The newly reprinted second edition Marriage book is now available!

The newly reprinted second edition Marriage the Mystery of Christ and the Church by David J. Engelsma, with a new cover design by Erika Kiel.

Order a copy today! Retail price is $17.95.

 

The book received a brand new interior design as well. Interior design by Katherine Lloyd, THE DESK.

 

 

 

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“The One Thing to Tell Pregnant Moms: ‘Congratulations’”

Today I call your attention to this post written by Brittany Meng for Christianity Today’s blog called “Her - meneutics.” She opens by writing, “I’m pregnant with my fourth baby right now. Any mom who’s bore that many children—and even some with just two or three—knows what it's like to share the news of another pregnancy. People are quick to make comments…” I won’t repeat all of the comments Meng lists. Suffice it to say that they are all insulting comments that meet the news of another pregnancy with disbelief, dismay, and/or sarcasm.  

Meng explains that such comments are to be expected from people in the world. She writes, “in a country where more women are delaying childbirth and having fewer children, “big” families are bound to face pushback. Parents are told that it’s not financially responsible. Or that it’s bad for the planet.” But Meng writes, “the comments I heard all came from faithful, Christian women.”

I do not agree with all of the logic Meng uses to reach her conclusion, but it is a correct conclusion: “No matter the context, the gift of a baby is always worth affirming—without judgment, without eye-rolling, rude comments, or snide remarks. Just celebration. Just ’Congratulations.’”

I also agree with Meng that Christmas time is an appropriate time for Christians to celebrate God’s gift of children. Mary was given a special and unique gift, the opportunity to give birth to Immanuel, God with us. God may not use other believing women to bring forth the Savior of the church. But he does use believing women to bring forth the elect children of God who are gathered into the church. Meng argues that every pregnancy should be celebrated as a life created by God. And I would not argue with that. I would only add that it is all the more appropriate for the pregnancy of a believing woman to be celebrated because the child is not only created by God but also incorporated by God the Father into his covenant and church, redeemed by God the Son, and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that God saves every child of believers. He saves only the elect, and he has promised to give elect children to believers. God uses believing families to build up the family of Christ! Is this not reason to want many children and to rejoice over the “big” families in the church? Prof. Engelsma comments on the fact that Christ uses Christian marriage to build his family (church) in Marriage the Mystery of Christ and the Church (the RFPA informs me that the reprint of the 2nd edition is due in about two weeks). In a section entitled “God’s Large Family” Prof. Engelsma writes,

Even the fruitfulness of the marriage of believers belongs to the symbolism of marriage as a picture of the marriage between Christ and the church. . . Christ begets many sons and daughters by his word and Spirit . . . Christ brings these children forth from, and rears them by, the church, his bride. The union of Christ and the church is fruitful in many children of God . . . So closely connected are the symbol, our marriages, and the reality, Christ’s union with the church, that God uses the symbol to bring forth those who participate in the reality (p. 73).

As Christians we need to be careful not to give women who bear children a special, sainted status above women who do not have that privilege. And those who have many children should not be viewed as more saintly than those who have fewer. But do we not also need to recognize the danger that also in our Reformed circles we begin to have a bad attitude about the “big” families in our churches? For some of the mothers in our churches the next pregnancy may be number 12, 13, 14, etc. Are you ready to thank God for another precious, covenantal gift? And are you ready to say to the mother and father, CONGRATULATIONS!?

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Question from a Catechism Student

Question from a Catechism Student

(7th Grade Boy)

 Q. What if someone sins after God brings us all to heaven?

The question asks about what will happen if a saint (or maybe an angel) sins after being made perfect and brought to heaven. Before we answer this question we must ask another question, which may be what the student really meant to ask. Is it possible for a saint or angel who has entered the state of perfection in heaven to sin?  This is a good question considering that Satan was a perfect angel before he sinned, and Adam was a perfect man before he sinned. It would seem that it may be possible for perfect angels and perfected saints in the future to sin.

