By Grace: Mighty Grace, Abiding Grace

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

— Ephesians 2:8


Mighty grace.

For grace is also the power of God by which we are delivered from the dominion of sin and death.

Reconciliation alone is no salvation, nor could it possibly lead to salvation if the operation of grace ceased at the cross. It must be applied, so that from darkness we are translated into life, from sin into righteousness, and with cords of love we are united again with the heart of God.

How could this be accomplished?

Will we say that from the cross onward salvation is the work of man? That God has done his part, and now man must realize what God has accomplished? Or will we allow the grace of God and the will of man to mix, harmoniously and sweetly to work together to perfect the salvation manifested on the cross of Christ? Will we say that on God’s part he is willing to save all men, that he offers the reconciliation accomplished on the cross to everyone with the intention to save everyone, and that for the rest it depends upon the choice of man’s will?

God forbid!

The riches of his grace must be revealed.

By grace are we saved.

Through faith we are saved. It is not on condition of faith, a condition that man must fulfill if God is to bestow the blessings of salvation on him. There are no conditions unto salvation at all. It is not because of faith, as if faith were the new work required to obtain salvation. There is no work unto salvation—not even faith or the work of faith.

For by grace are we saved, through faith.

Faith is the means unto salvation.

It is the spiritual tie that unites us with Christ, the spiritual faculty whereby we know him, taste him, long for him, trust in him, rely on him, appropriate him, live out of him as the young tree draws its life-giving sap out of the ground through its roots.

Through faith.

It is God’s means, a means of grace, a power that is wrought in our inmost hearts by the mighty grace of God. By grace you are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

By grace he unites us with Christ.

By the power of grace he quickens us together with him, making us new creatures. By grace he calls us, powerfully, irresistibly, sweetly, out of darkness into the light of the gospel. By grace he implants the faith in us whereby we embrace the Christ of God and all his benefits.

It is not of ourselves; it is God’s gift.

Salvation is of the Lord.

Wonderful grace.

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Abiding grace.

For we are saved.

Because it is by pure and sovereign grace that we are saved, we will surely be saved even unto the end of eternal glory.

Always salvation is of the Lord; never does it become of us. Always it is by grace; never does it become of works. Even as it is in free, divine, absolutely sovereign grace that he chose us and ordained us to become conformed according to the image of his Son; and even as it was by that same grace that he reconciled us unto himself through the death of his Son; and even as it was pure grace that wrought the faith within us whereby we lay hold on the Christ of God; even so it is by grace that we are preserved unto the final salvation that will be revealed in the last time.

By grace we are preserved.

Through the power of that gracious preservation we persevere.

For on the one hand, even our perseverance is not by works, nor on account of works, nor by virtue of our cooperation with the grace of God. It is of pure grace. Yet on the other hand, this preserving grace of God is not a power that remains external to us, so that we are passively, unconsciously perhaps, carried into glory. It is a power within us that causes us to hold on to the God of our salvation.

Grace preserves, and we persevere.

Who shall separate us?

Unchangeable grace!

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This is the third and final part of Chapter 19: By Grace taken from the book All Glory to the Only Good God by Herman Hoeksema, edited by David J. Engelsma.

Previous articles: By Grace,   By Grace: Blessed Grace

 

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Answering an Atheist: A Theology of Suffering

Good evening [...]

Christianity has a specific theology of suffering, which is absent in atheism, for in atheism suffering is basically meaningless. In fact, in atheism everything is meaningless: people might try to find meaning, but there is no real, objective meaning to anything, if, as atheism teaches, all events are random. Our lives were not planned if there is no God who planned them. Our lives are simply the result of the random collision of molecules. That is what I mean by meaningless. If you want to believe that the random collision of molecules that brought about your existence has meaning, you are free to do so. Nevertheless, such a position is incoherent and illogical.

God has a purpose for suffering. We do not always know the exact purpose in every case. If we did, the Bible would be intolerably long. The Bible gives guidelines and principles. I crave your indulgence while I seek to explain.

First, God has inflicted suffering on the creation, and especially mankind, because of sin. Death exists in the world because of sin. And the miseries of this life that lead to death occur because of sin. Because all people (including Christians) are sinners, all people (including Christians) are subject to suffering. Sometimes we suffer because of our own sin and foolishness. (God does not always spare us from the natural consequences of our actions). Sometimes we suffer because of the sins of others. In those cases, God uses the sins of others for his own purposes, which are often hidden from us. In reality, however, there is no such individual as an “innocent victim.” As far as our relationship to the Creator is concerned, we are all guilty, as I have explained before by the doctrine of the fall. Therefore, whatever suffering we experience in this life, whether in our bodies or in our souls, we deserve from the hand of a righteous and just God. The Bible is full of examples of God punishing people for their sins, whether directly or by a human instrument. For example, God drowned the population of earth in Noah’s day, and he rained fire and brimstone upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God did that, he was punishing the wicked as an example of what all men deserve. Jesus addressed a similar issue when he was asked about a terrible atrocity that had taken place in Jerusalem:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:1-4)

Notice how Jesus responds. First, he denies that the victims of that atrocity (a violent bloodbath caused by Pilate’s soldiers) were greater sinners than the other people of Jerusalem; second, he denies that those who were crushed under the rubble of a tower were greater sinners than the other people of Jerusalem; and third, he warns that worse judgment is to come so that the people must repent (turn from their sins) or they will perish. A similar statement could be made about people who are caught up in violence and natural or manmade disasters today: they are no better or worse than those who were spared; therefore, you better repent or you will perish in the judgment. 

