Lively Stones in God’s House

What’s your attitude toward the church?

How highly do you value your membership in her?

How seriously do you take the responsibilities that you have as a member of her?

I intend with this post to begin a series of articles on church membership, in particular the callings that we have as active, living members of the body of Christ.

The subject is significant because the calling is significant. Christ, as King of the church, has given to us important callings as members of his church, callings that we must take seriously, and callings that serve the well-being of his church. Nothing less than our best efforts are permitted. The churches where we have our membership need this of us.

Without minimizing the importance of this work, I also don’t want to place the wrong emphasis upon it. The reality is that I need the church more than the church needs me. Thanks be to God that the gathering, defense, and preservation of the church does not rest in my hands but in the almighty hands of Jesus Christ. I need the church as a child needs its mother. It’s within the womb of mother church that I receive life. Mother church feeds me, first with milk and then with meat, and makes me grow. Mother church chastens me when I sin and encourages me in faith and godliness. Apart from mother church there is no salvation.

At the same time, we cannot use this as an excuse to shirk the responsibilities that we have toward the church, as thankful children have responsibilities toward their mother.

The subject is significant as well because there are many wrong attitudes toward active membership in the church.

One danger that is becoming more and more common today is total neglect for the instituted church. The youth leave the church in droves. “Members” never darken the door of the sanctuary, other than an obligatory visit on Christmas or Easter. Some claim to be Christians and yet say that membership in a church is not necessary. The meetings that they have in their homes on Sunday are sufficient.

Another danger is that, although we are members of an instituted church, we are largely inactive and live on the fringes of the congregation. Our membership is limited to the hours of worship on the Sabbath day. Perhaps we say that we don’t have time to devote to the church.  Perhaps we say that we don’t have an outgoing and social personality. Perhaps we think that we don’t need anything from the other members. Perhaps we simply don’t feel like putting in the effort that is required.

Another danger is that we have the wrong perspective on church membership and the communion of the saints. Our perspective is not that we ought to serve others, but we think that others must serve us. Paul Tripp writes, “I am persuaded that the church today has many more consumers than committed participants. …For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to. We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, xi-xii). Often the result of having this perspective is that we are left soured and bitter toward the church because she does not meet our expectations. We don’t feel that others are giving us the attention that we need. And the temptation is for us to withdraw from the church.

Another danger is that we think this calling applies only to the officebearers. We might think that the only ones who really have work to do in the church are pastors, elders, and deacons. We members of the pew can rest easy. Certainly it is true that the officebearers have responsibilities in the church and lead the way in this work. But the Bible calls all members of the pew to be active in the church. This year we celebrate the five-hundreth anniversary of the Reformation, and one of the truths that Christ restored to his church at that time was the priesthood of all believers. The Reformed faith highly honors the office of believer in the church. And it is necessary that we take seriously the duties that Christ gives us in this office.

…to be continued.

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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Islam (13)

On January 13 (blog post: Islam 11), we considered the death of Jesus on the cross, explaining why only he is qualified to be the Mediator and substitute for his people. On February 2 (blog post: Islam 12: Christianity Quiz), we reviewed the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and sin and salvation.

Christianity would not be good news if Jesus had remained in the tomb. A dead Lord Jesus is neither Lord (for a Lord rules) nor Savior (remember: Jesus means Savior, and a dead Jesus cannot save). The Qur’an is somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the resurrection of Christ, for in the Qur’an the infant Jesus speaks from the cradle in defense of 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 upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!” (Surah 19:30-33).

Elsewhere, Allah makes this promise to Jesus: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return to me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute” (Surah 3:55).

Most Muslims, however, deny that Jesus died, and therefore they also deny that he rose from the dead. (The day of resurrection in Surah 3:55 probably refers to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, a belief shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, although obviously they do not agree on every aspect of that doctrine).

The Bible teaches emphatically and clearly that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, in witnessing to a Muslim we must not end with the cross. The four gospel writers agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and although (without contradiction) they vary in the details, they teach the same basic truth.

