27 June, 2007

RPCNA Synod 2007

The 176th Synod of the RPCNA will be history as of tomorrow. I will give some thoughts later in the week about my attendance. The RP has hosted a blog that tells about this year's court. It can be checked out here.

As a quick note, I was well pleased with the debates surrounding worship and the delegate's high view of Presbyterian history in regard to the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship.

24 June, 2007

Sabbath a'Brakel: A Christian's Character

Take to heart what manner of person you are before God and what will befall you due to this.
(1) Do you have such an even-tempered and stable disposition of heart when people maltreat you in word and deed?
(2) Or do you have a cross, fretful, and irritable nature? Do you have as many spines as a porcupine does, or are you as prickly as a bush of thorns, so that one cannot be in your presence without being pricked? (IV: 84-85).

22 June, 2007

A Very Non-Presbyterian Thought: girl meets GOD.

Time away from the seminary gives me the opportunity to catch up with current evangelical Christianity. It gives me the chance to read what others are reading. When I say others, I mean people who are not reading Church Fathers, Medieval Mystics, Reformers, or Puritans. I mean the people that live in the real world and deal with day-to-realities that seminarians and pastors tend to forget. I get a chance to read what the people in the trenches of reality are reading.

This week I read girl meets God by Lauren Winner. This book is not new, it was published in 2003, but it is fresh and still being read by many college students and many non-Christians. Winner is a winner. She speaks of her conversion from an Orthodox Jew to a High Church evangelical.

I would not agree with all of Winner's theology, but as you read you can sense that she is working out her faith. She struggles with sin, she is a poor witness, she is a bad friend, she is a hypocrite at times. Lauren Winners is you and me. There is so much that real Christians struggle with here. There is so much that we, in the Reformed community are afraid to admit and to discuss. She doubts, she fears, she questions her faith. But she also prays with friends, attempts to think through her faith, attempts to live unto the glory of Christ.

Take a couple of days and read this book. There are so many touch points that can be used for discussion with the greater evangelical community and those who are not Christians. This book is also somewhat racy at times as Winner discusses her sins and areas that are less than sanctified. I imagine that is why Random House is her publisher and not Zondervan or Baker. Winner also has great glasses which make it all worth while.. for me at least!

On being more sophisticated than her other church members:

I would answer in the affirmative because I would look around All Angel's [Church] at the motley crew of Christians, some of whom buy clothes at Wal-Mart and some of whom wear Vera Wang, and I know that these people are my people, polyester, Amy Grant, and all. p106.

On the superficial nature of her relationship with her unconverted father:

So we don't talk much about church or God or prayer. And when we talk about other things, a creeping superficiality marks our conversations. I tell him about the papers I am writing for school, but I don't speak about vocation. I tell him about decisions I make, but I never speak about prayerfully discerning God's will for my life. I tell him about buying a new desk. I do not tell him about all the ways I am slowly turning into the person God wants me to become. p109.

On evangelism:

Evangelizing, if it means handing out tracts, is not something I do. I don't ever swing my arm around a friend's shoulder, look meaningful into her eyes and ask, "Susie, if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, would you go to heaven?" When I come face-to-face with Jesus' commission to the disciples- go and spread the word around the world- I wince, for I know I am not even spreading it around Morningside Heights. p120.

On prayer:

I have a hard time praying. It usually feels like a waste of time. It feels unproductive; my time would be better spent writing a paragraph or reading a book or practicing a conjugation or baking a pie. Sometimes whole weeks elapse when I bother to hardly pray at all, because prayer is boring; because it feels silly; but above all because it is unproductive... Still there are weeks when I do pray, the weeks when I trust- or, at least manage to act like I trust- that prayer does something, even if it is something I cannot see. Aquinas wrote, "Prayer is profitable because it makes us familiars with God." I like that language... Then Aquinas quoted Psalm 140, "Let my prayers be directed as incense in thy sight." p135.

On an ex-boyfriend getting married:

I am a mean petty person, and a terrible Christian to boot, and I spend all weekend hoping that Steven and his bride will be miserable, that his brilliant dissertation will turn to straw... and he will be stuck in a loveless marriage in the godforsaken town in Arkansas for the rest of his natural life. I hope too, that she is not a Christian, that she will lead him down a path of sin and restlessness... p141.

