Live Radio Interview with Prof. Engelsma on The Sixteenth-Century Reformation of the Church

Prof. Engelsma will once again be doing a radio interview with Chris Arnzen, the national, religious radio host of Iron Sharpens Iron. The broadcast will be an interview on a book that Engelsma co-authored and edited, The Sixteenth-Century Reformation of the Church. The interview is scheduled for this week Thursday, March 30, from 4 to 6 pm and will be broadcast on Arnzen’s website: ( Be sure to tune in tomorrow!


All Things Are Against Me!

Do you remember the story of Joseph’s brothers when they went down to Egypt to buy corn because there was famine in the land of Canaan? Joseph, knowing who they were, tested them by accusing them of being spies. To prove they weren’t spies, the brothers had to go back to Canaan and bring their youngest brother Benjamin with them. Oh, and to keep them honest, Joseph held Simeon in Egypt. If they brought Benjamin back, it would prove to Joseph they weren’t spies.

When the nine brothers returned to Canaan and told Jacob what had happened and that they were now supposed to take Benjamin back to Egypt, Jacob cried out, “All these things are against me!” (Gen. 42:36)

It really is no wonder why Jacob would cry out like this. He was experiencing intense pain at that moment. He certainly hadn’t lived the easiest life, either. He had a father who favored his older brother more than him. His employer cheated him out of what was rightfully his by making him work seven additional years to earn the marriage of his Rachel. If that wasn’t upsetting enough, he was tricked into marrying the wrong woman, too! His children didn’t get along.

They lied to him about Joseph being eaten by a wild beast, but they had secretly sold him to a band of marauding tribesmen. Finally, a famine had hit the land and while his sons were away getting food, the prince of Egypt had restrained another one of his sons and was now demanding that they bring his youngest son back with them! Jacob didn’t have an easy life. So therefore Jacob cried out, “All these things are against me!”

How often do we cry out with the same words? It is so easy, isn’t it, to see the trials in our life as events that are against us. How can trouble in our family be for us? How can the death of a child be for us? How can chronic illness be for us? How can it be good when I find out my child was the target of someone else’s sinful actions? How can it be good when I have to sit down with my spouse and conclude that that old car in the driveway has to get us through just one more year? Or that extra job I must take on or those longer hours I must work must continue?

But, Christian, these events are not against us. Jacob was wrong. Jacob was wrong when he thought all these things were against him. We are wrong, too, if we think the same. Like a beam of light that pierces the late afternoon storm clouds, God’s Word gives us hope. In Romans 8:31, Paul says “If God be for us, who can be against us?” What a hope that is! All these things are NOT against us. God is for us. Let’s be assured of this every day. This is a foundational doctrine of our faith. The Canon’s Fifth Head of Doctrine expresses this truth clearly and comfortingly. The whole Fifth Head is worth reading again, but I quote one section: “But God is faithful, who, having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.

God is for us every second of the day… “even to the end.” Nothing that happens to us is against us; it is always for us. Christian, does that give you hope? Then let us cling to that truth.


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.


Answering an Atheist: The Problem of "Evil"

The question of suffering has exercised philosophers and theologians for centuries. The issue has always been: “If God is good and almighty, he would not allow his creatures to suffer, and there would be no evil in the world.” However, the statement of the question is problematic, for it presupposes that we can determine what a good and almighty God should do. The answer of the Christian is not to philosophize about what God should do, but to ask what God has revealed about himself in his Word. 

Before I explain further, I should point out that atheism has no answer to this question. According to atheism, the entire universe is the result of a random movement of molecules over countless billions of years. During that incredibly long period of time, life forms supposedly emerged from non-living chemicals (no scientist has demonstrated how that is even possible), and by means of a long process of “natural selection” (commonly called “Survival of the Fittest”), we have arrived at the present state of affairs with man at “the top of the evolutionary tree.” However, man is only “at the top of the tree” because he is the most advanced and developed life form, not because he is the most significant or the most important. In fact, man is, according to the atheistic worldview, of no greater significance than a tree frog, an elephant or a slug. 

