Calvin And Denominational Division

The following is an article written by Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, an elder in the PC (USA), and a member of the Board of the Presbyterian Coalition. I commend this not only to those of us still members of the PC (USA) but also to our friends in other denominations as well. We would all do well to read this and understand it.

Calvin on Unity and Sexual Immorality
A Comment on a Presbyterian Coalition Document
by Robert A. J. Gagnon
Aug. 13, 2007

In a new Presbyterian Coalition paper, “Let Us Rise Up and Build (Neh. 2:18): A Plan for Reformation in the Presbyterian Church (USA),” which I commend as a continuing effort to bring renewal to the PCUSA, Calvin is cited on the question of unity and the case of Corinth:
John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book IV, Chapter 1), recites the long history of doctrinal and moral corruption in Israel and the church. He refers to the church in Corinth, where “it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin but a multitude; and these not trivial errors, but some of them execrable crimes” (section 14). Calvin notes that “Paul, instead of giving them [the Corinthian Christians] over to destruction, mercifully extricated them” (section 27). The reformer concludes, “Such, then, is the holiness of the Church: it makes daily progress, but is not yet perfect; it daily advances, but as yet has not reached the goal” (section 17). Our hope is that “the Lord is daily smoothing its [the Church’s] wrinkles, and wiping away its spots” (section 2). (p. 5 n. 1)

These references buttress the assertion on p. 2 that “the church always stands in need of reformation” and justify staying in the denomination despite its problems. The comment is made on p. 4: “Even individuals and congregations that move to another Reformed body will soon discover that that body, too, stands in need of biblical reformation.” In short, these remarks suggest that affirmation of homosexual unions in the PCUSA would not be grounds for leaving the PCUSA.

In response:

1.

It is not clear to me that Calvin intended to say, in the quotations given above, that believers should remain in a denominational structure indefinitely that blessed incestuous unions between a man and his mother or stepmother, among church officers no less, and did so as part of the doctrine of the church. Indeed, it strikes me as historically bizarre to suggest that Calvin would long have remained in such a denomination as prospects dimmed for turning the denomination around. The only question, it seems to me, is whether Calvin would have tried to have recalcitrant offenders burned at the stake or not. The same question would have applied, indeed more so, to the case of homosexual offenders. (Here, of course, I do not wish to condone burning at the stake but merely suggest that the intensity of Calvin’s opposition would have been greater, not lesser, than ours.)

2.
Calvin’s remarks have to be taken in context. First, he appears to presume a realistic possibility of repentance on the part of offenders. Hence his remark in Book IV, ch. 1, sec. 27 (all further references to sections are to Book IV, ch. 1, unless otherwise noted): “Nay, the very persons who had sinned . . . are expressly invited to repentance.” This is exactly Paul’s expectation in 1 Cor 5. Paul has only just received news of the case of the incestuous man (5:1) and still expects to be able to have an effect on the community. He orders them “in the name of our Lord Jesus . . . to hand over such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (5:4-5), meaning, minimally, that they are not to associate with the offender, “not even to eat together with such a one” (5:9-11). As founder of the community and as supreme apostle to the Gentiles, he feels that he has a reasonable expectation of succeeding in his order. Indeed, it is possible that the reference to restoring quickly a penitent offender in 2 Cor 2:5-10 (cf. 7:8-13) alludes to the incestuous man, with whom Paul may have ‘had it out’ in an intervening visit to Corinth. But Paul also speaks of ongoing “sexual uncleanness, sexual immorality, and sexual licentiousness” that the Corinthians have not repented of, which puts them at risk of not inheriting God’s kingdom (2 Cor 12:21; cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10). Such conduct may necessitate a harsh visit by Paul, with ultimatum (2 Cor 13:1-10; cf. 1 Cor 4:18-21).

The situation with the incestuous man that Paul faced at the time that he wrote we today call “1 Corinthians,” is very different from a situation extending over decades in which the Corinthians would have not only adamantly refused to submit to Paul’s ruling but also installed the incestuous man as a leader of the church and where reconciliation with the teaching of “our Lord Jesus” on incest (implicit teaching, of course, since Jesus did not speak directly against man-mother incest) no longer seemed a reasonable prospect. Under the latter set of circumstances the continuance of the church in the Pauline orbit seems highly unlikely, to say nothing of Paul insisting that believers must continue to submit to the leadership of such a renegade church in the name of “unity.” Unity for Paul was a Christological concept, not a sociological concept—unity around the one who was crucified for us and into whose name we were baptized (1:13) and who therefore had a right to be Lord of our lives (5:13; 12:3).

