28 February, 2008

News From Presbytery

I have had a couple of exams today. With the grace of the Lord, I have been sustained. Tomorrow I preach at 7:30 PM. Please pray for me.

27 February, 2008

A Prayer For Understanding and Strength

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law;
shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments;
for therein do I delight.
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity;
and quicken thou me in thy way.
Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.
Turn away my reproach which I fear: f
or thy judgments are good.
I have longed after thy precepts:
quicken me in thy righteousness.

25 February, 2008

Sovereign Love and Human Choice

Sometimes Christians become confused about the language of Scripture that deals with God's electing love versus our responsibility to choose Him.

Last evening, First RP concluded another Puritan Paperback (we are working through the series one book at a time). We just completed The Christian's Great Interest by William Guthrie.

He answers many objections to faith in Christ and has a wonderful section on personal covenanting. Here is his response to those confused about the language of Scripture concerning sovereign love and personal responsibility:

O then, it is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on His part; 'No man can come to Me, except the Father, which has sent Me, draw him.' (John 6: 44.) It is a drawing on His part, and a running on our part--'Draw me, we will run after Thee.' (Cant. 1:4.) It is an approaching on our part, and yet a 'choosing and causing to approach' on His part. (Psa. 65: 4.) It is a believing or receiving on our part--'But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name;' and yet 'it is given us to believe.' (John 1: 12; Phil. 1:29.)

Next month we are reading The Lord's Supper by Thomas Watson. Feel free to join us!

23 February, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: Love For Christ

If I hear or see someone who loves Jesus, my heart is overwhelmed, my tears quietly run down my cheeks, I lift my eyes upward toward Jesus, and I sigh, "Where may my faithful, sweet, and beloved Jesus be? Why does He tarry so long?" He is my love, my joy, my life, my rest, my all, and I can no longer live in estrangement from Him. Oh, that He would turn to me, visit me, kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, and ignite my love by His love! How I would then delight myself, and how I would sit under the canopy of His overshadowing love! I would become drunk with love. And if He refreshes me with His presence, the earth is too low and the world too small for me. My soul then wishes to be delivered from this and I must be in heaven. Then I long to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Here soul and body are too weak to endure the influences of love; here Jesus departs again; after light comes darkness; and after warmth coldness. Therefore, oh blessed eternity! Oh, to be eternally with Jesus!" (III: 283).

21 February, 2008

Chasing the Red Dragon: A Loving Response to A Reader and Friend

I have been asked to write a bit on my principles of church unity and subscriptionism. I should preface with saying that I subscribe to the original Westminster Standards and have very few exceptions to the Testimony of the RPCNA. My exceptions have been made known to my session. Here are some of my thoughts:

I believe that there are a few different things that we need to consider as we think about unity, subscription, and issues centered on church unity vs. purity (if you want to say that they are opposing thoughts).

1. What churches are available locally? There may be a perfect church on paper, but if there are not people locally with whom to fellowship, than you are a being pure in theory, but practice will have to be different. You will either have your papers with the pure church and fellowship with the erroneous church; or you will have your paper in the pure church and have false fellowship- emails, blogs, internet forums. This forsakes the face-to-face nature of the church.

The bottom line is that those who seek out the purest church for the sake of having their Confession usually end up being sectarian. What was Calvin's advice in letters to those who only had Lutheran churches to attend? Be Lutheran.

2. When a couple of ministers leave a denomination to be a pure church they are abandoning the duty to be reformers and those who answer the gainsayer. Time after time, in church history we see people abandoning the church to make something pure- that leaves the larger body with less sound men to fight against error.

Hence the couple of ministers that left have done damage to the body of Christ. It would be like if you had cancer and all of your antibodies left you because they did not like the cancer being there- you die. This is the problem with everyone and their brother starting presbyterian churches with 2-5 ministers: it NEVER ends, and the body of Christ is in further schism.

I could see if all of the church courts had been appealed to and the church refused to repent and kicked a man or group of ministers out- but to leave and start something because you have a problem with a secondary issue- that is schism and sin. (Of course, the main concern should always be for restoration with the sinning body.)

I am not sure of all of the ins and outs of Scottish church history and am in no position to judge all of the bodies (Church of Scotland, Free Church, Free Church Continuing, Reformed Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Associate Presbyterians, Associated Presbyterians, and many, many more) , but I feel confident in saying that this is not what Jesus Christ had in mind- and neither is a couple of 'pure' ministers who separate themselves from the body of Christ claiming to be the truest church or the purest church.

What was the Reformer and Puritan position on reformation and church unity?

You stay and fight for the sake of Christ until the established church will no longer have you. Were there faulty confessions in the Church of England before the Act of Uniformity? You bet ya! But our forefathers knew enough to set aside party spirit and to fight for the sake of the Gospel and Christ. We have a practical result of THIS practice of 'unity and purity' in the Westminster Standards.

If the Puritans had all left their churches to go start their own churches, I can say with a good conscience that the Westminster Standards would have never been written. There would be hundreds of smaller works that defined little 3-5 ministerial bands. The Westminster Standards are the practical outworking of a Reformed ecumenical spirit. There is no way to argue against this given the historical evidence.

This is my position, following in the Reformation and Puritan tradition. I will stay where I am and be a witness. A witness for the sake of the Gospel. A witness against what I see as error. A witness for the healing of a body that has been called to be one. I believe where I am is a good place with a lot of work being done for the Gospel.

I will never leave because of minor disputes or cultural baggage. I will not partake in schism.

There is a term amongst youth counter-culture that is helpful. It is called 'chasing the red dragon' and what it means is that you are looking for something that is not there and you will waste your whole life looking for.

I will not chase the red dragon of the purest church in the world- our Confession of Faith, chapter 25, says that even the purest churches under heaven are subject to both mixture and error.

I believe that we are confessionally bound to acknowledge this and to have the same faith of our Puritan forefathers- stay and fight under the captain of our souls, who loved a spotted and unfaithful bride enough to die for her.

I will live for her and pray that she can be pure in doctrine, practice, and single mindedness.

Two a'Brakel quotes to ponder:

It is not sufficient to merely join the church, to remain with her for some time, and thereafter to separate from her. One ought never to break away from and leave her under the pretense that the church is degenerate, in order to establish a pure church, for: First, the Lord has never blessed such endeavors. There have always been those (in the first church, both prior to her oppression by the antichrist as well as since the time of the Reformation) who under this pretense have broken away from the church. The Lord, however, has always overturned such endeavors, and such undertakings have collapsed of themselves when the initial instigators died. Due to a just judgment of God, however, such individuals have rarely perceived their errors and made confession of them, and have rarely rejoined the church. Rather, having been given over to their own stubbornness, they have remained independent as people without any religion, or they have succumbed to heresy and have joined themselves to such assemblies which most fully agreed with their errors. Such was the case with the Brethren in Hungary, and in our days the Labadists have arisen who have boasted of great things (II: 60).

It is a dreadful sin to depart from the church for the purpose of establishing one which is better, for the church is one, she being the body of Christ. To separate oneself from the church is to separate from the people of Christ and thus from His body, thereby withdrawing himself from the confession of Christ and departing from the fellowship of the saints. If one indeed deems the church to be what she really is, one will then cause schism in the body of Christ, grieve the godly, offend others, give cause for the blaspheming of God's Name, and cause the common church member to err (II: 61).

20 February, 2008

Principles of Christian Blogging

Our church beadle wrote a series of blogs entitled Principles of Christian Blogging. They are well worth reading and distributing. A Google document is available here.

18 February, 2008

Social Covenanting in the Word of God

For my Preaching Practicum class I have been assigned Joshua 241.14-15 (and my pastor is the one who assigns the texts). While meditating on the text the issue of social covenanting came up quite a bit. Through-out Scripture we see the people of God covenanting back to him in response to his love and redemption.

Joshua 24:14-15 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

I have talked about this ordinance with a number of friends (even at the Sabbath evening discussions at my house, the issue was brought up.) One of my friends pointed me to the famous Associate Presbyterian, Fisher's Catechism, which speaks of the issue. Here is what Fisher said:

Q. 61. What is a social vow?

A. It is the joint concurrence of several individuals in the same exercise as in a personal one, openly avouching the Lord to be their God, Deut. 26:17; where Moses, speaking of all Israel, says, "Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, to walk in his ways," &c.

Q. 62. When doth such a social vow commonly get the name of a NATIONAL COVENANT?

A. When the representatives of a nation, or the better part of them, concur in a covenant of duties, as ingrafted upon the covenant of grace, Jer. 50:4, 5 -- "The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, -- saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten." See also Neh. 9:33, and 10:1, 30.

Q. 63. How do you prove that national covenanting is a warrantable duty under the New Testament?

A. From its being promised in the Old Testament that this shall be a duty performed under the New, Isa. 19:21 -- "The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and -- they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it." Besides, if it was a moral duty upon special occasions, under the Old Testament (as appears from 2 Chron 15:12, and 34:31, 32; Neh. 9:38), it must remain to be the same, upon the like occasions, still; because Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them, Matt 5:17.

Q. 64. Is our obligation to moral duties increased, by our vowing or engaging to perform them?

A. Although it is impossible that our obligation to moral duty can he increased by any deed of ours, beyond what it is already by the law of God, which is of the highest authority; yet by reason of our own voluntary and superadded engagement, this obligation from the law may make a deeper impression than before, Psalm 44:17, 18, and our sins receive a higher aggravation, if we either omit the duty engaged to, or commit the evil opposite to it, Deut. 23:21, 22.

What are your thoughts on the idea of a nation being covenanted to God? What would be an equivalent in the Dutch Reformed tradition? Is there a way that the people of God could covenant to God in a country that does not allow for an established church?

16 February, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: The Results of Peace With God

When the believer experiences peace with God, he can readily bear all crosses and also "glory in tribulation" (Rom. 5:3). Then they find themselves to be in Paul's condition: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). Then death is no terror unto them, but only a departing in peace (Luke 2:29), even if, due to their witness of the truth, they must die a violent death. This peace causes martyrs to sing and rejoice in the midst of torture and flames. If already here peace with God is so sweet and invigorating, what will it be when there are no more sins which time and again disturb the peace, and when there will no longer be estrangement from God, but rather eternal unity in joy, love, and peace! "For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!" (Zec. 9:17). [II: 445].

14 February, 2008

Charles Spurgeon On Reading Theological Books

As Christians we are people of The Book. We are to be in the Scriptures and to be people that love the written word, since this is the way that God chose to reveal Himself to men.

Out of a love for the Word of God often flows a love for literature that strengthens our love for the Word and the God of the Bible. God has given us 2000 years of post-resurrection literature that stands as a testimony of His love and faithfulness to His bride. When asked about what Christians should be reading, Charles Spurgeon replied:

As the apostle says to Timothy, so also he says to every-one, 'Give yourself to reading.' ... He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains proves that he has no brains of his own... You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible... the best way for you to spend your leisure is to be either reading or praying."

11 February, 2008

Church Unity and Micropresbyterianism

Sometimes satire helps us to see how ridiculous things can be.
Here is a fine example that illustrates Micropresbyterianism.

08 February, 2008

Ruling Elders and Itinerant Preachers

This week our congregation should have elections for ruling elders. I say should, because we were snowed out on Wednesday. That gave us a few extra days for prayer and searching the Scriptures.

Here are the Vows that a ruling elder must take in the RP Church:

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and the only infallible rule of faith and life?

2. Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only Redeemer of men, and do you confess Him publicly as your Saviour and Lord?

3. Do you believe that it is the duty of Christians to profess publicly
the content of faith as it applies to the particular needs of each age and situation, and that such public profession, otherwise called covenanting, should be made formally by the churches and other institutions as well as informally by each believer according to his ability?

4. Do you believe in and accept the system of doctrine and the manner
of worship set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, as being agreeable to, and founded upon, the Scriptures?

5. Do you believe it to be the teaching of Scripture—that church
and state are distinct and separate institutions; that both are under the mediatorial rule of the Lord Jesus Christ; and that the permanent form of church government is presbyterian?

6. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord of men and
nations, and that in loyalty and obedience to Him, it is our duty to follow the noble example of the faithful confessors and martyrs of Jesus in their witness for divine truth, and in their sacrifices and labors to establish the Kingdom of God on earth?

7. So far as you can know in your own heart, is it the call of Christ,
the glory of God and the welfare of the church, and not any selfish object, that moves you to undertake this sacred office?

8. That you may perform faithfully all the duties of the office to which
you have been called, do you engage to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Do you promise, in His strength, to live a holy and exemplary life, to study and promote the purity, peace, unity and progress of the church—to watch over the spiritual growth of the members of the congregation, to endeavor to win others to Christ, to visit the afflicted and to attend the meetings associated with your office?

9. Do you promise subjection in the Lord to the courts of this church,
and engage to follow no divisive courses from the doctrine and order which the church has solemnly recognized and adopted; and do you promise to submit to all the brotherly counsel which your brethren may tender you in the Lord?

And, for the itinerant preacher part: I am preaching at the RPCNA in Atlanta, GA this Lord's Day. Please pray for me and my family.

04 February, 2008

Biblical Evangelism Conference mp3s.

The Conference on Biblical Theology went very well. We had around 150 people in attendance, which was 50 more than we were praying for! We also had 23 congregations represented and 10 Reformed denominations. It really shows that there is a need in the Reformed community and God is raising up his people to meet that need.

Feel free to pass on these mp3s to all who could benefit:

Biblical Evangelism's Motivation
Biblical Evangelism's Message
Biblical Evangelism's Methods

03 February, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: Christianity 101

Question: "What must I do to be saved?"
Answer: Do you mean this? Do you say this in truth and in earnest? Would you be willing to miss all that is delightful in the world? Would you be willing to part with your sin which you deem to be so delightful, well-intentioned advantageous, and enjoyable? Is the idea of being reconciled with God, to love, fear, and serve God in all godliness more desirable to you than anything else? Is it your desire to be acquainted with Him? Do you desire it more than anything else? If you say, "Yes, I mean this in earnest," then I reply, "Repent and believe the gospel." If you reply in turn that you know very well that you will then be saved indeed, take special note that it is an inexpressible mercy and privilege that you can be saved upon faith and repentance. God is not obligated to save you in this way, but it is His sovereign goodness alone that He promises and bestows salvation in this manner. Therefore, repent!