But it will not be possible for saints (or angels) to sin in heaven. Rev. Herman Hoeksema teaches this on pages 628-631 of Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2, second edition). Rev. Hoeksema explains the biblical teaching about eternal life on these pages. In heaven God will give his people eternal life, which Rev. Hoeksema explains, “is resurrection life. It is immortal in the true and scriptural sense. It lies on the other side of death. It is victory over death.” Then a little later he writes,

Eternal life is everlasting. It can never be lost, exactly because it has its root in the incarnation of the Son of God. Now we have a beginning of this eternal life in our hearts; it is only a principle. That beginning of eternal life will be translated into the fullness of joy at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory. Then it will advance into the state of spiritual perfection, as well as to the perfection of the resurrection of the body. It will reach its final perfection of glory when all the saints in Christ, all the elect of God, shall have been gathered; our bodies shall have put on incorruption and immortality (1 Cor. 15:53).

The reference to 1 Cor. 15:53 which speaks of immortality is important. One who has immortality cannot die. Because death is the “wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23) one who cannot die also cannot sin. Adam did not have immortality. He could sin, and he could die. Immortality is a gift of salvation Jesus Christ gives to his elect. The elect receive that immortality in stages. In regeneration they receive the seed of immortal life. In death they are given immortal souls. In the resurrection they receive complete immortality in body as well as soul. Once saints receive their glorified bodies and souls they can never again fall into sin or die—that is what immortality means!

So “what if someone sins after God brings us all to heaven”? The answer is that no glorified saint or angel will be able to sin, so we do not have to think about what would happen if they did. The eternal life we will have in heaven will never stop. So we give thanks to God for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23)!

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The False Charge of Hyper-Calvinism

Earlier this week I received notice that Phil Johnson (known for his popular website devoted to Charles Spurgeon and for his close association with John MacArthur) accuses the Protestant Reformed Churches and Herman Hoeksema of bad theology for rejecting “the free offer of the gospel.” Johnson has created three webpages with links to websites that promote what he considers bad theology. One page is entitled “Bad theology,” the second “Really bad theology,” and the third “Really, really bad theology.” On the “Bad theology” page Johnson provides a link to the PRCA website (unfortunately the link he uses is no longer active) and to Hoeksema’s book Whosever Will (fortunately this link still works). Johnson’s main criticism is that Hoeksema and the PRCA reject the free offer of the gospel and are therefore guilty of hyper-Calvinism.

Under the link to the PRCA website (which can actually be found at prca.org) he writes:

There are some helpful, even excellent, resources linked here. I deliberated long and hard about whether to put this in the "Helpful Resources" category. The problem is that the PRC holds to an extreme Calvinism that denies God's common grace and the free offer of the gospel. This is a form of hyper-Calvinism, and is fraught with many dangerous ramifications. I could not with good conscience give it a thumbs up. Not a few people have written to ask how I could class a denomination that adheres to the Three Forms of Unity in this category. But the PRC's most distinctive feature—its utter denial of the gospel's free offer—is, after all, bad theology.

Under the link to Whosoever Will he writes:

These are Herman Hoeksema's writings on grace and the gospel call. His perspective on these issues amounts to a kind of hyper-Calvinism. He denies that the gospel invitation includes a bona fide offer of salvation to anyone but the elect. Hoeksema was brilliant, and a good writer. In fact, there is enough of real value here that I originally placed it in the "helpful" category. But the more I see of the fruits of this kind of thinking, the more convinced I am that it deserves to be plainly labeled as bad theology.

In a full response to Johnson’s charge of hyper-Calvinism against Hoeksema and the PRCA I would take the time to demonstrate that the charge is false because it is based on wrong definition of what hyper-Calvinism is. And I would take the time to demonstrate that Johnson should be more concerned about the fruit of accepting the free offer rather than rejecting it. But I have committed myself to keeping these posts shorter and limit myself to explaining that although we may be a bit indignant that this false charge of hyper-Calvinism is still lodged against us despite our efforts to demonstrate it is not true, we must expect this charge and should even be encouraged by it.

Why should we expect and even be encouraged by the charge of hyper-Calvinism? I’ll answer that with some help from Prof. Engelsma’s recently republished book (with many fine improvements!) on this subject entitled Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. In this book Professor Engelsma explains that hyper-Calvinism is a serious error and a real threat to the church. But he explains that hyper-Calvinism is not a threat to a church that accepts the free-offer of the gospel. The church that believes God loves everyone in the preaching cannot be accused of hyper-Calvinism and is not in danger of adopting the error. If we were not charged with hyper-Calvinism, false though the charge is, it would possibly be a sign that we have accepted the Arminian error of universal and resistible grace in the preaching of the gospel. But Prof. Englesma writes, “[Hyper-Calvinism] is a danger exactly to the church that embraces the truth of sovereign, particular grace with believing heart by the mighty Spirit of Christ” (p. 8).