3.
A second contextual factor in Calvin’s discussion is that Calvin was primarily thinking of the context of his own ‘denomination,’ where he exercised great influence, and about matters of doctrine and behavior that were not major and so did not constitute sufficient grounds for leaving the denomination. As regards doctrine he cites the example of whether the soul on leaving the body definitely lives with the Lord or makes no commitment about the soul’s abode other than it goes to heaven (sec. 12). As regards behavior, he cites the case of the Anabaptists and others who tolerate no “imperfection of conduct” and “spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains”—what Calvin refers to as “immoderate severity” (sec. 13). He is not thinking of institutional teaching that declares a good what God in Scripture defines as “abhorrent.” It is doubtful that Calvin in his day could even have conceived of the possibility of the Church’s ordaining persons who were actively and unrepentantly engaged in homosexual practice, so extreme would such a development have been to him. Calvin summarizes his remarks in Book IV, ch. 1 as: “trivial errors in [the] ministry [of the Church] ought not to make us regard it as illegitimate” and “prevent us from giving the name of Church” (ch. 2, sec. 1).

4.
A third contextual factor is that Calvin does see a place for dissolving denominational ties. “Who may presume to give the name of Church, without reservation, to that assembly by which the word of God is openly and with impunity trampled under foot. . . ?” (ch. 2, sec. 7). In his own day Calvin viewed dissolution from the Roman Catholic Church as justified by the latter’s adoption of “superstitious worship” in connection with a particular priestly interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. “The communion of the Church ought not to be carried so far by the godly as to lay them under a necessity of following it when it has degenerated to profane and polluted rites” (ch. 2, sec. 9). The PCUSA is currently degenerating into allowing, at least, the “profane and polluted rites” of blessing homoerotic unions and ordaining homosexually-active officers of the church. Calvin rightly notes that “the Church was not instituted to be a chain to bind us in . . . impiety . . . , but rather to retain us in the fear of God and obedience of the truth” (ch. 2, sec. 2). In severing ourselves from churches that promote impiety, Calvin says, “we run no risk of being dissevered from the Church of Christ” (ibid.).

Moreover, Calvin recognized the problem in staying in a denominational structure that would require obedience to that structure’s erroneous teaching. “We cannot concede that they have a Church, without obliging ourselves to subjection and obedience.” He argued that a person will “greatly err” to regard “as churches” the meetings constituting the Roman Catholic Church, which he viewed as “contaminated by idolatry, superstition, and impious doctrine,” since “full communion” requires a certain degree of agreement in doctrine (ch. 2, sec. 10). Although the PCUSA does not currently require ‘subscriptionism’ on the validity of homosexual bonds, it does exert pressure at many different levels to conform to this view, or at least acknowledge the credibility of such a view, if one is to be a ‘player’ holding office on the national and, in some cases, the synod or presbytery levels. The equation of “civil rights” for homosexually active persons with civil rights for African Americans and for women indicates that the current de facto local option will not be optional over the long term. No one in the PCUSA church today has the right to refuse candidacy to a woman or to an ethnic minority on the grounds of being a woman or minority. The same will eventually accrue for persons who are homosexually active. Already, in various ways, we find ourselves in positions where we must respect and even submit to church bodies (like the 2006 General Assembly and some judicial bodies in the PCUSA) that are pursuing a homosexual agenda for the church; and to respect the national leadership of a Stated Clerk, and sometimes the Moderator, promoting the homosexual agenda and eviscerating the plain meaning of the Book of Order on ordination standards for sexual behavior in various subtle and not so subtle ways.

It is interesting that Calvin did not declare the “church” from which he separated to have ceased in all respects from being a “church.” “While we are unwilling simply to concede the name of Church to the Papists, we do not deny that there are churches among them. But we contend only for the true state of the Church, implying communion as well as everything which pertains to the profession of our Christianity” (ch. 2, sec. 12).

5.

A fourth contextual factor is that we live today in an inter-denominational world where a plethora of valid Christian denominations exist, where the differences within a given denomination are often greater than across denominations, and where, consequently, “changing denominations” no longer has the significance that it once had. Today Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Pentecostals, to say nothing of Roman Catholics and persons belonging to the various Orthodox churches, are by choice of denomination necessarily “divided” from other Christians, at least in an institutional way. This is different from the regional sway held by reformed churches of Calvin’s day and the relatively limited array of options for going elsewhere. When I came to Pittsburgh thirteen years ago as an American Baptist and joined the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—nobody in the PCUSA accused me of violating the Scripture’s commands on church unity, even though there were (and are) American Baptist churches in the area.