To you, your mother or your friend might be more significant than a slug, but you, your mother, and your friend have no transcendent meaning if atheism is true. If atheism is true, the impersonal, indifferent universe does not care that you exist. Your life has no meaning beyond the few years you exist here, and after you are gone you will return to the earth to be “worm food,” until another life form comes along to take your place. Therefore, if you, your family, and even millions of your fellow humans suffer and die, it has no real significance. Unless you are famous (or infamous)—and most of us are not—no one will remember that you existed one hundred years after your death. You might exist in the records of a government bureaucracy from which you will eventually be deleted, or you might exist in the memories of your descendants—if you leave any—but in the grand scheme of things your life is basically meaningless. 

Given such a worldview, why even care about suffering? Why devote your life to alleviating suffering? Why try to make the world a “better place”? As one man put it, “If you decide the purpose of your life is to discover a cure for cancer and I decide the purpose of my life is to discover the tastiest doughnut, the universe really doesn’t care one way or the other. The same goes for the guy who decides the purpose of his life is to get as much pleasure as he can at other people’s expense, even if it causes immense suffering. It’s all ultimately arbitrary” (James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity? [Christian Focus, 2016], p. 100). Atheist Richard Dawkins expressed it in these words, “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). 

Therefore, the question of evil and suffering is not really a “question” for atheism. “Evil” (especially moral evil) presupposes an absolute, transcendent, objective moral standard. If it is not “evil” for a cat to kill a mouse (because morality is a meaningless concept for a cat), then it is not “evil” (if atheism is true) for a man to kill another man, especially if killing that man gives him an “evolutionary advantage” over other men. If evolution is true, then why should a man be subject to moral norms, while a cat is free to kill mice without being judged as “evil”? What makes a man’s life any more valuable than the life of a mouse? Why do we punish manslayers as murderers, but we reward mice-killers as “pest control experts”? And if it is not absolutely, objectively wrong to kill one man, why is it absolutely, objectively wrong to kill many men, or indeed a whole race of men?

The answer many atheists give is that society functions better with moral standards or that something becomes morally wrong when society judges it morally wrong. However, why should we care how society functions? If one man is meaningless, why should a society of men have any meaning? Why should human society have any more meaning than an anthill or a beehive? If there is no absolute moral standard according to which all men are judged (i.e., the law of the transcendent Creator God), then cannibalism is acceptable in one society and “honor killings” are acceptable in another society simply because “society” approves of them.

The Christian’s answer to evil and suffering is to begin with God, who is absolutely and perfectly good. Since God is good, the creation he made was good. In fact, when God created the universe, he surveyed his handiwork and “Behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The original “goodness” of the creation included the absence of suffering and death. Death, which atheists view as natural to the evolutionary process and struggle for life, was not part of the good creation that God made. 

Therefore, when an atheist denies God because of the presence of suffering and death in creation, he must first understand that such suffering and death were not part of the original creation. (He must not complain about the creation that God made, but join the Christian in lamenting what the good creation has become). In addition, mankind was good, which means that the first humans (Adam and Eve) were created in holiness and righteousness in God’s image. Adam and Eve were not created sinners: they became sinners. (Incidentally, this means that Christians do not accept the idea of macroevolution, because we do not accept the idea of death before sin. Therefore, the world is not the product of billions of years of evolution, but the creation of a good and wise God).

Adam and Eve were created as God’s friends in a covenant relationship with him, which is why God made them rational, moral creatures (unlike cats, dogs and chimpanzees, which are not rational, moral creatures, and which therefore cannot relate to God). The Heidelberg Catechism—a document written at the time of Reformation—explains it this way, “God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him” (A. 6). 

Adam and Eve did not remain for long in the state of holiness in which God had created them. They disobeyed God in the famous account of the “forbidden fruit.” That act was not a matter of “just eating a piece of fruit.” God had given them a rich abundance of fruit in the Garden of Eden. They enjoyed fellowship with him. He even walked and talked with them in the cool of the day. When God placed a restriction on their activity (do not eat of this one tree), God was perfectly righteous. As the Creator, God determines good and evil, not man. The devil persuaded Eve to assert her “autonomy” and to decide good and evil for herself, and Adam quickly followed her. That act was deliberate rebellion against God. 

