Bound to Join

In previous posts I’ve introduced the calling of active church membership. Now we begin to spell out concretely what responsibilities are given to us by King Jesus.

Perhaps you’re an adult who’s thinking, “I’ve never given much thought to my church membership. What responsibilities are there?” Perhaps you’re a young person who’s considering making confession of faith and wondering, “What’s all involved with my church membership?” Whatever the case may be, it’s beneficial for us to be reminded of what our church membership ought to look like practically.

I want to begin with the most basic (and perhaps obvious) calling: the necessity of being members of a true, instituted church of Christ. This duty is foundational for all the rest.

This calling is memorably expressed in Art. 28 of the Belgic Confession: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person…ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it…”

This is our calling: we are bound to join!

The Belgic Confession goes on in the following article to explain how we decide our church membership. It does so by describing the “marks” or distinguishing characteristics of the true church that guide us in this calling. Those three marks are: the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. The true church bears these marks; the false church does not. In determining which church we must join, we are guided by these marks: “Does this church preach the gospel faithfully? Are the two sacraments administered faithfully? Is there the faithful exercise of Christian discipline here? If so, this is where I must be a member.”

The calling is simple and straightforward, yet there are several dangers that must be avoided.

One danger is the temptation to base our church membership on something other than these marks. Often it’s the case that, rather than being guided by these objective marks, we are guided by our emotions. We base our church membership on how warm and inviting the members are. We base our church membership on how charismatic the minister is or how easygoing the officebearers are. We base our church membership on whether there are other couples or individuals who are the same age as we are. We base our church membership on where our family members attend. We base our church membership on our spouse and where they want to go to church.

As easy as this is to do, something as serious as our church membership may not be based on our fickle feelings. We must be guided by the marks.

Another danger is that someone says that it really doesn’t matter what church they are a member of, so long as they are a member somewhere. However, it is our calling to join the church that most clearly manifests the marks of the true church.

In the past this calling has been illustrated by the figure of a wedge, like the shape of an ax head (cf. Homer Hoeksema, “At the Point of the Wedge,” Standard Bearer vol. 59, no. 18). One end of the wedge is thick and dull. The other end of the wedge is thin and razor-sharp. The wedge represents a broad spectrum of churches that would be considered true churches of Christ (thus giving the lie to the idea that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the only true churches in the world). On the sharp edge of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are clearly seen. In the middle of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are evident, albeit imperfectly. On the dull end of the spectrum is a church where the three marks are scarcely visible. And beyond that a church becomes a false church.

It is our calling to strive to be on the point of the wedge. This is the calling of the church as a whole, meaning that she must strive to manifest ever more clearly the marks of the true church. But this is also a calling for each individual believer. He must see to it that he is a member in a church that is as close to the point of the wedge as possible, a church that most clearly manifests the three marks.

A movement away from the point of the wedge will be judged by God. For the church that moves away from the point, God will judge by causing that church in time to become a false church. For an individual that moves in that direction, God will judge by causing him eventually to be cut off in his generations.

But a movement toward the point of the wedge will be blessed by God. The congregation that moves toward the point will be blessed. And the individual that moves in that direction will be blessed, in his generations also.

If you are a member of such a church, rejoice and be exceeding glad!

If you are not, join a true church, one that most faithfully manifests the marks!

And, so long as she remains faithful, never leave her!

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Previous posts in this series:

Lively Stones in God’s House

Time to Build!

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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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Time To Build!

In the initial post in this series I merely stated the fact that Christ calls us to be active in the work of the church. In this post I want to prove that from the Word of God, and in so doing to impress upon us the blessed privilege and high calling that we have.

I want to do so by using one of the important figures that the Bible employs to describe the church. The scriptures use a number of different images to describe the church, most notably the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 1:22-23) and the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff). But the church is also described in a number of places as the temple or building or house of God.

The temple is a type of Christ’s body (John 2:19, 21). In that connection it is also a type of the body of Jesus, the church (Eph. 2:20-22). And, to be more specific, it is a picture of the church institute, the church as it is manifest in local congregations with officebearers and members and regular worship of God on the Sabbath (1 Tim. 3:15).

