Help! What Should I Do? (5)

So far in this series of posts on decision-making we’ve noted that there are important decisions to be made in the course of our lives, that these decisions are difficult, and that God has given us certain “tools” to help us in determining his will.

I want to conclude in this last, brief post by pointing out how important it is to make these difficult decisions with our faith firmly placed in God.

In a previous post we mentioned how hard these major decisions are because we want to know the future and the consequences of our choices.

But what can often stand behind this struggle is a lack of trust in God. Often we are more interested in having a view of the future than in having a view of our great God. We are tempted to take our eyes off of him and put our faith in ourselves and in the future. We are tempted to think that we know what is best for us going forward.

But that must not be. Instead, when we make any major decision, our trust and confidence must be in him.

God doesn’t show to us the future, even though he could. And that’s the case because he wants us to have our trust in him alone. He wants us to struggle with these decisions so that we might learn to lean upon him and not lean on our own understanding.

And remember what a great God we have! Our God is the sovereign, all-powerful, glorious Creator of the heavens and the earth! Our God is the all-seeing and all-knowing Ruler who holds the whole creation and our lives in the palm of his hand and works all things together for our good and eternal salvation! Our God is a loving Father, who is always for us and will never leave us or forsake us, who holds and preserves us to the end!

We don’t need to know what is going to happen, because we know the One who has ordained what will happen! We don’t need to fear the future, because we know the One who holds the future!

Therefore, when we make any decision, our trust must be in God alone.

When you make a hard decision, trust in God for contentment and peace with that decision!

When you make a hard decision, trust that God will guide and direct your way since he has your life perfectly planned!

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6).

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Other posts in this series:

Help! What Should I Do? (1)

Help! What Should I Do? (2)

Help! What Should I Do? (3)

Help! What Should I Do? (4)

________________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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PCA’s General Assembly does not condemn, or even mention, the Federal Vision

Reports about the Presbyterian Church in America’s 2016 General Assembly focus on the issues of racial reconciliation and the ordination of women deacons and some sundry other matters. I am contemplating writing an analysis of the PCA’s decision to appoint a study committee to look into the ordination of women deacons in the near future. For now I offer interested readers links here, here, and here. But today I write about a more serious problem, which is THE most serious problem the PCA faces, the Federal Vision (FV). The FV, more than the movement to ordain women into church office, is a direct assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For years now the PCA has tolerated and officially exonerated proponents of the FV. Some of the men have taught the FV for over 10 years in the PCA and yet have not been disciplined for their heresy. There are some in the PCA who claim to be enemies of the FV. But, year after year, nothing is done in the ecclesiastical courts to address the issue. Thus, the main takeaway from the PCA’s 2016 general assembly is that the denomination continues to provide a safe-haven for the Federal Vision.

Peter Leithart, perhaps once the most notorious advocate of the FV in the PCA (he asked the denomination to examine his theology and won exoneration at the General Assembly level) no longer resides in the denomination. He has sauntered over to the openly FV CERC. But several FV men remain at home in the PCA with virtually uninterrupted tranquility.

Oh, in the past, some of these men faced charges for their heresy and struggled through the turmoil of being examined by ecclesiastical courts. But in the end they were all exonerated. Jeff Meyers (exonerated by the Missouri Presbytery) and Greg Lawrence (exonerated by the Siouxlands Presbytery) are the primary examples of such men.

Others have openly stated their positions, either espousing Federal Vision theology or defending those who teach it (which is just as condemnable), have never faced any serious threat to their standing in the denomination. Joshua Moon defended Greg Lawrence, Rob Rayburn defended Peter Leithart, and Mark Horn defended and works closely with Jeff Meyers. To my knowledge none of these men have repudiated their false doctrines or faced any ecclesiastical censure for them—peace and quiet is all they know in the PCA. 

There is a “conservative” wing in the PCA that expresses some criticism of PCA’s tolerance of various errors. This conservative wing of the PCA, if Rick Philips may be viewed as one of its representatives, wants to hold on to long-held beliefs and practices. But there is a willingness to have unity and peace with those who reject these long-held beliefs and practices. Philips does not want the denomination to impose changes from the top down (see the article linked to his name). That would be detrimental for the unity of the PCA according to Philips. The fact that there are two different views on certain issues, one that harmonizes with scripture and the Reformed Confessions and one that contradicts Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, apparently does mean for Philips the unity has already been destroyed. These conservatives seem content with life in the PCA as long as new views (women’s ordination, Federal Vision) are not imposed on them. This must be the explanation, at least in part, for why there is no effort to censure those who promote unorthodox ideas on the PCA.

