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Posts Tagged ‘WSC’

In continuing my reading through CJPM, Hywel R. Jones makes the case that the Church’s identify is inextricably linked to its understanding and preaching of Justification by faith alone. In his chapter entitled ‘Preaching sola fide Better’, Jones emphasizes the importance for pastors to recognize that the “lifeblood” of their congregation depends on how well they understand (and proclaim) this vital doctrine. (p. 312)

One of his extended quotes is from Richard Lovelace:

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt for their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day to day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand on Luther’s platform; you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in the quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude. (p. 310)

Jones writes:

…when ordinary folk possess the message of sola fide as their gospel–the light of their minds and the life of their souls–they will have a firm assurance of their salvation and make progress in holiness and evangelistic zeal. …the church’s worship will become more fervent and her orthodoxy will be guarded as offices bearers pay particular attention to the preservation of this biblical teaching, even initiating disciplinary procedures against any who present a revision of it. …a generation of preachers will be raised up who can declare the message well, promoting vigorous outreach into the world. If, as some argue, there is need for another reformation, then this is where one is greatly needed. Interestingly, it is also where the old one started! (p. 311)

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Preaching Grace

So I’ve continued reading through Johnson’s book ‘Him We Proclaim’ and have found some further quotations I’d like to share:

“Preaching is God’s instrument to elicit faith, thereby uniting us to Christ and to his community, the body that is growing together toward perfection and the bride who is being beautified for the presentation to her groom.

Does the comprehensiveness of Paul’s ultimate objective mean that the apostolic preaching moves beyond the gospel, outside the Pauline preoccupation with Christ, in order to address other, “practical” topics concerning the nitty-gritty of the Christian life, struggle against sinful habits, resolving interpersonal conflict, financial management, responsible citizenship, social justice, and the other themes that fill modern pulpits? No, the logic of Paul’s interlinking clauses implies that preaching prods us toward the goal of perfection not by moving our gaze away from Jesus to other issues but by driving our exploration deeper into Christ, who is the manifold wisdom of God. ” (p 67-68)

“The same preached word that turns sinners away from themselves and their sin toward Christ also sanctifies and strengthens them to offer thankful obedience pleasing to God through the grace of is Son.” (p 69)

“Paul knows that his Christian hearers are not immune from the danger of “shifting from the hope of the gospel” ([Col] 1:23), and that deceptive and erroneous teaching can undermine confidence, with ruinous results.” (p 71)

“Preaching Christ is preaching grace. This may seem obvious, but it is not obvious to all. […] It is possible to preach about Jesus, and even mention grace in the process, and yet be preaching law, calling people to reform themselves with a little help from their heavenly Friend. Such a message breeds either self-deluded complacency or self-contemptuous despair.” (p 81)

– Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures. P&R 2001

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promiseI’ve been reading through Michael Horton’s God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, and am finding it very refreshing.  One of striking points he makes is that in the scriptures there are really two different kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional.  He says, “Some demand unswerving obedience as a condition of their fulfillment, such as the covenant made by the people at Sinai,” (p. 20) and yet others “announce a divine promise” (p. 36).  The idea that God is a promise-making, and a promise-keeping God, should all the more become dazzling in our eyes when we realize just what kind of promises our God has made! These “one-sided” promises (p. 41) — that God has done everything for us — “it is finished” and all we’re to do is look to him in faith and believe.    What a foundation for our assurance! What a mighty fountain of joy and gladness and worship, that “he has done these things and they are marvelous in our sight.” But Horton says, “In our day, as in others, the truth that we are declared right before God on the basis of someone else’s “covenantal loyalty”…namely, Christ’s — is under attack” (p. 18). Here’s the Hort:

“Carriers of the legalistic virus in Galatia and elsewhere were not faulted for having a positive view of the law, but for failing to recognize that its purpose was to lead God’s people to Christ. By seeking to attain the everlasting promise of life through the temporal and conditional covenant of law, Paul’s opponents were actually excommunicating themselves from the true Israel. Not only their explicit sins but their confidence in their own obedience revealed that they were “cut off” from the only one in whom they could be found acceptable. For them, at least, Sinai could only be the emblem of the condemnation that awaits them, since to be “under the law” is (for those who violate it) equivalent to being cursed (Gal. 3:10).

While the principles of law and promise agree on a number of points, they reflect intrinsically different types of covenants. Personal obedience to commands is a radically different basis for an inheritance than faith in a promise. While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. Every covenant has two parties, and we assume the responsibilities of faithful partners, but the basis of acceptance with God is the covenant-keeping of another, the Servant of the Lord; and because of his faithfulness, we now inherit all the promises through faith alone, as children of Sarah and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The new Covenant announced by the prophets long ago included both justification and rebirth, imputed and imparted righteousness, forgiveness of sins and a new heart that thirsts for God and his glory. Yet (…) the second side of the coin (a new heart) is the result of the first (justification and forgiveness of sins). As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement (Gal. 3:1-4). In the New covenant, all of the blessings have Christ and his obedience as the only ground qualifying us as heirs. Not some of the blessings, but all of them, are comprehended “in Christ.” That spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification. While our status before God (justification) is distinguished from our inward renewal (rebirth and sanctification), our status cannot be separated from our inward renewal even for a moment. Thus, because of God’s sworn oath by himself, the justified sinner will also be one who perseveres against doubt, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil, one day inheriting by that same royal grant rest from all warfare.”  (p. 75-76)

That God has promised and he will not change, indeed has kept his word unto his own hurt — the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.  This is a breath-taking, mind-blowing, heart-rending and life-altering doctrine.  God has done everything! He has justified us and regenerated us so that we can know that we are justified. And what are we to do? Believe. And what do we get? Eternal life? How do we know? God has promised.