First, Jesus rose from the dead in the body. At the point of Jesus’ death on the cross, his soul was separated from his body, which is the experience of all who undergo physical death (although Jesus is the only one who had the power [authority] to lay down his own life): “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37); “And having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46); “And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).

Jesus’ soul departed from his body and went to be with his Father in paradise: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” cried Jesus (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ body hung lifeless on the cross, and to prove that Jesus was really dead, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Later, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus buried the lifeless body of Jesus in a tomb.

But Jesus’ death (with the separation of his body and soul) did not bring about the end of the incarnation. The human and divine natures in the one person of the Son of God were not separated. There was no severing of the hypostatic union. The Belgic Confession explains:

And though he hath by his resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of his Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.

While the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb, it was still united to the person of Jesus, whose divine person was also still united to his human soul! (Although his human soul and body were separated, and are finite, his divine person is infinite and omnipresent). Nothing can separate the human and divine in Jesus—not even death!

On the third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, he did not rise as a disembodied spirit. At the point of his resurrection, his body and soul were reunited, and he rose in the body. His body was glorified as a real human body. We see that in his post-resurrection appearances in which, for example, he ate food and permitted his disciples to touch him: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have…And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:39, 42-43).

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was attested by many witnesses. These witnesses are significant because none of them expected him to rise from the dead. The women who came to anoint his body on the first day of the week expected to find a dead body. Mary Magdalene in particular was devastated not to find Jesus’ body: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). The initial reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection was fear and even unbelief. Especially Thomas would not be convinced until he saw Jesus: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). On seeing Jesus, Thomas’ response was worship: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Not only did these same men boldly proclaim Christ’s resurrection, but they were so convinced about it that they were willing to die for the truth of it! The disciples were neither gullible fools nor deliberate deceivers. They knew that Jesus had risen because they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection!

Third, there are “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection. Apart from the compelling eyewitness accounts, we mention two: the empty tomb and the position of the grave clothes. Incontrovertible is the truth that on the third day, against all the expectations of his friends and enemies alike, the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. In addition, the grave clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped were lying in the tomb intact. Grave robbers could not have left the grave clothes behind so neatly, and grave robbers do not unwrap bodies before they carry them away. Besides, no one had the motive, means or opportunity to steal the body, which was guarded by armed soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor!

Fourth, the resurrection is significant both for Jesus and for his people.

The resurrection was vindication and glory for Jesus. He had been condemned, but God, in raising him from the dead, attested that he is the Son of God. “[He was] declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

The resurrection proves that Jesus has conquered death. If Jesus had remained dead, we would have to conclude that death had permanently conquered him. And if that were the case, we would have no hope, for if Jesus could not conquer death for himself, neither can he conquer it for us.

The resurrection of Jesus is the way of eternal life for God’s people. Jesus died for sin, bearing in his body and soul the punishment due to the sins of his people. If Jesus did not rise, we can only conclude that he failed to satisfy the justice of God. Therefore, we are still in our sins. Paul writes,

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (I Corinthians 15:17-20).

Finally, because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the confidence that our bodies will also one day rise from the dead. That is the hope that a Christian has at the funeral of a believing loved one, a hope of which the unbeliever is altogether devoid.

That is the Christian gospel—the Son of God became a man; the Son of God was made under the law whose curse he suffered when he died on the cross; the Son of God was buried; and the Son of God rose again from the dead, triumphant over death!

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:8-11).

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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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Jehovah Our Sun and Shield

A sun is Jehovah God!

Wonderfully significant is the sun in nature as an image of the Lord our God.

With relation to our universe, that golden bridegroom of the day, issuing forth from his chambers and going on his way through the firmament rejoicing, is radiating with fullness of life and blessing for every creature.