This spiritual house is built upon a cornerstone that supports the whole work and gives shape and structure to the building. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).

That cornerstone anchors the whole foundation of this spiritual house. The foundation is solid and unshakeable. It is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the inspired apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

The house which is built upon this cornerstone and foundation is comprised of many different, individual stones. These stones are naturally misshapen, ugly, and covered in muck. And yet each one is precious and has a specific place and function in the building. These stones are the elect in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

This temple is precious. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God was pleased to dwell, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we enjoy covenant fellowship with God (Eph. 2:22). Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where sacrifices were made for sin, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we receive the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of the Lamb on the cross. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God’s people brought their worship and thanks to him, so also in the New Testament the church is especially the place where we bring our praise and thanks to God. For these reasons our Reformed fathers said that outside of the church institute “there is no salvation” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28).

What a privilege to be a part of this house!

But in belonging to this house, we have a calling from Christ.

Understand that the work of building this house is Christ’s work. He is the one that gathers, defends, and preserves the church (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 21). He is the one who chooses the stones that will make up his house. He is the one who alone is able to gather them together as one. He is the one that shapes, molds, and forms each misshapen stone to fit its unique place in the house. He is the one that polishes and perfects each stone so that they all appear as shining marble when every stone is gathered and the house is complete at his second coming.

Yet, in this work Christ gives us callings. This does not mean that we cooperate with Christ. It does not mean that we are equals. It does not mean that Christ bears some responsibility for the work and we do as well. We are means/tools/instruments in the hands of the Builder and Maker.

But this fact does not minimize our calling. It does not mean that we can be lazy and inactive. Christ calls us to be actively and zealously engaged in the work of building his house. In Haggai 1:8 God calls us to “go up…and build the house,” and the whole rest of the book of Haggai is a word of encouragement to be involved in this work.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the gathering of stones for his house. He does so by our preaching the gospel in the local congregation, engaging in mission work, and witnessing and local evangelism.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the shaping and molding of each stone so that is serves its function in the house and is made beautiful. He does so by our attentiveness to the preaching, by the rebukes of our fellow saints who come in the way of Matthew 18 and the elders who exercise Christian discipline, by our fellowship with other believers, by our service to the body of Christ, by our bearing the burdens of others, and a host of other ways.

We are stones in the house of God! What a privilege!

And we have work to do in this house! What a responsibility!

It’s time to build!

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Previous post in this series:

Lively Stones in God’s House

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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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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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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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Ten Technological Traps

We live in a time of great technological advancement. Companies are constantly churning out new products that are hailed as smarter, more advanced, and more innovative. And in many ways we have made ourselves dependent on technology with our smartphones, tablets, and computers, too name just a few.

There is nothing inherently sinful in these things. In fact, they can be powerful tools for good in the service of God and his church, and therefore we can use them with a good conscience before God. “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

That being said, we ought to recognize that there are many dangers that these wonders of the technological age present. These dangers ought to make us careful in our use of these good gifts.

What follows are a list of ten such dangers, “traps” of technology:

  1. We can waste an unbelievable amount of time using technology. How many hours are wasted staring at the TV, pursuing pointless information on the internet, looking at pictures on Instagram, and posting on Facebook? Too many, making this one of the top traps of technology.
  2. Technology makes it relatively easy to sin. This is not to say that the same sins weren’t found fifty years ago, for they certainly were. But with technology there are more opportunities to sin and sinful things are more readily accessible. As a wise saint said to me recently, “When I was younger, you had to work pretty hard to get in trouble and access sinful things. Now you can get it in a few seconds on your phone.”
  3. We can very easily become discontent through our use of technology. One area of discontentment is with the technology itself. We are dissatisfied with the smartphone or computer that we have and are always looking for something newer, better, and faster. It becomes an idol in our life. Another area of discontentment is with the things that we view through technology. Seeing the glamorous life of this athlete/actress/friend, I become discontented with my seemingly boring life.
  4. Technology is often the means by which we backbite and slander. One wrong move and soon the news spreads like wildfire across the gossip channels of text messaging and social media.
  5. Through our use of technology we often give a poor witness to the world of our faith. We post pictures of some ungodly musician’s concert we attended. We “like” this popular drama on TV. We let everyone know how excited we are about the release of the latest Hollywood movie.
  6. It is very easy through technology to fall into the trap of unreality. We see pictures of the expensive vacations and fun activities that others are doing, and think that their life must be perfect. Young people might give the impression that anyone who’s anything is hanging out on Friday night, so that the one left at home feels left out and friendless.
  7. In the age of instant information, it seems as if younger generations are losing the ability to read, write, listen, and think critically and deeply.
  8. Our use of technology can weaken our ability to converse and thus hurt our relationships to others. It seems pretty common to go into a restaurant and see a husband and wife sitting across from one another, both staring at their phones. It seems pretty common to try and have a conversation with a teenager while their face is buried in their phone.
  9. There is the danger with technology of over-sharing information. I’m all for getting to know other people better and sharing their joys and sorrows. But I don’t need to know what you just ate for breakfast. I don’t need to know a disagreement that you had with your spouse. I don’t need to know that you’re angry at your coworkers. I don’t need to know (usually) that you’re having an all-around bad day.
  10. One of the dangers of technology is that we are able to retreat into a world without any accountability. When we are at work, we have the accountability of employers and employees. When we are at home, we have the accountability of spouses, parents, children, siblings. When we are at school, we have the accountability of teachers and classmates. But with technology we can often enter a world with little or no accountability. We can say things that we wouldn’t ordinarily say. We can sneak off to our bedroom and watch all sorts of vile things. And if anyone looks over our shoulder or asks to see our device, we hide behind the vault-door of passwords.

What do you think? Are there other traps to avoid?

___________________

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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Gender Revolution

National Geographic magazine is ushering in the new year with a special issue devoted entirely to “Gender Revolution” (link). Although this may be hard to read, it is necessary to know what is taking place in the rapidly-changing world in which we live.

One of the two “historic” covers has a picture of a boy with pink clothes and long, pink hair who identifies as a girl. He is quoted as saying “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.” On the other cover is a group of teenagers who identify themselves as “bi-gender,” “androgynous,” “intersex nonbinary,” and other of the multitude of new categories that have been created.

As the covers indicate, the issue is especially focused on the place of children in the gender revolution. There is even a discussion guide for parents and teachers to use in working through these issues with their children (link).

Throughout the issue there are pictures and stories of transgender children—boys who want to be girls, and girls who want to be boys; children who aren’t quite sure what they want to be, and children who are quite sure they don’t want to be put into any category. Some are receiving “puberty suppressants.” Others are undergoing “sex-reassignment surgeries.” Boys are having genitalia removed. Girls are removing their breasts and doing what they can to eliminate menstrual cycles.

According to the revolutionaries, the whole “gender identity” topic is a “shifting landscape.” Happily, children are being “freed” from the oppressive “binary of boy and girl.”

National Geographic is correct in labeling this a “revolution.” By definition, a revolution is a conscious, concerted effort to overthrow an established order. The established order is the division of the sexes into male and female. The radical revolution is trying to overthrow this basic distinction.

This gender revolution follows hard on the heels of the sexual revolution, with its “victory” in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. With the sexual revolution, the revolutionaries are trying (and apparently succeeding) to overthrow the established order of marriage as one man with one woman.

The new revolution refuses to accept that our gender is defined by our physical anatomy. Gender is rather a social construct, one which in the past has been largely shaped by a bunch of misogynistic pigs. Now there is freedom from those outdated ideas. A child’s gender is based on their feelings. If their feelings tell them they are a boy, then that’s what they should be, no matter that they have the physical anatomy of a girl. In fact, they have every right to mutilate their body through pills and surgeries to match their feelings.

In the end, what this revolution seeks to overthrow is the established order of God. On the sixth day of creation, God made mankind, the pinnacle of his creation. Gen. 1:27 says, “Male and female created he them.” He made a male out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), and he made a female out of the rib of the male (Gen. 2:20-23). They were the same in that they were both humans, but they were different in very obvious, anatomical ways. This is the basic division of the human race that God ordained for all time.

The gender revolution seeks to overthrow this most basic distinction that God has made.  This is the spirit of the Antichrist, who seeks “to change times and laws” (Dan. 7:25).

