, and then gently descends with the falling action and denouement. In the worship service, the blessing and sending are like the denouement. We are coming off the mountain of the Lord where we have fellowshipped with God Himself (Isa. 25:6; Hebrews 12:22).

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

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.

i. For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.(1)
iii. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

Scipione Lentolo – A Firm Hand in Unstable Times

 

Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia and the Birth of Christian Missions in the Hawaiian Islands

 

Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia lived only 26 years and is seldom known outside of the Hawaii. And yet, many believe that his love for the gospel changed the course of his islands forever.

 

A Troubled Childhood

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

Asaph, reflecting on some of his deepest struggles in the life of faith, concludes one ohis psalms by saying, ‘But as for me, it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73.28). David says something similar in the most memorable of his penitential psalms with the words, ‘Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’ (Ps 51.11). God’s people often only begin to appreciate the importance of knowing God’s presence when they are deprived of it through their own spiritual wanderings. How, then, can we safeguard the nearness of God?

In our last post we considered Paul’s warning to believers in the Galatian churches, ‘If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another’ (Ga 5.15). And we noted that, sadly, this warning needs to be repeated to every church in every generation. The family of God through the ages has been torn apart by divisions between its members. However, we also noted in the very last sentence of the article that, because of the gospel, division need not have the last word. The reason being that the gospel holds out the promise of reconciliation.

"The doctrines of grace together point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God, it is all for his glory." —James Boice

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals delivers the truths of the doctrines of grace to the Church around the globe through in-person training and live-streaming events, broadcasting, and publishing. 

Bob Brady gives an update on what is happening this month at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This information and more can be found on the November Member Update

The transcendentals – goodness, beauty, and truth – they’re called the transcendentals because they are ubiquitous; they’re not merely parts and aspects of our reality, they are the moral-fabric that make up all of reality. Being as they are communicable attributes of our Creator God it stands to reason that they will be found, in greater or lesser degrees, in every part of God’s creation. Peter Kreeft makes the astute point that “everything that exists is in some way good, and in some way true, and in some way beautiful.”[1]

One of the communicable attributes of God is his attribute of righteousness. Righteousness is the character of God where he does what is right, true, and just. To be righteous to act and judge things as they are. God is righteous and therefore has a standard for what it right and what is wrong. God’s standard is intrinsic to himself: his righteousness is an outworking of his holiness.

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.