Columns

The term “mental illness” causes most people to squirm. We think of people medicated into a stupor or committed to a hard-to-access floor of the hospital. But mental illness covers a broad variety of problems from anxiety to schizophrenia; from bi-polar disorder to various phobias.

Confirmation, a sacrament in Roman Catholic theology, was an offence to Calvin because it sapped the meaning of baptism. In scholastic terms, baptism only washed away original sin and those sins committed before baptism. Confirmation was viewed as a sacrament of continuing grace. Calvin, on the other hands, viewed baptism and a sign and seal of forgiveness and reconciliation for the entirety of one's life - making confirmation unnecessary.

More on sacraments - additional ones invented by men. Using the formula that sacraments are "visible signs of an invisible grace" Calvin notes that there is no limit to the inventions that can pass this test. Reverting again to the argument of recent novelty, Calvin argues that the seven sacraments of medieval Catholicism were unknown in the early church. They are a recent invention (addition) and fail for that reason. Sola Scriptura must be the basis on which sacraments are judged. How many sacraments did Jesus give to the church? Two and only two: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

When I was a boy, my parents often took my sister and me on trips to various parts of the country. I well remember my mom having a roadmap opened on her lap, meticulously tracing the intersection of the nearby highways and neighborhood roads. Whether or not we would make it to our destination was dependent on how carefully my mom read the intricate details of the map. On one occasion, we were making our way through the winding roads of the Pocono Mountains. We had missed our turn somewhere along the way.

With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) was one of the most influential pastors in Boston during his life. He received his theological training at Harvard and served as pastor of First Church for nearly 60 years. He wrote numerous pamphlets between 1762-1771 against the British proposal to impose a Bishop in America. This sermon preached in 1747, addressed to rulers (the Governor, the council, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives), called them to be just and frequently to recall their subordination to God. Original punctuation has been preserved.

Satan persuades us to cultivate close friendships with ungodly peers. 

Life is full of tragedy, sadness, and suffering. Scripture is replete with such stories from Genesis to Revelation. Why is there suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is there any hope to be found in the midst of suffering?

Worship is a sacred privilege for Christians, and how we approach worship is key to revealing what we believe about our relationship with the transcendent God. With that understanding in mind, Carl and Todd invite Jonathan Cruse to talk about his latest book, titled What Happens When We Worship. Jonathan is an ordained minister in the OPC, and pastors Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

Given the positive response to our first two posts, and the fact that the doctrine of God is now emerging as a contested locus within our own denomination, we continue this ongoing series with some reflections on the type of questions that should be asked of candidates relative to the Christology of the Reformed confessions.

 

Matthew Barrett, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary, recently wrote to us with some questions that he verbally asks of seminarians in his classes.  As the author of a recent book,

"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)

What is gospel ministry?

It’s a deceptively simple question. So much of modern church life is described as a ministry of some sort, but biblically speaking there is rather narrow meaning to the idea.

Early in my pastoral ministry, a thoughtful young man came with an interesting question while our congregation was in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The question arose from a hymn sung during a Lord's Day worship service: the Isaac Watts classic, "Joy to the World." The question was, "Pastor, why are we singing a hymn during Christmas containing lyrics that refer to the 2nd coming of Christ?" My response was twofold.

The most fascinating thing about this book is that it is deadly boring.  It took me two months to read its 197 pages, mainly because I kept putting it aside since, for sheer excitement, it couldn't compete with Bavinck's Prolegomena to Dogmatics or Kuyper's Principles of Sacred Theology.

The theologian is often caught between a rock and a hard place, between the truth he holds dear and the society he loves and longs to see transformed by the gospel. This tension, though never easy, is right and good. It displays both a passionate commitment to the truth and a genuine concern for people and culture. However, the balancing of these two loves is precarious, fraught with pressures and temptations on two equal opposite fronts. First, and possibly more prevalent in our own time, is the pressure to adapt theology in accordance with the tastes and trends of the time.

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:

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.

Pauline Fathme, Christian Rufo and the Early Missions to the Oromo

 

When we think of Ethiopia, we often think of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its impressive buildings and its ancient, unique, and colorful traditions. The religious complex of Lalibela, for example, with its monolithic churches, has been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

Liang Fa – The First Chinese Ordained Pastor

            In 1804, fifteen-year-old Liang Fa moved to the big city of Guangzhou (then known as “Canton”) to find work, first as a brush-maker, then as an apprentice printer. His parents had provided a good classical Chinese education as long as their means had allowed, but poverty had forced them to stop.  

One of the great sites of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists have confidence that this sprawling church is located near the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus likely was buried and therefore emerged from the tomb either within or near the church’s expansive walls. If any site in Jerusalem deserves the label “holy,” this is it. The stairs and corridors swarm and groan with people, but a visit can be disheartening, as one scholar aptly wrote:

An advice column dedicated to gift-giving in December accidentally explored a very biblical topic – the relationship between love and the law. Question one: What shall I do about a boyfriend who buys expensive but inappropriate gifts? The mind wanders: Did he buy her a chain saw last year? Hang-gliding lessons? Question two: My family members have requested gift cards in prescribed amounts, from specific stores. Is this really gift-giving or a sanctioned way for people to lift money from each other's wallets?

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

Constancy is something every human being craves. Knowing that, in the midst of all the upheaval and change that marks the course of life, there are anchor-points that provide stability along the way. But where can we find such certainty?    

John Calvin, the great French Reformer who devoted most of his ministry to the church in Geneva, ranks amongst the most influential theologians of all time. His legacy to the church – and, indeed to the world – goes far beyond what many realise. But out of the many aspects of his legacy there is one that stands out more than others that has probably been given less attention than it deserves and that is his emphasis on piety.

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

Studies on nonverbal communication have shown that the feet reveal our intentions often more than our faces or words do. If you are in a conversation with a friend and they are smiling at you but their feet are pointed towards the door, chances are that they are subconsciously planning their exit. A coworker may appear cool as a cucumber before giving a presentation, but their tapping foot might betray their nerves. Rarely are we surprised by where we find our feet planted, for the orientation of our feet demonstrates the position of our hearts.

I doubt that many readers will have any difficulty accepting the premise that we live in tumultuous times.  Consider the contradictory claims surrounding the recent election:

“There was no Fraud!” 

“Stop the Steal!”

How about claims related to COVID 19?

“Masks do not do any good.” 

“Mask demonstrably reduce the spread of the virus.”

“Wearing a mask is a sign that you are “living in fear”. 

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.