Columns

Calvin continues his diatribe against false sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, wrapping up his denial of the sacrament of final unction.  In paragraphs 19-21, he levels two criticisms: the proof text (James 5:14) does not pertain to the church today but only to the apostolic age with its now-ceased gift of healing; and what the Roman priests actually do in final unction bears little resemblance to what James calls for.  We see in final unction an example of a problem that often shows up in Protestant and Evangelical circles as well: a flimsy appeal to a proof text that does

Calvin continues his critique of Catholicism by applying a biblical definition of "sacrament" to the Roman rite of penance.  He begins with a clear and careful distinction between public repentance, as it was practiced in the early church, and the private absolution offered through the so-called sacrament of penance. 

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.

Almost any article today could have the word “Coronavirus” in the title. This small organism has changed most of our lives and continues to affect us in many ways. While some of our questions simply require a lot of wisdom, our most fundamental perplexities still find their answers in Scriptures, and there is a sense in which Christ’s ascension to heaven is particularly pertinent.

The Meaning of Christ’s Ascension

Late in 1664 it was apparent the bubonic plague was making one of its unwelcome visitations of Europe by registering in London for an extended stay checking out early in 1666. It varied in the number of victims from month to month, but it survived through all four seasons. Over 80,000 people died of the pestilence at a time when the city population was about 450,000. Its visitation was recorded by diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn who both provide eyewitness accounts of its devastation.

As many states' governments are talking about a “phased” reopening from the COVID-19 lockdown, our quarantined trio –bound in three different states—is asking some important questions concerning going back to church. When might Christians be able to congregate in person? How will we “do church” as social distancing concerns remain? And, what might we discover when we finally gather? 

As they continue “social distancing,” the team gets together virtually with Matthew Barrett. He’s associate professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, executive editor of Credo Magazine, and author and editor of several great theological books. His latest—Canon, Covenant, and Christology—is the topic of today’s conversation.

The recent New York Times interview with Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, is one for the ages.   Indeed, critique is almost pointless as the interview itself begs not so much questions as gasps of amazement at the breathtaking combination of leaps of logic, misrepresentations of the Christian tradition, and the deployment of emotive buzzwords with

"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)

In the thirty minutes after Sunday school and before morning worship, our congregation talks, drinks coffee, and nibbles muffins at long white tables in the fellowship hall. Before the pandemic forced us into social distancing, this was a predictable part of our weekly gathering. I hope it will be again.

At first glance, our “fellowship time” appears to be simply an intermission—a chance for people to relax and exchange pleasantries between the main events. But a closer look shows that this half-hour is not a pause in the action at all.

If the nation of Israel thought that they were going to step foot immediately from the shores of the Red Sea into the lush boundaries of the Promised Land, they were sorely mistaken. Instead, they are met with decades-long of suffering in the wilderness. God tells them repeatedly during this time that His purpose is to “test” them—to prove their faith in Him, deepen their reliance on Him, and wean them from confidence in this passing world.

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.

John Chrysostom and Olympias – Finding Comfort in Troubled Times

Kassia – A Bold and Sensitive Byzantine Poet

 Around the year 830, in Constantinople, that Byzantine Empress Euphroshyne organized a bride-show to find a wife for her newly-crowned sixteen-year old son Theophilos. This was a common match-making system of her times.

        The believer, by rights, is best able to bear bad news. After all, we believe that we are morally corrupt, unable to reform ourselves, and so incorrigible that the only solution was that the Son of God live and die in our place. If we can accept that, we should be able to face hard truths about our health and the economy. And there are hard truths.

Basic information – four ideas

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

     A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.

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

Arguably one of the greatest errors we can fall into when it comes to understanding grace is that ‘It’s all about me and all about now’. This attitude has reached epidemic proportions in Western churches and may well explain our relative lack of resilience and usefulness compared to other parts of the world. Such a view of grace is, however, not only far-removed from what has been true in the church through most of its history, but from the Bible itself.

The more we have explored the theme of grace as it unfolds in different ways throughout Scripture, the more we have discovered its variegated beauty and its far-reaching implications for our lives as Christians. It is more pervasive than we often imagine and, as we have noted in an earlier post, this is because grace is not a commodity, but is embodied in the incarnate Christ and is ours through our union and communion with him. There is therefore nothing static about grace, it is as living and vibrant and dynamic as is Christ himself.

"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)

The familiar words of Isaiah 40:1-2 call to mind the sonorous strains of Handel’s Messiah: “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,’ saith your God. ‘Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her … that her iniquity is pardoned.’” They are also suggestive of the preaching task. In fact, the famous hymn writer, John Newton, preached a series of sermons on the texts of the Messiah to his London parish while Handel’s oratorio was being performed across town. Newton was taking up the charge of Isaiah’s God. As Dr. J. I.

You may be familiar with the famous American pastor who loved chocolate and flying spiders, but did you know that Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation? Edwards was not only a theologian but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. His interest led him to undertake a new method of inoculation for smallpox. This technique was also called variolation and was a precursor to the development of the first vaccine. His risk proved fatal. On March 22, 1758, Edwards died from complications related to the inoculation.

The Newton Guy

 Keith Plummer is professor at Cairn University teaching a variety of classes related to pastoral ministry, apologetics, and biblical courses. He also happens to work next door to Jonathan and James, lending a comfortable familiarity to their conversation.

The First Five 

Jonathan and James welcome their friend Stephen Unthank. He’s pastor of Greenbelt Baptist Church in Maryland, and a contributing writer for PlaceForTruth.org. Stephen shares his experiences as a relatively new pastor…the joys and challenges of the calling…and, how it all lined up with his expectations.

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.