On the English Church historian, Venerable Bede:

That prayer is why I love Bede. Because he knew that knowledge and books were just a nice way to fill the time until he came to dwell with Jesus. p201.

On Confessing sins to one-another:

The Lord has put away all your sins. I think that the language is perfect, God folding my sins neatly and putting them in the dresser drawer next to the sweaters and the turtlenecks and the socks. It means the God who worries about our sins is not only God the judge, but also God the caretaker. He worries about sin because he craves righteousness, but also simply because he loves us. p211.

21 June, 2007

Of Dusty Old Synod Reports

I have been attempting to collect old Synod reports from the RPCNA. When I mean old, I do not mean 1985. I mean late-1800s and early 1900s. Finding these has been a real joy, because when I read one there is this sensation that I am most-likely the only person who has read this in about 100 years (maybe I am conceited, maybe I am wrong, but I still think along these lines).

The amount of material that is devotional in nature is quite amazing as well. From what I hear from some people in Reformed denominations, synods (as well as classis, presbyteries, etc.) have a legal and formal sense that is usually less than worshipful.

These old reports are filled with material that causes one to lift up holy hands to the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is one example, from the RPCNA Synod, 1910. It is from the Report on the Committee of the Sabbath:

The Sabbath is the mountain day between the weeks. Here Jesus is found teaching and pronouncing blessings. They, who will, may have this high day with Jesus, and enjoy His fellowship- the very essence of happiness How rich and numerous the blessings that come to such! This mountain is strewn with precious gifts: comfort for the sad; pardon for the guilty; bread for the hungry; rest for the weary; riches for the poor; visions for the pure; society for the lonely; crowns for the humble; heaven for the persecuted; the Holy Spirit for all. What happy experiences the Sabbath brings to those who worship in the Spirit! What views of life, of destiny, of eternity! What stirrings of the soul, what incoming power, what feelings of holy awe what consciousness of kinship with God! How the horizon bounds back, and life grows large! How near heaven seems to be! How real the Throne, the Lamb, the angels, and the Redeemed! Blessing upon blessing for the Sabbath-keeper. "Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keep the Sabbath (Is. 56:2.)!

18 June, 2007

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Parenting

According to Steve Burlew, the Banner of Truth Trust is releasing a new book on parenting from the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Of course I am very excited for this book since Dr. Lloyd-Jones is one of my favorites. Lloyd-Jones has influenced my theology and ministry in many ways. I hope that this book influences the way that grace can be at the center of our parenting.

Maybe my friend, Steve Burlew, from the Banner, will send me an advanced copy for review (I hope so)!

"When the light of the gospel enters the soul it brings with it a supernatural power that radically transforms the whole of life. This change is perhaps no more clearly seen than in the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children. Our age has witnessed an almost total collapse of the family unit, and in many places the majority of children are now being raised in ‘broken homes’. Our society presents Christian parents and children with a unique opportunity of bearing witness to God’s love by just being different. Few things are more powerful than a Christian family in which the true relationship between parents and children is clearly seen. This may be one of the ways in which God will bringing many to a knowledge of the truth."

17 June, 2007

Sabbath a'Brakel: Singing Praises

If the heart were more spiritual and joyous, we would more readily praise the Lord with joyful song and thereby stir up ourselves and others. I am here not only speaking of the singing in church. (There many do not even sing; and for some the very best they can do is read the psalm silently.) [IV: 35].

16 June, 2007

Happy Birthday Reverend Lanning

Today marks the day of Rev. Ray Lanning's birth! He has been an inspiration to me as well as to many aspiring ministers. (Just ask his Homiletics students who helps them the most in their preaching!)

Everyone should wish him well as the Lord has given him another year to serve as an under-shepherd to the sheep!

14 June, 2007

Jussa Lil Story

Today I called an internationally known Christian publishing house because I was having a problem. I was looking for a book that they published and no libraries in the Grand Rapids area own a copy, and no bookstores have a copy in stock (or on order). For Grand Rapids that is like saying the book does not exist- we are overflowing with Christian bookstores and Christian college libraries!

So I am on the phone with, let's say, Suzie. I explain to Suzie that I need said book and am willing to pay a premium price for it if she will email the PDF used for publishing. (Now I know that this is done because my friend Derek Baars gets books from publishers this way all the time.)