In fact, the only truly innocent person who ever suffered was Jesus: he did not deserve to suffer and die, and nobody suffered as much as he did. But the beautiful truth of the gospel is that he was willing to die for sinners who did and do deserve to die. His death on the cross pays for the sins of God’s people, so that they, even though they still suffer in this life, will not perish in hell forever. 

Second, the Bible teaches very clearly and without any embarrassment that God not only “allows” suffering to happen, but that he sends it. A god who is not in perfect control of all events, including events, even sinful acts, that cause suffering, is not the God of the Bible. Such a god is not sovereign; therefore, such a god is not worthy of worship. The people in the Bible believed and understood this. They attributed all events, great and small, good and bad, to the hand of God. Christians who believe the Bible and take its message seriously believe this too. Two examples from the Old Testament will suffice. Joseph, the second youngest son of Jacob, suffered terribly: his brothers sold him into slavery into Egypt; and he was falsely accused and imprisoned. But look at how he understood it, for later he said to his brothers:

I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life . . . And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (Genesis 45:4b-5; 50:19-20).

Notice what Joseph does: first, he does not deny that his brothers’ deeds were evil, for they “meant evil;” but second, he looks beyond those deeds to the hand of God: God, who is sovereign over all things, so directed the lives of Joseph and his brothers to bring Joseph to Egypt. Joseph is not angry or bitter against God for this: he worships God and acknowledges God’s great wisdom in so directing events in his life. God is blameless, for God has directed the sinful deeds of men without being corrupted by them. God has not changed. Even now, he is directing all events, even the sins of men.

The second example is Job, who is legendary for his suffering. In one day, Job’s property was plundered, Job’s ten children died, and Job was afflicted with a terrible disease. The culprits were marauding bandits and Satan, who used a wind to destroy the house of Job’s children and smote Job with painful boils. Nevertheless, Job looks beyond the human, natural, and Satanic causes, and sees the hand of God. Job’s response is one of faith:

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (Job 1:20-22).

Had Job seen only the instruments that God used, he might have angrily cursed the thieves who stole his cattle; he might have cursed “his bad luck” that the wind had blown down his children’s house; or he might have cursed Satan who sent the boils. Worse, he might have cursed God, which is what Satan wanted him to do, and which is what Satan expected him to do. Instead, Job worshipped and blessed God

Job’s faith in God was sorely tested, for even his wife encouraged him to curse God. 

Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).

Job sharply rebukes his wife for her foolish words. His argument is clear—we receive good from God’s hand (as Job said earlier, “the Lord gave”). Therefore, we ought also to receive evil (as Job said earlier, “the Lord hath taken away”). Job understood that all things, whether good health or sickness, whether riches or poverty, whether children or childlessness or bereavement, whether life or death, come from God. The Christian who takes the Bible seriously believes the same thing. The unbeliever, who does not believe in God and certainly does not trust in him, is at a loss when tragedy happens to him. As a Christian pastor, I can come to my congregation when they face a terrible affliction and can remind them that the affliction is from God. If it is from God, there must be a reason behind it. To the Christian I can give the comfort that God uses affliction for the good of his children. There is no such comfort for the unbeliever who simply has to follow the philosophy of the atheist standard bearer, Richard Dawkins:

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life). 

Third, the Bible teaches that God uses suffering for the good of his children. Now, let me be very clear—not all people are God’s children. Unbelievers are not God’s children. Only believers are God’s children. Jesus taught this when he confronted unbelievers in Israel: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). Unbelievers, therefore, have no reason to believe that God uses suffering for their good. Quite the contrary: God uses both prosperity and affliction for the destruction of the wicked. All the events in the lives of the wicked and unbelieving serve God's purpose to destroy them: "The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Proverbs 16:4). That is a terrifying thought, one which should make the unbeliever repent, lest he be destroyed in God's anger. Nevertheless, the New Testament is full of examples of how evil serves God's people, but one will suffice: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). If all things work together for good for God’s children, nothing is excluded. Disease, persecution, bereavement, and death, and everything else—these work together for good. No wonder that the apostle Paul can make such a triumphant conclusion:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39)

In fact, according to the New Testament suffering prepares the Christian for future glory, so that the Christian is able, even through the tears, to rejoice in hope. 

And if [we are] children, then [we are] heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:17-18).

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

The Christian certainly feels pain when he is afflicted—if he did not, it would not be affliction. When his body is ravaged with disease; when he loses a beloved family member to death; or when he is persecuted, as is the case with many Christians in various parts of the world, he weeps, and he even cries out to God. Nevertheless, he does not weep without hope. God answers his prayers, not always with the deliverance he expects. Often God answers by giving the Christian strength to continue to confess God’s goodness in a hostile and often perplexing world. God gives the persecuted the strength to face death. The atheist weeps without hope, for the best that he can hope for is that his suffering will come to an end at death, perhaps alleviated with modern medicine. However, such a hope is in vain, for when he dies without God his worst (and eternal) sufferings are about to begin! 