So the issue that the renewal movements in the PCUSA must face is not whether there are justifiable grounds for leaving a denomination but rather on what grounds departure would be justifiable. In answering this question one should take the following syllogism into consideration:

A.) MAJOR PREMISE

A denomination renders itself illegitimate when, through enactment, it willfully ordains persons actively involved in adult incest, adultery, polyamory, or like acts, and blesses sexual unions constituted by such behavior.

B.) MINOR PREMISE

Homosexual practice is, according to Scripture, at least as bad as—and probably worse than—adult incest, adultery, and polyamory.

C.) CONCLUSION

A denomination renders itself illegitimate when, through enactment, it willfully ordains homosexually active persons and blesses homosexual unions.

When we compare the current and soon-to-happen circumstances of the PCUSA to the problems that will beset those who leave the PCUSA for more orthodox bodies—even if only to make the comparison at the point of ongoing “need of biblical reformation” (p. 4)—we do an injustice to the foundational importance that Scripture attaches to having sexual bonds consist only of “male and female” and, conversely, the abhorrence with which Scripture’s authors treat homosexual practice of any sort. In short, we underestimate the sacred importance of what is now seriously endangered in the PCUSA.

The current “Let Us Rise Up and Build” document does the renewal movement of the PCUSA a disservice if it does not address the elephant in the room; namely, what constitutes legitimate grounds for departure in the PCUSA. This question is on the minds not of those who have already left—for them it is no longer a question. It is foremost a question for those who remain. The actions of the General Assembly one year from now could well render the entire strategy of this report irrelevant. We must now, and not next year, begin to address the “what if?”

© 2007 Robert A. J. Gagnon 5

Expository Preaching

Below is a transcript of a interview done by Preaching Today Sermons with Dr. Brian Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary, on the importance of Expository Preaching.

Enjoy!!!

Note:
Preaching Today’s Questions will be highlighted in Blue. Dr. Chappel’s answers will follow


Preaching Today Sermons: How do you define expository preaching?


Bryan Chapell:
Proponents of expository preaching would say this: An expositor is solemnly bound to say what God says. In an expository message we relate precisely what a text of Scripture says. A more technical explanation—an old one that I hold to—is that an expository message gets its main points and its sub-points directly from the text.

A textual message gets its main points from the text but its developmental components elsewhere. A topical message gets only its topic from the text and could be developed according to the nature of the topics rather than the text. An expository message, however, says what the text says and gets all its developmental features from the text as well.


Do you think the term “expository preaching” is perhaps applied too broadly?

I think it is, candidly. Often when people use the words “expository preaching,” they get only a theme from a text and then develop that theme out of their own thoughts or from various passages of Scripture. They may well explain a truth in Scripture but may not say precisely what a passage says according to the intent of the author. As a result, the sermon may reflect more the thought of the speaker than of the author.

It can be difficult to bind oneself to what a particular text says; yet that’s the way we believe we are most closely bringing forward the dynamics of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to work in the listeners. In expository preaching, I’m saying what the Holy Spirit has said, explaining it so it makes sense to you; at the same time, I’m being clear what this text says, and you can see it developing even as I explain it to you.


What forms can an expository sermon take?

1. A sequential order–I simply take things in the order that they appear in the text. That can be fine.

2. A logical order. The expositor will find it hard at times to go in the direct order of the text. A particular text might have a theme that Paul begins, then a long parenthetical thought that might go two or three verses, and then Paul might pick up that theme again. If I’m going verse by verse, I may not actually be able to follow the thought. So I may need not only to do sequential development; I may need to add logical development, which identifies the major themes and presents them in a homiletical outline that may not exactly follow the exegetical outline.

For another example, some psalms are formed on the Hebrew alphabet, every verse representing a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That order may get complicated for a listener today.

When I write and when the biblical writers write, typically we state our most important thoughts first and then develop them. But in an oral medium, we typically state our most important thoughts last because we know that position will give them the greatest impact. So sometimes to be true to the biblical writer, I may need to say the first thing last, because in an oral medium that’s where the greatest impact will be made. I may need to follow the truth of the text rather than just the pattern of the text.


What are some examples of logical orders?

In a “problem/solution” order, we identify a problem and show how that problem is demonstrated in the text; then we show the solution the text is offering. A variation is “need/plan,” in which having identified the need in my introduction, I spend the bulk of the message identifying the plan for dealing with that need. A problem/solution message deals a lot with the problem; a need/plan message deals a lot with the solution.

Another logical approach is sometimes called “comparative advantages” or “planned motivation.” I identify both a problem and a plan in the introduction. (For example, the problem is alienation from God; the plan is praying in a way that we understand his nearness in our lives.) But we already know the problem and we know the plan; we’re just not doing it. Therefore, the rest of the message presents motivations: “If we pray to God, we’ll see his activity in our lives. If we pray to God, we’ll see his power in our lives.”