When in the still and dark hour just before dawn of a day in June you repair to a favorite spot—where gentle zephyrs lisp, the trees murmur mysteriously, and the brook ripples playfully; where the humble wildflower displays the rich beauty of its colored garment for which it did not labor or spin; and where winged beauties sing and call to one another—to wait and to watch for the rising of the sun…

And when, as you watch, a pale glimmer in the eastern sky announces the approach of morning and dispels the darkness of the night, rousing from their slumbers the feathered inhabitants of the woods, who respond to the call of the morning, first cooing sleepily and complainingly, and then, as gradually the pale gray of dawn brightens into the gold of morning, chirruping and singing cheerfully; and when you see how the rising sun, now fast increasing in strength of golden brightness until finally the last streaks of morning cloud have vanished before its splendor, suffuses the entire scene with wondrous glory, pouring life and light over flower and leaf, into brook and meadow, transforming the black robe of night’s darkness into a veritable garb of many-colored beauty…


Oh, how wonderful a picture is the sun!

 

 

 

 

 

What a fullness of life it pours into the universe.

What a center of blessings it appears.

It draws from sea, ocean, and lake the rain into soft cloud-vessels and pours refreshing showers over field and forest; it nourishes and warms the seeds in the furrows and causes them to sprout; it makes the flowers bloom and reveals their beauty; it spreads life and joy, energy and light, and it calls man and beast to action.

The Lord God is a sun.

A sun not as if there were other suns, for he is God and there is no God besides him, but a sun because he is in himself the fullness of all good. He is light and there is no darkness in him. Such is his being. He does not possess light, but he is light. He does not simply live, but he is life. He does not just contain goodness, but he is goodness. He is light and life, brightness and holiness, goodness and grace and mercy, righteousness and justice, joy and peace. He is goodness and perfection, an ever-blessed light. And his perfection is not derived from any other sources. It is absolutely original with him, uncaused, and eternal. As the triune God he lives the life of perfect light by and in himself.

Still more.

The Lord God is a sun also because he radiates his goodness and pours forth his light-life upon all who are in communion with him. He is for them the fount of all good, which spreads grace and glory. Like the rising sun in nature, so he dispels the darkness of the night of sin and death. For he reveals the brightness of his beauty, the glory of his goodness, the perfection of his holiness and righteousness, the blessedness of his grace in Christ Jesus, and through him Jehovah scatters the blessed rays of his own light into the hearts of his children.

For Jehovah God is a sun. The uncaused light in himself, full of grace and glory.

He is also the sole cause of all light and life, radiating his blessed goodness into the hearts of all his children. He makes them partakers of his holiness, love, blessedness, and joy. In their hearts he spreads abroad the riches of his love, makes the night flee away—a night of sin and corruption, of hatred and the lie, of death and hell—and calls forth the dawn of a new day, shining with the light of righteousness and holiness, of love in truth, of heavenly bliss and eternal life.

For the Lord will give grace and glory. He radiates grace and makes his children partakers of it in Christ Jesus. And his grace makes glorious. Even as sin is corruption and makes one inglorious, vile, abject, repulsive, leading to outer darkness in eternal desolation, so grace is goodness and brings glory to those who partake of it, making them full of grace and beauty.

How blessed is Jehovah God!

What a fullness of joy and life is he. Surely he is a sun.

How blessed is his communion! For without him, without the scope of the radiation of his blessed light, there is the darkness of death. In his communion there is grace and glory.

How amiable are his tabernacles, the place beside his altar. How much more blessed to be only a doorkeeper in his house, catching at least some of his blessed light, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness, where all is darkness and death!

O Lord of hosts, light of lights, radiant with eternal perfection, how blessed is the man over whom thou dost spread thy tabernacle and who dwells in thy light!

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This excerpt was taken from the book All Glory to the Only Good God (Chapter 4a).

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Challenges

Last time we saw that spiritual disciplines are activities that arise out of a commitment or purpose to serve God in his kingdom. These activities are a part of our life of sanctification, and belong to the category of good works: activities that have their source in true faith, the law of God as their standard, and the glory of God as their goal. These activities, which we will explore in future posts, include, but are not limited to, public worship, family devotions, and private devotions.

This time we want to notice the internal and external challenges to this pursuit of godliness, and thus the need to persevere in these spiritual disciplines. I present here three such challenges; I am sure you can add to the list.

Challenge #1: Laziness. The greatest foe of spiritual devotion is the enemy found within: the sloth or laziness of our sinful flesh. To be in the scriptures and in prayer usually requires waking up from bed early or retiring to bed late. Such spiritual exercise demands our concentration, our energy, and the engagement of body and soul. But the old man rebels against that rigorous study, because it requires too much time and energy. Why study God’s Word, when the eyes are heavy late at night? Why rise to pray, when the bed is so warm and inviting early in the morning?