That is why I urge you to believe in Jesus Christ. By his death and resurrection he has conquered death. Only in Christ can we make sense of suffering. And only in Christ are sinners, who deserve to suffer forever, delivered and brought into everlasting glory. One day, we must all die. We might die peacefully in our sleep, or of a horrible disease, or even in a violent manner. God has many instruments by which to call us out of this life. But then what? For the believer, death is a passageway into eternal life; but for the unbeliever, death is a trapdoor into hell. Only Jesus makes the difference. I would love to tell you more about Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.

Cordially,

Rev. McGeown

Limerick Reformed Fellowship

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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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By Grace: Blessed Grace

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

— Ephesians 2:8

 

Blessed grace.

For by grace are we reconciled unto God.

The same grace that motivated the Most High to ordain us unto salvation, according to which it was his purpose to make us lovely even as he is lovely, explains why he reconciled us unto himself through the death of his Son.

Saved we are by grace.

This means that we were lifted from the deepest depth of sin and shame, of guilt and condemnation, of corruption and death, to the highest possible bliss of eternal righteousness and life and glory.

Saved we are.

Created we were with all the elect in the first man Adam, who was made a living soul; who had life, but not in himself; who lived without being the lord of life; whose glory was corruptible, whose righteousness could be lost, whose life was mortal, and who was of the earth earthly. In him we violated God’s covenant and became guilty, liable to death and damnation, subject to corruption, children of wrath. Our condition was hopeless as far as we were concerned. For in Adam we could sin, but we could never pay a ransom for our sin; we could die in him, but we had no power to regain life in God’s favor; we could turn away from the Fount of life, but never could we return to him. We could only increase the guilt of our sin every day, through every word we spoke, by every deed we performed, with every breath we took. Enemies of God we were, hating him and hating one another.

Saved we are.

Saved by grace, by free and sovereign grace.

For even then, when we were dead in sin, objects of God’s righteous wrath, who could never be restored to the favor of God unless we would willingly take the way through the depths of hell, he loved us and reconciled us unto himself.

Us he reconciled. Do not express this differently. Do not say that he reconciled himself to us, for to reconcile is to restore a relation of love and faith and friendship that has been violated and broken, the relation of the covenant. On his part that relation was never violated. He is the eternal I AM, who changes not. With an eternal, immutable, sovereign love he loved his own, even when they were rebels. Us he reconciled. Us he restored to that state in which we were the proper objects of his favor and blessing, the state of eternal righteousness.

For such is reconciliation: restoration to favor in the way of perfect justice.

Justice required satisfaction, and satisfaction of the justice of God with respect to our sin could be accomplished only by a voluntary act of perfect obedience even unto death. Not merely to suffer the punishment for sin is satisfaction. Even the damned in hell suffer the agonies of death, yet they do not atone for their sins. God demands that we love him. This means that the sinner who violated God’s law and trampled underfoot his covenant must love God in his righteous wrath, love him in death and hell, if ever the sinner is to atone.

This act of perfect obedience we could never perform.

Reconciled we are by grace.

For when in sovereign grace he chose us and ordained us to be conformed according to the image of his Son, he chose us in him. By grace he ordained his Son to be the head of the church, to become flesh, to assume the burden of our sin and guilt, to enter into our deepest woe, to become sin for us, so that we could become the righteousness of God in him.

By grace he was sent into the world.

By grace he chose the way of suffering and death, the way through the depth of hell, there to lay upon God’s altar the sacrifice that would be sufficient to satisfy the justice of God.

God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.

That he could show forth the riches of his grace.

For by grace we are saved.

By grace only.

....to be continued.

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This is the second part of Chapter 19: By Grace taken from the book All Glory to the Only Good God by Herman Hoeksema, edited by David J. Engelsma.

Previous article: By Grace

 

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By Grace

 

 

 

 

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

— Ephesians 2:8

 

FOR!

Let us not overlook this little but significant word.

For by grace are ye saved. The conjunction presents the truth expressed as a reason for something else, an explanation of something that has been mentioned in the context. It informs us that this statement does not stand alone, that it is not an isolated truth that one can accept or not accept without much effect for the rest of the content of his faith, a truth that one can either deny or confess as of little or no practical significance and importance.

For by grace are ye saved.

It means that salvation by grace and by grace only is an indispensable condition for something else, a ground, a foundation, without which that something else cannot stand. Denying it is like destroying the foundation of an edifice: you pull down the whole structure. It is like cutting away at the root of a tree: you kill the tree.

That for which this statement is the reason can be read in the immediately preceding verse: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”

God is rich in mercy.

And he saved us. Even when we were dead in sins, he quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together with him, and made us sit together in heavenly places.

All this in order to show the exceeding riches of his grace. Through our salvation the riches of his grace must be displayed.