The PCA needs, but apparently does not have many, Confessionalists—men who confess, teach, and defend the Reformed Confessions. It needs men who will maintain the confessions as the standard of truth and orthodoxy and insist adherence to the standard. It needs men who will insist on adherence to the standard by means of discipline. As long as the PCA allows people within its fellowship to contradict the confessions without facing consequences, then the conclusion must be that the denomination is no longer as a whole substantially confessional.

That 2016 will pass without anything being done in the PCA to deal with the Federal Vision raises a very serious question for the Reformed churches of North America—how long can fellowship be maintained with the PCA? This is a very pressing question for NAPARC, the most “conservative” council of Reformed churches in North America. In 1995 the CRC, then a member of NAPARC, approved women in office. In 1997 NAPARC expelled the CRC from its membership. The FV more directly attacks the gospel than the ordination of women, yet the PCA remains a member of NAPARC, despite many more than two years of providing cover for gospel-denying heresy. The PCA’s membership in NAPARC contradicts the council’s desire and claim to be a council of confessionally committed denominations.

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This post was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

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RFPA Update - Spring 2016

 Click icon to read the full pdf version.

 

Articles in this issue:
Children's Book Division Coordinator 
Iron Sharpens Iron Radio Interviews Professor David Engelsma
New Book Release: God's Goodness Always Particular
RFPA Warehouse, Mailing Room, and Packing Room
New Book Release: Christianizing the World
Hope PR Church 100th Anniversary Book
RFPA Ebook Policy Change
Large Shipment of Books to the Philippines
In Review: Gottschalk: Servant of God (by Ryan Schipper)
In Review: Gottschalk: Servant of God (by Dr. Julian Kennedy)
New RFPA Blog Writers
RFPA Staff
Reader Feedback on The Rock Whence We Are Hewn

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Help! What Should I Do? (4)

In the last post on making decisions, we looked briefly at the first (and most important) “tool” that we use when trying to discern the will of God for our lives: the Word of God. In this post I want to mention three other important “tools” that we ought to use as well when making a difficult decision.

First, we ought to lean on other, trustworthy people to help us through this process.

Some of the people that we look to for help might be people that we will never meet or know personally. I have in mind individuals who write books or articles that address certain issues we are facing or help us grow in our understanding of the Bible. Through our reading of solid, biblical, Reformed literature (such as the material the RFPA publishes), we grow in wisdom and are helped in making a decision.

But God has also places trustworthy people in our lives that we can turn to for help. Many have loving parents and grandparents, a trusted friend, a wise pastor and elders, or even elderly saints in your church who can give good advice. Some of them may have gone through a similar situation that we are now facing and can share their experiences. Others may be able to see certain things that we have overlooked and failed to take into consideration. If nothing else, they can certainly pray with us and for us. These others may not be able to make the decision for us, but they are able to help and encourage and guide us in our decision-making. We ought to seek them out, ask them questions, and listen.

In the second place, when making difficult decisions we ought to take into account our God-ordained circumstances.

Our almighty God has given to each of us certain strengths and weaknesses, physically and mentally and emotionally. He has placed us into certain homes and families and ordained certain circumstances of life for us. We must take these things into account also when we make a decision.

A few examples. I probably should not pursue a career as an accountant or someone that works with numbers if I struggle terribly with math and despise algebra. But perhaps it is God’s will for me to become an English teacher if I love to read and have a knack for writing and grammar. It might not be the will of God for me to buy a house and a new car if I am struggling financially. It might not be the will of God for me to run a marathon if I have asthma.

These circumstances may not be the final determining factor. But, when making a decision, consider how the Lord is leading you through the circumstances of your life.

Third, never make a major decision without frequent, earnest prayer.

At any moment and in any place we can come into the presence of our Father and roll our burdens upon him. Obviously we don’t expect some voice from heaven to shout down the answer to us. But we pray that God will still our anxiety and quiet our fears, that he will give us wisdom through these other means, that he will guide us in the path of his choosing, and that he will humble us to follow him. When facing a difficult decision, pray!

*     *     * 

There may be other “tools” that we can use in this process, but I think these are the main ones. When using these means, take your time. Move slowly and deliberately. Don’t make a rushed, hasty decision. Rarely is this the best decision.

But it might be the case that as you work through these issues with wisdom and carefulness, you come to the end and discover that there is no one, definite direction. Perhaps you are left with two options, neither of which is wrong and both of which you could see yourself doing. Then, after praying to God, pick one. Make a decision one way or the other. As one man put it, just do something! And then don’t keep looking back and second-guessing the decision, but go forward confident that this is God’s will for you at this time.