In all these forms of logical presentation, we still deal with all of these ideas directly from the text, showing precisely where the ideas come out.


Is there any problem for the listener when we present the most logical order but move through the Scripture out of sequence?

People may feel we are hopping and skipping. Therefore, it’s the obligation of a preacher to indicate the reason he is extracting these particular ideas in this particular way. If the preacher does not explain the reason, then people have reason to think he’s not saying what the text says. I might, for example, deal with verse 1 and then say, “Now there are eight verses of parenthetical thought,” and go to verse 9. I need to make sure I’ve covered all the ideas and shown their logical connections.


To what extent is an expositor obligated to unpack all the elements of a passage–the verb tenses, shades of meaning, and so on?

He doesn’t have time to unpack all the ideas that are there. John Stott, I think, says one of the great agonies of every preacher is that he must dispense with 90 percent of what he knows about a passage before he actually preaches it. If you look at every tense and every verb and every definition, you’d never get past a single verse.

Identify what is important for the purpose of this sermon. What is the purpose for which you are preaching this message today? What’s the burden of the message? Once you’ve determined the truths in the text through exegesis and research, you have to say, “Which truths are most applicable to the persons here today?” I use application, as it were, as the means of determining what is most appropriate to reveal from the exegesis I have done of this text.


You refer to “The 3 A.M. Test” in your book Christ-Centered Preaching. What is The 3 A.M. Test and how do you apply it to an expository message?

If your spouse or roommate were to roll you out of bed at 3 A.M. and ask, “What is the sermon about this Sunday morning?” if you cannot answer in one crisp sentence, the sermon’s not ready to preach. You need an idea people can grasp. If the sermon’s idea is, “In the Babylonian incarceration of God’s people, they suffered for seventy years to determine what God’s plan was and never could determine it…” and you keep talking, that idea is not going to pass the 3 A.M. test. We need something like “God remains faithful to faithless people,” something that’s crisp.

Remember, we are speaking to listeners, not to readers. In an oral medium I need to speak to people in a way they can readily hear what my main ideas are. Presenting crisp ideas will help.

We also need to think, What will make people have to listen to what I am saying? I encourage preachers to include in the introduction the “fallen-condition focus.” Namely, what aspect of this fallen world requires us to hear what this Scripture is addressing today? I’m going to ask of a text not only, “What’s the main idea?” but “Why was it written?” and “How are we like the people to whom it was written?” By asking, “How are we like them?” I begin to think of my people: What are they struggling with? What do they have to confront? I want to state that in crisp and particular ways to make them think, I’ve got to listen to this; this really is something that I’m struggling with, and I want to know what the Word of God has to say about it.


You mentioned the introduction. Is the introduction different for an expository sermon?

Yes and no. All good sermon introductions arouse interest and identify the subject of the message. But an expository message goes one step further—it links the reason for the message to the truths of the text. I’m bonding myself to the reasons the text was written as well as the truths that are written in the text.

Preachers typically are great at identifying the subject of the message, but we’re not always as good at identifying the reason for the message. Why do people have to listen to this today? We add power and passion to our messages when right within the introduction we say, “Folks, this is why you’ve got to listen. This is something you’re struggling with, and the Bible speaks to it.” People sit in the pew saying, “You don’t have to convince me that it’s hard to raise teenagers today. I know that. Tell me how I’m going to deal with my family. What does the Word of God say about the situation that I’m facing?” So when in the beginning the preacher says, “Folks, I know your situations, here’s what you’re struggling with, and here’s why we’re going to cover this text,” then people want to hear what that text has to say.


We have to be much more purposeful in our application to daily life in expository preaching. Is that true?

It is true, and it’s one of the dangers of expository preaching. The reason expository preaching gets such a bad knock is that people think of expository preaching as a dry recitation of facts, verb tenses and the definition of terms. Teaching is vitally important, but we have to identify the purpose for the teaching if we are to do what preaching is really about.

Preaching hooks two basic questions together: “What is true?” and “What do I do about it?” Sometimes expositors answer “What is true?” but never get around to saying what to do. We have to tell people, “You don’t really know these truths until you know how to apply them to your daily lives.” That’s why I say application is part of exposition.

A generation or two ago, application was typically done in the conclusion. I think that can be done effectively today still, but most of the time, if we wait twenty minutes to tell people why this message is relevant, we’ve lost the majority. The best application begins in the introduction: “Folks, this is a problem, a situation, a need, a difficulty in your lives, and I am going to show you how the Word of God applies to it.” Then as I move through the text, I am purpose-driven. I say, “Here’s why we’re going to identify the reasons that God is in charge of tomorrow, because you’re dealing with these things as the people of God.”