Challenge #2: Busyness. Another threat to the Christian life of discipline is a schedule that does not allow for such discipline. Maybe laziness is not the primary problem—it is not climbing out of bed on time that presents the issue, but finding the time for devotions is the problem. Consider a mother’s schedule: between showering, eating breakfast, dressing and feeding the children, seeing them off to the bus, cleaning the kitchen, searching through cookbooks for supper ideas, making lunch for the little ones still at home, organizing the house for company that weekend, making supper, and helping with homework, where does this time for spiritual exercise fit in? The packed schedules of fathers, young people, and children are not any less hectic. Exercising ourselves unto godliness demands not only total concentration upon the things of God and his glory, but also a block of time set aside every day. But, the rush of life so quickly crowds out these activities.

Challenge #3: The entertainment and technology craze. If each of us drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, identifying one side of the paper as “devotions” and the other side of the paper as “entertainment/technology,” and then wrote down during the course of the day how much time was spent on each, I wonder what we would find? The phone, blaring its notifications, is always within reach. A whole world of information and gaming is only a swipe away. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube beg for our attention. Notifications, screens, and endless information pose a real threat to what is so vital for personal and family devotions: undistracted, concentrated, deep meditation upon the Word of God.

When we cave to the laziness of the flesh, surrender to the busyness of the schedule, and distract ourselves with entertainment and technology, the result is spiritual weakness. The Bible describes the disciplined life of the Christian, among other figures, as a soldier (II Timothy 2:3, 4), and as a runner (Hebrews 12:1, 2). If a recruit training for service in the United States Army refuses to complete his running, pushups, and crunches, he will be in no position to face the rigors of the battlefield. If a runner does not push himself in practice day after day, he will grow weak and flabby, unable to sprint even the first mile of the upcoming race. Likewise, one who is not disciplined in the private and public worship of God will grow weak and vulnerable, leading to a host of other temptations and sins.

Therefore, the calling of the Word of God is clear: as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as one running the race of this life, persevere. Be disciplined, committed, and consistent in the study of the scriptures and in prayer. This is necessary in the life of the child of God—this concerns our spiritual health and strength! We must be strong to serve our God, strong to fight against sin, and strong to live faithfully in the calling that God has given to each of us.

For this disciplined life, Jesus is both our example and our strength. Jesus himself, taxed though he was, rose up early before dawn to pray: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is not only our example in this regard, but it is in him that we have the desire and strength to live this disciplined, thankful life to the glory of God. In his power, we will fight against laziness, and be committed to the worship of God in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life. Pray for that strength.

Next time, we will begin considering these spiritual disciplines, one by one.

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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N. T. Wright’s “New Perspectives”

Introduction

Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) hosted its thirtieth “January Series” in January 2017. Appearing, he informed his audience, for the fifth time, N. T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in England, and current research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, gave a speech in connection with the (Henry J.) Stob lecture series with the title, “The Royal Revolution: Fresh Perspectives on the Cross,” on Tuesday, January 24.

Wright is the most popular contemporary proponent of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), so it is not surprising that he is now offering a fresh (or new) perspective on the cross of Jesus Christ.

Wright’s “New Perspective” on Paul

I report on his latest speech in the “All Around Us” rubric of the Standard Bearer (possibly the March 1, 2017 issue). In this blog, I will briefly review the main tenets of Wright’s NPP.

First, Wright redefines the concepts of “justification” and “righteousness.” The Reformed, biblical, and creedal explanation is that righteousness is a legal status in which one is in harmony with, or in conformity to, the standard of God, which is summarized in God’s law. To be justified is to be declared righteous, that is, to be declared, on the basis of the perfect work of Jesus Christ, to be in harmony with God’s standard. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, his lifelong obedience and his atoning sufferings and death, is imputed, or reckoned to the account of, the sinner, and that righteousness is received by faith alone without works.