_______________________

Other posts in this series:

Help! What Should I Do? (1)

Help! What Should I Do? (2)

Help! What Should I Do? (3)

________________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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Islam (4)

In the blog posts thus far on Islam we have noticed Islam’s confusion with—we might even say deliberate misrepresentation of—the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus Christ. Next, we address Islam’s view of the Incarnation.

Quite simply, Islam denies the Incarnation. Indeed, the Incarnation is inconceivable for the Muslim. The elements of the doctrine of the Incarnation are missing in Islam. (1) Islam teaches that there is only one divine person—Allah. Therefore, there is no other divine person who can become incarnate. (2). The very idea that Allah or God or a divine person could become a man is abhorrent to Islam. The concept of voluntary humiliation on the part of the Son of God is beyond a Muslim’s comprehension (3). Islam denies that Allah has a Son—it denies that Jesus is the Son of God. If He is not the Son of God, He cannot become incarnate. (4). If someone else (let’s say, Gabriel or some other creature) could assume flesh, that is, could become incarnate, it would not accomplish anything—for the Incarnation to be a saving work of God, the One who becomes incarnate must be very (true) God.

Islam agrees with Christianity on this point: there was a man called Jesus. But so different is the description of the “man called Jesus” that we simply cannot identify the Qur’an’s Jesus (Isa) with the biblical (true) Jesus.

In Islam, Jesus was a prophet or a slave of Allah, whom Allah created. “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’: and he was” (Surah 3:59). Yet the Qur’an also teaches a virgin birth:

He [the angel] said, ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.’ She said, ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’ He said: ‘So (it will be) the Lord saith, ‘This is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: it is a matter (so) decreed.’ So she conceived him, and retired with him to a remote place (Surah 19:19-22).

Absent from the narrative of the birth of Jesus are all the tokens of Christ’s humiliation, for in Islam Allah’s favored prophets do not experience humiliation, which will become an issue when we discuss Islam’s view of the sufferings of Christ and the cross. The Qur’an denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a stable, and laid in a manger, and depicts Mary giving birth alone (Joseph is not mentioned) under a palm tree.

When Mary presents her son to the people of her city, they accuse her of sin. “O Mary! Truly a strange thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Surah 19:27b-28). Notice, by the way, that the Qur’an’s Mary is a sister of Aaron (of the tribe of Levi), and not a daughter of the tribe of Judah, and of the lineage of David. In her defense, Mary points to her baby, whereupon the baby speaks from the cradle to vindicate his mother!

I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!’ (Surah 19:30-33).

The Jesus of the Qur’an performs miracles, albeit “by Allah’s leave”:

And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and appoint him a Messenger to the Children of Israel (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave, and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a sign for you if ye did believe.

One miracle stands out here, because it is not in the Bible. The miracle by which Jesus gives a clay bird life is found in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is a spurious gospel account and not part of the canonical Scriptures. Mohammed, however, must have come across it in his contact with heretical Christian sects (see also Surah 5:110).

For all of the respect and honor the Qur’an bestows upon Jesus (Isa), Islam denies that Jesus is anything more than a prophet, messenger, servant or slave of Allah: “Christ the Son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make his signs clear to them: yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Surah 5:75).

That is an interesting statement. Why would the Qur’an make reference to Mary and Jesus eating food? To the Muslim mind the fact that Jesus (forget about Mary for the moment, because Christians do not suggest that she is divine, but remember the confusion of the Qur’an in Surah 5:116) ate food proves that He could not be divine. God does not eat food. You see the “logic” of the Qur’an’s argument: (1) God does not eat food. (2) Jesus had to eat His daily food. Therefore, (3) Jesus cannot be God. Such an argument betrays a fundamental misconception about the Incarnation.

Quite simply, when Christians confess the Incarnation of the Son of God, they teach that the Son of God took upon Himself a human nature. They do not teach that He turned into a man—He did not cease to be God. He remained God while adopting a human nature. Part of adopting a human nature is the necessity to eat daily food. In fact, if Jesus had not had to eat daily food, we would have to conclude that He was not a true man. Jesus ate food both before and after His resurrection to prove that He was a true man. And He performed miracles to prove that He was true God.

The issue of the Incarnation is this—was the man (who had to eat His daily food) also God? To that question we turn next time, DV.

_________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Help! What Should I Do? (3)

In previous posts on the subject of decision making, we’ve laid some groundwork by establishing two basic realities: first, we are going to face important decisions; and second, making these decisions is going to be difficult.

