Columns

“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).

One of the other debated issues in the Lord's Supper, in addition to the question of presence, is that of fencing the table. Who may participate?  What does it mean to eat and drink unworthily? Who is worthy? Who is unworthy? Calvin takes up these questions in 4.17.40 - 42. He also deals with the question of how it is to be administered in terms of the liturgy of the communion service (4.17.43). Finally, he tackles the question of frequency (4.17.44). All of these questions are worthy of book-length treatments in and of themselves.

Calvin continues his discussion of the errant Roman Catholic view of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper by prattling on about one of his favorite subjects to rail upon:  superstition and idolatry. The two, for Calvin, go together like ham and eggs. These practices, in this particular instance the piled on traditions of the adoration of "consecrated host," are repugnant to Calvin because they are extra-biblical (actually, he makes the case that they are anti-biblical) and injurious to the Christian life. How quickly the church can lose its way; how quickly we can lose our way.

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.

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:

ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Not an offering, not a sacrifice
i. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

Samuel Miller – Conscientious Pastor and Teacher

In 1813, Samuel Miller was offered a position as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at the newly established Princeton Theological Seminary. At that time, the Seminary had only one teacher, who was also its founder and president: Archibald Alexander. Miller accepted the offer after much prayer and consideration.

     “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).

     Suppose that several young couples decide to live in community. Questions arise. Shall we try to live near each other? If so, where? In the city or the suburbs? What is our view of child safety? Is the goal to remove risks or to teach children to assess risks? May they walk several blocks to each other's homes? Will children wear helmets on bicycles?

Editor’s note: Place for Truth is pleased to post an excerpt from Dan Doriani’s forthcoming commentary on Romans, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series from P&R Publishing (Late Fall 2021).

Propitiation

     It is vital to revisit and reaffirm essential doctrines, especially society questions or even attacks them. Propitiation is just such a topic, for it represents a vital aspect of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.

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.

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.

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

Subscribe to a free devotional delivered to your email inbox:

Think and Act Biblically

A five-part series on the solas of the Reformation is timely and needed. There are several good books on the importance of remembering the Protestant Reformation and the doctrinal distinctions that made it necessary, but more can and should always be written. In an age of ecumenicism and doctrinal obscurity, there need to be loud and clear voices speaking out and reminding God’s church of who we are, why we exist, and what the foundational and undeniable principles of the Christian faith are. Hopefully this short series thus far has sparked your faith and your mind.

John Owen, in his “Greater Catechism” written for the adults within his parish of Fordham in Essex, asks concerning the Person of Jesus Christ (chap. 10, Q.

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.