Wright denies the possibility or the necessity of the imputation of God’s righteousness. For Wright righteousness is simply God’s covenant faithfulness by which he puts right what evil has done in the creation and keeps his promises to his people. Justification for Wright is not so much a matter of personal salvation, but it is to be declared, on the basis of faith, to be part of the covenant community—the New Israel—which God vindicates now and on the last day.

Moreover, Wright understands Paul’s fierce polemic against the Judaizers in Galatians and elsewhere not as a battle between justification by faith alone versus the notion of justification by the works of the law (because, argues Wright, Paul and his Jewish contemporaries never believed in salvation by works in the sense that the Reformers understood), but as a controversy over how one is declared to be part of the vindicated (or justified) community. Therefore, according to Wright’s reading of Paul, the apostle argued that one is declared a member of the church on the basis of faith, while the Judaizers insisted that one cannot be declared a member of the church—that is, justified—without circumcision and obedience to the (ceremonial) laws of Moses. Therefore, argues Wright, when Paul disputed about circumcision—even to the point of anathemas—he was not disputing about salvation, but about who was a member of the church.[1]

How, then, is one personally justified according to Wright’s NPP? By believing that Jesus is Lord, one is brought into, and declared to be a member of, the new covenant community, the church. At that point, on the basis of faith, one is “justified.” However, to remain one of God’s people, a believer must continue to believe and to be faithful, that is, continued justification and salvation and final justification and salvation depend on good works. On this point, Wright writes:

This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the call of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[2]

Thus Wright’s position, which includes a denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner, is simply a scholarly version of the old heresy of justification by faith and works.

Wright is an eloquent and engaging speaker, and undoubtedly many at the Calvin series hung spellbound on his every word, but for all his rhetorical flourishes Wright leaves us with no real atonement, no gospel, and, consequently, nowhere to hide on the day of judgment.

In view of the popularity of Wright, even in Calvin College, where he is hailed as a hero of the faith, those who love the biblical and Reformed truth of justification by faith alone will welcome the imminent publication of a new book by Prof. David J. Engelsma, The Gospel Truth of Justification.

Expect to hear more about Engelsma’s book soon (DV).

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[1] Notice Wright’s avoidance of the phrase “by faith alone,” a fatal omission, and his use of prepositions—justified on the basis of faith. The Reformers, following scripture, teach that justification is by or through faith alone. Faith is not the basis. Faith is the means or instrument of justification.

[2] N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 258; cited in John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Nottingham, IVP, 2008), 100. Notice the basis of justification is “the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit”—Believing reader, the life that you lead in the power of the Spirit is the imperfect obedience which you, out of sincere love, but in much weakness, have rendered to God in gratitude for your salvation. Will you dare appear before God on that basis, instead of on the basis of the perfect obedience and atoning sufferings and death of Jesus Christ? That is where Wright’s theology would lead you, which will issue in damnation on the day of judgment.

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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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Doug Wilson, Federal Vision No Mas

In a blog post entitled “Federal Vision No Mas,” Douglas Wilson says that he no longer will identify himself with the movement in Reformed and Presbyterian circles known as the federal vision.

Wilson is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, proponent of classical Christian education, and for many years has been identified as one of the prominent theologians promoting the federal vision.

Why this change? Why try to distance yourself from a movement that you have vigorously promoted for years?

The reason is that Wilson believes many critics of the federal vision have been unable to distinguish between the subtle theological differences within the movement. Wilson has tried to describe the range of differences within the movement to the range of differences in craft beer. Some proponents of the federal vision are a dark “oatmeal stout federal vision.” Others are a light “amber ale federal vision.” He places himself in the “amber ale” category.

In spite of his efforts to make this clear, Wilson believes that critics simply haven’t understood the differences. He has some respect for a handful of “fair-minded” critics (he mentions Rick Phillips, Cal Beisner, and Richard Gaffin). But there were others who were “bigoted.” In the past Wilson responded to these “ignorant” critics by defending the federal vision to the hilt. But he feels now that he made a mistake, because he made it sound as if all federal visionists were the same. He should have distinguished the motives of “loyalty” and “manly principle” from “stubbornness and cussedness,” and dealt more with the “fair-minded” group.