We go back and forth discussing this and she puts me on hold. She talks to the copyright people who are willing to do this if I have a good enough reason. I do not. We talk some more. I am put on hold. We talk some more.

Suzie tells me that she will overnight me the book for price plus $17 shipping. I am tempted, but no thanks. I know that the PDF can be sent and I can sign a waiver that says that it is for my personal use, etc. Suzie is not comfortable with that. We talk some more.

17 minutes pass and Suzie decides that I can have the PDF... but... they do not have access to it. If I want it I would have to call said agency that co-published the book.

I call said agency that co-published and within 2 minutes I have the book emailed to me. I did not have to talk to Suzie and did not need Suzie's permission and did not need to hear from their legal department or their copyright people.

Thanks for stealing 17 minutes of my life.

13 June, 2007

News Report on Ruth Bell Graham

Ruth Bell Graham has gone into a coma. According to reports, they are not expecting her to survive. It is interesting how much the last 12 months have provided to the many leaders of evangelical Christianity. D. James Kennedy has not recovered from a heart attack and remains in poor condition, Jerry Falwell went to be with his Lord, and now Mrs. Graham is not doing well. It will be interesting to see who rises as the next generation of evangelical leaders.

A humorous story that is retold in Billy Graham's biography from about 10 years ago tells the story of Mrs. Graham being asked to be 'baptised' by some of the Baptist brothers. Mrs. Graham always refused to be re-baptized because she has always been a proud Associate Reformed Presbyterian!

Pray for her and her family in this trying hour.

11 June, 2007

Cultural Relevance or Biblical Mandate?

In the evangelical world you do not often see articles or discussions about women covering their heads in worship. Last week Andree' Seu, of World Magazine, wrote the article: Symbol of Glory as a a defense of why she has been covering her head in worship.

I know that it is a controversial issue and that there are God honoring people on both sides of the argument; but it is nice to see that people are at least thinking about the implications of I Corinthians 11. 2-16.

I would like to see more discussion on the issue done in a God-honoring way. I am afraid that in some, it has become a symbol of control over a woman rather than of her glory. Either way, Seu has a balanced argument for the usage of head coverings.

10 June, 2007

Sabbath a'Brakel: the Privilege of Loving Christ

The Lord Jesus has few who love Him in the world. He would have more if He willed to have more, but He deems most of them not worthy of this. It is a great privilege and grace for the few who have been granted to love Him--and those who love Him, love Him so much that they will even give their life for Him. They will love Him until their death and to all eternity (III: 277).

08 June, 2007

Thinking Out Loud: The Bible in 'Common' Language

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, says that the Word of God is to be translated into the 'vulgar language of every nation into which they come'. This causes some difficulty for us that are outside of the camp in regards to textual criticism.

There are two major textual traditions within the church. Some hold to what is called 'the critical text' and others hold to 'the majority text' or the 'received text'. Those of us who hold to the latter have only a few choices to choose from in Bible translations. There is the Geneva Bible of 1599 which was just republished, there is the Authorized Version (King James), and there is the New King James version (as well as a couple of other small and obscure translations).

Those in the critical textual tradition have a huge variety to choose from. There are very poor translations such as the NIV and New Living Translation; but there are some very good and accurate ones as well. The New American Standard is good as well as the English Standard Version. These are both very accurate 'word for word' translations.

Some have said that the textual variations only make up for about 20% of the problems that translations run into. Some are big problems though, such as the ending of the Lord's Prayer being taken out- even though in Confessional churches we swear to that ending in our Confessions.

My congregation uses the Authorized Version which is a very good and accurate translation, but I fear that we do not heed the words of our forefathers who said that the Bible needs to be in the vulgar, or common language. People (I have not heard this from members of my congregation) often say that we need to retain the thees and thous and that people should have to learn how to understand these archaic words. I do not think that this is the correct attitude. The church's job is to provide an accurate and understandable version of the Bible that can be read and studied in homes and churches. I do not think that those with only a high school education should miss out on what the Word actually says because the ministry wants to hold onto language that is not common to today's people.

I mean no disrespect to those who use the AV, I am one of those people. But I do think that being 393 years removed from a version is a problem (especially when it is a translation that was authorized by a man who hated the Reformed faith and was trying to push an Anglo-catholic agenda).