But how is this possible unless salvation is by grace?

By grace only.

In grace your salvation has its source.

For the eternal fountainhead whence the whole blessed stream of your salvation gushes forth is sovereign election.

Chosen you are unto salvation before the foundation of the world. And the motive of God’s election of his people is grace—sovereign, absolutely free grace.

Pure grace.

Nothing else determined God in predestinating you unto conformity to the image of his Son. There are those who find in man the reason and the determining factor of God’s election. They too would emphasize that salvation is all of grace, not of works. It is grace that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, and grace that you may become partaker of the blessings of salvation in him. They speak too of election unto glory. Only the elect actually become heirs of eternal salvation. But election? According to them, is it also of mere and pure and sovereign grace? Ah, no! It is not of grace, say they, but of works. Yes, of works, though they themselves would use other terms to describe their view of election. Is it not an election of works that teaches that God found or foresaw in the elect a willingness to accept Christ and the terms of his salvation, in distinction from others whom he foreknew as stubborn and unwilling to come to Christ?

Then it is not of grace. Then it was man, his goodness, the foreseen choice of his will to receive Christ that determined God’s choice. Then it is not grace that makes the elect acceptable to and beloved by God in his eternal counsel, but it is some element of goodness in man that induced the Most High to prefer him above others. When God shows forth the riches of his grace in the salvation of the elect, they will always be mixed with this excellence of man.

But God forbid!

For you are saved by grace.

This implies that your salvation is of God from beginning to end, from its eternal source in the counsel of God to its final manifestation in glory in the day of Christ.

Grace ordained you unto salvation. This signifies not that God’s election is arbitrary, but that it has its reason and motive in God alone. Of him are all things. God is gracious. Full of grace is he in himself, apart from any relationship with or attitude toward the creature, for he is good, the sole good, the implication of all infinite perfections. As the supreme and only and infinitely good, he is the perfection of all beauty. He is pleasant and altogether lovely, and there are pleasures at his right hand forevermore. Eternally he is attracted by his own beauty, for he is God triune, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, God knows himself, beholds himself, his grace and beauty, and inclines unto himself in eternal and infinite divine favor.

This infinite loveliness and divine pleasure in his own beauty is God’s grace.

By grace you are chosen.

By the knowledge of and attraction to the loveliness of his own perfection, God was divinely urged to ordain his people—a people who would be perfect as he is perfect, lovely as he is lovely, for whom he has foreknown, them he also did predestinate to be conformed according to the image of his Son—a people upon whom he looked with eternal good pleasure, a people in whom he would show forth the infinite riches of his grace, a people who would taste that the Lord is good.

For by grace are you saved.

....to be continued

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This is the first part of 'Chapter 19: By Grace' taken from the book All Glory to the Only Good God by Herman Hoeksema, edited by David J. Engelsma.

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (4): Duty Bound

The Christian instruction of covenant children is a duty that is bound upon the Reformed parent. We read this in the third question asked of the parents in the Reformed Baptism Form. We now turn to this second section in the form that speaks of Christian education.  

In previous posts we have discussed that parents stand in the office of prophet, priest, and king with regard to their children. In this post, we look at the vow that parents take in the Reformed Baptism Form with regard to Christian education: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?”  

To this question, the parents say a hearty, “Yes.” What happens here? Wielenga explains this on page 348 in his book The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. He writes, “The promise here also bears the character of a pledge that the parents are indebted to pay the Lord out of the gratitude for the kindness shown to them.”

The story of Samuel immediately comes to mind when one reads this part of the form. In 1 Samuel 1 we read of godly Elkanah and Hannah giving Samuel unto the Lord. After Hannah had poured out her heart unto the Lord and asked God for a covenant child, the Lord granted that request. This name Samuel means, “asked of the Lord.” Then, in a moving scene, godly Hannah presented Samuel to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:27-28: “For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.” Thanks be to God for his gift of covenant children!

The purpose of this blog has been the encouragement of godly parents as they perform their vows taken at baptism. As teachers, we see the sacrifice that parents make to perform their vows.  The vows that they take are solemn and weighty. As Wielenga states, “When the parents take the child to the place of worship, there is in the “offer” of the child to the Lord something of what moved Elkanah and Hannah to bring the young Samuel into the temple” (348). When this happens, godly parents are showing that the child belongs to God and not to them.

This is a source of deep humility on the part of parents, teachers, ministers, and the congregation who bring up the covenant children. While the covenant child is under the authority of the parents and especially the father, nevertheless that child is often under the supervision of others in the church. Many of those hours are in the Christian school.

Over the years of my teaching, I have had the honor of discussing Christian education with many parents. I have learned especially that the task of Christian school teaching is deeply humbling. For thirty-six weeks a year, six hours a day, we instruct the covenant children of godly parents. As one wise father told me, “You have my child six hours a day. You probably see my child more during a week than we parents do. I have to trust you that you will teach my child the truth.” Parents, we teachers know that we stand in your place for many hours and we are humbled that you trust us that we will teach your children the truth.