But now Wilson sees the error of his ways. And he believes that the only way to make clear that he differs from other federal visionists on certain things is by disavowing the name federal vision. He mentions, for example, differences that he has with the theology of Peter Leithart, another defender of the federal vision.

Wilson does not have a new name yet for his theology, but merely wants to “remain a Westminster Puritan within an irenic river of historical Reformed orthodoxy.”

This is good news, right? Cause for rejoicing in Zion?

Hardly.

Notice what Wilson is doing here. He is merely changing the name of what he believes. As he puts it, “This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe” (emphasis his).

This is emphatically not a change in what Wilson believes. This is no repudiation of what he has written and taught in the past. He will continue to promote the same things he has before, but now simply without attaching to it the name federal vision. He says, “It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe” (again, emphasis his). He adds, “I would still want [to] affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement.”

Wilson even mentions specifically one of the doctrines that he will continue to teach: the objectivity of the covenant. By this he means a covenant established with all the children of believers, head for head, at the moment of their baptism. To put it baldly, he will continue to teach the fundamental doctrine of the federal vision movement, the doctrine from which the movement takes its very name (“federal” means covenant), but he simply won’t call it federal vision.

Wilson’s attempt to distance himself from the federal vision without distancing himself from the core doctrines of the federal vision means nothing. Whether or not Wilson wants to identify with the name federal vision, in the end, means little. The name is of minor importance. What is important is the content of his teaching. And that hasn’t changed. It is still false doctrine. Sure, there may be differences between Wilson and other men of the federal vision on certain points. But in the fundamentals they continue to promote false doctrine.

What is needed by Wilson is not a repudiation of the name, but a wholesale repudiation of the doctrines of the federal vision.

Until then, just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so false doctrine by any other would still stink.

Or, to use a different figure, a wolf might repudiate the pack, but does that make him any less a threat to the sheep?

Let the flock remain on her guard, with her eye on the Shepherd. 

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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The Puritans and the Theater


I recently read a fascinating book on the decline of western civilization entitled Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson. In discussing William Shakespeare's contribution to the decline of Christianity in the west the author mentions the Puritan's opposition to the work of the Globe Theater, under Shakespeare's watch, in the early 1600s in England.

I quote from page 204 of Apostate, stating the Puritan's objections to the theater,

For at least sixty years, the Puritans opposed the work of the Globe Theater until it was demolished in 1644. In an article entitled "Puritan Hostility to the Theatre," eminent historian Edmund Morgan summarized the Puritan concerns with the theater.

  1. It provided a poor form of recreation (it was exhausting, dissipating, and rendered the spectators 'effete and effeminate'). ("dissipating" carries with it the idea of squandering, frittering away, wasting; "effete" means weak and enfeebled—AJC)
  2. It was foreign and degenerate.
  3. It was a non-productive form of labor especially for the actors.
  4. It attracted homosexuals and prostitutes.
  5. Its subject matter often addressed adultery and fornication that inspired imitation.
  6. It promoted hypocrisy and deceit.
  7. It competed with the true church.
  8. It brought the saved into the company of the damned.
  9. It would stir up the emotions and cloud the reason.

This was the judgment of the Puritans on theatrical productions four hundred years ago, in England. Four hundred years ago, one had to go to the theater to see live performances. Today, we live in a world awash with the drama of the film and television industries and today’s Hollywood productions are accessible to us and our children in our homes by means of a variety of devices—televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones to name a few.

The Puritans took a hostile stance in opposition to the productions of the Globe Theater. This stance ought to pale in comparison to our condemnation of Hollywood’s productions. Hollywood is a powerful enemy of the Christian faith. Her productions, in the spirit of Antichrist, promote blasphemy, lawlessness, violence, disobedience, covetousness, murder, theft, fornication, adultery, sodomy, lying, deceit, and every other sin that is contrary to a godly walk. It is no coincidence that, during the last election cycle in the United States and marches after the election, lawless Hollywood actors and actresses were among the most outspoken supporters of the candidates who advocated for “women’s rights” (a euphemism for the murder of unborn babies) and “LGBTQ rights” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning their sexual identity). Hollywood is a mighty engine of propaganda for these sins and perversions as her productions prove.