I usually think of main points as having to include:
–explanation, explaining what the Word of God is about
–illustration, demonstrating how that truth can be seen in everyday life
–application, saying how that truth applies to daily life.
So I try to make sure there is concrete application within every main point.


Does expository preaching mean you will preach book by book through the Bible?

Not necessarily, but it is perhaps the best way that expository preaching unfolds. Going through a book, you deal with every passage in context, and it’s obvious to everyone that you are doing so. You’re flowing through the text, developing the author’s thought.

There are great advantages to preachers going through a book. One, you do not have to do new research every week on what this particular book is about. Two, you’re able to see how portions of a book connect, how ideas unfold from chapter to chapter. Three, you train the people of God to see how a book develops and unfolds. They’re better able to see how the Bible hangs together.


Some would say, “The attention span of a congregation is shorter than it used to be, and it’s hard to hold their attention through a lengthy book.”

Correct. It is hard to hold people’s attention through a lengthy book, and I typically would not encourage a preacher to extend a preaching series through a book beyond a quarter of the year. I know people really disagree with that, but let me tell you my reasons. If somebody new comes to the church and we are in our thirty-second week of covering Genesis, he or she may think, I missed so much of this, I am never going to catch up with everybody else. Also, our culture is transient. If people are in a church three to five years on average, I may want them to have a broader scope of Scripture’s instruction.

I don’t feel strongly about these issues. We must look at our people–what they need, what their experiences are, what their Bible background is–and make prudential pastoral decisions. But I don’t think we have to be a Lloyd-Jones, preaching fourteen years through the Book of Romans, to be great expositors. I think we can preach shorter series through books and still be true to our ethic of having God’s people see how God’s Word unfolds.


How would you explain the Holy Spirit’s role in expository preaching?

The same Spirit who gave the Word is the same Spirit operating in people to allow them to receive the Word. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we will really understand nothing. Our hearts are not able to comprehend and apply what the Word of God says unless the same Spirit who gave the Word is opening our hearts to receive it. The God that is the same yesterday, today, and forever is the one who is operating to allow us to understand and apply that Word to our lives. We don’t have to think of the Bible as an ancient, irrelevant book, because it is as fresh and new and alive and real as the Holy Spirit in us.

Bryan Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, author of “Christ-Centered Preaching,” and a contributing editor to Preaching Today audio tapes.

Question???

My mother is a CLP in the Presbytery of West Virginia. Before I decided to enter the ministry I would often travel with her to various Presbytery meetings and conferences so that I could get a feel for what Pastors did at these events. At almost every meeting there would either be a person being interviewed for either acceptance into the candidate phase of the ordination process or there would be an already ordained minister receiving a call to one of the churches in the presbytery. They would all be asked questions about their faith, about their life’s journey, and so on. Once I heard this question come up.

Now as I get ready to say the question I want you to think about how you would answer this question and how you would approach answering the question if asked by a non-believer, not just by a committee of committed Christians. The question is kind of innocuous so listen carefully. The question was this: Is Jesus Christ the son of the eternal God? Let me say it once more, a little slower this time. Listen to the words. Is Jesus Christ the Son of the eternal God? Got the question? Now think about it for a second. Everyone have an answer? Well I’ll tell you the answer here in a second. Let’s first focus on the clause eternal God. What do we mean when we say “Eternal God”. We mean that God the Father Almighty, the first substance of the trinity was, is, and shall be forever; that there was neither a time nor a place where God the Father did not exist. That God was here before the foundation of the Earth. Is present in our lives today and will be with those that he has chosen for eternity. We can all agree on that right? OK so we have established that the clause Eternal Father is within the bounds of Good Christian Doctrine or as the Westminster Confession of Faith would say, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”. So what about the beginning of the quote? Is Jesus Christ-the man born at Bethlehem to the virgin Mary-the son of God? Well we-hopefully-would all say yes to that part of the question. Right? We believe as followers of Jesus of Nazareth that he was born of a virgin in the manger after the conception of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the son of Mary and step-son of Joseph was born so that we may be saved from eternal death. Right? That is the great promise of the Gospels, that we may not be held under the yoke of the law no longer, that we have been freed from the debt of sin. We believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we may not have to…. But back to the question. We have agreed that Our God, our Creator, our life-giver is forever and neither has he tasted death nor has he been born. He is the Great I am. He has been longer than there has been being. We have agreed with the first part of the question that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Virgin Mary. That his conception being immaculate, his life perfect, and that he has died to make those who call on his saving grace free from the wages of sin. We can all agree that this is true. Right?…Right so lets look at the question again. Is Jesus Christ the Son of the Eternal God? Everyone remember their answers? Good. I promised you an answer and here it is. The answer is no. It is no because Jesus Christ is not a second order deity. He is not the son of the most high God alone. For he is the Most High God. The complete and honored 2nd part of the Trinity. Jesus of Nazareth is not just the Son of God but is the Eternal Son of God. For Jesus Christ before he descended into Mary’s Womb was with the Father atGenesis 1:1. He was with Father at Mount Sinai when the law was given to Moses. He was with the Father when he destroyed the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the Glory of Christ that he being a full and equal member of the Godhead with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Is not just the Son of God but is God himself. How do we confess Jesus every morning in Worship? We use the words of the Apostles Creed: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Journey of the Christian Life

