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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).

The Mass. At the heart of Calvin's theological method in assessing the value of the Mass is the cross. The Mass signifies an on-going ritual of sacrifice, undermining the "once-for-all" of Calvary. By its constant repetition, it declares all prior "sacrifices" - including Calvary - insufficient to forgive sins. It denigrates Christ and makes his life and work of less value. By participating in the re-sacrifice ritual, we abandon "free grace" and declare that we are forgiven by something which we do. Again, there rises from the heart of man the reflex of self-justification.

Scottish Highland Presbyterians need to hold their breath for a second while Calvin refers to an annual Lord's Supper ritual as "a veritable invention of the devil" [4.17.46]. Calvin then adds, something which he has been cited for ever since, that the Supper should be "spread at least once a week" - a desire he never experienced; nor could he have. The Supper required a strict discipline in Geneva requiring the involvement of the Consistory - a task impossible to accomplish on a weekly basis.

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.

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.

Anthony Selvaggio joins Carl and Todd today. He’s the pastor of Rochester Christian Reformed Church in NY, as well as a conference speaker and author. Considering Job: Reconciling Sovereignty and Suffering is the title of Anthony’s most recent book, and the topic of our conversation.

Carl and Todd sit down to chat with an old friend. Sandy Finlayson is the library director and professor of Theological Bibliography at Westminster Theological Seminary. Carl leads the conversation by describing the genesis of the Free Church of Scotland and the men who led what was called “The Great Disruption.” Among them, we find Thomas Chalmers, one of the main leaders of the movement and the subject of Sandy’s academic interest. 

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.

When the great Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers was converted, even though he had been a minister for several years, it led to a seismic shift in his preaching. Gone were the days filled with mathematical and scientific studies, with but an hour or two on a Saturday evening given to sermon preparation.
Leadership is a vital issue for the Church. 

Appointing the right leaders, with the right qualifications (think godliness as well as giftedness, as per 3:1-7 and 4:12-16), is a top priority. The wrong kind of leaders can wreak havoc in the life of the church (as per 1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-5). That said, even when the right leaders are appointed, Paul still feels the need to give counsel on the way in which these leaders ought to be viewed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began over a year ago, our church Session carefully searched the Bible and developed a position which we have continued to practice in our State of California.

The midday sun beating down upon him was becoming unbearable. Having just passed the 13-mile marker, with 13 more miles to go, he wondered what he was thinking when he signed up to run a marathon. At the 18th mile, his run is a brisk walk. One mile later, his brisk walk is no longer brisk. Discouragement is quickly setting in. His head and hands are hanging down and his legs feel like jelly. Quitting the race consumes his thoughts.

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

Welcome The Shepherds’ Blog!

The purpose of this blog is to provide an opportunity for me to post material that will be helpful to pastors, elders, and other church leaders (and members) about the subject of pastoral ministry generally and shepherding the flock specifically. I would also encourage you to send questions to me at twitmer@wts.edu and I will do my best to answer them.

Five years ago, first time author and Westminster professor Dr. Tim Witmer awaited the release of a book that represented his heart for ministry: The Shepherd Leader. He did not expect the impact it would have. The book sold out within the first few days, and P&R Publishing rushed to fill demand.

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.

 Wang Mingdao – Against the Christless Christianity of the Authorized Church

Onesimos Nesib, Aster Ganno, and the Oromo Translating Team

 

In my last post, I wrote about Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo, and their efforts to bring the gospel to Ethiopia. Rufo worked with the German Johann Ludwig Krapf to translate portions of the Bible into the language of the Oromo, which at that time was the second most-common language in Africa. Besides being incomplete, Rufo’s translation, published in 1876, suffered from the fact that it was done by three different people.

 

Onesimos Nesib’s Conversion

        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

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.

What's on your reading list for 2021? Have you considered Calvin? 

The significance of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is hard to overstate. Consider what J.I. Packer once wrote in his foreword to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

The Reformers confronted the Catholic church with five scriptural principles by which they sought to reform the church.  If the 21st century church is to once again transform the culture by the proclamation of the gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ, it must reclaim its heritage:  the five solas of the Reformation.  Then the gospel will be heralded with accuracy, clarity, and power.  Foundational to the gospel is Sola Gratia - the understanding that we are saved by the grace of God alone. 

Definitions

In today’s world of tolerance and conciliation even theologians have a tendency to stray from the old paths and act as if postmodernity has the ability to build new roadways to places not traveled in a long time. For example, one theologian has gone on record as saying that the Reformation’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a tempest in a teapot.” Another has argued that Luther misunderstood Paul.

Although Whitefield’s style moderated in the years after the height of his Great Awakening preaching, his basic Calvinist convictions did not change. In the late summer of 1762 Whitefield made his annual journey to Scotland, giving his departing sermon at Edinburgh on Aaron’s blessing to the children of Israel in Numbers 6. The published text of the sermon, “taken in short-hand from his mouth,” revealed that Whitefield had not muted his Calvinist convictions, though perhaps he emphasized them more before a friendly Scottish audience.

Befitting his far-flung travels and correspondence, Whitefield’s Reformed influences ranged widely. He sought out a wider Anglo-American Calvinist network in travel, correspondence, and reading. In a letter to Ralph Erskine, Whitefield noted that he “exceedingly” liked the Scottish Presbyterian minister Thomas Boston, especially Boston’s massive tome Human Nature in Its Four-Fold State (1720). The book had been “of much service” to his soul, Whitefield said.

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.