I write this blog as another year of covenant education has drawn to a close. The classrooms in school are bare of bulletin boards and the colors of education. I often wonder: “What keeps the children coming back each year for another year of covenant instruction?” The answer is that parents have made a vow which they willingly keep! When the form says that parents “promise and intend” to teach their children, the idea of “intend” is very strong. Wielenga states, “The text would be more in accordance with the original intention if it were to be replaced by, whether you promise and decide for yourself” (349).  The vow is intentionally taken by God’s grace. As parents and teachers we pray that God will bless our efforts in the godly instruction that is given in accordance with these weighty vows!

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at the Protestant Reformed School in Dyer, Indiana. 

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Public Worship

The final spiritual discipline of the Christian life we consider together is public, corporate worship. By public worship is meant the gathering of believers and their seed in church, on Sunday (or during the week for a special service), to meet with God and give him the honor due to his name. This worship is the meeting of God with his people in covenant fellowship, the purpose of which is to give glory to God for who he is and what he has done in Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the public worship of God in the church world has become largely optional. Attendance at worship services has dropped off. The elderly who come to church scan the auditorium with grief as they note the absence of the younger generations. Parents allow their teenagers to decide whether they will come to church consistently, if at all. Soon, those teenagers grow up, marry, raise families . . . and attendance at church for them and their families is not a priority; in fact, except for the occasional baptism or special service, their church attendance is non-existent. Furthermore, the livestreaming of worship services, although obviously not itself wrong, has made it easier to stay home; such technology becomes a crutch for those who stay home for illegitimate reasons.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, we must be reminded that the corporate worship of God is a discipline of the Christian life. That is, such worship is not optional. It is a “must.” It is our firm resolution and commitment, every Sunday, twice a Sunday, to frequent the house of God. This is the requirement of the fourth commandment, as our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 38 explains: “What doth God require in the fourth commandment? First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God. . . .” The exhortation of Hebrews 10:24, 25 concerns this public assembling of God’s people: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Public worship is a “must,” but it is also a joy. The Spirit of Christ has regenerated us. We are glad to go up to God’s house. We are thankful for salvation, and express our gratitude by assembling with the saints to praise God. We recognize the awesome privilege that is ours: to come into the presence of the thrice-holy God every Sunday!

My purpose is not to elaborate on the principles and elements of worship; many fine articles, pamphlets, and sermons can be consulted for that. Rather, I will make only a few brief points that touch on worship as a spiritual discipline.

First, preparation is necessary for worship on the sabbath. This preparation begins already on Monday: making ourselves ready for public worship by the life we live during the week, by reading the Word daily, and by praying without ceasing. Disinterest in church very often proceeds from disinterest in day to day spiritual disciplines. This daily preparation will reach its peak on Saturday evening, spilling over into Sunday morning. During this time, we will meditate on the texts for the sermons (if available), read scripture and edifying literature, and pray for all the aspects of worship (mental alertness, strength for the pastor, etc.). Also, sleep is key at this point—we must turn in early enough on Saturday so that we can be mentally sharp for the hardest work of the week on Sunday. Spiritual preparation for serving God also includes coming to church in a timely manner, and then setting aside time before the service starts to pray and meditate on the things of God.

Second, as concerns the worship service itself, we must worship in spirit, as Jesus says in John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This lower-case “spirit” is not the Holy Spirit, but our inner, spiritual life. Our worship must be genuine, sincere, and heartfelt. In our singing, do we focus more on the tenor line than on the words? Do we really hear the law when it is read? Are we engaged in the congregational prayer, praying with the minister? Then comes the sermon. Here the goal is to listen well, and to listen to be edified. Some choose to take notes to help them concentrate, and others prefer not to take notes—each person must do what helps the most.

Third, we do well to reflect upon our worship, especially the preaching, after we are finished with church. Sunday lunch is a good opportunity for this. Father might lead into the discussion: “What did we hear this morning? What did you children hear? How does this apply to our life as a family in our Christian walk of thankfulness? How have we been led to glorify the God we love?” The Sunday meal after the evening service can be used similarly. We can take the sermons into the week, weaving them into family devotions, marriage devotions, and instruction of the children. The more reflection there is on the last Sunday’s worship, the more eager we will be to go back to God’s house the next Sunday!

Fourth, related to corporate worship is a zeal for the communion of the saints. We do not worship in isolation, but together. Does it not follow, then, that commitment to public worship is also commitment to fellowship with God’s people? One does not go without the other. When we love the fellow saints and seek communion with them in the narthex on Sunday and in church activities during the week, our zeal for corporate worship will be all the greater.

May it be that this public worship is our firm commitment and our chief joy.

May God grant to us grace to be disciplined in our lives of service to him: in personal reading of scripture and prayer, in marriage devotions, in family worship, in our memorization of scripture, in our reading, and in our public worship.

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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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Theresa May’s UK Election Disaster (2017)

The RFPA have asked me to explain the implications of the recent election result in the UK. Since many of the readers of this blog reside outside of the UK, I should begin with some basic facts about the political system.