Parents who allow their children to choose what gender they would like to be based on their feelings are hardly fit to be called parents. Foolishness is bound in the heart of every child (Prov. 22:15). Every child has sinful thoughts and desires. But it is not the calling of parents to allow the child to indulge those lusts. The parent must instruct and correct the child, even when this upsets the child and brings him to tears. “Let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). But the parent who leaves his child to himself to do whatever he wants will be brought to shame (Prov. 29:15).

This is not to deny that there may be difficult situations that parents face with regard to the gender of their children. There is evidence in rare instances of chromosomal issues and ambiguous body parts among children. We live not in paradise, but in a world under the curse. In those situations parents—with the combined wisdom of a multitude of counselors—ought not be guided by personal choice but should seek to determine as best they can the God-given gender of their child.

Aside from these very rare cases, the matter is clear-cut.

Will we honor the god of self with the attitude, “I will do what I want because this is how I feel”? And in so doing will we cave to the lawless, Antichristian spirit of the age?

Or will we honor the wise Creator and his handiwork in our bodies? And in so doing oppose with might and main the “gender revolution” afoot?

__________________

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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Dirty Laundry

Our washer and dryer run most days of the week, but this is especially true on Monday. After a busy weekend and with a large family, Monday has become default laundry day. For most of the day the machines are humming and clacking in the background, and the kitchen table is covered with neat, little piles of clean clothes waiting to be shipped to dressers and closets.

On a recent Monday, my wife reminded me of something that my grandma used to say. My wife had just emerged from our children’s bedrooms with another armload of dirty laundry, having spent the last fifteen minutes hunting under beds and behind doors for dirty socks and grass-stained jeans. As she followed the well-worn path to the laundry room, she commented, “Your grandma used to say that laundry is like our sins: the moment you think that you’re caught up there’s another pile waiting.”

How true! A busy mother might appreciate the analogy more than others, but I think it’s something we can all understand, including our children.

There are three connections that I see:

  1. Like laundry, our works are often polluted and dirty. We have impure desires. We think filthy thoughts. We speak corrupt words. We perform sinful actions. Our sins are stained “as scarlet” and “red like crimson” (Is. 1:18). Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Our “righteousnesses” refer to our prayers, offerings, and other acts of worship, but even these good works can be polluted like menstruous rags.
  2. Like laundry, our sins are many. We sin so often, in so many different ways. We have original sin, and we have actual sins. We have sins of youth, and we have sins that we committed today. We sin against God, and we sin against our neighbor. We have sins of commission, and we have sins of omission. We have secret sins, and we have public sins. We have sins that we commit occasionally, and we have besetting sins.
  3. Like laundry, the sins keep coming and coming. By the grace of God, we sorrow over our sins with a godly sorrow. We hate them with a vehement hatred. We repent of them. We crucify the old man. And yet the moment we convince ourselves that we have put away that sin, we see another sin come in its place. Or we see that same sin show itself in our lives. Or we uncover a sin that we have ignored and that has been hiding in a corner of our heart.

How horrible and disgusting is the reality of our sin! How humbling to see who we are apart from the grace of God!

But having our eyes opened wide to the repulsive reality of sin makes the grace of God shine forth all the more beautifully. Thankfully, our sin and misery is not the end of the story. We are not left buried under the avalanche of our “dirty laundry.” God has provided for His own the cleansing power of the blood of His Son.

On the basis of what Christ has done for us on the cross, we are justified. God declares to us that our sins are forgiven and our guilt is removed. He views them as “white as snow” and as “wool” (Is. 1:18) in the spotless righteousness of the spotless Lamb.

By the work of Christ in us by his Spirit, we are also sanctified. The Spirit works like a powerful “detergent” to cleanse us from the pollution of sin. By His work we see our sins more clearly, hate them more passionately, and fight against them more vehemently.

And the day will come soon when our “dirty laundry” is removed entirely, and we are clothed in white robes in heavenly glory. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands…These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9, 14).

What a day of rejoicing that will be! “And [they] cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).

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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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In God We Trust

Today is the day.

After months of political back-and-forth, of campaign ad bombardments, of incessant chatter on television and social media, Election Day 2016 has finally arrived. Either late today or early tomorrow we should know who will be the 45th President of the United States.