We must take the error of hyper-Calvinism seriously and make sure that we do not slip into it. But if we examine ourselves and find that we have not fallen into the real error of hyper-Calvinism then we may rejoice. Then we know that the false charge of hyper-Calvinism is only an indication that our theological opponents insist on making this accusation on the ground that we reject the well-meant offer. Rejecting the well-meant offer does not mean that we are hyper-Calvinist. It means that we reject universal and resistible grace in the preaching and continue to maintain the biblical and Reformed truth of sovereign particular grace. So to be charged with hyper-Calvinism by those who hold to an Arminian doctrine of the gospel call is only a sign that we continue to hold to the Reformed gospel of sovereign, particular grace.

 

This article was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times each week. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us. 

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A Question from a Catechism Student

For various reasons I have not written a blog post for a while, but it is good to be back again. I intend to write shorter and more frequent posts. And today I am starting with what may become somewhat of a regular feature: A Question from a Catechism Student. The future of this feature depends of course on the catechism students that I teach and the questions they ask. But I do not want to limit this to the students I teach. If there are children or young people out there who would like to ask a question please email me at spronk@prca.org.

For the answers to these questions I will attempt to point you to something published by the RFPA.

So here’s the question that came from a 5th grade girl. What happened to Lazarus’ soul after he died and before Jesus raised him back to life?

For an answer to this question I point you to Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2, Second edition, p. 471). Rev. Hoeksema speaks of Lazarus in connection with what is called the intermediate state. The intermediate state refers to the state of the body and soul after death but before final resurrection. Rev. Hoeksema teaches that ordinarily the soul of the child of God goes to heaven immediately after death to the conscious experience of glory and fellowship with Jesus. This is the hope and comfort of believers. Our souls do not sleep after death but go to heaven.

But Rev. Hoeksema recognizes that the soul of Lazarus could not have gone to heaven to then return to “this present world of sin and death.”  So what happened to the soul of Lazarus and to others in scripture who died and then returned to this life? Rev. Hoeksema explains, “We must maintain that in those cases the Lord provided a special state in which most likely they were unconscious, and from which they were aroused into a conscious state in the present world by the wonder of what we would call a typical resurrection [a foreshadowing of the final resurrection of the body].”

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Our New Book, Just Dad, has arrived!

 

Our new book, Just Dad: Stories of Herman Hoeksema, arrived this morning!


Note: If you are a Book Club member you will be automatically receiving this book.

If you are not a Book Club member, buy this book in paperback or in ebook format for only $9.95 each! 

 

 

 

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Audio now available online! RFPA Annual Meeting: The Importance of Knowing Church History

We are excited to report a good turnout and an edifying assembly for our annual association meeting, held on September 25, 2014 at Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, MI.

Eighty association members were present and, by God's grace, we experienced the growth of 6 new association members; young, new members! What an encouragement to see the younger generation taking an interest in the important work of the RFPA!

Board president Michael Bosveld opened the evening with prayer, followed by Rev. Clayton Spronk's timely speech entitled "The Importance of Knowing Church History" and reports by the RFPA board secretary and treasurer.

The audio recording of the speech is available for download on SermonAudio.com. The audio of the entire meeting is available at our website on the Annual Meeting Speeches page. The text of the speech and the reports are being published in upcoming issues of the Standard Bearer.

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Just Dad: Stories of Herman Hoeksema

 

Preorder your copy today!

This book will be a Book Club release and will be available early December 2014.

Many people are familiar with the public persona of Herman Hoeksema. As one of the leading theologians of the twentieth century, a seminary professor, the pastor of a large congregation, and a prolific writer, he was well-known in ecclesiastical circles, as well as in the world in general. But to his family he was “just Dad.” This anecdotal biography written by his youngest child records many stories about him, some perhaps familiar but others never before told.

  • paperback
  • 144 pages

ebook version will be available in .mobi format (for Kindle users) and .epub (all other devices).

                      

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Hyper-Calvinist! (2)

by: Rev. Martyn McGeown
(published in the British Reformed Journal)
 *** Read the first article in this series here.