The UK, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but not the Republic of Ireland, is a parliamentary democracy, as well as a constitutional monarchy, with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state. The various regions (countries) of the UK have devolved assemblies, which means that much of the power to govern those regions (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) is given to local political representatives, although the main parliament at Westminster (London) retains certain centralized powers. This information is important when it comes to understanding the role of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is a regional party (from Northern Ireland).

When a General Election is called, various candidates campaign for the six hundred and fifty seats available in the House of Parliament in Westminster. A winner of a seat is called a Member of Parliament (MP). The main parties in England are the Conservative (or Tory) Party, led by Theresa May; and the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, a left wing socialist. The majority party either rules outright, if it has an overall majority; or it rules in a coalition government with a smaller party; or it seeks an agreement with a smaller party to support it in government. The latter arrangement is what Theresa May is seeking with the DUP. If the majority fails to form a government, the minority party could conceivably seek to form a coalition with other parties.

Although a General Election was not due until 2020, British Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election in April 2017. Her rationale for doing so was to increase her majority to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, which are due to begin shortly with the EU. When she called the election, the opinion polls gave the Conservatives a 20-point lead over the Labour Party. Nevertheless, the Conservatives, having fought a disastrous campaign, lost 13 seats, and crucially lost their overall majority in the House of Commons. This means that Theresa May is not able to form a government without the help of other parties.

The party to which Theresa May is turning her attention is the DUP, a regional party (from Northern Ireland), which won 10 seats in the General Election. This has caused widespread derision in the liberal-leaning media, for the DUP is much more conservative than the British Conservative (Tory) Party. The name Democratic Unionist Party indicates that the party defends the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a union that Sinn Fein, the second largest party in Northern Ireland, opposes. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, remarked that the union would be the DUP’s “guiding star” in their negotiations with Theresa May. The DUP, which was founded by fundamentalist Protestant preacher Dr. Ian Paisley and many of whose members and supporters are evangelicals, is pro-Brexit and very conservative on the important social and moral issues of abortion and so-called “marriage equality.” Although abortion and “same sex marriage” are legal in Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), they are not legal in Northern Ireland, where the DUP has consistently opposed their introduction. This has led to the DUP being labeled (by the ever tolerant media) as sexist, homophobic, creationist “climate deniers.”

To make matters more complicated, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, a member of the Church of Scotland, and a lesbian who is planning to “marry” her (female) partner, is opposed to the DUP for their (in her view) “homophobic” positions. Davidson has campaigned to extend the right of people to marry the same gender (so-called “marriage equality”) to Northern Ireland. Davidson has sought, and apparently received, assurances from Theresa May that the DUP’s conservative policies on abortion and marriage will not be permitted to influence the British government. Theresa May cannot risk alienating the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs of her own party while she attempts to win the support of the DUP.

Many questions remain unanswered. What will the DUP ask for, and receive, in exchange for their support of a Conservative government under Theresa May? How will May’s decreased majority affect the UK’s Brexit negotiations? How will the DUP’s involvement in May’s government affect the political talks in Northern Ireland? And will May even be able to form a government, and if so, how long will such a government last? Time will tell. Jeremy Corbyn has reportedly told his party not to put away their election posters just yet, as another election could conceivably be called in the not too distant future!

One thing is for sure—God is sovereign and he governs in the affairs of men.

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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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Social Constructionism (4)

There is a section in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers I enjoy. A little lapse into this story may prove instructive. The section I’m referring to is the Battle of the Hornburg. The forces of the malevolent wizard Saruman have gathered before the great Hornburg fortress of King Theoden at Helm’s Deep. Seeking safety behind these great walls are the good people of Rohan. At first, the evil orcs and the Uruk-hai take a head on frontal assault. Thousands launch themselves against the mighty fortress, but the great wall at Helm’s Deep is impenetrable. A small remnant of soldiers under King Theoden resist the open attacks of the wicked Saruman. But soon Saruman changes tactics. He knows destroying the great fortress is key to overcoming them. He learns about a vulnerable spot in the wall. He sends a soldier with a bomb strapped to him to run headlong into a small culvert at the base of the wall which allows water to drain out. The bomb explodes; the wall crumbles; the fortress is breached. The inhabitants seeking safety in Hornburg fortress are exposed. They are susceptible to death.

For years, the principalities of darkness have been searching for that small culvert at the base of the wall of God’s creation. They’ve been searching for the key that will allow them to turn the great institutions of our lives on their heads; to manipulate them for their purposes. I am not saying God’s creation has a flaw that the wicked attempts to exploit. Not at all. Nor do we fear that God’s Kingdom even has the possibility of falling. We know the serpent’s head will be bruised through Christ (Gen. 3:15). But the kingdom of man doesn’t lay down arms. It is now focusing on destroying the very foundations of these ordinances so that they no longer offer a protective barrier for the creatures that are designed to operate and live within the bounds of these ordinances. In its denial of any absolute truth, social constructionism is one of Saruman’s bombs that has assaulted these creation laws.

I identify three major creation ordinances or laws: 1. work and vocation 2. marriage and family 3. rest. God’s creation ordinances are decrees he established concerning the ordering of creation. They aren’t creatures; rather, they are decrees by which all of creatures are to live within. They are boundaries and directives for God’s creation. They are sown into the very fabric of creation itself. As such, you cannot rebel against them without marring creation and staining it for generations to come.