Hollywood productions (in movie theaters, television, and online) have no place in the life of the child of God and the Christian home. Participation in her dramas, by watching them, is to join the spirit that will bring about the Antichrist, the spirit “that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). By watching the smut of Hollywood, one dulls himself to the antithesis that God has established between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. One becomes numb to the horrors and consequences of sin. Not harmless entertainment, the viewer begins to take on the thinking, speech and behavior of the performers he sees on the screen. If one is not already living in the sins portrayed, the power to resist these sins becomes progressively weaker.

Putting Hollywood dramas out of our homes and lives is the only solution. Compromise is unacceptable. We read in Ephesians 5:3-7, 11-12:

  1. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
  2. Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
  3. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
  4. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
  5. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
  6. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
  7. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

Click to listen to an audio clip from Prof. Hanko entitled: The Threat of Worldly Entertainment to Building a Home.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide.
The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers.

Order your copy today!

 

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Gospel Truth Of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed


AD 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ. In 1517 the Reformer Martin Luther affixed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the act by which Jesus Christ began his reformation of his church. Essential to this Reformation was the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone. This book on justification is intended by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and the author to celebrate that glorious work of Christ.

But the purpose is more than a celebration of the beginning of the Reformation. It is to maintain, defend, and promote the Reformation in the perilous times for the church at present. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is so fundamental to the gospel of grace that an exposition and defense of this truth are in order always. The true church of Christ in the world simply cannot keep silent about this doctrine. To keep silent about justification by faith alone would be to silence the gospel.
* This book will be sent automatically to Book Club members.

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Introduction

  


We are excited to announce another writer that is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rev. Ryan Barnhill is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. This is Rev. Barnhill’s first blog post.

 

 

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I intend to write a series of articles on the topic of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.

Discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose. Discipline is the firm resolution or purpose to do something. This is not foreign to our society. The business world is full of “go-getters.” Many there are who work hard to succeed, who are driven and scheduled, and who are determined to accomplish the tasks before them. What is the motivation behind such discipline? Their goal is to get ahead in the world, to further their reputation, and to receive the praise of men.

But with that kind of discipline we want no part.

As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. We will explore these spiritual disciplines in future posts.

These spiritual disciplines are an aspect of our life of sanctification: our life of separation from sin and consecration to God. These disciplines belong to the category of good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 33, defines good works as “Only those [works] which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”

This pursuit of godliness has a source: true faith. Faith is the bond that unites us to Christ. Only those who are united to Christ (the elect), and have his life coursing through their spiritual veins, will exercise themselves unto godliness. This purpose to serve God in his kingdom is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fertile soil of the regenerated heart. By the work of the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus we are strengthened and enabled to live this life.

This purpose to serve God in his kingdom has a standard: the law of God. The law of God is the Ten Commandments, summarized by Jesus this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). We seek, in these spiritual activities, to live in conformity to the will of God.

This disciplined life has a goal: the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiating forth of all his attributes. When we make ourselves busy in the things of God’s kingdom, our goal, our aim, is always the magnifying and extolling of God’s attributes, especially the attribute of his holiness. Whatever we do, we do it to please him.

Of course, as is true of all our good works, we live our lives in this disciplined way, not to earn anything with God, but rather to show our thankfulness to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace is what will drive us, day after day, morning and evening, to be consistent and disciplined in these activities of the sanctified life.

The Bible addresses this matter of spiritual discipline, perhaps more than you might think. The scripture does so under a number of different figures, all of which, in some way, carry the idea of spiritual discipline. Paul commands young pastor Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7, 8). In Hebrews 12:1, 2, we are exhorted to run the race: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” II Timothy 2:3, 4 calls to mind the training and rigorous discipline of a soldier: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” This is only a very short list; can you think of more figures?

Are you disciplined? Do you exercise? Are you a runner? Are you a soldier? God requires of us discipline in the Christian life. How crucial a subject this is!

Next time we will look at the need for discipline. After that, we will consider these spiritual disciplines, one by one.

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