The day is significant for us. It certainly interests us as citizens of this country. But more importantly, it interests us as citizens of the better country, that is, an heavenly. Over the last eight years we have witnessed tremendous changes in this country that have affected the church, and this election will provide us with a general sense of what we can expect as believers in the next four years.

As we evaluate the situation soberly, we are tempted to be discouraged. We are tempted to be anxious and fearful for the future of the church and the future of our children and grandchildren.

The two main candidates for President both rage against the Lord and against his Word. One candidate shamelessly promotes the wickedness of homosexuality and transgenderism and the murder of unborn babies by abortion. The other candidate is pompous, egotistical, and a shameless adulterer living with his third wife. Those whose conscience before God will permit them to vote today do so without a shred of enthusiasm.

The candidates are reflective of the wickedness of the nation as a whole. The comment is frequently made, “Out of all the people in this country, is this the best that we can do?” God is giving to this country the ungodly rulers it deserves for her wickedness. The word of God in Hosea 13:11 is true today: “I gave thee a king in mine anger.” The United States is not a Christian nation, as it once claimed to be. The nation is consciously throwing off anything that relates to genuine Christianity and the Word of God. What we are seeing more and more is the spirit of this country being controlled by the spirit of the Antichrist.

This can only mean difficult days for the church. Depending on the one elected, the hard times may come soon or they may be delayed a bit. But there can be no doubt that those days are looming on the horizon. The days of relative earthly ease for the church are fast coming to an end, and increasingly the nation is raging against Christ and his church.

What are we as Christians to think as we stand in line to vote, as we sit around the computer monitor awaiting the results, as we go about our callings in the next days and weeks?

Remember, Christ is King! In Psalm 2:6, after describing the raging of the heathen, God says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” That King is the risen and exalted Lord Jesus who rules over all things, both great and small, upon the earth. And he does so for his Zion, his church.

Our confidence is that King Jesus rules today over the election. What determines the outcome of the election is not the candidates and their campaign staff, not the Democratic or Republican parties, not even the American people. The King of kings governs this country and this election, and he will be the one to determine sovereignly who will occupy the oval office for the next four years.

King Jesus will rule over this election guided by the eternal counsel of God. His determining of the next President will serve the grand purpose of God in leading all things to the goal of his glory in his second coming, the judgment of the ungodly, and the salvation of the church.

Our trust is in God and in his Anointed. Our faith is not in the American people, a certain political party, a particular candidate, or even in democracy generally. Our confidence today and every day that follows hereafter is in God alone.

This will have a powerful effect on us. It will prevent us from unwarranted excitement if the election turns out the way we hope, as if this is our salvation. It will also keep us from discouragement should the election go the way that we don’t want, as if there has been some mistake on God’s part. It gives us a peace and calm with regard to the election and the future.

Fear not, little flock!

Christ is King today!

The world might say it in mock piety, but we mean it, today and forever: In God we trust!

______________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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Garnishing Sepulchers

October 31 has come and gone for another year.

For some that date will always be associated with Halloween. It calls to mind candy and costumes and cavorting around town. It means mobs of little football players and Disney princesses knocking on doors and squeaking, “Trick or treat.”

For others that date is known as Reformation Day. It has less to do with chocolate as it does with the church, less to do with bonbons as it does with the Bible.

October 31, 2016, marked the 499th anniversary of the Reformation of the church in the 16th century. Nearly five centuries ago, a then-obscure Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. Far from looking to start a reformation, Luther was merely interested in initiating a debate with his colleagues about certain points of doctrine. But Luther’s modest intentions became, in the providence of God, the spark of the Reformation fire. Through the subsequent labors of Luther and fellow reformers such as John Calvin the church was restored to her foundations on the Word of God.

Those who trace their spiritual heritage back to the Reformation remember October 31 as Reformation Day.

But for those of us who claim the name Reformed, there is a question: “Are we truly thankful for the work of God in the Reformation? Or do we pay mere lip service to the name Reformed?”

In Matthew 23 Jesus excoriates the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, raining upon them woe after woe. In v. 29 he says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous.” In other words, he says, “You are hypocrites because you sing the praises of the prophets but don’t hold to a word that they taught!”