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

 

In our last editorial, we began to examine Phillip R. Johnson’s definition of hyper-Calvinism in his influential on-line article, “A Primer on Hyper- Calvinism.” We distinguished between a serious call (the Latin term serio in Canons III/IV:8) and a gospel “offer.” We noted that it is the Arminian—and not the Calvinist—who defines serious (serio) as “a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save all” who hear the gospel.1

Johnson’s next line of attack is to suggest that “all five varieties of hyper- Calvinism undermine evangelism or twist the gospel message.”2 Johnson is aware that many of those whom he labels hyper-Calvinists do evangelize, so he accuses them of preaching a truncated gospel:

Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the “gospel” they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God’s decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, “The message of the gospel is that God saves those who are His and damns those who are not.” Thus the good news about Christ’s death and resurrection is supplanted by a message about election and reprobation—usually with an inordinate stress on reprobation.

First, I would strongly urge Johnson not to be unduly influenced by theological arguments on the internet. All kinds of kooks (many of whom have no ecclesiastical home) love to spend their time as the Athenians of old “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). It would be unwise to label a group of people as hyper-Calvinists because of the expressed opinion of some unstable soul, who may not be under—or worse, refuses to submit himself to—proper ecclesiastical oversight. Extremism thrives in unsupervised on-line domains.

Second, and more importantly, I do not think I have ever read any theologian— and especially not an ordained minister—who defines the gospel the way in which this cyber-theologian supposedly does. And, more to the point, the BRF and the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) have never expressed such an absurd opinion.

Moreover, Johnson seems to be presupposing that the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is “good news” to all men. It emphatically is not. The gospel is only good news to those who believe it, that is, to the elect. Paul defines the gospel in I Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried and that the rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

The Bible never defines the gospel as the good news that God loves everyone, that Christ died for everyone, that God desires to save everyone and that eternal life is available for everyone, if they will only accept it. That is Arminianism, not the gospel!

The danger Johnson sees in hyper-Calvinist “evangelism” is a failure to preach the gospel call.

This first variety of hyper-Calvinism denies the general, external call, and insists that the gospel should be preached in a way that proclaims the facts about Christ’s work and God’s electing grace—without calling for any kind of response. This is the worst form of hyper-Calvinism in vogue today. I’d class it as an extremely serious error, more dangerous than the worst variety of Arminianism. At least the Arminian preaches enough of the gospel for the elect to hear it and be saved. The hyper-Calvinist who denies the gospel call doesn’t even believe in calling sinners to Christ. He almost fears to whisper the gospel summons to other believers, lest anyone accuse him of violating divine sovereignty.

Johnson’s attitude is astounding. He would prefer to have Arminianism than lose his precious gospel “offer.” Hyper-Calvinism is heresy, but so is Arminianism. Johnson reminds me of a man I met once in the liberal Presbyterian church. He said that he could never join a church which denies that God loves, and wants to save, everybody. I asked him if the fact that his church allowed a host of serious errors (higher criticism in the seminary, women in church office, Arminianism, theistic evolution, etc.) perturbed him. He admitted that it did, but that at least he could have the gospel “offer.” Straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Matt. 23:24)!

Paul was not one who did not mind what people preached, as long as the “gospel call” was uttered. He tells the Philippians that there were some preaching Christ with wrong motives (“of envy and strife,” “of contention, not sincerely,” “in pretence;” Phil. 1:15-16, 18), but that he rejoiced because Christ was preached (v. 18). Certainly, Paul preferred preachers to do their work with the right motivation, but what Paul did not tolerate was a changing of the message itself (Gal. 1:6-9).

There are preachers who are hyper-Calvinists—although they are few and far between, and their number is almost negligible in comparison to the huge influence of Arminianism in most of the church world. Nevertheless, remember that this article is not written to defend hyper-Calvinists (who are, indeed, heterodox in their doctrine of salvation), but to defend the BRF and the PRC against the charge of hyper-Calvinism. I remind the reader of Johnson’s accusation: “The best known American hyper-Calvinists are the Protestant Reformed Churches.”

Offer/Invitation Versus Command

To understand the issues correctly we must distinguish between the gospel call (which Johnson advocates and which we do not deny) and the offer (which Johnson advocates and which we do deny). Quite simply, the gospel call is a command. A command is something very different from an offer, even if sometimes an offer or an invitation is couched in the language of a command, that is, in the imperative mood (“Come!” “Take,” etc.). Johnson writes, “The whole thrust of the gospel, properly presented, is to convey an offer (in the sense of a tender, a proffer, or a proposal) of divine peace and mercy to all who come under its hearing.”