Growing up my Father was a traveling technician for the Eastman Kodak Corporation. He would leave our home every morning criss-crossing the State of West Virginia fixing various pieces of equipment at hospitals and banks and schools and many other places of employment. He lived his life for 18 years constantly in the car driving 4-hours for a 10-minute job that often did not require his mechanical expertise. He would arrive home always frustrated at this. He had regularly treaded long and hard on the road to his destination only to change an ink cartridge or to fix a paper jam, problems hardly necessitating a person with a degree in Electronics let alone a person working for a company that charged $70 an hour for his services. His frustration was rarely on the work itself but on the seemingly pointless need for his clients to waste their money on his expertise. But what my Father came to realize after a while was that what most people were paying him for was not to fix their machines but to provide them with an excuse to not work for a little bit. He would often arrive at his destination see that the problem was benign and begin to fix it when he would be approached by an employee, often hearing the refrain, “Take your time. The longer you are here the less work we have to do.” One thing that my Dad noticed about the people who often would approach him with this catchphrase is that year-after-year when he would visit the same offices they would be at the same desk pleading for the same time-wasting effort while those around them who did not see laziness as an attribute they wished to hold would be moving on to bigger and better places because they sought not the contentment of the status quo and the supposed leisure of the world but looked for and accepted the added challenges and extra responsibility that naturally comes with hard work. The passage through life of those who seek to skip life’s harder times begins and ends where they begin. The journey of those who trudge on despite the rigors of hard work and the derision of others leads to the purpose of all life.

In Acts 15:36-41 we read as Paul argues with Barnabus over the inclusion of John Mark into their second missionary journey. Paul ‘s concern about John Mark’s willingness to put up with the arduous nature of the voyage is set in reference to John Mark’s earlier retreat when the going got tough at Pamphylia. Paul has already been the victim of persecution, pain, and pestilence. He knows what it takes to preach the Gospel to those who care not to hear the Truth that Jesus Christ has revealed to Paul and to us. Paul preaches a Gospel the world does not wish to hear and we know from Scripture what happens to those who dare to preach the Gospel as it is presented! We have heard the stories of the Prophets of the Old Testament who tried in vain to preach and teach the Israelites but were rebuked and beaten and murdered. We have read of the account of Steven’s martyrdom in Acts 3. If we learn anything from Paul and the prophets of old we must understand that the Christian life is not meant to be easy, that traveling in the name of Jesus Christ will ensure that you will be rebuked by the world, that false teachers of every stripe will confront you where you stand seeking to snatch you away from the work of Jesus Christ like the sirens who tried to ensnare Jason and the Argonauts always struggling to make you believe there is an easier way, a more rewarding way to live the Gospel; however you must know that you will not be loved by the world for the message of Jesus Christ. This is the message Paul is trying to get across to John Mark and to us in his disagreement with Barnabus; that Christian service and ministry is demanding, and those who will seek to be followers of Jesus Christ should be prepared to go through with it and stick with it to the end. Jesus says in Luke 9:62, ““No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” But beyond the timidity of John Mark where do we see timidity in our own lives? Why do we fear what this world says of us as John Mark did? Where in Scripture do we see anyone with a semblance of the Christian life whose life was not hard and difficult? Why do we think that because we are followers and believers in Christ Jesus that our lives will become simpler and easier?