Is this true of us who claim the name Reformed? Are we guilty of hypocrisy, building the tomb of Luther and garnishing the sepulcher of Calvin, when in reality we want nothing to do with what they actually taught? Do we claim to be children of the Reformation when in reality we are ignorant of what they actually restored to the church?

If so, then we are guilty of as gross a form of hypocrisy as that of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day!

If we claim the name Reformed and celebrate the Great Reformation, then we ought to know the truths of Scripture that were restored to the church at that time. And knowing them, we ought to confess them. And confessing them, we ought to defend them. And then what lives in our hearts and is confessed with our mouths must characterize our lives.

And this all because we love these truths of the Bible. Far from being a cold, superficial confession of what our forefathers clung to before us, there is a warmth and fervor and zeal for them living in our hearts.

Faith of our fathers only? May it never be!

Faith of our fathers, living still? May God grant it!

And in our generations after us!

Till Jesus comes!

_______________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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Self Diagnosis

While the autumn temperatures continue to drop, it seems as if the number of visits to the doctor climbs. Welcome to the season of runny noses, spiked fevers, and flu bugs. Just yesterday my wife had our twin boys into the office for ear infections.

These visits to the physician made me think about the diagnosis that the Great Physician gives when he evaluates us. Especially when he looks into our hearts and sees the pride that dwells there.

The diagnosis is grim: a serious case of the “selfs.”

This “self” diagnosis ought to come as no surprise. All the symptoms are there.

First, there is the obviously discernable self-centeredness and self-importance. We have a massively inflated idea of our own importance. And because of this huge opinion that we have of ourselves, our focus is turned inward on ourselves. We are the king (or queen) of our own little kingdom, and everything revolves around the royalty. We look out for number one, with hardly a concern for anyone else. Let others either help me or get out of the way.

Second, there is the subtle yet recognizable self-righteousness. In any disagreement, we think that we are right and others are wrong. When criticized, our inner lawyer is activated and we immediately respond in defense of ourselves and never admit that we are wrong.

Third, there is the symptom of self-confidence and self-reliance. We are confident in our abilities to handle any situation and we trust in our own arm of strength. We’re quick to the draw when it comes to other’s sins, but we are loathe to show any sign of weakness, whether physical or spiritual. We’re quick to dispense with advice and counsel to others, but we never ask for help or go to a friend or officebearer for assistance and counsel.

This “self” diagnosis ought to come as no surprise. It runs in the family, after all.

In fact, it goes all the way back to our first parents. We see the symptoms of it with Father Adam and Mother Eve in the Garden. See the self-confidence of Mother Eve as she stands on her own and converses with the enemy. See the self-centeredness as she reaches out for a fruit that will make her god, and then draws her husband into her misery. See the self-righteousness of Father Adam as he argues his case before the Judge of heaven and earth: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me! She’s to blame!” And then Eve points the finger: “The serpent beguiled me! It’s his fault!”

And down through the ages this vicious nature has been propagated. A corrupt stock has produced corrupt offspring. Our grandparents had the malady. Our parents received it. We have it. And, sadly, this is what we pass on to our children and grandchildren after us.

Is there no cure?

There is! We have a Great Physician who forgives all our iniquities, who heals all our diseases, who redeems our lives from destruction. He humbled himself and made himself of no reputation in order to deliver us from our pride. He gave up his life in order that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And he applies to us the soothing palm of forgiveness. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

But the Great Physician is not pleased to cure us in an instant. This is a lifelong process. And it is painful. He wheels us under the bright light of the operating room, opens us up with the knife of his Word, and uses that scalpel to cut away the cancerous mass. He gives us a daily dose of humility as he causes us to see his greatness and glory and our own insignificance and depravity.

Our Great Physician also prescribes for us a rigorous regimen of daily conversion. We are called to put to death the old man more and more, and to live out of the new man more and more.

This too is difficult. The old man does not go down without a fight. He wants to dominate. There is gradual growth and progress, but never perfection.

Give thanks to God for the healing he gives now and the strength to fight the “selfs” of pride. And look forward in hope to his return, when he appears with healing in his wings.

______________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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