But that is not what the gospel call is!

What is the gospel? The gospel is good news, announced to sinners by heralds sent by Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a declaration of what man must do. The gospel is not even a declaration of what God would like to do for man. The gospel is a declaration of what God has done.

The gospel cannot be offered. What God has done cannot be offered, as if one were trying to sell something. When I offer you something, I give it with the expectation, hope and desire that you will receive it. “Would you like a cup of tea?” “You are invited to my birthday party.” These are offers—in the sense of a tender, a proffer or a proposal. But the gospel is never an offer. God does not tender, proffer or propose something. In the gospel call, God commands. Therefore, the Bible does not use offer language but serious command language. God never comes to sinners with an offer: “Would you like salvation. It is available for you if you would like it, but if you would rather not, that is fine too.” That is the way in which I offer a cup of tea to a guest in my home. Nothing serious is at stake, if my guest declines my offer of tea.

A much better illustration is that of a summons to a court room. The bailiff of the court comes with a document from the judge. The document is not an offer: “You are cordially invited to attend my court room. I would love it if you could attend, but if it is inconvenient to you, there is no urgency to come.” The summons says, “Come!” And the bailiff has the power of arrest, should you refuse to come, and you will go to jail for contempt of court, if you fail to appear at the time appointed.

The classic passage on the gospel call as a command is the “Parable of the Wedding Feast” in Matthew 22. Many have misinterpreted this parable to teach a sincere and gracious invitation to the reprobate to receive and enjoy salvation. However, the word “invite” is inappropriate. Throughout the parable, Jesus uses the Greek verb “call” (kaleo):

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son. And sent forth his servants to call [kaleo] them that were bidden [i.e., called, kaleo] to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden [i.e., called, kaleo], Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage (vv. 2-4).

Many of the called refuse to come, and the king destroys them in verse 7. Then Jesus adds, “Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden [i.e., called, kaleo] were not worthy” (v. 8). After the wedding feast is filled with guests—who were not only called, but “gathered” (v. 10)—Jesus concludes, “For many are called [kaleo], but few are chosen” (v. 14).

The first important lesson from this parable is that both the external preaching, which comes to both elect and reprobate, and the internal call of the Holy Spirit, which is given only to the elect, are referred to as a “call” in Scripture (vv. 3, 14). God calls both the elect and the reprobate, but in different senses. The call of Matthew 22:14 is not the same, therefore, as the call of Romans 8:30 (“whom he called, them he also justified”). Some who are externally “called” (kaleo) are not justified and glorified, and therefore we could say that they are not elect. Thus the hyper-Calvinist, who denies that God externally “calls” the reprobate, is proved to be in error. This text is the basis for the classic Calvinist and Reformed distinction between the external call and the internal call.

Second, the word kaleo proves to us that the gospel comes as a command to all who hear, not as a gracious invitation. If I invite you to my birthday party, that is a gracious invitation, which you are free to accept or reject without any serious consequences. When God, the King in Matthew 22, calls men and women to the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ, He is greatly displeased when they refuse. Moreover, we read that He destroys those who do not come (v. 7). That cannot seriously be understood as a gracious invitation to them.

Canons of Dordt II:5 explains the relationship between the gospel and the call:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

Notice the careful wording here. God does not promise in the gospel to save sinners, if they will believe. God promises to save all believers. God does not promise to save the reprobate. But then how do the elect, the true recipients of the promise, hear the promise? Through the preaching! The promise is preached to all and sundry, but the promise applies only to believers. The command must be addressed to all hearers, and that call must go far and wide, but a command implies neither the intention of God nor the ability of man. A command only teaches us what our duty is. God does not promise anything to the reprobate. Indeed, and this element is lacking in Johnson and other modern Calvinists, the gospel call serves to harden the reprobate and to leave them without excuse (Isa. 6:9-10). Does God, then, “offer” something and later rescind His offer when the reprobate refuse to accept it?

to be continued (DV)  

____________________________

1 “The Opinions of the Remonstrants” in Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 1968), pp. 226-227.

2 Remember that Johnson’s proposed definition has five parts: “A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either #1 Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear OR #2 Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner OR #3 Denies that the gospel makes any ‘offer’ of Christ, salvation or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal) OR #4 Denies that there is such a thing as ‘common grace’ OR #5 Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.” All quotations are from Johnson’s online article, “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism” (www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm).

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