RFPA Update - Winter 2015 Issue

 

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Reformed Spirituality: Monday Devotions

One of the RFPA’s exciting projects is the publishing of a series of books on Reformed Spirituality. These books contain meditations written by Rev. Herman Hoeksema and edited by Prof. David Engelsma, which are excellent for personal devotions. Currently I am reading through Peace for the Troubled Heart and decided to use it for my Monday morning devotions. Part I of the book is entitled Pilgrimage, and chapter 1 is entitled The Pilgrim’s Confession and based on Hebrews 11:13. I hope you will read the whole chapter. Here is an excerpt explaining the source of the pilgrim’s confession:

God makes his people pilgrims.

In his eternal counsel before the foundation of the world, he appointed them as foreigners, for he chose them and foreordained them in order that they should be made like unto the image of his Son, so that the Son would be the firstborn among many brethren. He chose them unto eternal, heavenly glory and unto citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. He also causes them to be foreigners temporally on the earth, for he gives to them the new, eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and he calls them out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The new life is resurrection life!

It is differentiated from the life of the world not only because it is free from the law of sin and death, and thus free to express itself according to the law of the Spirit of life, but also because it is from above.

It is the life of heaven.

By virtue of having received the new life that is from above, they actually have become citizens of the Jerusalem that will presently descend from heaven as God’s blessing.

Their conversation is in heaven.

There is their real, eternal home.

And out of the principle of the new life springs forth the confession that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For here is not their continuing city.        

They seek the city that comes down out of heaven.

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More RFPA titles now in ebook format!

                      

 

Contending for the Faith

Contending for the Faith presents the history of heretics that have troubled the church over the last two thousand years, treating errors from AD 100 (Marcion) to the present day (federal vision theology). What sets this book apart is its evaluation of every heresy from a consistently and unashamedly Reformed perspective. The reader will readily grasp the significance of the early heretics as Herman Hanko demonstrates the connection between their heresies and the errors arising later in history. The vibrant writing style brings the heretics—ancient and modern—to life. This trustworthy guide to the heretics equips believers today to "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3).

Contending for the Faith is a companion volume to Hanko's Portraits of Faithful Saints, a book of short biographies of the defenders of the truth from as far back as AD 100.

Covenant of God and Children of Believers, The

The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers defends the Reformed faith of the covenant of God by exposing the view of the covenant from which the attack of the "federal vision" arises. At the same time, the book sets forth the doctrine of the covenant that safeguards and promotes the gospel of sovereign grace, demonstrating that this covenant doctrine is biblical, confessional, and traditionally Reformed.

Since the controversy centers on the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant, this book emphasizes the rightful place of children in the covenant of grace and the proper rearing of them. The author gives consideration to the views of the Protestant Reformed Churches, Baptists, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, and the Canadian Reformed Churches ("liberated") on this topic. Leading representatives of these churches and traditions join in the discussion. 

Mysteries of the Kingdom, The

The parables form a substantial part of our Savior's ministry, and this is ample reason for us to give good attention to them. With simple and familiar earthly pictures, Jesus tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like.

"The author takes each parable and by careful exegesis opens up its rich seam of spiritual instruction, and gives a faithful and solidly Reformed interpretation. He shows us gospel mysteries of immense beauty, power, encouragement, practical relevance, and everlasting worth for citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world."Tamar Reformed Witness

Reformed Dogmatics: Volumes 1 & 2

This second edition two-volume set is a clear, systematic study and exposition of Reformed theology written by one who held the Chair of Dogmatics for some forty years at a Reformed seminary. Divided into the six generally accepted branches of theology (theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatolog), this scholarly work is logical, scripturally sound, and faithful to the Reformed creeds and traditions.

 

 

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Is Evolution Biblically Acceptable? The Question of Genesis 1

                                    

The article linked above is the first in what is slated to be a series of articles by Pastor Rick Phillips about the incompatibility of the theory of evolution with the Bible. Phillips explains that the occasion for this series of articles is a report that Biologos (a supposedly Christian organization that aggressively and intolerantly promotes the theory of evolution) is spending $3.6 million to promote evolution within Christian circles.

There is one comment in the post that irks me a bit: “While I appreciate the moderate spirit of many who want to find a way to accept evolution alongside the Bible, I find that the more radical voices are here more helpful.” This statement rankles for two reasons. It indicates a default setting to approve of “moderates” over “radicals,” as if the “radicals” are likely to be more dangerous than the “moderates.” Secondly, “moderate” and “radical” are inaccurate labels, which Phillips should recognize in light of what he says in the rest of the article. The “moderates” should be called what they are, compromisers of the truth. And the “radicals” should be called what they are, faithful defenders of the truth. And it should be sharply pointed out that so-called “moderates” pose a deadly danger to the church, for they are the ones who have allowed the church to be ravaged by the theory of evolution.