There is also a very close connection to the nature of the creature and the creation ordinance. God designed his world in a way that makes the obedience of these ordinances natural. Man and woman are each uniquely designed to fulfill the decree of marriage and multiplication. The whole cosmos is created in unity of purpose which allows the creation to operate within the bounds of God’s decrees for them. Every form fulfills the God-ordained function. He doesn’t command the tree to bring forth fruit without having created in the tree a form for producing seed. He doesn’t command man to keep and dress the garden but not equip him with the physical form to carry out this decree. Thus, a rebellion against an ordinance can stain the very creature too.

But the kingdom of man chaffs under the authority of God. These decrees remind him that he is forever under a higher power. It reminds him that he is simply a creature who owes allegiance to his Creator. If modernism emancipated society from the authority of a Creator by giving birth to evolutionism, post-modernism is emancipating society from the decrees of that same Creator imbedded in creation. The former has proven more difficult. It not only has to contend with religious certainties, but scientific or natural certainties in creation. Even the unregenerate scientist can see that there is a form in creation perfectly fitted for its function. Post-modernism, however, is succeeding. Truth no longer exists. Work, marriage, family, and rest are being challenged by social constructionism. No longer will a human’s natural body dictate what their gender will be, he will choose what he wants it to be. No longer will that same body point to the fact that marriage should be between a man and woman, but society will choose what marriage should be. No longer will man till and dress his earthly garden through vocation, but progress and culture will proceed despite the sweat of his brow. No longer will children be the fruit of marriage; they will simply be a consequence which can be removed by a simple procedure in a clinic. No longer will the Sabbath provide the rest man needs, but he will find it wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and in any form he desires.

Just like Saruman knew simple arrows launched at the Hornburg fortress would avail little, so too does the kingdom of man know that something more powerful and seismic is necessary. Long standing institutions don’t fall easily, but they do fall when the foundations of truth are swept away. In the next few posts, we will examine social constructionism and see how it is fitted to do this disruptive work.  

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This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Michigan. Rick is also the principal at Adams Christian School. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

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Social Constructionism (3)

We are living in a transition period. For those of us who live in America, think about the deep changes that have taken place in the last decade. Some of these changes are specific to Americans, but often they represent changes experienced across the globe. We may be surprised to be reminded of the following:

  • In 2000, California approved Proposition 22 which restricted marriage to one man and one woman. This passed by 61% of voters supporting the bill! Even the majority in Los Angeles county approved the measure. Would they do the same in 2017?
  • In 1960, over 70% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant Christians. In 2000, it dropped to 52%. Today, only 37% of Americans identify as a Protestant Christian. (Gallup poll)
  • Throughout human history, mothers were the primary care givers of their children. Today, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American families with children under age 18. Someone else is raising their children. Of course, this percentage is greatly influenced by the fact that many families are single parent homes. (Pew Research Center)
  • A few decades ago, robots and their artificial intelligence was a conspiracy theory for the science fiction world to muse on. Per Pew Research, all the experts they interviewed in their research predicted robots and artificial intelligence will pervade almost every aspect of our lives by 2025. There will be a disruption to our current occupation practices.
  • Less than a decade ago, homes used to be children’s sanctuary from the pressures of school, work and society. With the emergence of smartphones and tablets, it has quickly become their command center.

I could list more, but I don’t think I need to. An aware person understands they are living through a period of profound changes. In fact, social change seems to be a normalized characteristic of life. Change isn’t unexpected; rather, we’ve built our lives around its continual presence. These statistics and anecdotes not only highlight changes that have taken place over a relatively short period, but they highlight deep changes. They impact our heart, mind and soul in powerful ways. They are just small evidences of a great alteration in the social and moral fabric of America and abroad.

Some of the most long standing institutions of humanity are disintegrating. Institutions of marriage, family, and vocation are radically crumbling. These are creation ordinances. The humanist would say these ordinances are “transforming” or “evolving”, but that simply isn’t the case. They are crashing down around us. It isn’t even the crash that is so alarming as to the speed with which they are crashing.

How can this be happening? How can God’s creation ordinances be so openly violated in such a short time?  

The Bible tells us in the last days Satan will be loosed (Rev. 20:7). The people of God have known this for many ages. We may answer the above questions by simply acknowledging that Satan is at work. Or we may remind ourselves that we are “living in the last days.” But we would do well to probe a little deeper. Yes, Satan will be loosed; he may be loose already. And we are living in the last days, but the post-apostolic church has always “lived in the last days.” Such answers are too simple if we want a deeper understanding.

Satan employs means. Satan isn’t personally manipulating every man, woman or child that lives an ungodly life which deteriorates the fabric of our world. He isn’t omnipresent. He embraces tools which are used to undermine the great truths of God as they are applied and practiced in the social life of humanity. He employs means. Social constructionism is one of these means and it is changing our society.

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We are living in a transition period. We are entering a new era. The modern is giving way to the post-modern. What is coming isn’t fully known. We watch as the world morphs in front of our eyes. It’s as if we are seeing the late autumn forest drop her beautiful fall colors in fast forward. The death of winter is near. The chill lingers.

