The Reformed Baptism Form by B. Wielenga now published in English

Brought into English for the first time is this commentary on the Reformed baptism form by Bastiaan Wielenga, a prominent minister of the word in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) in the early to mid 1900s. This commentary sets forth, defends, and applies the creedal Reformed faith concerning the covenant of grace—the foundation of baptism. This commentary will be especially helpful to Reformed churches, ministers, and other members in its explanation of the baptism form’s authoritative treatment of covenant and election in relation to the baptism of infants.  The faith of every believer concerning the sacrament of baptism will be expanded and enriched by the commentary. 

From the author’s preface: “The ardent desire of my heart is that by the publication of this writing many people reading this work learn to regard baptism more purely, appreciate it more warmly, and more zealously plead the covenantal promises on behalf of believers and their children, before the throne of him who calls himself I Am That I Am."

Click PDF icon to look inside the book.

 

                      

         Order your copy today!

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RFPA Annual Meeting 2016 - "Lord Grant Boldness": The RFPA's Witness in the Sexual Revolution

 

Western society is presently in the grips of a powerful revolution. This is a revolution of massive scope and earth-shaking consequences. It is a sexual revolution, a revolution proudly trumpeting fornication, homosexuality, transgenderism, and the like. What are the origins of this revolution? How does it show itself in the present? What is the future of it? And then, what is the calling of the RFPA in the face of this revolution?

Mark your calendars to attend the RFPA Annual meeting September 29, 2016 @ 7:30 pm at Providence Protestant Reformed Church, 1569 44th St SW, Hudsonville MI 49418.

Men, women, and young people are welcome! 

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Islam (5)

In our last blog post on Islam, we looked at some of the teachings in the Qur’an concerning who Jesus (or, as Islam names him, Isa) is. Consider this statement in the Qur’an: “Behold, the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Surah 3:45).

Nevertheless, Islam does not honor Jesus in confessing Him to be the eternal, only begotten, incarnate Son of God. Islam denies that Allah has a son, thus destroying the very possibility of an Incarnation.

In witnessing to a Muslim neighbor, the subject of the Incarnation simply must be addressed. Without the Incarnation, there is and can be no salvation. The Muslim must be brought to see this, and, at the very least, you must explain to him what the Incarnation is. Often, Muslims deny and reject what they do not understand. Still, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit by the Word can reveal the truth to a sinner. Your calling as a Christian witness is accurately to bring the Word, while leaving the fruit to Him “that bloweth where He listeth” (John 3:8).

We begin with the sublime passage of John 1:1-3, 14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

In these verses, John presents Jesus not as the Son of God, but as the Word of God. The Word means the Logos, from which the word logic is derived. The Logos is the perfect revelation or the speech of God. Nevertheless, the Logos is not an abstract concept, but a person, an active person with intelligence and will.

The Logos is divine—not merely like God, but God: “The Word was God” (v. 1). As God, the Logos is not a creature, but the Creator: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). If the Word, Logos or Son of God is the Creator, He cannot be a creature. (In the Bible, creature and Creator are the only two categories of being). Moreover, as divine, the Logos is eternal, for “in the beginning was the Word” (v. 1) and “the same was in the beginning” (v. 2), and one who is the Creator of all things (v. 3) must be eternal. In addition, as the divine Son of God, the Logos has the glory of God (“the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” [v. 14]). Remember the meaning of “only begotten” from an earlier blog post.

The Logos is also personally distinct from God. In John 1:1 we read, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Not only is the Word (Logos) God, but He is also with God. This fits, of course, with the teaching of the Trinity by which Christians confess that God is three distinct persons in one divine being or essence. The relationship between God (the Father) and the Logos (the Son) (this passage does not mention the Spirit) is described with the preposition “with”—“the same was in the beginning with God” (v. 2). The word “with” could be translated with “towards,” which expresses close fellowship. In verse 18, John writes, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

At this point, the Muslim may object, and his head might be spinning. (Maybe yours is too!). However, ask your Muslim neighbor to be patient. It is important that he sees what the Christian scriptures actually teach before he brings his objections and questions. (By presenting these things to him, you are clearing away many misconceptions about Christianity, so proceed slowly, patiently, and prayerfully).

That, dear reader, is the Jesus of the Bible—the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God.

That Jesus became incarnate.

Only that Jesus became incarnate.

The Father did not become incarnate. The Holy Spirit did not become incarnate. The angel Gabriel did not become incarnate. The Son of God, the divine Logos, He became incarnate.

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the great wonder of God by which God became man. John 1:14 explains it thus: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The important word in verse 14 is “flesh.” (We get our word “Incarnation” from the Latin for “flesh’). In the Bible, the word “flesh” refers to human nature with respect to its frailty. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

“The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). This means that the Son of God became human—He adopted, assumed or took on a human nature.

That human nature is, first, physical or material. (God is not physical or material, but spiritual). Therefore, the Son of God has a real human body with all the physical organs that we do. To make that concrete, Jesus had real human blood, which He shed on the cross; Jesus wept real human tears at the grave of Lazarus, His friend; Jesus perspired with real human sweat and experienced real human tiredness so that His real human body required real human sleep; and when Jesus suffered physically real human pain receptors in His real human skin sent messages to His real human brain, so that He experienced the real human sensation of pain.

And remember, the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became flesh. That is the wonder of wonders, a wonder of God’s grace!

The human nature is, second, psychological or spiritual. Humans are not only physical, material bodies, but we have also human souls. Jesus had full human psychology, which means that He had a human soul, a human mind, and a human will. Jesus experienced human sorrow, human joy, and even human surprise. Jesus, as a human, began as a tiny baby in the womb of His mother, and He grew and developed physically and psychologically as we do. Luke 2:40 says, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Luke 2:52 adds, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

This means that the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became everything that we are, and experienced everything that we experience—birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, work, play, joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, and death.

There is only one exception to that—Jesus did not experience sin, for He has no sin. He is the spotless Son of God. Peter writes of Him, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Peter 2:22).

We need to clear up a few further misconceptions about the Incarnation.

First, when the Son of God became incarnate—when the Word “was made flesh” (John 1:14)—He did not cease to be the Son of God, that is, He did not cease to be divine. The Muslim is tempted to object that the Incarnation means that the infinite God became finite, or that the eternal God became temporal, or that the omnipotent God became weak and helpless, or that the immutable God became changeable. Strictly speaking, that is incorrect. The infinite, eternal, omnipotent, immutable Son of God, who is fully divine, took to Himself a human nature that is finite, temporal, weak and changeable. The human body and soul of Jesus is finite, but Jesus, the Son of God, is not finite.

Second, in the Incarnation, the two natures of Jesus remain distinct. This was something settled at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (which, I remind you, was some 119 years before Mohammed’s birth):

We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This means, for example, when Jesus fell prostrate before the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature. When Jesus had to eat His necessary food, or when Jesus was tired, or when Jesus experienced pain or sorrow, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature.

But we need to write further blog posts to explain further that relationship between the human and divine in Jesus Christ, as well as to explain how and why Jesus the Son of God became a real human being.

Suffice to say that the human nature of Christ—with the Incarnation by which Jesus assumed that human nature—is necessary for our salvation.

______________________

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? (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)

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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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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)

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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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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!”

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Other posts in this series:

Help! What Should I Do? (1)

Help! What Should I Do? (2)

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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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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.

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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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