We must understand that it is precisely because we follow the Gospel that our lives should be troubled and distressed. For the World will do all that it can to persuade us of an easier way, but we must not be turned away from the Path that leads to the Cross. Of course this begs the question why should we even worry about what the world thinks of us for as Christ says in Matthew chapter 28 verse 28,” Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.” Fear not what this world can do to you for if God is for us who can be against us? Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians praises his persecution as a blessing saying, “[Jesus] has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It was the mocking and derision of the Gentiles that troubled John Mark and it is this same scorn and contempt that we fear from friends and family. We seek to be friends with the world not charging it with false teaching fearing bruised relationships and being marred with the labels of offensive speech. John Mark as we know from history will one day put his hands back on the plow moving forward eventually traveling in the name of the Lord being martyred for his faithfulness to the gospel in 67 AD. Let us see the example set by John Mark who though at first distracted by the disdain of the world becomes in the end a trusted friend of Peter and Paul. Keeping our eyes focused on the end being not distracted by the wiles and charm of this world seeking only that which leads us to the Promised Land to which Abraham left with Sarah and Lot 4,000 years ago. Let us not worry about this world for as English theologian Thomas Watson says, “Our focus should be on the place that we spend the longest, so therefore eternity should be our scope.” The Apostle Peter says in his first letter, Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. “ (1 Peter 5:6-11)

My Preliminary Statement of Faith

Below is the preliminary Statement of Faith I sent in with my Form 3 for my annual Consultation. Please feel free to critique as necessary. Just as a side note I found the one-page (single-space) limit to be unnecessarily brief and constricting.

VIII. IF THIS ANNUAL CONSULTATION COVERS THE TIME PERIOD OF THE SECOND YEAR OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION, WRITE A PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF FAITH

The ministry of the Word and sacrament is not a job nor is it strictly a vocation but it is only to be taken upon those called by the Holy Spirit to be overseers of Christ’s Church. As a person who is called to this ministry of the Word and sacrament I lay forth this statement of my faith.

I believe that a person who is called to pastoral ministry is not only called for a ministry of reconciliation but to teach, instruct, and lead a particular church in righteousness and obedience to the Word of God. Ministers are called also to guide a particular church in the lawful celebration of the Eucharist and the observance of proper discipline.

I believe that the Holy Scriptures from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 to be the inerrant and holy Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and practice for all who shall call upon it and wish to be members of Christ’s Church. The wisdom of mankind or the ruling of councils or synods shall not supersede the authority of Scripture. As it is written in the Westminster Confession of Faith I believe the Holy Spirit speaking in the Bible is the supreme judge of all religious controversies, all decisions of religious councils, all the opinions of ancient writers, all human teachings, and every private opinion.

I believe in the holy Doctrine of the Trinity as spoken in the confessions and in Scripture. I hold that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is only way that the Trinity may be named. I believe in the Sovereignty of the Father and that we are all subject to His perfect will and that He seeks our perfect obedience to His will and command alone.

I believe that all mankind, created first perfect in Adam, shares in his rebellion to God’s perfect will. We can never of our own accord choose to do that which has been laid down for us to accomplish. It is only through Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement and the satisfaction of his Father’s wrath by his death on the cross that any of us can have hope in eternal life. I believe that Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for all but efficient only for whom it pleases God to save.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah of Israel. I believe in the Federal headship of Christ. I believe in the hope that is promised to those who call upon Christ’s name for deliverance and rescue from this fallen world. I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one, no matter how “good or sincere” may come to the Father and therefore receive eternal life apart from Faith in Jesus Christ alone, the co-eternal second person of the Godhead, begotten not created, and born of a virgin.

I hold fast in the hope of the quick return of Jesus Christ so that we may be eternally delivered into his hands. I stand ready to witness to the Grace and the Glory of God Almighty until that day shall come. Amen.

What Hath God Said?

The Serpent as he spoke to Eve in the Garden says these words, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Eve responds, “The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

And thus was born the first instance in human history (quite literally) when the veracity of the Word of God was questioned. Today in the church it has become fashionable to abandon 2,000 years of trust in the sanctity and genuine nature of the words of Scripture in order to acquiesce to the wisdom of this age which denies innerency and therefore infallibility. Some will say that they can be at the same time against Innerency but think the Bible to infallible. However, I believe it is logically unsustainable to say that Scripture is at one space infallible and another in error. To bely this point further I beseech you to read this section from J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism:

[Plenary Inspiration] is denied not only by liberal opponents of Christianity, but also by many true Christian men. There are many Christian men in the modern Church who find in the origin of Christianity no mere product of evolution but a real entrance of the creative power of God, who depend for their salvation, not at all upon their own efforts to lead the Christ life, but upon the atoning blood of Christ–there are many men in the modern Church who thus accept the central message of the Bible and yet believe that the message has come to us merely on the authority of trustworthy witnesses unaided in their literary work by any supernatural guidance of the Spirit of God. There are many who believe that the Bible is right at the central point, in its account of the redeeming work of Christ, and yet believe that it contains many errors. Such men are not really liberals, but Christians; because they have accepted as true the message upon which Christianity depends. A great gulf separates them from those who reject the supernatural act of God with which Christianity stands or falls. It is another question, however, whether the mediating view of the Bible which is thus maintained is logically tenable, the trouble being that our Lord Himself seems to have held the high view of the Bible which is here being rejected. Certainly it is another question–and a question which the present writer would answer with an emphatic negative–whether the panic about the Bible, which gives rise to such concessions, is at all justified by the facts. If the Christian make full use of his Christian privileges, he finds the seat of authority in the whole Bible, which he regards as no mere word of man but as the very Word of God.