But perhaps that has left you wondering, “Is that all? Is there nothing that will lift the fog of uncertainty and indecision? Is there no way of knowing which path my feet must tread?”

In fact, there are things which can help us in the decision-making process. And that’s the subject of this and the following post.

When we are placed in a situation where we have to make a tough decision, we must do so with wisdom and sanctified common sense. God is not going to reveal the answer to us in some mystical and miraculous way. Although we sometimes foolishly wish he would, he does not whisper the answer in our ear or write it in the clouds. But he does do so through the ordinary means by which he bestows upon us wisdom and sanctified common sense.

The first and most important of those means is the Word of God.

Only the Word of God is “able to make us wise unto salvation.” Only the Word of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The answer seems so obvious, yet it is easy to overlook it. As we struggle with a decision, we might be tempted to search our souls trying to figure out what God’s will is for us without once stopping to consider what the Bible might have to say about the whole matter.

To use an extreme example, some might say, “I really had a hard time with this decision. In fact, I agonized over it for years. But I thought about it and prayed about it, and now I’m convinced that it’s the will of God for me to live openly as a homosexual.” Or, perhaps closer to home, “I’m convinced that it’s the will of God for me to date and marry this man even though he is an unbeliever. We’re in love, after all, and how can you stop love!” Or, “I’m convinced that it’s the will of God for me to take this promotion even though it means moving to an area where there is no true church of Christ.”

Stop and think a moment. Is that how we determine God’s will for our lives? If we really want to know what God will have us to do, then why would we not stop and consider the one place where he has clearly revealed to us his will?

That’s not how we determine God’s will. We know what God’s will is for us, because God has revealed his will to us in the Bible. It is there in the Holy Scriptures that God tells us what we are to do and how we are to live.

I’m fully aware that the Bible does not reveal to us specific answers to the questions we are facing. For instance, you’re obviously not going to find a passage in Ezekiel that tells you what company to work for and the name of the person you will marry.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that God’s Word must be our starting-point and guide. When we are wrestling with a tough decision, we must first go to God’s Word and determine how it applies to our situation. God’s Word might not tell me which specific career to choose, but it certainly has something to say to me if I am thinking about being an abortion doctor or a professional athlete. God’s Word might not tell me exactly where to go to college, but it has something to say to me if I am considering going to a college far away from any church. God’s Word might not tell me the exact man or woman to date and marry, but it certainly has something to say to me if I am thinking about dating an unbeliever or thinking about marrying one who is not one in the faith with me.

So, when making a decision, the first question we must ask is: “What does God’s Word say? How does it apply to my situation? What guidance does it give?”

And then pray, “God, thy Word has been my guide. Now give me the grace to obey and submit to that Word. Especially when it gives the answer that I didn’t want to hear!”

________________________________

Other posts in this series:

Help! What Should I Do? (1)

Help! What Should I Do? (2)

____________________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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Answering a Devotee of Mary

Explanation: Working in Ireland, I sometimes receive emails from Roman Catholics. The following message was sent to a devout Roman Catholic, who advocated the veneration of Mary. It may help the reader witness to Roman Catholics. (The name of the reader has been removed from the message).

 

Dear [...],

Thank you very much for your email. In an age of religious apathy, it is good to find one genuinely interested in exploring the truth of God. Obviously, we will not agree, but at least we can disagree without rancor. That is my hope.

You begin by disparaging the Bible, which is not a good start. You assert that “the Bible does not teach the Trinity, etc.” I disagree. If the Bible does not teach those Christian doctrines, I have no business believing them. What you meant perhaps is that the Bible does not teach those doctrines using the precise theological language and terminology that the church has come to use in her creeds and confessional statements. That I can agree with. Nevertheless, the Trinity, to take just one example, is taught throughout the scriptures. The word is not there; the concept certainly is.

The Bible is the Word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (II Tim. 3:16). That the church is the pillar and ground of the truth does not mean that the church invents the truth. The church cannot be the pillar of something that does not precede it. If I ask you to uphold something, that “something” must exist so that you can hold it up. The church exists in the world to hold up the truth that God has revealed. “The church precedes the Bible” is your claim. That is partly true. John, Peter, Paul and others who wrote the New Testament preceded the books that they wrote. However, the church does not precede the truth. God is the truth. Christ is the truth. The Spirit is the truth. God reveals the truth to the church, which then records it (by divine inspiration through the apostles and other holy men) and (in subsequent generations) upholds, proclaims, defends, and even develops, the truth. If any ecclesiastical body or religious organization does not hold up the truth, but holds up lies, it is not the church.

