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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).

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.

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.

Carl publicly concedes that he’s no match for our special guest’s husband after losing their “mustard-colored trouser” Facebook contest a few years ago. That guest is Catherine Stewart, and she’s the editor of Surviving the Fishbowl: Letters to Pastor’s Kids. Catherine reveals what motivated her to lead the project, assembling an exceptional host of contributors. 

While Todd laments knowing Carl far too long, the professor tries to boost his brand by mentioning that he was recently referred to as “one of God’s gifts to humanity.” With egos finally in check, the pair introduce today’s guest.

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)

On Sunday, May 30th, cries of terror filled the scattered homes that make up the rural community of Nwori Nduobashi, Nigeria. It was around 3 in the morning, and people were still asleep when an armed band broke into their homes, flashing light in their eyes to confuse them while they swung their machetes. In the meantime, some attackers stood by the door and windows, killing those who tried to escape. Some had guns.

Last year I changed pastorates from a church in the southeastern United States to a church in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there are cultural changes that come along with geographic shifts, but one of the biggest differences I noticed was the attitude toward church membership. I am painting with a broad brush here, but in general it seems that southerners highly value church membership. Whether or not someone attends church, it seems almost more significant from a social perspective that they at least be members somewhere.

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:

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.

Hamu Lujonza Kaddu Mukasa and the Early Church in Uganda

            In 1882, twelve-year-old Hamu Lujonza Kaddu Mukasa, son of a chief in the Buganda Kingdom, was sent to the court of King Mutesa I to serve as a page. There, his life began to take a course he had never imagined.

From Mukasa to Hamu

François and Christine Coillard – A Love Story

            When François Coillard first introduced himself as a teacher to the people of Leribé, in today’s Lesotho, they looked at him in disbelief. “The Teacher!” one of them said. “And what should he teach? He is a young man. He has neither wife nor beard.”[1]

     Theological error and heresy constantly plagued the church during the life of the Apostle Paul, so it is no surprise that his final instructions to Timothy contain essential counsel on the right way to address error and heresy

If a believer, perhaps a pastor, has a conversation with someone who suspects they are transgender or experiences gender dysphoria, our first response should be compassion. Imagine waking up daily and thinking, “I have the wrong body.” If we are in a position to give counsel or advice, we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak” as James 1 says

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.

"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

“In the Last Days of Narnia, far up to the west.” This is how C.S. Lewis begins the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. I reread this book last year, right in the middle of the pandemic lock-downs, and since doing so I’ve found myself more and more referring to the book to help find the language which describes so much of the cultural confusion we see around us.

Author Jim Belcher illustrates his chapter, “The Struggle Within,”[1] with a compelling psychoanalysis of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.[2] 

The first three chapters of Mark’s gospel are a literary tsunami.  The kingdom of God embodied in Christ came like a wave.  The Spirit descended upon Christ at His baptism and drove Him into the wilderness where he overcame the temptation of Satan.  And from that point on the Spirit empowered Christ to engage a ministry that would roust the kingdom of darkness.  All of that is in the first three chapters.  But then, in chapter 4, the great conquering warrior King stopped His campaign in order to put his weapon of choice on display.  It is as if he said, “Let me now show you the weapon by wh

People often ask me why I am committed to expositional preaching.  Sometimes I answer by testifying to the great influence such preaching has had on my own life.  I can point to lessons I’ve learned and growth I’ve experienced personally.  Indeed, under God, my spiritual growth has been most pronounced in times of great struggle and suffering on the one hand, and times when I was sitting under sound exposition on the other.  (Sometimes both at once!)

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.