Machen makes the profound statement that “our Lord himself seems to have held the high view of the Bible which is here being rejected.” So what does it mean to say Christ held to innerency? Well the first attacks made by those who deny the innerency of Scripture are upon what they see as the most outlandish of the stories of the Old Testament. Now what may those be? In earlier posts I have mentioned Adam whom I believe Scripture reveals as an actual being and one of the key alliances between Adam and Christ is the mention of Adam in Luke’s geneology of Christ. So to be logical if it be that Adam is not an historical figure therefore one must conclude that Luke is either lying or as I. Howard Marshall says in his commentary, “It is only right therefore to admit that the problem caused by the existence of the two genealogies is insoluble with the evidence presently at our disposal” and some also will say at this point, “Hey Matthew and Luke’s genealogies are different!!!” In his commentary on Luke Matthew Henry explains:

He goes no higher than Abraham, but Luke brings it as high as Adam. Matthew designed to show that Christ was the son of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed, and that he was heir to the throne of David; and therefore he begins with Abraham, and brings the genealogy down to Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, and heir-male of the house of David: but Luke, designing to show that Christ was the seed of the woman, that should break the serpent’s head, traces his pedigree upward as high as Adam, and begins it with Ei, or Heli, who was the father, not of Joseph, but of the virgin Mary.

This is of course just one explanation of the two genealogies. Unfortunately the medium of blogging does not allow for too much more so to see others I recommend John Piper, CARM, and the OPC’s Official Statement.

For second let us look at Jonah. To be sure Jonah being eaten by a fish is probably the most disbelieved story next to Adam in the whole of the Old Testament. But what does Christ say about Jonah? In Matthew 12:40 Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees, For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” So here we have Christ referencing an historical event as an example for the historical event of his time in Hell. Could Christ be just using metaphor to explain his real spell in the belly of the earth? Well the Pharisees who certainly held to a literal interpretation of the law most assuredly would not have understood Jonah as being a metaphor. So that explanation is quite weak. So one now has to ask was Christ either:

A)Ignorant of the Truth
B)Subjecting himself to the ignorance of the age to make a point (knowing Jonah to be false)
C)Lying
D)Relating an actual story so they would understand an actual event was to take place
E)Jesus in emptying himself knew not the truth of Jonah

Well looking upon the actual text of Matthew 12:40 and its context I do not know anyone who still holds Christ to be Christ that would still think A or C would be true. B and E are held in various strengths by colleagues of all of ours but fail “the smell test” or as Machen said earlier, “whether the mediating view of the Bible which is thus maintained is logically tenable”. Or in other words that one could believe that Christ could, knowingly or unknowingly, not tell the truth and still be a full sacrificial atonement.

In closing one must ask themselves a serious question, “Do I believe the Scriptures as found in the 66 Books to be the Word of God or not?” If you do hold Gen 1:1-Revelation 22:21 is the full revelation of God to his people and that it contains all the infallible rules of faith and practice then one must if they still believe themselves to be reasonable and logical beings, believers in the Biblical Doctrine of Innerency.

Here is a great link from A.A. Hodge, in an almost catechistic fashion, lays forth another argument for innerency.

The Innerency of the Bible by A.A. Hodge

Do You Wear the Cloth?

Quick question to the Blogosphere’s Reverends!!!


How many of you don the collar?

If you do or do not, why or why not?

I have often considered wearing a collar after my ordination and I would like to hear some reasoned arguments as to either why you wear one or why the wearing of the collar is not for you. Do you have a “Doctrine of the Collar” or is it just a matter of personal preference?

Now I will certainly wear a “Geneva Gown”, mostly because I am not interested in Aunt Millie questioning my poor tie choices every week. I realize I am a poor dresser so eschewing ostentatious suits for a black robe is a certainty for me. But seriously, I do believe it is important for the pastor to show some semblance of not only reverence and seriousness but also a recognition for the office that he holds. For more information I commend a paper written by Chris Larimer on the use Vestments.