But even winter has a sudden beauty if we can look past the cold and death. For the child of God, we do not live in fear, “for he that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18). Neither do we separate from the society we are so intrinsically connected to. We live in this world so that we can use her, develop her, and cultivate her as God’s garden for his glory. Just as God placed Israel in the land of Canaan which was at the crossroads of civilization, we too do not flee the great public intersections of life. To help us live full lives by using our gifts and talents in joyful doxology to God, we would do well to prepare ourselves and understand the forces that are at play, lest we mistake darkness for light and light for darkness.

Let’s keep peeling the onion layers away. In upcoming posts, we will investigate what might be motivating the kingdom of darkness to specifically assault God’s creation ordinances. Also, we still need to explore social constructionism in more detail and show how it is an effective tool at doing just that. Stay tuned!

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This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Michigan. Rick is also the principal at Adams Christian School. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

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Marital Antinomianism (Lawlessness)

As promised in an earlier post on believing sound doctrine, I wanted to write on doctrines which the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) hold dear and which give us the right of separate existence within the Reformed church world. One of those doctrines is the doctrine of marriage, the biblical view of marriage which we maintain in the PRC. I begin with the doctrine of marriage because of an article a reader sent me—a very sad article—from The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, which illustrates what inevitably comes to pass within churches that refuse to submit to, or abandon, what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I will quote from that article later in the post.

When world conformity gets a foothold in a denomination of churches, one manifestation of that worldliness is a corruption of and departure from the scripture’s teaching of marriage. First, the church begins to allow divorce for reasons other than fornication. Along with this, those who are biblically divorced (because of fornication) and are the “innocent party” are allowed to remarry. And, as inevitably follows, because divorce breaks (they erroneously argue) the first marriage bond, the “guilty party” is allowed to remarry as well. This follows logically.

Because God's Word is clear the churches allowing this behavior and the individuals in the churches divorcing and remarrying with the approval of the officebearers know very well that marriage is a lifelong bond and that divorce for reasons other than fornication is sin (Matt. 19:9; Romans 7:1-3). But, there is a way around these plain teachings of scripture. Those who are unbiblically divorced and want to remarry must confess their wrongdoing to the church. And after this confession of wrongdoing, which the church gladly accepts, they are free to enter into an adulterous marriage and live as members in good standing in their churches as open adulterers—maybe even alongside the spouse from their first marriage whom they cruelly abandoned.

Confession of wrongdoing, not repentance (a turning from sin), is all that is necessary. And they say, the "grace" of God allows for this. One can ask these adulterers, as did the prophet Jeremiah (7:8-10), "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery....and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" And their answer as practicing antinomians is "Yes!"

As mentioned earlier, Judy Cook, author of the article "Divorce Care" in the March 17, 2017 issue of The Banner, accurately represents the reigning view of divorce and remarriage that has taken hold in the Reformed church world. In the name of "love" she promotes blatant disobedience to the will of God regarding marriage. She writes:

The heartache of a broken marriage should not prevent individuals from being able to move forward into a new beginning with a slate cleansed by God and affirmed by their brothers and sisters. Divorce, after all, is not the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit.

Going through a crisis is an opportunity for change, but only those in the crisis are in a position to define what that change needs to be and how it can happen. Every marriage is complex, and mistakes will be made—sometimes with drastic consequences. But couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences, and their faith in God.

As the body of Christ, we are called on to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly, and to build up rather than tear down. Prone to sin, we bless, love, and build up imperfectly, creating pain in each other we don't intend—also with respect to our divorced brothers and sisters. Let's remember that the ability to forgive is the central command that lets us experience a life of peace, even in the midst of our sins and sorrows.

Ms. Cook is advocating marital lawlessness, that is, marital antinomianism within her denomination, the CRC. Having abandoned the doctrine of the authority of scripture, having perverted the gospel of grace and having flatly disobeyed the Bible's clear teaching on marriage, the CRC and other Reformed churches find themselves drowning in the sins of fornication and adultery and their dreadful consequences. And Ms. Cook's solution to the scourge of divorce, broken homes, and damaged children in her denomination? "Couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences" (emphasis mine—AJC). Further, those in the church who are witnesses to these sins "are called to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly"....and "forgive." There is no mention of the authority of God's Word, the clear teaching of God's Word concerning marriage, or the power of God's grace to forgive those who repent of their sin of adultery.

That the Protestant Reformed Churches exist as a separate denomination within the Reformed church world is justified, in part, by our confession that marriage is a lifelong bond, broken only by death, that is a reflection of God's everlasting covenant of grace. This bold confession we will address in the next post, Lord willing.

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For those interested in reading how departure from the scripture's teaching on marriage developed within the mother church of the PRC, the CRC, read the 1956 Acts of Synod of the CRC which can be found at this link: http://www.calvin.edu/library/database/crcnasynod/1956agendaacts.pdf. The inquisitive reader should go to pages 15-17; 55-59; 117-119; 285-327; 379-80.

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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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