I do not know what the answer is. I have a few ideas and suggestions that could be implemented though:
  • Read the AV, but replace the archaic words with a more common word. This would mean that when you see, "I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt" it would be read, "I am the Lord your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt". This would allow for the nuances of the word you in Greek and Hebrew to be kept, as well as break the awkwardness of the reading. (This would be quite difficult at first, but it is possible. This is what I do during family worship quite often.)
  • Use the ESV or the NASB, but double check for any variations in the original language. This would cause some difficulty in public worship, but it could be overcome with a good teacher.It also would be difficult at home, causing some to stumble over the reliability of the Word of God.
  • Call a summit of like-minded denominations who hold to the majority-received text for the writing of a new translation. I know that at our seminary, Dr. Bilkes and Dr. Murray both have a command of the original language to undergo such a task. The problem here is that people often hold traditional 'church' language in a high place and do not want to leave the Authorized Version behind. (Remember that 'church' language in prayer and text is not something that is in the original languages but has become a custom that many require of people in prayer. Since it is custom and extra-biblical, it is not something that we are permitted to bind men's consciences to.)
Those are some of my thoughts on the issue. Today I bought my first ESV and plan on using it along side of my AV and my Greek and Hebrew texts. I feel a bit guilty over the whole thing, because of my love for the AV. What are some of your thoughts on the issue?

04 June, 2007

Banner of Truth I

This year's Banner of Truth Conference was very exciting for me. The theme of the conference was based upon a quote by the famous minister Robert Murray M'Cheyne. M'Cheyne was a very pious Scottish Presbyterian who was only 26 years old when he went to glory. The story goes that he was asked what his congregation needed most. He responded, "what my congregation needs most is my holiness."

Rev. Ben Short opened the conference with preaching from Phil. 1.21, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." It was a great way to begin a conference on the minister's (and seminary student's) holiness. We must live reflecting Christ in our lives. We must live at his disposal. We must pour out our lives for Christ. We must live out Christian discipleship. Of course, this is not just for ministers, but for all who name the name of Christ.

How is to die gain? Rev. Short gives a number of answers. Some included:
  • We will see Christ face to face. We will see all of the beauty of Christ's glory, the wonder of his mercy, grace, purity.
  • We shall be like him. The great promise of God is the restoration of all things. The image of God will be restored in us and in all of creation.
  • We shall be holy and in full fellowship with our Trinitarian God.
  • We shall have full salvation and full deliverance from this life of sin.
  • We will be glorified.

There was much, much more to this sermon. I will attempt to give a number of highlights from the week as well as link a couple of other bloggers who have chronicled the event. I look forward to next year's conference.

(BTW, If you look for me and Shawn Anderson in the photo you will find us. We were 2 of the 250 that were in attendance this year!)

03 June, 2007

Sabbath a'Brakel: Diligence in Prayer

Godly reader, why do you complain about your spiritual deficiency and your bodily tribulations if you are so negligent in prayer, so lax to engage in prayer, so listless while praying, and so quickly finished? Pray if you are desirous for something. Such excuses as made by many who are lazy in the practice of prayer--and which cause grief to some tender godly persons --will not avail here. If you were diligent in prayer, you would avoid these excuses or very readily have an answer for them, so that you would not be hindered by them (III: 470-471).

01 June, 2007

A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards

Dr. Michael Haykin has compiled a number of Edward's letters in a new series from Reformation Heritage Books. The new series is called Profiles in Reformed Spirituality.

I read the whole book on the plane on the way to the Banner of Truth Conference and could not put it down! The book begins with a short biography of Edwards that discusses the depth of his spirituality. He dethrones some of the popular myths about Edwards and shows him as a deeply committed man of God.

He then moves into the letters and further develops Edwards as a man who was committed to practical theology and the glory of God. The footnotes by Haykin help the reader through the letters in a way that lends understanding to the sociological and religious milieu of the day. These footnotes should be expanded for lay readers into the whole corpus of Edwards' letters (hint, hint Dr. Haykin).

If you have not read Edwards this is a helpful place to begin. It is warm, experiential, and quite practical. The piety of Edwards should be a boon to those of us who are unsatisfied with the low levels of commitment to spiritual things in the current Reformed world.

I look forward to the second book in this series, which according to rumor is, on John Owen and will be penned by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson.