Posts Tagged ‘Church’

Have you ever asked yourself that question? What does it mean to be Reformed?

Does it mean one believes in the ‘doctrines of grace’? Is predestination the common denominator, or bare essential?

What about the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement? Or even broader Evangelicalism? Can they fit under the rubric of ‘Reformed’?

Michael Horton tackles some pretty hard-hitting questions here.

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There’s no getting around it. Invariably and inevitably, in the course of any ideological (or theological) discourse, one will eventually find himself confronted by some form of opposition, and therewith, the potential occasion forcing him to decide either to ‘cross swords’ (as it were) and engage his opponent, or otherwise to stand down and retreat.

Now, it should be a given that most men generally like to fight. It’s part of our fallen nature to enjoy brawling. I believe even the most self-respecting and reserved amongst us is not entirely immune to this inclination.   And yet, on the other hand, many of us would also admit we don’t like conflict.  So get this: we want to fight (sometimes) but also generally don’t like conflict. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s okay, it bewilders me as well.

Nevertheless, not all fighting is bad. In fact, there’s a sense in which, as men of God, we indeed should want to fight — given the right reason and right motivation.  Scripture is clear enough in this regard.  But determining, when, where, how and in what cases this fighting should be done is the stuff of our common dilemma.   Indeed, it seems unsurety regarding these  kind of situations can be the cause of considerable consternation amongst those conscientious not to give needless offense and yet convicted not to just stand still and do nothing. So what’s needed is wisdom — biblical, mature, and spiritual discernment to determine when to fight and when to hold one’s peace.

Well, the apostle Paul possessed this kind of wisdom. And  what’s more, he demonstrated it when he confronted his fellow apostle Peter before the whole Antioch assembly:  “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (Gal. 2:11).

Now, some might say Paul was wrong to do this since he didn’t first approach Peter individually (Matt. 18:15) and thus avoid a public scandal. And yet, perhaps we shouldn’t jump to any such hasty conclusions.

It seems clear enough to me that when the Gospel is at stake, and therewith, the minds, hearts, and faiths of God’s children, we shouldn’t cavil to the tongues of deception. For under this pretext of peace is the the very demise of the sheep. No, we should stand up like men, and fight.

I’ve been reading through some of John Calvin’s commentaries and found these words particularly riveting.

If Paul had been silent here, his whole doctrine fell; all the edification obtained by his ministry was ruined. It was therefore necessary that he should rise manfully, and fight with courage. This shews us how cautiously we ought to guard against giving way to the opinions of men, lest an immoderate desire to please, or an undue dread of giving offense, should turn us aside from the right path. If this might happen to Peter, how much more easily may it happen to us, if we are not duly careful! – – Commentary on Galatians 2:11

Before them all. This example instructs us, that those who have sinned publicly must be publicly chastised, so far as concerns the Church. The intention is, that their sin may not, by remaining unpunished, form a dangerous example; and Paul elsewhere (1 Timothy 5:20) lays down this rule expressly, to be observed in the case of elders, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear;” because the station which they hold renders their example more pernicious. – Commentary on Galatians 2:14

It is a cruel kind of mercy which prefers a single man to the whole church. “On one side, I see the flock of God in danger; on the other, I see a wolf “seeking,” like Satan, “whom he may devour.” Ought not my care of the church to swallow up all my thoughts, and lead me to desire that its salvation should be purchased by the destruction of the wolf? And yet I would not wish that a single individual should perish in this way; but my love of the church and my anxiety about her interests carry me away into a sort of ecstasy, so that I can think of nothing else.” With such zeal as this, every true pastor of the church will burn. – Commentary on Galatians 5:12

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In light of the recent debates (in the PCA) over our understanding of the forgiveness of sins (and what that means when we say it), it is helpful to read old guys like Caspar Olevian who helped shape our confessional understanding of Reformed doctrine. Reading through ‘Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant‘ I come to what he calls the “forgiveness of sins” (remissio peccatorum). And how does he define it but in terms of justification. He calls it “the greatest question in the entire world” (p. 148). What question?

That is, our righteousness before God, that Christ gave himself for our unrighteousness…. Why did he rescue us? Not because of our merit, but of his grace. This is our consolation, that the Gospel is an infallible testimony to us, that God is not only our creator, but also our Father… (p 148)

It is the greatest question in the world because it is the heart of the Gospel of Christ. Why else is the ministry the gospel (and particularly the preaching thereof) so vitally and urgently important? Olevian comments on Romans 1:16 “The Gospel is the Power of God unto salvation to all who believe:

We speak about the purpose for which God instituted the ministry of the gospel. The purpose is that the Lord might powerfully lead to salvation those who believe, sealing in their hearts the gracious remission of sins and renewing the heart into his image and beginning in them eternal life. (p. 148)

So we see here the “remission of sins” is ‘sealed’ to the believer — as is the ‘renewal’ of the heart. Both (justification and sanctification) come as a fruit of the Gospel and are freely given to us by God, in Jesus Christ, by the work of the Spirit

And what’s more, this gospel must be preached to unbelievers and believers alike: for the conversion of the former, and the strengthening and of the latter. But this “benefit” (which we should read as including forgiveness of sins), as R. Scott Clark points out, “is restricted to those who believe, i.e. those ‘predestined by God’.” (p. 149)

Olevian calls this Gospel the “principal doctrine” of the Scriptures.  And what is this doctrine? “…how sin, the wrath of God, and eternal death, are removed…” He writes, “…the principal life-giving doctrine, by the outpouring of the Spirit of God was, is, and shall be, the promise of the Gospel. (p. 148)

Furthermore, as far as our justification is concerned, Olevian sees this gospel as set in opposition to the law. But he makes clear that this doesn’t mean the gospel wasn’t present in the Old Testament times as well:

Thus the Holy Spirit constantly affirms throughout Paul that the doctrine of the gospel about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life given freely for the sake of the Son to those who believe, is not in any way new. But from the beginning of the world Christ was promised with his gospel. In order that this might be understood the distinction between law and Gospel must be considered. (p. 150)

So we see here that for Olivian, the gospel was about the forgiveness of sins through the justifying work Jesus Christ imputed by faith unto the believer. And, to further stress this point, it wasn’t to the unbeliever that these things were given — but to “those who believe”. Forgiveness and justification go together. And with them come regeneration, sanctification, and ultimetely glorification.

And, brothers and sisters, this is why the Gospel is so awesome (for lack of a better term).  Just as surely as you know (and are convinced) that you are a sinner and have sin in you; and just as surely as you know you’re going to eventually die because of this; you can also be just as assured that Christ is in you; and because of that fact you are also righteous; just as assured that you have everlasting life in you and that will never perish but will surely be raised from the dead. Just as sure! Think about that. This is definitely good news — the best in the world! And it is for all who believe.

And finally, in view of the recent controversies (great and small, near and abroad) over the nature of the Gospel, it’s helpful to read someone like Olivian who tells us that these kind of difficulties aren’t new. They will always follow the church wherever she goes. Why? Because in this world, the powers of darkness and the principalities and rulers of the air won’t stand for the gospel to be proclaimed among the nations. In fact they’re straining all their efforts (whether by schism, heresy, or persecution) to thwart this very process. But should that discourage us? Well, it didn’t disuade men like Olevian.  In his commentary on Romans he would write: “The world…claims I have asserted a new doctrine, but the Gospel is not new.” (p. 147)

May we, too, live with that conviction.

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She the Church

I was listening to this track (I don’t know if you can call it music) by Lecrae. Anyway, here’s a five-point calvinist with a high view of the Church… Me was liken’ this rap.

Verse 1:
She’s a building of beings being constructed
Christ is the cornerstone, foundation build on another and you’s a goner holmes
She’ built on em, supported by him, conformed to him, now she’s a body of bodies who transform through him/ A temple that breathes we are the halls,
we are the floor board or more we are the walls
Manifold wisdom of God no longer a mystery
The church pinnacle of our salvific history
One flesh union homie
The Tri-union is glorified through our corporatized communion
Still the present reality is she was born a casualty though she’s made alive
She’s still affected by depravity
Once lived in sin and enslaved by her lust and
folks catch her slippin and they turn away disgusted
She’s a work in progress Christ is the head of her
And He wash her clean with the words that he done said to her
She’s already pretty but she’s really not dressed and sometimes she look silly but she’s far from a mess
Yes, please so don’t be dissin cause Jesus done paid grip an
And if you didn’t then should caller her Misses. I’m talking bout the church

Yeah she may look gritty
When her man come back she gone look so pretty – She the Church
You might see her acting crazy, be patient with her tho cause she still God’s baby – She the Church
Before you dis her get to know her, Jesus got a thing fo her and He died just to show her – She the Church
She ain’t bricks and buildings
She all of God’s people Men women and children – We the church

Verse 2:
Her name is ecclesia meaning the assembly
Bows to the Trinity No other Divinity
A body family and community she is all one/ but on earth you see her in congregational small ones/ a microcosm or a small scale example/ but it is the church even though its just a sample/ Invisible spiritual/ physical visible/ not a brick temple never that simple/ this a not a building/ she is not bricks/ she’s a world changer but ain’t bout getting rich/ perpetrating fakes cause a lot of folks to hate/ plus her hands get dirty and her feet get scraped/ and sometimes her body parts start acting outta place/ legs tryna be arms/ arms thinking they the face/ but she’ll never be replaced with a one man band or a small Taliban with no body in command

Verse 3:
Some don’t get it so they hate/ they say she’s on a paper chase they say she’s really fake/
So they go start a ministry so they can do the work/ but they don’t understand how Jesus feel about His church/ and yeah they make disciples/ they got plenty conversions/ they take care of the widows and the orphans they be workin/ But none of them are churchin/ no church structure/ no elders and no discipline/ they have no conductor/ and they so they don’t submit/ but quite a few of them baptize/ people how I pray that you’d look at this thing from God’s eyes/ take responsibility inside the whole council not just the area where you might have a mouthful/ who should folks submit to/ who will conduct the discipline/ if excommunicated what body will they be missing then/ look at Ephesians 4 where Paul gets practical/ 1st timothy and Titus if you thinking I’m irrational/

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“One obvious effect of psalm-singing was that Reformed worshipers had the psalms well planted in their minds and hearts. If we should hide God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against him (Ps. 119:11), singing the Word is one of the best ways to do that. Early Reformed leaders did not so much argue that we may sing only psalms as they argued that the psalms are the best songs to sing because they are divinely inspired.

The principle argument used to promote hymn-singing from the eighteenth century on has been that hymns are more clearly centered on Christ than are the psalms. This argument was known before the eighteenth century, but was not very persuasive among early Reformed people. Calvin and Luther believed that the psalms were filled with Christ. They also believed that if our prayers and sermons and sacraments are filled with Christ, then we will see Christ in the Psalter. But as the Lord’s supper became infrequent and the sermons were too often moralistic, a great push developed to use hymns that preached the gospel. This impulse was strengthened by the increasingly revivalist spirit of much of American religion since the eighteenth century.”

Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California
Taken from ‘An Unexpected Journey’ pg. 141

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This I just read by Horatius Bonar (the well known hymn writer and yet also pastor and theologian of the 19th century). This was good.  Quite well worth the read.  Found in his preface to:

The Everlasting Righteousness;


How Shall Man Be Just With God?

The awakened conscience of the sixteenth century betook itself to “the righteousness of God.” There it found refuge, at once from condemnation and from impurity. Only by “righteousness” could it be pacified; and nothing less than that which is divine could meet the case. At the cross this “righteousness” was found; human, yet divine: provided for man, and presented to him by God, for relief of conscience and justification of life. On the one word τετέλεσται, “It is finished,” as on a heavenly resting place, weary souls sat down and were refreshed. The voice from the tree did not summon them to do, but to be satisfied with what was done. Millions of bruised consciences there found healing and peace.

The belief of that finished work brought the sinner into favour with God; nor did it leave him in uncertainty as to this. The justifying work of Calvary was God’s way, not only of bringing pardon, but of securing certainty. It was the only perfect thing which had ever been presented to God in man’s behalf; and so peculiar was this perfection, that it might be
used by man in his transactions with God, as if it were his own.

The knowledge of this sure justification was life from the dead to multitudes. All over Europe, from the Apennines to the Grampians, from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians, went the glad tidings that man is justified freely, and that God wishes him to know he is justified. It was not merely a new thought for man’s intellect, but a new discovery for his soul, (1) As to the true source of spiritual health, viz. the setting of man’s conscience right with God; (2) As to the continuation of that health, viz. the keeping of the conscience right.

The fruit of this was not merely a healthy personal religion, but a renovated intellect and a noble literature, and, above all, a pure worship. It was an era of resurrection. The graves were opened; and the congregation of the dead became the church of the living. Christendom awoke and arose. The resurrection-dew fell far and wide; nor has it yet ceased to fall.

For ages Christianity had groveled in the dust, smothered with semipagan rites; ready to die, if not already dead; bound hand and foot by a semi-idolatrous priesthood, unable to do aught for a world which it had been sent to regenerate. Now “it was lifted up from the earth, and made

to stand upon its feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.” A new conscience was born; and with a new conscience came in new life and power. Nothing had been seen like this since the age of apostles.

The doctrine of another’s righteousness reckoned to us for justification before God is one of the links that knot together the first and the sixteenth centuries, the Apostles and the Reformers. The creeds of the Reformation overleap fifteen centuries, and land us at once in the Epistle to the Romans. Judicial and moral cleansing was what man needed; and in that epistle we have both the imputed and imparted righteousness; the former the root or foundation of the latter. Not the one without the other; both together, inseparable; but each in its own order.

It was not Luther merely who took up the old watchword, “The just shall live by faith,” and thus found the answer of a good conscience toward God. To thousands of hearts it came like a voice from heaven, they knew not how. Sunshine from above had fallen upon one grand text; the text which the age needed: men recognized the truth thus supernaturally lighted up. “The nations came to its light, and kings to the brightness of its rising.” The inquiring men of that age, though not borrowing from each other, betook themselves to this truth and text.
From every kingdom of Europe came the same voice; and every Protestant Confession bore witness to the unanimity of awakened Christendom. The long-needed, long-missing truth had been found; and eureka was the cry of gladness were heard announcing its discovery.

Our fathers saw that this truth was the basis of all real spiritual life. That which was superficial, and morbid, and puny, and second-rate, might do with some less deep, less broad foundation; but all that is healthy, and noble, and daring, and happy, and successful in religion must rest here. “The just shall live by faith.”

Religion is fashionable in our age. But is it that which sprang up, after centuries of darkness, among our fathers in Europe? Is it that of apostles and prophets? Is it the calm yet thorough religion which did such great deeds in other days? Has it gone deep into the conscience? Has it filled the heart? Has it pervaded the man? Or has it left the conscience unpacified, the heart unfilled, the man unchanged, save with some external appliances of religiousness, which leaves him hollow as before? There is at this moment many an aching spirit, bitterly
conscious of this hollowness. The doctrine, the profession, the good
report of others, the bustle of work, will not fill the soul. God Himself
must be there, with His covering righteousness, His cleansing blood, His
quickening Spirit. Without this, religion is but a shell: holy services are
dull and irksome. Joy in God, which is the soul and essence of worship,
is unknown. Sacraments, prayer-meetings, religious services, labours of
charity, will not make up for the living God.

How much of unreality there may be in the religious life of our age, it
is for each individual to determine for himself, that he may not be
deceived nor lose his reward.[1]

All unreality is weakness as well as irksomeness; and the sooner that
we are stripped of unreality the better, both for peace and for usefulness.

Men with their feet firmly set on Luther’s rock, “the righteousness of God,” filled with the Spirit, and pervaded with the peace of God, do the great things in the church; others do the little. The men of robust spiritual health are they who, like Luther, have made sure of their filial relationship to God. They shrink from no battle, nor succumb to any toil. The men who go to work with an unascertained relationship give way in the warfare, and faint under the labour: their life is not perhaps a failure or defeat; but it is not a victory, it is not a triumph.

“We do not war after the flesh,” and “our weapons are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:3, 4). Our battle is not fought in the way that the old man would have us to fight it. It is “the fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). It is not by doubting but by believing that we are saved; it is not by doubting but by believing that we overcome. Faith leads us first of all to Abel’s “more excellent sacrifice” (Hebrews 11:4). By faith we quit Ur and Egypt and Babylon, setting our face to the eternal city (Hebrews 11:16). By faith we offer up our Isaacs, and worship “leaning on the top of our staffs,” and “give commandment concerning our bones.” By faith we choose affliction with the people of God, and despise Egypt’s treasures. By faith we keep our passover; pass through the Red Sea; overthrow Jerichos; subdue kingdoms; work righteousness; stop the mouth of lions; quench the violence of fire; turn to flight the armies of the aliens, and
refuse deliverance in the day of trial, that we may obtain a better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35).

It is “believing” from first to last. We begin, we go on, we end in faith.
The faith that justifies is the faith that overcomes (1 John 5:4). By faith
we obtain the “good report” both with God and man. By faith we receive
forgiveness; by faith we live; by faith we work, and endure, and suffer; by
faith we win the crown,a crown of righteousness, which shall be ours
in the day of the appearing of Him who is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

November, 1872.

Read the entire work here.  I’m reading more of it right now!  Oh man, read this!

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Calvin on the Church

I am reading through Calvin’s commentaries on Galatians and found this quote regarding the true church and what should be our attitude toward it:

“We do not always find in churches such a measure of purity as might be desired. The purest have their blemishes; and some are marked, not by a few spots, but by general deformity. Though the doctrines and practices of any society may not, in all respects, meet our wishes, we must not instantly pronounce its defects to be a sufficient reason for withholding from it the appellation of a Church…

Yet our acknowledgment of societies to be churches of Christ must be accompanied by an explicit condemnation of everything in them that is improper or defective; for we must not imagine, that, wherever there is some kind of church, everything in it that ought to be desired in a church is perfect.”

These are wise words I think.

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