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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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“First, we must see public worship as essentially the meeting of God with his covenant people.  Worship is not primarily evangelism, teaching, or entertainment. It is not primarily a time of human fellowship. It is a time for the congregation as a community to meet with God.

Second, that meeting with God involves a conversation in which God speaks and his people respond. The speaking of God has the priority. Thus, listening becomes one of the critical skills needed by a worshiper. God speaks in the reading of the Bible, in the sermon, and in the sacraments. (Salutation and benediction can be seen as further ministries of the Word.)  As Reformed people, we refer to the sermon and the sacraments as means of grace. They are the means that God uses to help his faithful people grow in grace.

The sermon as an explanation and an application of the Scriptures is God speaking to the congregation.”

Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California
Taken from ‘An Unexpected Journey’ pg. 137-138

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I had the pleasure of getting to visit Westminster Seminary for the first time yesterday.  And it was a pleasant experience.   I got to check out the library and the bookstore and met several very friendly students as well as some staff.  Among all the thoughts (lofty expectations, souring hopes) that one might anticipate, what has arisen to my mind has been of a more cautionary nature. (And this I hope will be for my own good.) What has been pressed upon my heart and mind is a dark and foreboding sense of the reality of apostasy in the church — even in our best Seminaries.  And I say this in no way referring to anything specific to Westminster… I mean I just arrived here!  I have nothing with which to judge.

While perusing the periodicals in the Library I happened across the ‘Master’s Trumpet’ and a sermon delivered to the Synod of New Jersey in 1858s by a man named John Hall.  It was titled ‘The Castaway Preacher.’  The subject struck my attention since it is something that has been on my mind for the last week or so.  In this piece the preacher exhorts on 1 Corinthians 9:27:

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (ESV)

Recently I’ve been reading through 1 Timothy and thinking about the warnings Paul gives his young apprentice.  The apostle talks about having a “pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He points out that “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” Furthermore he exhorts Timothy to: “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” And he tells him that “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Whatever our initial thoughts are on these verses, we must agree these are strong words.  What is Paul getting at? Who is he talking about?  Who would fit this profile today?  Could it be me?  Could it apply to anybody around me? Are we just to be in fear? Fear of failing? Fear of sin?  God forbid, for that would be sin of itself.  So then how do we deal with an issue as tough as this one? Furthermore, I think about the stories of those who have been in the ministry and have fallen either into gross sin or even apostasy.  And one wonders how this happens.

Here are some quotes of John Hall I found particularly interesting:

“A hypocrite may deceive the holiest session, and die in the confidence of the purest church…” (12)

And regarding even the reasonableness that this question be on the minds of ministers – that they practice what they preach:

“The presumptuous sins of a preacher must be the most aggravated of all that come under that inspired designation; and it must be the highest grade of presumption for an expounder and teacher of religion to trust either in his office or his theology, to shield him from the application of such a test as this.” (13)

And then what do we look to as the answer to this problem?

“There is, then, no preventive, no remedy, but the spiritual mind. The revival we need is the revival of the piety of ministers.” (p14)

I admit, that last line is not won I’ve heard too many times before – if at all.  Usually we think of revival in terms of lay people better hearing and better obeying the message.  But here the stress is laid on the ministers own character and faith; are they watching ‘both’ their lives and their doctrine? or just one and not the other?

I will follow up with some of my own observations upto this point in my next post.  But let me leave you with an extended excerpt from Hall’s sermon.  Here we see a glimpse into the spiritual deadness which will follow many a so called minister and will inevitablly destress the church.  May God grant her mercy and grace to appoint those who are duely called.

“The signs of a castaway preacher, so far as they are distinct from those of the trials of other Christians, will appear to be such as these: he has no cordial or practical belief in what his function compels him to preach; he feels an intellectual pride, and enjoys an ambitious gratification in preaching, but has no heart in it as the means of glorifying God and restoring man; with him the ministry is no more than a profession; preaching is his livelihood. If he labour for success, it is for the sake of maintaining his professional position; he is actuated, as men are in their secular vocations; he seeks for promotion; his choice of place and occupation, and his charges, are determined by the preponderance of personal advantages; he will not forego domestic comfort for the sake of ministering in obscurity to the least provided; he finds ready excuses for retiring from labour, or for indulging indolence; he counts his life too dear to run risks; he is always looking for material reward, even for his prayers and consolations; he resorts to tempting adventures, not merely from necessity, or while the necessity continues, but from the love of gain and the pleasure of accumulation; he hoards penuriously while he preaches liberality; he loves general literature more than theology, the society of the world more than the society of the Church; he preaches and prays, visits and writes for fame and notoriety; the pleasure and excitement of the act of preaching are the effect, not of zeal, but of self-complacency; and the bible in hand.gratification or disappointment which he experiences, does not relate to the souls of the people, but to his own vanity; he looks on his fellow-ministers as competitors and rivals; he is envious and jealous; mortified at being overlooked, and ever suspicious of slights. But this is only a random sketch of particulars. Perhaps all may be comprehended in the phrase of the text by saying, that the character described is only a preacher to others . He may have the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, may speak in the tongue of angels, but he is not in himself such a preacher as Christ requires; his unction is not from the Holy One, and so he is disowned, rejected, castaway.” (p9)

All excerpts taken from the ‘Master’s Trumpet’, Issue 5, March 2009.
http://www.westminsterconfession.org/issue5.pdf

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