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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).

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.

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.

"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:

Miklòs Bethlen and the Independence of Transylvania

Sitting in prison, “as one to whom the gate of eternity stands open,”[1] Miklòs Bethlen began to write the story of his life. It was a fascinating story of one of the most influential men in the history of Transylvania. Today, the book is still considered a classic of the Hungarian literature and a valuable source of historical information.

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.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians begins with an expression of confidence.  Paul’s confidence is ultimately in God.  It was God who had begun a good work in the Philippians (Phil 1:6); and it was God’s grace that they had been partakers of, along with Paul (Phil 1:7).  But when Paul looked at the spiritual fruit produced by God in the Philippian church, one thing stood out: the Philippians had been partners in the gospel, together with Paul.

It can be easy to become atomistic in the way we handle the Bible. By this I mean that we can unwittingly break its message down into its component parts in a way that fails to appreciate its organic unity. Even though, as the Westminster Confession of Faith indicates, it does indeed have many ‘parts’, there is ‘consent’ [agreement] between them all (WCF 1.5). Since this is so, we need always to bear in mind where this consent and convergence of all the parts is found. It does so ultimately in Christ.

Every preacher knows – at least in some sense – that we are called to ‘preach Christ’ as we expound the Scriptures. We heard it in our homiletics classes in Seminary and we’ve been challenged about it in the numerous seminars, conferences and workshops on preaching we attend in the course of our ministry. But what does it mean and how are we to go about ‘preaching Christ’ in a way that neither does violence to the text, nor comes across to our hearers as contrived and artificial?

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

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Think and Act Biblically

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.

This is the second article in a series entitled, "Truth and Idolatry." Read part 1, "I Am Not an Idol Worshiper."

Idolatry by Degree?

Idolatry lacks nuance. It knows no degrees, and before a jealous God, delivers no passable excuses, no matter how sophisticated they may sound. No one is sort-of guilty of idolatry; no one is guilty of sort-of idolatry.

Idolatry Reconsidered

As believers in the one true God, we know that idolatry is wrong. We know God hates it. We know first two of the Ten Commandments explicitly demand exclusive worship of the one true God. We even know that idolatry is not merely worshiping a false god, but even worshiping the true God by our own methods. Some of us have prudently made the connection between the first two commandments and the tenth—we know that coveting is a form of idolatry.