But for the rest I greatly appreciate the article. I quote two paragraphs and highly recommend that you read the rest by following the link above.

It takes great effort to deny that Genesis 1 fits the genre of historical narrative. Here, we see a structure consisting of a series of waw consecutive verbs. The waw is the Hebrew letter V, which means "and" when attached to the front of a verb. When attached to a noun it is disjunctive—it stops the narrative flow. When it is consecutive, before a verb, the waw advances the narrative flow. "This happened and then this happened and then this happened." This is what we find in Genesis 1: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:3-4). Given this construction, literary guides to the Bible commonly identify Genesis as "an anthology, or collection, of stories" in which "narrative is the primary form."[3] Therefore, just like so many other chapters in the Bible which contain divine wonders that the unbeliever will reject, Genesis sets itself forth as recording events from history. Christians are expected to read accounts like this and believe that what is recorded actually happened, however contrary to secularist expectations….

One of the grand motives, I believe, for accommodating evolution in Genesis 1 is so that evangelicals can stop arguing about science and start teaching about Jesus. But do we fail to note that Jesus' story begins in Genesis 1? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God..." (Jn. 1:1). In fact, when the interpretive approach used to neutralize Genesis 1 as history is necessarily extended by evolution, then the reason for Jesus' coming is lost? After all, without a biblical Adam as the first man and covenant head of the human race, then what is the problem for which the Son of God came? Here we see just how right Peter Enns is: evolution is not an add-on to the Bible, it is a replacement.

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My Boring Christian Testimony

My Boring Christian Testimony: How I know It’s Real 

In this article Megan Hill explains that she was reared in a Christian home and “practically born with “Jesus Loves Me” on my lips and in my heart.” Hill’s Presbyterian parents gave her godly instruction in their home, brought her to church, and sent her to a Christian school. As a child Hill professes that she had true faith in Jesus Christ, and she cannot remember a time when she did not know or believe in him. Hill’s article is a wonderful reminder of how God’s salvation of the children of believers at a young age is both ordinary and extraordinary.

Why is it important to be reminded that the salvation of the children of believers at a young age is the ordinary way God works? Hill explains that in Christian circles too much focus is sometimes put on “extraordinary” conversion experiences. This happened in the Christian school Hill attended. Hill writes, “In fifth grade, I began to attend a school where dramatic testimonies were a regular part of morning chapel. Week after week, speakers—a drug addict, a party girl, an atheist—told of God’s rescue.”

This focus on dramatic conversions caused serious spiritual hardship for Hill. She writes, “And so I began to fear that I hadn’t really been saved—or, at least, that my story of being saved wasn’t quite legitimate.” The danger of spotlighting dramatic conversions is that it can lead those who have not had such an experience to conclude either that they are not saved at all or that their salvation is, to use a word that Hill also uses, “inferior.” Hill understands now that there is nothing inferior about the way God saved her. She considers her upbringing by Christian parents a great blessing and is rearing her children the same way she was reared by her parents. She understands that it is a wonderful thing that God is pleased to save many children in the “ordinary” way that he saved her.

One weakness of Hill’s article is that she never uses the word covenant. So it is unclear whether she understands the biblical teaching that God is pleased to save his people by bringing them into his covenant and by gathering their elect children also into that covenant. And it is unclear whether she understands that in the sphere of the covenant. God ordinarily saves the elect children of believers at a young age so that they never have a dramatic conversion experience. Yes, God saves people suddenly and dramatically by means of missions and evangelism. And even within the sphere of the covenant God may bring someone to salvation later in life. But the ordinary experience of the children of believers is that they are not conscious of a time in their lives when they did not believe in Jesus. This is a wonderful aspect of God’s covenant!

But one strength of Hill’s article is that she explains that God’s salvation of the children of believers, while it may be the ordinary way he saves them, is also extraordinary. She writes, “There is no dull salvation. The Son of God took on flesh to suffer and die, purchasing a people for his glory. As Gloria Furman writes, ‘The idea that anyone’s testimony of blood-bought salvation could be uninteresting or unspectacular is a defamation of the work of Christ.’” And in every instance in which God’s saving children has she explains, “all the elements of God’s amazing grace—beginning, middle, and end.” This is a good reminder to us that the salvation of children in the covenant is not an automatic thing. Nor is the salvation of our children due in any way to who their parents are or what they have done. The salvation of our children is the extraordinary work of God’s grace alone through Jesus Christ alone.  

For further reading on the covenant of God with believers and their children read these RFPA books:

Believers and Their Seed

The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers

We and Our Children

 

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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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