From that one act, all forms of evil, suffering, and death have entered the creation: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Romans 5:12a). God in judgment inflicted death upon the creation because of man’s rebellion. The blame or guilt for sin, suffering and death must not be imputed to God, but to man, the rebellious creature. All human evil, from theft, to dishonesty, to violence and murder, as well as war, genocide and every form of depravity and vice, is a consequence of Adam’s first transgression. 

That does not seem fair to many people, for why should the sin of one man, Adam, affect the whole human race? The answer is found in the identity of Adam. Adam was not merely one individual. God created him to be the head of mankind, not only the biological or organic source of mankind, but also the legal representative of mankind. In other words, Adam represented all of us in the Garden of Eden. We might not like that representation, but it does not change the fact. When Adam fell into sin (and it was not so much a “fall” as a deliberate “leap”), we fell with him, which is why we are all subject to death: “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12b). “For by one man’s disobedience [the] many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19a). And do not think that, had you been there, you would have fared better than Adam. You would not. Your representative in Adam was perfect: he was created in the image of God, he had the warning of God ringing in his ears, and he had every incentive to remain faithful to God, and yet he fell. You would have done the same. 

But there is also mercy in God’s dealings with Adam. The headship of Adam prepared for a better headship. Jesus Christ represents his people. What he accomplished in his perfect obedience, suffering, and death was not for himself: it was for the people whom he represented. “By the obedience of one [Christ] shall [the] many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19b). If it is unfair for God to punish all men for the sin of one representative (Adam), then is it also unfair for God to save all believers for the obedience of one representative (Christ). 

Why, then, is there suffering and death in the world? Why is there evil? First, because God is righteous, and a righteous God punishes sin. He punishes sin in various ways, at different times, and to different degrees in this life, and finally and fully on the day of judgment and in the world to come. Second, evil, suffering, and death serve God’s purposes in history: God’s main purposes are the gathering of his people and development of evil in the world, with the ultimate purpose the glory of his own name. Third, suffering serves the salvation of his people, for God uses suffering to test, purify, and prepare them for the life to come. Fourth, God used the greatest of all evils, the death of his Son, to accomplish salvation, to purchase forgiveness of sins and eternal life for his people. If God ended evil today, he would have to destroy all human beings on the face of the earth. But God is not ready to do that, for important events planned by God must still occur before the end can come. The world has not only an origin, but also a goal, another truth denied by atheism.

God does not give us specific answers to the problem of specific “evils.” Why did this war occur? Why did that person suffer in that particular way? Why did my friend get that disease? Why did that man commit that atrocity or crime? Christianity provides general answers that we can apply to the big questions. Atheism, which views all things including “evil” as meaningless, does not.

God commands you through his Word to cease your rebellion against him, to turn from your sins (whatever they are), and to believe in his Son. If you continue in your sins, you will perish, but the one who believes will receive eternal life. 

The Bible says, "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets, Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you (Acts 13:38-41).


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. 


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Praying in Personal Devotions

Face-to-face communication is breaking down. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe the married (or dating) couples sitting in the booths around you. It is a common sight to see a man and a woman, close enough for feet to touch, so involved with their phones that they utter not a word to each other the whole hour they eat. Such is a strange sight—if they are in a relationship, then why do they not talk?

However strange that may be, what about a Christian who does not pray, or prays only infrequently? God has established his covenant with us. He has taken us to be his friends. He, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, has quickened us together with Christ. By grace are we saved (Ephesians 2). The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, all of his grace, and we enjoy rich fellowship with him (II Corinthians 6:18).

So, do we pray?

To ask the question is to answer it: of course we pray (and must)! As adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, will we not, every day, praise him, thank him, make our requests known to him, and confess our sins to him?

Prayer is communication with God who is on his throne in heaven—covenant communion with our Father. It is to this spiritual discipline that we now turn. Prayer is a rather general topic, so we again limit ourselves: we will consider private or personal prayer. Private or personal prayer is prayer that an individual makes all by himself, alone, without others.

Examples of private prayer fill scripture. David (Psalm 51), Hezekiah (II Kings 19:14ff), Daniel (Daniel 6:10), Paul (II Timothy 1:3), and Jesus himself (Mark 1:35) prayed privately. The list goes on. Even though it is true that we are Christ’s body, and often our prayers are with others, it is also true that personal prayer is still necessary, for each saint stands in a personal relationship with his Father in heaven.

Like last time with Bible reading, I provide below some guidelines, this time for individual prayer. The list is not exhaustive. I encourage the reader to add more guidelines.

First: find a good place. As with reading the Bible in personal devotions, so private prayer requires that we retire to an isolated place where we can give undivided attention to our communication with Almighty God. Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).

Second: choose the right time.  We should locate the part of our day in which we are most alert and our mind most uncluttered—it is no use praying when we are groggy, or when we are distracted with other business. Whether that time is early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in the middle, find a couple of times in the day that work for you. Here, especially, is where discipline comes in: make a plan for prayer. Even if it must be in writing, plan when you will pray each day, and rigorously adhere to that plan. Consider prayer to be more important than any other part of the day. Do not allow anything to alter that schedule. And, just as Jesus rose up a great while before day to pray (Mark 1:35), make sure to set aside sufficient time for prayer.

Third: color your prayers with God’s Word. It is best, in personal devotions, to read and meditate upon the Bible first (see the last blog post), and then, after that, to pray; when we proceed in this order, God’s Word will color our prayers. For example, you are up to Psalm 23:1 in your devotions. You read, reread, and meditate upon the truth that Jehovah is your shepherd, making the confession that he is your shepherd. You drink deeply. Then, you pray it. You pray that Jehovah the Shepherd would lead you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. What a rich prayer this is! How will your prayers be fresh, living, and specific? Bible reading and meditation! Besides, when you pray the holy scriptures, you know your prayers are pleasing to God.

Fourth: address personal needs. This is what sets private prayer apart from all other prayers that we make with other people: in private prayer, we come before God’s throne with our personal praise, needs, struggles, and sins (read Psalm 51), while that is usually not possible when we pray with others. You know your sins better than anyone else. You understand your trials better than anyone else. Private prayer is an opportunity to open your heart to God, in a way that you cannot in public prayer. Certainly, pray for others—spouse, children, friends…but do not forget to pray for yourself. It may even be helpful to keep a journal, writing down throughout the day matters for personal prayer, and having those written thoughts available at the time of personal devotions.

Fifth: pray from the heart. Prayer is covenant communion with our Father in heaven. If we truly know who God is and what our needs are, then our prayers will be diligent, sincere, urgent, and heartfelt. Every morning we wake up to another battle with the flesh, Satan and the world, and we face another day filled with work and burdens—so we pray from the heart for grace to face the new day! Every evening we fall into bed exhausted from sin, but knowing the faithfulness of our Father—so from the heart we confess our sins and thank him for his faithfulness! It is no wonder that the Bible uses the word “cry” to describe the prayers of God’s people!

Such a prayer life requires discipline! Such worship of God requires commitment and resolve. Consistent, heartfelt prayer is hard work, and not without its challenges, as any child of God will testify. But God will give grace. Pray for that grace—the grace to pray! Pray, for prayer is “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45, A. 116).  


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.


Enthusiasm in Life

I enjoy enthusiastic people. I enjoy them because they have positive zeal. They have a sparkle in their eye. They have an air of energy around them. Do you have enthusiastic friends or family? Are you moved by them?

I read an article last month by the late Henry Beversluis called Then Gladly, Madly Teach. Mr. Beversluis was a professor of education at Calvin College. In this article, Mr. Beversluis highlights the importance of enthusiasm in the work of teaching. He called it the “thrust” of a teacher. This is the energy that bubbles out of the teacher. It is effective because it breeds enthusiasm and energy in others, too.

The etymology of the word enthusiasm is interesting. It comes from the Greek words en (in) and theos (God). Essentially, enthusiasm means God-filled or God-possessed. This isn’t true in the literal sense, but only figuratively. To be enthusiastic is to believe in what you are doing and to be excited about doing it.

Although its etymology is tied to the idea of being spirit-filled, enthusiasm is not a fruit of the Spirit. Enthusiasm is not evidence of the principle of regeneration in the life of a Christian. But, enthusiasm can be a great power. It can be a salt, a savor, a spice. It can be the thrust which compels a Christian to read, to write, to study, to visit, to grow, to speak, to learn, to watch, to do. It can give the Christian the needed capacity and energy to develop their gifts and talents for God’s glory and the benefit of the neighbor.

Enthusiasm is contagious. This may be the best part. It breeds enthusiasm in others. It convinces, motivates and inspires those around you. Are you enthusiastic in your work as a father or mother? Others around you will be, too. Are you enthusiastic in your occupation as salesman, carpenter, teacher, tile setter, or shop keeper? Your energy will bear fruit. Are you enthusiastic about your love for Jesus Christ? Do you have a zeal for the cross? Do your eyes sparkle when you speak about your Lord and King? If so, you indeed have a yeast in life which will leaven the whole lump.

Let’s find enthusiasm in our lives. Let’s develop our God-given gifts and talents and use them with passion and energy for the glory of our King. Just maybe, then, the etymology won’t be so far off after all!


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


God is God

We are excited to announce another writer who is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rick Mingerink is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan, and also the principal of Adams Christian School. In his writing for the blog Rick will bring a perspective from the pew. This is his first blog post.


God is God. That is an interesting phrase, isn't it? In logic class, we would call that a tautology. A tautology is a phrase that has a true truth-value based on the structure of the sentence. But there really isn’t any other way to define God other than by himself. No phrase can adequately summarize the essence of God. There is no creature by which we can compare him to. There is no concept by which we can conceptualize him. In the end, we are left to defining him simply as God.

I have always kept this phrase close to my mind when I consider who God is. The message it brings is that God is so great, so powerful, so un-creature-like, so big that words do not exist to properly define him. God’s Word reveals it:

To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? …Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth (Isaiah 40:25, 26).

Sometimes I have a difficult time simply beginning and ending my small, petty thoughts without interruption or distraction. Some of the simplest thoughts can be easily whisked away with another thought or another impulse; like the wind carrying a leaf in the autumn afternoon. God doesn’t have this problem. In fact, his counsel not only puts into activity the smallest movements of a cell, it is the sole cause for the existence of the entire cosmos. A cosmos so vast we can’t even comprehend the size of it. So immense is God’s creation, man is attempting to launch a new five billion dollar telescope in the next two years to replace the Hubble just to see even further into space. Will they see the end of God’s creation? They may only scratch the surface. Yet, all this was put into existence with a spoken Word. God is nothing less than God.

But God’s counsel is not only active in creation, it is active in redemption, too. God is God of salvation. Not only is he the architect, builder, and upholder of vast landscapes, but also of our salvation. And the beautiful interaction between creation and salvation is that God is working both scenes to a culmination at the end of time. God will not only have a new heaven and earth, but he will have a bride that will dwell in this new creation. God’s bride will be able to perfectly serve him through this renewed creation. Yes, all things in heaven and earth are working together for a divine purpose. This is the work of our God. Only one who is God can perform it.

Meditate on this reality. Contemplate the bigness of God. Everything begins with him and ends according to his counsel. Let’s not think ourselves so big that we can’t see past our own vanity. God is God and we are called every day to serve him as such. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).


For further reading on the topic of God is God, the RFPA publishes a great book titled Knowing God and Man by Herman Hoeksema. Chapter 1 is entitled: “God is God.”


Hitting Close to Home


Many readers of the RFPA blog live in West Michigan. What follows is a news item from the Grand Rapids area that illustrates the growing anti-Christian spirit of the world in which we live and how believing a basic biblical truth can quickly get one in trouble with the federal government of the United States. 









Donald and Ellen Vander Boon own West Michigan Beef Company Co., LLC , a meatpacking plant in Hudsonville, Michigan. They employ forty-five people. As their website states, "West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do." It is the religious convictions of the Vander Boons that has them in trouble with the United States Department of Agriculture. Yes, you read it right, the USDA.

The story begins in 2015 when Don placed an article defending marriage as between one man and one woman on the break room table of his facility. The article was set on a table that was already cluttered with mainstream media news stories reporting on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing "gay marriage." A USDA public health veterinarian and inspector in charge on-site at the facility noticed the article, read it, and had it removed. Further, he reported the incident to a USDA Frontline Supervisor. This resulted in a meeting with Mr. Vander Boon, the supervisor and the on-site inspector. Mr. Vander Boon was threatened that unless he refrained from putting literature on the break room table supporting marriage between one man and one woman, USDA inspectors would be removed from his plant, effectively putting him out of business and leaving his forty-five employees without work.

The natural question is: "What do USDA inspectors inspect?" Reading material on the break room table would not be the first thing that comes to my mind. I would hope that a USDA inspector would be concerned with the health and safety of the meat the facility is processing. But in the world in which we now live, this is no longer the case. Notice, Mr. Vander Boon did not distribute the article to all or some of his employees. He did not ask them to read it, much less ask if they agreed with it. He merely added it to the stack of reading material already on the table.

USDA managers and supervisors have, per a recent "Anti-Harassment Policy Statement", been instructed to monitor for "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment[s]". "Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, bullying, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats, intimidation, written or verbal disrespectful comments, and graphic material that insults an individual or protected group." Yes, USDA inspectors now have the authority to inspect far more than meat. They are on the lookout for "hostile work environments", likely those of the Christian variety. The full policy statement can be read here.

Mr. Vander Boon has acquiesced to the request of the USDA to remove the "offensive" article from the break room table. Refusal could result in the closing down of his business and the loss of jobs for his forty-five employees. He has, however, filed a complaint with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Since filing his complaint he has heard nothing from the USDA other than that his complaint has been received and forwarded to the USDA Civil Rights Division. Lawyers for Mr. Vander Boon have written a letter to newly elected President Trump asking the he "direct the Department of Agriculture to rescind its unlawful harassment policy and lift the restriction on Don's speech."

While the Trump administration may rescind some Obama era anti-harassment policies, we know very well that the days are increasingly evil and the place of the Christian becomes smaller and smaller in this world. What about the Protestant Reformed professional or business owner who has copies of the Standard Bearer lying on the table in his waiting room or lobby? Or what if a RFPA book makes its way on to the break room table of a Protestant Reformed shop owner? Can a government inspector responsible for the oversight of his business demand the removal of that "offensive" religious literature, or risk being shut down, because its presence creates a "hostile environment" for employees and customers? The possibility is not far-fetched.

That events like this are taking place should not surprise us. Our Lord, in his Word, tells us that we should expect these things. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (I John 3:13). "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).

Knowing that the world will hate us and that our place in this world becomes smaller, we more eagerly look for the return of Christ our King, who will say to us at his return, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).


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.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading the Bible in Personal Devotions

We are now ready to look at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, one by one. We will begin by considering the discipline of reading and studying the Bible. The Bible is, of course, basic to all the spiritual disciplines. The topic of Bible reading is rather broad, so we will be limited in scope, looking this time only at reading scripture in personal devotions: not in church, not around the dinner table, not with a spouse, but reading and studying the Bible alone in private worship.

Let it be understood at the outset that we are qualified to interpret and apply the scriptures in our private devotions. Christians often question their ability to mine the scriptures for the gold. The reasoning goes something like this: “Why not let theologians and authors interpret and apply the Bible for us? After all, theologians are equipped for such a task, but we in the pew are not.” When someone believes himself to be unqualified for this personal study of God’s Word, he will have no desire to continue with it. But the Bible itself gives us a different message: we have been anointed with the Spirit, and we know all things (I John 2:20, 27). As believers who have the Spirit of truth in us, we ought to have every confidence that we can interpret (prayerfully!) and apply (prayerfully!) the Word.

I suspect that we all know the need for these private devotions, and the need to read the Bible by ourselves. But perhaps we do not always know how to go about this reading of scripture. And if we do not know how, we become discouraged before we even start. The following is some practical advice on how to read and study the Bible in our private worship.

One: study solitarily. Find a proper setting for your devotional reading of God’s Word. Look for a quiet place, free from distraction. Where there is noise, meditation will be impossible. Jesus himself went into a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35); likewise, we should find this seclusion, not only in prayer, but also in reading the scripture. Furthermore, because this is the private or personal worship of God, study alone. You have your own struggles, your own sins, and your own unique needs. This is the time to apply the Word of God to your own soul.

Two: think biblically. Let’s be aware of the temptation to replace the reading of the Bible with the reading of books and meditations. Maybe you have heard the story (hopefully apocryphal) of the seminarian who had hundreds of books surrounding him, but his Bible, dusty and unused, was buried somewhere beneath the mountain. It is a temptation to read books and meditations instead of the Bible, either because we find these books and meditations to be more contemporary and edifying, or because they are easier to read than the Bible itself. To throw out these materials would be an overreaction. Rather, let’s first read the Bible with understanding and meditation, and then, only after that careful reading of the Word, proceed to read the literature to enrich our understanding. May your Bible be more worn than any other book in your library.  

Three: approach worshipfully. Our approach in these personal devotions must be that of worship. This perspective protects us against the thinking that the study of the Bible is like a vending machine that will give us what we want for the day—that this daily exercise in the Word is exclusively for our benefit. It is true that we make requests of God, and that we derive our daily strength from his Word. However, these devotions are fundamentally the worship of the great God of heaven and earth. Come to the study of the Bible ready to extol his great glory, and to bow down before his holiness.   

Four: read meditatively. Remember that reading the Bible in personal devotions is not just a pursuit of head knowledge. It is a real temptation (for ministers, too!) to read the Bible only to seek information and stimulate the intellect. We are not interested in a mere mental comprehension of the holy scriptures. Meditate on the Word (Joshua 1:8)! Ponder it. Speak it to yourself. Let it seep into your soul. Feed on it. Drink deeply from it.

Five: advance systematically. Try, as much as possible, to stay in one book, and to advance systematically through that one book, from verse to verse, and from chapter to chapter. You might be surprised at the gems you discover when you study this way—gems you might not have unearthed had you chosen to study isolated passages (similar to a minister who preaches a series of sermons through a book, and is “forced” to preach on passages he would have never otherwise chosen to make sermons on; but when he preaches them, he finds them to be exceedingly rich).  

Six: move slowly. Do not be afraid to move through a book of the Bible at a slow pace. Reading large sections of scripture is not always conducive to meditation and application. Taking in only a few verses each day will lend itself to thought-provoking study. I might add here that these personal devotions need not take a long time. Proper study of the Bible does not necessarily equal a lengthy study of the Bible in one sitting. Whether we take ten minutes or an hour is not so important; what is crucial is that we worship God and feed on his Word, and that we do this daily.    

Seven: remember frequently. Take God’s Word with you during the day: memorize it, then recite it at noon, evening, and before you go to bed. Or, meditate on it in such a way that you retain it and carry it with you throughout the day. Our waking hours are filled with battles, enemies, and temptations. So, carry that Word with you! Write it on a post-it note; take a picture of it and make it your phone’s background; jot it down on the refrigerator whiteboard. The psalmist hid God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11).

Be disciplined, soldier! You are equipped with the Spirit of truth. Worship God in the study of his Word. Feed yourself with that delightful food of the soul.


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.


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.


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.


Islam (13)

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

Christianity would not be good news if Jesus had remained in the tomb. A dead Lord Jesus is neither Lord (for a Lord rules) nor Savior (remember: Jesus means Savior, and a dead Jesus cannot save). The Qur’an is somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the resurrection of Christ, for in the Qur’an the infant Jesus speaks from the cradle in defense of his mother:

“I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; so Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!” (Surah 19:30-33).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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