II Thessalonians 2:15 refers to “traditions,” but those traditions were the traditions which Paul and the other apostles had taught (“by word, or our epistle”). Subsequent “traditions” (such as the traditions of the “Church fathers” or the “Medieval theologians” or even the Reformers) must be tested by the Word of God. We do not accept something simply because Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, or even John Calvin, taught it.  

The “Church fathers,” for example, taught many good (and also many bad) things. The idea that there is “a unanimous consent of the fathers” is a myth. They disagreed on many particulars, even on the interpretation of key texts.

(Some of) the church fathers may have taught that, as Christ is the second Adam (which the Bible teaches), so Mary is the second Eve (which the Bible does not teach), but they were mistaken. That is an example of bad tradition, not tradition to which we should hold fast. (Some of) the church fathers may have taught that, as salvation came through Christ (which the Bible teaches), so Mary brings salvation into the world (which the Bible does not teach). Some Christians may have been praying to Mary before 200 AD (I do not have the resources at hand to check the historical sources), but that does not make it good tradition. That (some of) the church fathers called Mary “Queen” or “Lady” is regrettable, but it does not make it right. The Bible does not give her those titles, and for good reason.

What is important, however, is the Biblical “evidence” you marshal in defense of your position. To those texts I now turn.

First, you appeal to the passage where Mary prophesied, “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Mary uses the verb makarizoo, which means “to declare blessed” or “to declare happy.” It is also used in James 5:11 (“Behold we count them happy which endure”). The related adjective makarios is translated “blessed” in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). It is not unique to Mary, therefore, to be blessed. Besides that, Mary does not say, “All generations shall bless me,” or “All generations shall venerate me.” She meant, “All generations shall recognize that God has blessed me.” In a similar vein, Elizabeth declares, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). The Greek verb is eulogeoo (“to bless”), which appears many times in the New Testament. It, too, is not unique to Mary. Indeed, her blessing to be chosen to be the mother of the Messiah is unique, and we recognize that. Notice, however, she is not blessed “above” women, but “among” women. (Incidentally, Jael in Judges 5:24 is called “blessed … above women in the tent,” but that is another matter). Indeed, one particularly overzealous woman cries out on one occasion, “Blessed (makarios) is the womb that bare thee, and the paps [breasts] which thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27). Jesus does not disagree with her, but He responds, “Yea rather blessed (makarios) are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (v. 28). In other words, Mary’s blessedness is not so much in her being the mother of Jesus (her unique blessedness, for sure) but in hearing the word of God and keeping it (which is the blessedness of all Christians, and the more important thing).

Second, I think (some of) the fathers, if you cite them correctly, were confused about the “divine motherhood.” What does that even mean? Mary does not have a divine motherhood. The term “Mother of God” is an unfortunate and inaccurate translation of the Greek term theotokos, which is found in the Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD). A better translation of theotokos is “God-bearer.” Why does the Creed call Mary “God-bearer”? It is not to exalt Mary, but to exalt Jesus. The one whom Mary bore in her womb is God, that is, He is the incarnation of the second person of the divine Trinity. Notice the careful language of Chalcedon: “Begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God (theotokos or “God-bearer”), according to the manhood.” Since the divine person or divine nature of the Son of God is eternal, infinite and unchangeable, Mary cannot be the mother of God. Mary was the mother of the Son of God according to His human nature.

I would be fascinated to understand your distinction between “veneration” and “honour,” which you give to Mary, and “worship,” which you withhold from her. Is that not a distinction without a difference?

Third, you claim that Gabriel “honours” her. How exactly does he do that? Gabriel does not fall down prostrate before Mary. He does not worship her. He speaks to her in announcing to her the miracle of the Incarnation. He says “Hail, thou that art highly favoured. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). The word “Hail” simply means “Greetings.” It is never used in prayer, and prayer is never addressed in scripture to anyone but God. Indeed, Jesus greets a group of women after His resurrection with the words “All hail” (the same Greek verb), and no one suggests that Jesus was honouring them! The other phrase is “thou that art highly favoured,” of which the Greek original is kecharitomene, which you rightly identify. Kecharitomene does not mean “full of grace.” It means, “Favoured one” or “Graciously accepted one.” The ideas that Mary is so full of grace that she has no sin, and that she is so full of grace that she is able to dispense grace to others are absent from the text and absent from the Bible as a whole. Jesus Christ is “full of grace” (John 1:14). He is the fountain of all grace. Mary is an empty vessel, who received grace, as all Christians do. What about the tense of kecharitomene? It is true that the form of the verb is a perfect passive participle, which means that Mary has been favoured of God in the past, which favour continues into the present. The same verb, albeit not the perfect tense (but the aorist, or simple past tense), is used of all Christians in Ephesians 1:6: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted (charitooo) in the beloved.” Being highly favoured is not unique to Mary.

Your next claim is that “In scripture the queen is not the wife of the king, but his mother.” That is a half-truth, at best. The Hebrew word gebirah can be translated “queen mother,” although that is not always the translation. (The Hebrew Old Testament uses the word gebirah in the following verses: I Kings 11:1915:13II Kings 10:13II Chronicles 15:16Jeremiah 13:18 and 29:2. In none of them is “queen mother” the conclusive translation). Maachah, for example (I Kings 15:13), was the grandmother of Asa. The word gebirah simply means “mighty woman.” Besides that, the common Hebrew word for queen is malakah, which certainly designates the wife of the king in several passages. Esther, for example, is called queen throughout the book, and she was clearly not the mother of king Ahasuerus! Bathsheba, the wife of David and the mother of Solomon, is called neither gebirah nor malakah in scripture. It is true that Solomon greatly reverenced his mother (I Kings 2:19) in keeping with the fifth commandment (“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” [Ex. 20:12]), but that is not relevant to the point in hand. I would have you notice that, when Bathsheba attempted to intercede for Adonijah (“He will not say thee nay … I will not say thee nay” [I Kings 2:1720), Solomon did not grant Bathsheba’s request. The one for whom Bathsheba made a petition was put to death (v. 25)! So much for Bathsheba’s powerful intercession! Mary is not a gebirah, powerful and worthy of honour, your fanciful typological exegesis (eisegesis) notwithstanding! (Bathsheba is not a type of Mary, so any parallels you suggest are irrelevant). Mary is a humble handmaid (Luke 1:3848) upon whom God has condescended to look (v. 48). Our Lady and Queen of heaven are not Biblical titles attributed to Mary. Besides that, the bride of Christ is the church. She is the object of Christ’s love (and Mary is but one member of that church).

It is absolutely true that Simeon prophesied to Mary that a sword would pierce through her soul (Luke 2:35). That sword was the sorrow that a mother felt when she saw her son die on the cross. However, her sorrow (great as it was!) was not redemptive, and did not in any way contribute to the salvation of God’s people. Mary did not participate in Christ’s passion. She did not cooperate in His passion. She did not assent to His passion. And she did not offer Him up in His passion. She stood helplessly and passively as her Son died. She could do nothing to assist Him. She could not even offer Him a drink of water or caress His brow, something I dare say she wanted to do. In fact, had Mary had her way, she would most likely have tried to take Him down from the cross. She like most (if not all) of His disciples misunderstood the necessity of the cross. When Jesus died, He died alone. He drank the cup given to Him in Gethsemane alone. He bore the wrath of God in the darkness of Calvary alone. He did not have the assistance of Mary. Only Jesus, as the Son of God, could sustain the eternal wrath of God against sin in His body.

Jesus speaks to Mary from the cross, His last words to her. When Jesus said “Behold thy son” and “Behold thy mother” in John 19, he meant, “Mary, John will be your son now, to care for you;” and “John, care for Mary as your mother.” This is obvious because “from that hour that disciple [John] took her unto his own home” (v. 27). Jesus did not designate Mary the mother of the whole church or the mother of the whole human race. As He was dying, He was fulfilling His filial duties. Indeed, Jesus never calls Mary “mother” in the Gospels: he calls her “Woman” (John 2:419:26) and He rebukes her when she foolishly interferes with His divine mission (Luke 2:49John 2:4Matt. 12:46). Indeed, I would argue that Mary is no longer Jesus’ mother. Earthly relationships cease or change at death. If husbands and wives are not married in the afterlife, why should Jesus still consider Mary His mother in heaven (Mark 12:18-27)? Death cuts all earthly ties, including the mother-son relationship. Jesus recognized that when He committed Mary to John’s care.

There is a huge difference between someone asking a few friends or an entire congregation to pray for him or her while he or she is on earth and the supposed intercession of Mary and the saints in heaven. In Isaiah, for example, Israel prays, “Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting” (Isa. 63:16). They acknowledge that Abraham and Israel (Jacob) do not know them, indicating that departed saints cannot hear prayers. Consider this: if Mary is the great intercessor, she must be able to hear and answer millions of prayers offered around the clock, all across the world, in multiple languages. If she could do that, would she not need to be omniscient? Scripture never teaches us to offer our prayers through the intercession of Mary. The only intercessor in heaven is Jesus Christ: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5); “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1). Bear in mind, also, that the two functions of the priest (Jesus is the high priest) are sacrifice and intercession. Intercession is offered on the basis of the sacrifice. Mary has offered no sacrifice. Therefore, there is no basis for a Marian intercession. Besides, if Jesus, who is the Son of God, who has the Father’s ear, and who has died for my sins, cannot secure for me the blessings of salvation, why should I go to Mary, who is a mere creature? “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). There is none so merciful to poor sinners as Jesus. Would anyone dare suggest that Mary is more merciful, more compassionate and more gracious than Jesus Christ?

Finally, you argue that Mary was sinless, which, you say, is the work of God. The Bible does not breathe a word about Mary’s supposed immaculate conception. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Mary was not. Jesus is free from all sin. Mary was not. When the Bible speaks of universal sin, guilt and depravity, it excludes only Jesus, never Mary. The reason Jesus is sinless is (1) He is the Son of God and (2) the operation of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). You might think, as many Roman Catholic theologians like to theorize, that it is fitting that Mary be sinless, stainless and pure in order to accommodate Jesus in her womb. The Bible does not teach that such a thing is necessary or fitting. The Holy Spirit shielded Jesus from any pollution in Mary’s womb. Was the ark stainless, as you suggest? If you mean the ark of Noah, I highly doubt it: it was full of animals! Besides, where does the Bible ever draw a parallel between the ark of Noah (or the ark of the covenant) and Mary’s womb?

Scott Hahn says Mary is God’s masterpiece, which is a nice thought, I suppose, but nowhere taught in the Word of God. The Bible calls all believers God’s “workmanship” (Greek: poieema) “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). However, we do not venerate one another because of it. Certainly, God graciously prepared Mary for her role as the mother of Jesus. However, He does not command us to venerate her. An artist might not be offended when we praise his painting, but God is offended when we worship the creature instead of the Creator.

I mean no disrespect to Mary. She was, like many in the Bible, an admirable example of faith and piety. There is much that we can learn from her, but I will not go further than the Word of God allows. I will not pray to or venerate her. I will not seek her intercession. I will not give extra-biblical or anti-biblical titles to her.

I quote from the Reformed tradition, which does not replace, supplement or supersede the Word of God, from Belgic Confession, Article 26, Of Christ’s Intercession:

But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between him and us, ought in no wise to affright us by his majesty, or cause us to seek another according to our fancy. For there is no creature either in heaven or on earth who loveth us more than Jesus Christ; who, though he was in the form of God, yet made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a man, and of a servant for us, and was made like unto his brethren in all things. If then we should seek for another Mediator, who would be well affected towards us, whom could we find, who loved us more than he, who laid down his life for us, even when we were his enemies? And if we seek for one who hath power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as he who sits at the right hand of his Father, and who hath all power in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the own well beloved Son of God?”

Thank you again for your email, to which my response is longer than I intended. I did, however, want to answer your points as fully as I could. In addition, please respond if you have further questions or objections you would like to raise. I appreciate the opportunity to explain the scriptures.

______________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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A Father’s Day Prayer

Our Father which art in heaven,

Our hearts overflow with gratitude to Thee that we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we can call Thee Father. We thank Thee that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are Thy children and heirs.

Knowing that, we praise Thee as the true and perfect Father; a Father who takes pity on us who fear Thee; a Father who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy; a Father who doth not deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities; a Father who hast removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.

We thank Thee, Father, that in Thy love for us Thou dost chasten us. Though for the present that chastening does not seem joyous, but grievous, and though we are tempted to faint, to have our hands hang down, to have feeble knees, so that we despise Thy chastening, yet we are thankful for it. We thank Thee for the assurance this is that we are not bastards but sons. We thank Thee that Thou dost do it for our profit, that we might be partakers of Thy holiness. Cause it to yield in us the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

We thank Thee, Father, that Thou knowest our need of earthly things. As Thou dost feed the fowls of the air, so Thou dost feed us. As Thou dost clothe the lilies of the field, so Thou dost clothe us. Keep us from taking thought and being anxious for the morrow. And strengthen us to seek first Thy kingdom and its righteousness.

On this Father’s Day, we give Thee thanks for the faithful fathers of our flesh. We thank Thee that they reflect Thy Fatherly love in their love for us, and that they show us that love, tell us about that love, and surround us with the proof of that love. We thank Thee for their nurture of us, for their instruction of us in wisdom’s ways, for their godly example, for their faithful use of the rod and reproof, for their encouragement, for their advice and guidance. We are thankful that Thou hast used them to point us to Thee, our heavenly Father, and to Thy Son, Jesus Christ.

Continue, Father, to raise up strong fathers in our homes and churches. Work in the hearts of our sons so that they love Thee, love their wives as their own flesh, and love their children. Keep them from provoking their children to wrath, lest the children be discouraged. Equip them to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of Thee.

And, Father, comfort those whose hearts grieve in this day. Give grace upon grace in this day to those of Thy poor, wounded sons and daughters who carry the memory of a cruel, unloving, abusive father or a deadbeat father. Show Thyself a Father in this day to the lonely widow and the fatherless children. Bear up in this day those with the godly desire to have children and be a father, but whom Thou hast led down the path of single life or of the barren womb.

Uphold each of us, Thy children, in our journey home. Do not leave us orphans, but comfort us. And bring us to our place in Thy Fatherly house of many mansions.

We come to Thee in the name of Thy only-begotten Son, the Son of Thy bosom, whom Thou in Thy love hast sent to the cross for us, 

Amen.

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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A Spiritual House Preserved

NEW RELEASE

A Spiritual House Preserved: A Century in the River's Bend (1916-2016)

This is the story of a church of our Lord Jesus Christ with very humble beginnings on the extreme western edge of Kent County near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Isolated by its location in a hook-like bend in the Grand River she faced many challenges. On one occasion the church’s membership of mostly poor farmers recorded in their minutes, “The question was asked if we were going to continue as a congregation, and the answer was yes.”

With that “yes” recorded in the tenth year of their existence they plodded on as a fledging congregation with little hope for the future. But God is at times a God of little things. Little did they know, or could they have imagined at the time, that God had many more years in store for them: years in which they would face numerous building projects and the regular birth pains of bearing three daughter congregations to address her consistent membership growth.

But this one-hundredth anniversary book of Hope Protestant Reformed Church is more than a record of Hope’s history. More importantly it reveals the secrets of why she continues as a faithful church of our Lord Jesus Christ today: secrets which if heeded gives Hope and like-minded churches hope for tomorrow.

  • edited by Calvin Kalsbeek
  • 752 pages
  • hardcover
  • ISBN 978-1-944555-06-01    
  • Retail: $44.95

ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!
http://rfpa.org/products/a-spiritual-house-preserved

(***Note: This book will NOT be automatically sent to Book Club members, however, Book Club discount may be used on this title.)

     

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    Help! What Should I Do? (2)

    Last week I wrote the first of a handful of posts on the subject of making decisions and seeking to determine the will of God for our lives. In considering this topic, I had in mind especially high school and college graduates who are sailing on unfamiliar waters. But the principles laid out are for the old as well as the young, as we inevitably come to the crossroads and plead, “Help! What should I do?”

    In that first post, my point was simply to state that at some point we are all going to face a major decision, one that we alone are responsible for making.

    Before getting to the actual process of how we make a decision (that’s the next post, God willing), I want to point out what it is that causes the decision-making process to be so difficult.

    The fact that determining the will of God is difficult hardly needs proving. Most of us have been there and know what it’s like. It’s just plain tough. Inside rages a ferocious struggle: “Do I go with Option A or Option B?” We marshal all the pros, and agonize over the cons. We feel nervous, worried, anxious, scared. We sweat just thinking about our predicament. We cry hot tears of anger and frustration. We toss and turn in bed until the wee hours of the morning. And still we don’t know. “Which is it, A or B?”

    The fact is that making big decisions is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do.

    But why? Why is it that making these decisions is so tough?

    I think the difficulty lies in the fact that we can’t see the future. Or, to put it another way, it’s the uncertainty of it all. If only we could take a peek into the future, then making these decisions would be the proverbial piece of cake. If we could have just a quick glance into the future, then we could see the consequences of our choices. We could see whether our choices were going to be right or wrong, whether we would be happy or miserable. But, because we can’t see the future and we can’t protect ourselves from wrong decisions and bitter consequences, we agonize over what to do.

    Some mistakenly think that God will show them the future. They think that God will somehow mysteriously tell them what they ought to do. They think God is like a magic eight ball who will somehow reveal to them in a special way what they are supposed to do in a difficult situation. And until they get that special revelation from God, they are going to sit and wait and postpone every major decision and do nothing.

    But God does not work that way. God does not whisper in our ear and tell us what college we are to attend or what major we are to pursue or what house we should buy. And we are wrong to expect that of God. God is too wise to reveal to us the future. Obviously, God could do that, because, as Isaiah 46:10 says, God “declar[es] the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” But God does not do that, and because he doesn’t we can expect that making a big decision is going to be tough.

     

    Other posts in this series:

    Help! What Should I Do? (1)

    _________________

    This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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